Intelligence Chiefs Paint Grim Picture of Proliferation

Paul Kerr

Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet issued a pessimistic assessment concerning the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in a February 11 statement to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The United States has entered a “new world of proliferation,” he said, adding that “the ‘domino theory’ of the 21st century may well be nuclear.”

A February 11 statement by Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, before the same committee echoed Tenet’s pessimism. Arguing that “the long-term trends with respect to WMD and missile proliferation are bleak,” he asserted that “some 25 countries possess or are actively pursuing WMD or missile programs.”

A biannual, unclassified report to Congress that the CIA released January 7 provided additional detail on proliferation activities. The report covers the period from July 1 to December 31, 2001.

Tenet supported his assessment by noting several trends. He said that it was becoming increasingly difficult to control the spread of WMD technology and equipment both to and from nonstate actors, and he said that Washington needs to “think about whether the [arms control] regimes we have in place actually protect the world.”

He added that there is a “continued weakening of the international nonproliferation consensus,” which is having a negative effect on arms control regimes. Tenet cited North Korea’s January withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as an example.

Tenet argued that “the desire for nuclear weapons is on the upsurge,” citing “the example of new nuclear states that seem able to deter threats from more powerful states,” an apparent reference to the current U.S. standoff with North Korea.

Finally, Tenet noted that an increasing number of states that have been importers of WMD technology could begin to sell that technology to other states. He said that “a potentially wider range of countries may be able to develop nuclear weapons by ‘leapfrogging’ the incremental pace of weapons programs in other countries” with suppliers’ assistance.

Jacoby added that “secondary proliferation—today’s technology importers becoming tomorrow’s exporters”—is likely to worsen as those countries’ technological sophistication increases. He cited Iran’s exports of missile production technology to Syria as an example.

Tenet also specifically warned that the widespread availability of relevant technologies was enabling proliferators trying to develop biological and chemical weapons. He emphasized the increasing difficulty of detecting such programs, saying that governments can more easily conceal acquisition and production because they are “less reliant on foreign suppliers” than they are for nuclear programs and can integrate “production capabilities into apparently legitimate commercial infrastructures.” Jacoby said that “over a dozen states” have such programs, adding that the DIA expects “these weapons will be used in a regional conflict” and by terrorists.

The intelligence chiefs also discussed the proliferation of delivery vehicles, especially ballistic and cruise missiles. Jacoby warned that the number and sophistication of these missiles will “increase significantly” and that North Korea, Iran, and “possibly” Iraq will “likely” pose “new [Intercontinental Ballistic Missile] threats” by 2015. He identified Russia, China, and North Korea as prime suppliers of missile technology but added that proliferation from Iran and Pakistan is expected to increase.

Tenet also expressed concern about countries’ efforts to acquire land-attack cruise missiles, stating that such missiles could threaten U.S. forces deployed overseas and “possibly…the U.S. mainland” by 2010.

Russian and Chinese entities remain significant suppliers for WMD programs. Tenet said that, despite the export controls that Beijing established in August, Chinese firms continue to supply Iran and Pakistan with missile technologies. (See ACT, September 2002.) Additionally, the CIA report indicates that it “cannot rule out the possibility of…contacts between Chinese and Pakistani entities” concerning Islamabad’s nuclear weapons program.

The CIA report states that Russian export controls need to be strengthened because Russia remains a supplier of dual-use nuclear, biological, and chemical materials to several countries, particularly Iran.

Tenet also expressed concern that terrorist groups might acquire materials to develop weapons of mass destruction, asserting that al Qaeda “seeks chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons.” He reiterated concerns that the group “has a sophisticated [biological weapons] capability,” adding that the group had acquired “both the expertise and the equipment needed to grow biological agents” in Afghanistan.

Tenet emphasized al Qaeda’s efforts to “produce or purchase a radiological dispersal device,” saying that “construction of such a device is well within” the organization’s capabilities.

Although the CIA has long been concerned about the growing threat of WMD terrorism, the January CIA report is the first to say that “unmanned aerial vehicles…and other types of cruise missiles present a serious and growing threat as potential WMD delivery vehicles” for terrorists.

Countries of Concern

The directors’ statements and the CIA report also provide some new details about the proliferation activities of several countries of particular concern.

North Korea
In his Senate testimony, Jacoby called North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs “the most serious challenge to U.S. regional interests in a generation”—a reference to Pyongyang’s plutonium-production and uranium-enrichment programs, which could be used for weapons purposes. The report also says that North Korea might be willing to sell nuclear weapons to other countries in the future.

Whether North Korea currently possesses a nuclear weapon remains unclear. The CIA report indicates that North Korea “probably has produced enough plutonium for at least one, and possibly two, nuclear weapons.” However, Tenet stated that North Korea “probably” possesses “one or two plutonium-based devices” during a February 12 hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. A State Department official was more definite in a January interview, saying that North Korea has already produced these weapons. (See ACT, January/February 2003.)

The CIA report states that Pyongyang has been “seeking…materials in large quantities to support a uranium enrichment program”—the first time any of its public reports have said this. The United States announced in October that North Korea had revealed the existence of the program earlier that month, although Pyongyang denies that it made such an admission. None of the intelligence reports contain details about the program’s progress or potential to produce nuclear weapons.

Both Tenet and Jacoby predicted that North Korea will not easily abandon its nuclear weapons programs. Tenet argued February 11 that Pyongyang’s efforts to use its nuclear weapons program as a bargaining tool “suggest” that North Korea “is trying to negotiate a fundamentally different relationship with Washington…that implicitly tolerates…[its] nuclear weapons program.” Pyongyang is “committed to retaining and enlarging its nuclear weapons stockpile,” he added.

North Korea’s ballistic missile development also continues to be a source of concern. Tenet testified during the February 12 hearing that Pyongyang currently possesses a missile capable of hitting the United States. However, a CIA spokesperson interviewed February 24 cited a December 2001 National Intelligence Estimate as the most recent public information available about the CIA’s assessment. That document states that North Korea’s Taepo Dong-2 missile could hit parts of the continental United States in a two-stage configuration and all of North America in a three-stage configuration. However, these missiles have not been tested, the spokesman said.

The longest-range missile North Korea has flight-tested is the Taepo Dong-1, which it launched into the Sea of Japan in 1998. As configured, that missile cannot reach the United States. Pyongyang announced in September that it would extend indefinitely a 1999 moratorium on missile testing. (See ACT, October 2002.)

Tenet, Jacoby, and the CIA report all discussed Iraq’s continued efforts to acquire nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. The CIA report states that Iraq has constructed facilities to produce solid fuel for use in longer-range missiles prohibited by UN Security Council resolutions and is rebuilding facilities to produce prohibited rocket motors. This information is not included in the CIA’s previous biannual report.

Tenet argued in his February 12 testimony that Iraq “is going to get a nuclear weapon sooner or later,” adding that Baghdad could assemble a weapon in one to two years if it obtained the proper fissile material.

Neither Tenet nor Jacoby were optimistic that Iraq will comply with UN resolutions demanding an end to its WMD programs. Tenet argued that Iraq is deceiving weapons inspectors while Jacoby predicted that Iraq will likely continue to defy the United Nations.

The DIA head also said that Iraq could use weapons of mass destruction against Iraqi citizens, the Kurds, Israel, and other states in the region if the United States takes military action against Baghdad.

Jacoby and the CIA report stated that Iran is attempting to obtain the technology to enable an indigenous production capability for chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and associated delivery systems.

The intelligence community has long been concerned with Iran’s civilian nuclear reactor program, believing it enables Iran to obtain technology for a nuclear weapons program. Jacoby estimated that Tehran could obtain a nuclear weapon by 2010 if it acquired the relevant technologies and fissile material.

Tenet expressed skepticism February 11 about the possibility for political change to end the Iranian program, stating that Iran will not give up its WMD programs, “regardless of [Tehran’s] ideological leanings.”

Tenet and the CIA report expressed a growing U.S. concern about Libya’s possible proliferation activities. Tenet stated that “Tripoli has been able to increase its access to dual-use nuclear technologies” since UN sanctions were suspended in 1999. The CIA report adds, “In 2001, Libya and other countries reportedly used their secret services to try to obtain technical information on the development of…nuclear weapons…[and] Libya’s continuing interest in nuclear weapons and ongoing nuclear infrastructure upgrades raise concerns.”

In addition to nuclear interests, “Libya clearly intends to reestablish its offensive chemical weapons capability,” Tenet said. The CIA has previously reported on Libya’s chemical weapons activities, as well as its efforts to acquire a biological weapons capability and ballistic missiles.