Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently described the Islamic State (IS, referred to by the U.S. government as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] and by many others as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham [ISIS]) as an “imminent threat to every interest we have,” with sophistication, funding, and military prowess “beyond anything that we’ve seen.” As yet, there is no convincing publicly available evidence that IS aspires to attain or use nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons (Matthew Bunn debunked alarmist press coverage over the group’s seizure of uranium from Mosul University). But good sense demands that policy makers not discount the possibility that ISIS might pursue unconventional weapons, given the vast resources of money and weapons ISIS has amassed during its rampage across Syria and Iraq. Evaluation of the threat might be divided into two categories: the inclination to pursue CBRN weapons, and the means to manufacture or capture them, and afterwards, to plan an attack using them.
Yesterday, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) released a letter signed by 26 senators asking the Obama Administration to increase funding for nonproliferation and nuclear security programs. In the letter, which was sent last week to Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan, the bipartisan group of senators raised concern regarding cuts to nuclear security programs over the past several years and requested that the Obama administration “seek increased funding for vital nuclear material security and nonproliferation programs” in its upcoming fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget request, expected to be released early in 2015. Read more about 26 Senators Call for Increasing Nuclear Security Funding
“I continue to be much more concerned, when it comes to our security, with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.” So said President Obama last March, weighing the danger of nuclear terrorism against that of Russian aggression in Ukraine. Yet our research shows that his administration proposes cutting the amount of money spent on an array of programs to secure nuclear bomb materials around the world and keep them out of terrorists’ hands — to $555 million next year from $700 million in fiscal 2014. And in both houses of Congress, there are efforts to legislate a suspension of nuclear security cooperation with Russia. Read more about The Russian Tie We Can't Cut
Two weeks ago, 330 attendees from over 86 member states and several international organizations convened for the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) International Conference on Advances in Nuclear Forensics, a three-day meeting in Vienna, Austria. Nuclear forensics seeks to identify the history and origin of nuclear material, by looking, as the IAEA puts it, at “the properties of the nuclear or other radioactive material through physical, chemical, elemental, and isotopic analysis, including major, minor, and trace constituents.” Once a given sample of material is characterized, the information can be interpreted by comparing it with other existing or known materials elsewhere. Read more about IAEA Conference on Advances in Nuclear Forensics