U.S. intelligence thinks al-Qaeda may have nuclear weapons, and says a secret stash of nukes may still exist somewhere in Afghanistan. In December, enough low-grade uranium-238 was discovered in tunnels near a former al-Qaeda base there to make one "dirty" bomb. They probably got the material on the black market, which has been thriving ever since the breakup of the Soviet Union, as smugglers in former communist countries sell off old weapons. Dirty bombs usually aren't powerful enough to blow up large structures, but they can spread radioactive contamination over a wide area.
A former Soviet GRU (military intelligence) agent says, "Mossad [Israeli intelligence] reported that bin Laden bought tactical nuclear weapons from some former Soviet republics. They are not the suitcase-type bombs that people often refer to, but more the warhead-type munitions. These are the payloads of short-range missiles, torpedoes, and the like."
But Rose Gottemoeller, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says, "I believe that the chance that al-Qaeda controls actual warheads is virtually nil?I think it more likely that they have some kind of lower-level sources than weapons-grade material?It is possible such material could have come to him from a former Soviet nuclear facility, not only in Russia, but in Kazakhstan, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, etc." Atomic Demolitions Munitions (ADMs) are miniaturized warheads that were developed by the U.S. during the Vietnam War. They were designed for use against structures such as bridges and dams. The Soviets soon built huge quantities of them for their own use, and GRU agents buried them near key U.S. government and military targets. Others were buried along Russia's borders for use as nuclear land mines in the event of invasion. They were often disguised as boulders. Each has a yield of about 1 kiloton, equivalent to 1,000 tons of TNT, and they can be set off by remote control. It?s been estimated that one ADM could immediately kill 100,000 people if it exploded in a major city center, with hundreds of thousands dying from cancer in the fallout.
At least 84 of these soviet warheads are missing and unaccounted for. ADMs remain potent for eight years; afterwards they need to be sent to a laboratory for refurbishment. This means we may be able to stop worrying about them if enough time goes by.
Paul Rogers, of the Center for Peace Studies in the U.K., says, "There were unconfirmed reports that one or two Soviet-era tactical nuclear weapons had got to Iran a few years ago. Apart from that, I do not have any evidence that al Qaeda has access to such weapons."
However, one senior Western intelligence official thinks they have nine of them, bought for $30 million plus 2 tons of opium per nuke. He says, "Reliable sources report that not only atomic munitions were sold by the Russian underworld and smuggled into [Central Asia] during the conflict between the U.S. and the Taliban, but that several Russian nuclear technicians were hired by the Islamic fundamentalists to try and make the weapons operational."
These might not be used directly against the United States. Instead, al-Qaeda may be planning to use them to create an Islamic superstate by using them to destroy the oil industry in the Middle East, causing a global economic meltdown, according to a report by the think tank Decision Support Systems.
With most of the world's oil reserves inaccessible, the United States would no longer have an economic interest in the region, and Islamic fundamentalism could take over. One sign of this might have been Iraq's attempt to destroy the oil fields in Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf war. Robert Sherman, of the Federation of American Scientists, says, "I presume that someone with a detailed knowledge of the oil field could cause a cascading effect with great damage."
Prior to September 11, al-Qaeda accused the United States of "robbing all Muslims" of $36.96 trillion by exploiting its oil interests in the Middle East and blamed the U.S. for the region's poverty.
U.S. intelligence is closing in on Osama bin-Laden, due to information from recently captured al-Qaeda operative Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. They think he's in the Baluchistan province of Pakistan, on the border of Iran, although Pakistan denies this. Intelligence operatives are being moved into the area.
There have been many unconfirmed reports of sightings of bin-Laden in the area on both sides of the Pakistani-Iranian border, and Mohammed has a large family there. "This has strengthened our belief that we are going to get him," says U.S. intelligence official.
Analysts believe Mohammed was recently in direct communication with people in bin-Laden?s camp, although intercepted telephone calls did not capture the voice of the Osama himself. Many people are convinced he must be dead?however, Mohammed has told interrogators that he's seen him within the last month.
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