Homeland Security Begins Abroad
LONG before the terrorist group Al Qaeda burst onto the world stage, Lawrence Livermore and other national laboratories were quietly working far from home to secure a first line of defense against nuclear terrorism.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the security apparatus for protecting the vast stocks of Soviet nuclear materials was in jeopardy as guards, scientists, and other nuclear workers went unpaid for months. Former Laboratory director John Nuckolls was one of the first to call attention to the possibility that poorly secured weapons or materials could fall into the hands of proliferators or terrorists or that economic necessity might tempt weapons scientists to accept employment with rogue states or terrorist groups.
Congress responded with legislation launching a suite of nonproliferation programs, including the Department of Defense’s Cooperative Threat Reduction Program and the Department of Energy’s laboratory-to-laboratory program. Over the past 16 years, these efforts have significantly advanced global security. They have led to the deactivation and destruction of thousands of nuclear warheads, hundreds of intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear surface-to-air missiles, and submarine-launched missiles as well as nuclear submarines, nuclear bombers, submarine and mobile missile launchers, missile silos, and nuclear test tunnels. In addition, hundreds of tons of weapons-usable nuclear material at facilities across the former Soviet Union have been secured.
During this period, Laboratory personnel have made countless trips to Russia and other former Soviet states to work with their counterparts at sites from Moscow to Murmansk to Kamchatka. In addition to the work to secure at-risk nuclear material under the International Material Protection and Cooperation Program, Livermore personnel have helped to improve Russian border security and the interdiction of smuggled nuclear materials and to recover at-risk and orphan radioactive sources. They have held numerous training workshops aimed at implementing more rigorous procedures to prevent the export of Russian dual-use technologies. They have also worked with many hundreds of former Soviet weapons scientists to help develop nonmilitary applications of their technologies and establish self-sustaining civilian enterprises that will employ former weapons workers.
The attacks on September 11, 2001, turned the country’s focus to the threat of terrorism and the possibility that terrorists might acquire and use weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The U.S. established the Department of Homeland Security and launched the global war on terrorism, appropriating billions of dollars to support these efforts. The Laboratory has contributed much to improve security at home and abroad, from developing advanced detectors for biological, explosive, and radiological materials to tracking terrorist efforts to acquire WMD capabilities.
And all the while, as described in the article Out of Harm’s Way, Laboratory personnel have continued to work quietly but steadily to address the most important step in nuclear terrorism prevention—securing nuclear materials at the source. These unsung heroes will never capture the spotlight with a spectacular smuggling bust or the invention of an amazing new detector, but surely and steadily, they are helping to improve the protection and control systems for securing materials that could fuel the flames of WMD proliferation and terrorism.