Home News Speeches Nuclear Terrorism: Prevention Is Our Endgame
  • Robert S. Mueller, III
  • Director
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Global Initiative Nuclear Terrorism Conference
  • Miami, Florida
  • June 11, 2007

Good morning. It is an honor to be here with all of you today.

My thanks to Governor Crist and Mayor Diaz for joining us this morning, and to all those who organized this conference.

I also want to welcome Assistant Secretary John Rood and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak from the Kazakhstan conference. We appreciate your joining us, especially given the time difference.

We are here to discuss one of the most dangerous and deadly threats we face: nuclear terrorism. Few threats fall into the same class in terms of sheer devastation, damage, and loss. Few strike such fear in the hearts of the public. And few threats are so appealing to terrorists around the world, for the same reasons.

It has been said that the September 11th attacks were a “failure of imagination.” We cannot fail to imagine the consequences of a nuclear terrorist attack. Nor can we fail to imagine that there are those for whom such an event is the end game.

Prevention must be our end game. Should there be a nuclear attack anywhere in the world, it would mean in some sense that we have failed in our mission. That is why we are here this week.

This morning, I want to talk about the threat of nuclear terrorism. I want to touch on our collective efforts in the United States to keep our citizens safe. And I want to discuss what we in the international community must do to contain this threat.

Our roadmap is clear. We must start with the source: we must secure loose nuclear material. We must share intelligence about those who wish to buy and sell such material, and we must stop those who do. Most importantly, we must stand strong together, for nuclear terrorism is a global threat that requires a global response.

Assessment of the Threat

By some estimates, there is enough highly enriched uranium in global stockpiles to construct thousands of nuclear weapons. And it is safe to assume that there are many individuals who would not think twice about using such weapons.

The economics of supply and demand dictate that someone, somewhere, will provide nuclear material to the highest bidder, and that material will end up in the hands of terrorists.

Al Qaeda has demonstrated a clear intent to acquire weapons of mass destruction. In 1993, Osama bin Laden attempted to buy uranium from a source in the Sudan. He has stated that it is Al Qaeda’s duty to acquire weapons of mass destruction. And he has made repeated recruiting pitches for experts in chemistry, physics, and explosives to join his terrorist movement.

Bin Laden is no small thinker. Prior to 2001, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – the mastermind of the September 11th attacks – suggested flying a small plane filled with explosives into CIA Headquarters. As noted by the 9/11 Commission, bin Laden reportedly asked him, “Why do you use an axe when you can use a bulldozer?”

If 9/11 was the “bulldozer” of which bin Laden spoke, we can only imagine the impact of a full-scale nuclear attack.

Unfortunately, Al Qaeda central is not our only concern. We face threats from other terrorist cells around the world, and from homegrown terrorists who are not affiliated with Al Qaeda, but who are inspired by its message of hatred and violence.

Several rogue nations – and even individuals – seek to develop nuclear capabilities. Abdul Khan, for example, was not only the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, he peddled that technology to North Korea, Libya, and Iran. Khan was one of many to prove that it is indeed a seller’s market in the so-called atomic bazaar.

We have often said that the next terrorist attack is not a question of if, but when. If we up the ante to a nuclear terrorist attack, we know it is a question of if, but we cannot let it become a question of when. Now is the time to act.

Our Collective Efforts to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism

I want to talk for a moment about our collective roles in combatting nuclear terrorism. While the FBI investigates all acts of terrorism in the United States, the prevention of a nuclear attack is a responsibility shared by many. Our investigations are joint efforts in every sense.

In October 2005, for example, a radiation sensor at the Port of Colombo, in Sri Lanka, triggered an alarm for an outbound shipping container. The container was sent to sea before it could be examined.

Working with their Sri Lankan counterparts, personnel from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy determined that the suspect container could be on one of six ships, three of which were bound for New York. Officials around the world, from Italy to India, screened various containers on these ships as they moved from port to port. Scientists from Lawrence Livermore Nuclear Laboratory worked with FBI experts to analyze why the sensor may have been triggered, and whether any of the containers held weapons-grade nuclear material. FBI agents and analysts searched computer databases for criminal or terrorist ties to the ships in question.

We worked with our state and local counterparts in New York and New Jersey to put response plans into place. As three of the ships pulled into the Port of Newark, FBI personnel and officials from the United States Coast Guard, and Customs and Border Protection, screened and secured several containers.

Although this investigation turned out to be nothing more than the disposal of scrap metal mixed with radioactive material, it illustrates the need for a quick and a coordinated response.

That coordination begins with training. We need to know how best to respond to a pending threat before a real need arises. To that end, we routinely train with federal, state, and local agencies and first responders.

The FBI’s Hazardous Devices School, for instance, provides bomb disposal training, using state-of-the-art equipment. In the past 36 years, we have trained more than 20,000 first responders, and nearly 3,000 bomb technicians stand ready to respond if we are threatened with a nuclear terrorist attack.

We also train our law enforcement counterparts across the country and around the world to detect, deter, and disrupt weapons of mass destruction. Field exercises include the smuggling, sale, transport, and use of hazardous material.

The International Counterproliferation Program, for example, is a partnership of the FBI, the Department of Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Together, we are training our foreign partners in WMD detection, border security, undercover investigations, nuclear forensics, and crisis management. To date, we have trained more than 5,000 participants from more than 23 countries.

This September, for example, four of our partners in this Global Initiative – Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, and Georgia – will participate in an integrated exercise. We will run a hypothetical threat of a radiological dispersal device from start to finish, to see whether we are solid, and where we need to improve.

By training together, we can better work together. In recent years, we have worked with many of you on highly sensitive matters related to the trafficking and threatened use of nuclear material. I am not able to discuss those cases today, because the details remain classified.

The mere existence of these cases, however, with buyers seeking to obtain nuclear materials and willing sellers peddling samples, illustrates the size and the seriousness of the threats we face. These cases also illustrate the continued need for information sharing and collaboration.

Containing the Threat of Nuclear Terrorism

Let me spend a moment discussing how best to contain the threat of nuclear terrorism.

We all face the prospect that at some point in the near future, a terrorist will steal, smuggle, buy, or build a nuclear weapon. We must focus on prevention; we cannot afford to wait for a calling card to announce an attack.

Strong intelligence is our primary asset. We must collect intelligence from those closest to the threat, from port security and border control to state and local law enforcement. And we must share that intelligence with those who need it.

But intelligence alone is not enough. If we uncover information about potential nuclear trafficking or a pending plot, we must be able to move at a moment’s notice.

We cannot sit back and wait for others to act. To do so is to continue to feed the crocodile, hoping he will eat you last, as Winston Churchill once said. Our safety lies in protecting not just our own interests, but our collective interests.

We cannot simply hope that stockpiles will be secure, that smugglers will somehow be stopped, that devices will fail to detonate. Hope alone will not suffice.

Each and every country must safeguard its nuclear material. Those who run the black market must be locked up and shut down. Possessing, peddling, and purchasing nuclear material must be prosecuted. And terrorists must be cut off at the source.

Our greatest weapon is unity. That unity is built on intelligence and interagency cooperation. It is built on the idea that, together, we are smarter and stronger than we are standing alone.

No person, no police officer, no agency, and no country can prevent a nuclear terrorist attack on its own. There are too many unlocked doors and unknown players, too many ports and porous borders.

Yet together, we can stop the smuggling of nuclear material. We can stop those who seek to buy such material on the black market. And we can stop terrorists from using this technology to threaten our citizens. We can, and we must.

Throughout the Cold War, the threat of nuclear attack loomed large. In 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy addressed the American people, saying, “My fellow citizens, let no one doubt that this is a difficult and dangerous effort on which we have set out. . . . Many months of sacrifice and self-discipline lie ahead . . . months in which many threats and denunciations will keep us aware of our dangers. But the greatest danger of all would be to do nothing.”

The dark days of the Cold War have been relegated to the history books. The United States and Russia ultimately resolved many of their differences through deft diplomacy. But terrorists do not want a seat at the diplomatic table. They do not respond to reason or rationale, nor do they share any desire for peace and prosperity. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Indeed, the greatest danger for each of us here today would be to do nothing. We must take action. And we must do so together. Our safety can only be secured with the help of the international community.

Years ago, we stood across from one another, divided by walls and different ways of life. Today, we stand together in this Global Initiative. We are united in a common cause. It is my sincere hope that in the years to come, we will have no need to meet to address this threat. Let us begin to make that hope a reality.

Thank you and God bless.

 
Recent Speeches
02.26.14
The FBI and the Private Sector: Closing the Gap in Cyber Security James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, RSA Cyber Security Conference, San Francisco, CA
10.28.13
Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity: The Essence of the FBI James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Installation of Director James B. Comey, FBI Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
08.08.13
The Future of Cyber Security from the FBI’s Perspective Robert S. Mueller, III, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, International Conference on Cyber Security 2013, Fordham University, New York, NY
06.21.13
The Opportunity to Serve Robert S. Mueller, III, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Nomination of James Comey for Director of the FBI, White House Rose Garden, Washington, D.C.
05.21.13
Remembering Two Fallen Agents: The True Meaning of Valor Robert S. Mueller, III, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Memorial Service for Special Agents Christopher Lorek and Stephen Shaw, Quantico, VA
05.14.13
Preventing and Prosecuting Health Care Fraud Ron Hosko, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigative Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Press Conference Announcing Medicare Fraud Strike Force Takedown, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.
05.12.13
Lessons in Integrity, Service, and Patience Robert S. Mueller, III, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Commencement Address for the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA
04.12.13
The Way of Honor, the Light of Truth, and the Will to Work for Men: The UV Robert S. Mueller, III, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Presentation of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law, University of Virginia School of Law, Charlottesville, VA
04.05.13
Honoring Our Community Leaders Robert S. Mueller, III, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Director’s Community Leadership Awards Ceremony, Washington, D.C.
03.26.13
The Legacy of Giovanni Falcone Robert S. Mueller, III, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Dedication of Giovanni Falcone Gallery, FBI Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
More