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FBI Probes Dozens of WMD Threats Each Year

Ronald Kessler By Wednesday, 16 April 2008 11:49 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

The FBI gets at least several dozen cases a year involving weapons of mass destruction, Dr. Vahid Majidi, the bureau’s assistant director in charge of the WMD Directorate, tells Newsmax.

They range from a recent case where the deadly poison ricin was found in a Las Vegas hotel room to far bigger cases, still secret, where terrorist plots have been foiled.

As described by Majidi, who was previously the Chemistry Division leader at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the WMD Directorate was established in 2006 to coordinate all elements of the FBI that deal with WMD cases. Regarding a subject that is full of hype and misinformation, it is rare for an official who is an expert in the field and has access to classified information to talk about it for publication.

“We have developed a national program that deals with state actors, non-state actors, lone wolves, across the entire spectrum,” Majidi says. “So not only do we worry about countries trying to acquire technologies and tools from the United States to develop programs, we also worry about that singular person who tries to kill his or her spouse using extracted ricin.”

To zero in on plots in the making, the FBI uses a number of techniques, such as working with the federal, state and local partners who acquire and deploy radiation detectors. When it gets an indication of a potential WMD incident, the FBI conducts a threat assessment.

“A threat assessment is done when we get a call, or when one of our pre-event indicators pops off and we have to deal with an issue,” Majidi says. “We assess the threat posed by that event or indicator to see if it is a viable threat.”

Based on the assessment, the FBI decides how to deal with it and what resources to devote to it.

“We do threat assessments about a thousand times a year,” Majidi says. “The majority of them are absolutely what I consider issues that wash out very quickly, with no threat attached to them. Some take longer. Some yield cases that get us engaged very actively for a long time.”

The FBI’s biggest concern is that al-Qaida will detonate nuclear devices in the U.S.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller told Newsmax in an exclusive interview last May that Osama bin Laden and his terrorist group desperately want to obtain nuclear devices and explode them in American cities, especially New York and Washington, D.C.

Mueller admitted that the nuclear threat is so real he sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night worrying about that possibility.

Majidi believes the probability that the terrorist organization will succeed any time soon is low, however.

“There’s a lot of information on the Internet on nuclear, and that’s good news and bad news,” Majidi says. “The Internet has been an amazing tool for communication and dissemination of knowledge in general. At the same time, there’s a lot of bad information on the Internet.

"So for someone to really decipher the information, you need some level of expertise at the other end, to be able to sift through the massive amount of information and choose the right nuggets.”

A terrorist bent on detonating a nuclear weapon would have to successfully negotiate a series of steps, Majidi says. He would have to find an expert with the right knowledge. He would have to find the right material. He would have to bring the device into the country, and he would have to evade detection programs.

“While the net probability is incredibly low, a 10 kiloton device would be of enormous consequence,” Majidi says. “So even with those enormously low probabilities, we still have to have a very effective and integrated approach trying to fight the possibility.”

That entails using a forensic approach, including use of detectors and other technology, as well as an investigative and an intelligence approach.

“You have to bring the three approaches together, and each one of them will bring you a certain amount of information at a given time,” he says.

While TV shows like “24” feature suitcase nuclear devices, Majidi — who confesses he wouldn’t miss an episode — says that is a fantasy.

“One of the smallest weapons that we have had in our arsenal is the special atomic demolition munition, which weighs about 150 pounds and is designed to take bridges out,” Majidi tells Newsmax. “That is like carrying 17 gallons of milk. So that’s the kind of weight we’re talking about. That’s one of the smallest weapons that we have that is full-up,” meaning it is self-contained.

To be sure, a terrorist who stole a nuclear weapon from a country that has one would have an easier time.

“One of the things you have to understand is that nuclear markets are very ambiguous markets,” Majidi says. “There are as many bad guys trying to sell material as there are good guys trying to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”

Because of tips and intelligence coups, plots to obtain nuclear materials have been rolled up in Slovakia and Georgia.

As revealed in my book “The Terrorist Watch: Inside the Desperate Race to Stop the Next Attack,” Saddam Hussein admitted in debriefings by FBI Agent George Piro that he planned to resume his WMD program, including trying to develop a nuclear device, within about a year. [Editor's Note: Get Ron Kessler's book FREE — Go here now.]

Asked how long it would have taken Saddam to develop a nuclear weapon, Majidi notes that an Iraqi scientist buried in his garden centrifuges for separating uranium from plutonium.

“Assuming that Saddam was able to reassemble the centrifuge programs and he was able to enrich uranium, from there on I would say that’s a less-than-a-year project,” Majidi says.

Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
e-mail. Go here now.

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The FBI gets at least several dozen cases a year involving weapons of mass destruction, Dr. Vahid Majidi, the bureau’s assistant director in charge of the WMD Directorate, tells Newsmax.They range from a recent case where the deadly poison ricin was found in a Las Vegas...
Wednesday, 16 April 2008 11:49 AM
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