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NBC News MEET THE PRESS
Sunday, May 29, 2005
GUESTS: Former Senator Sam Nunn, (D-Ga.) Nuclear Threat Initiative
Senator Richard Lugar, (R-Ind.) Chairman, Foreign Relations Committee
Former Governor Thomas Kean, (R-N.J.) Chairman, 9/11 Commission
Former Representative Lee Hamilton, (D-Ind.) Vice Chairman, 9/11 Commission
Former Senator Fred Thompson, (R-Tenn.) "Last Best Chance"
MODERATOR: Tim Russert, NBC News
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: the threat and prevention of nuclear terrorism. Can we stop this man from getting and using a nuclear bomb? How secure are nuclear materials around the world? With us, the authors of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program: former Senator Sam Nunn, now head of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, and Senator Richard Lugar, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
(Videotape, "Last Best Chance")
Unidentified Man #1: Excuse me, Mr. President.
MR. RUSSERT: The lead actor in "Last Best Chance," a new docudrama about nuclear terrorism.
(Videotape, "Last Best Chance")
FMR. SEN. FRED THOMPSON, (R-TN): John, get the counterterrorism group to the situation room. We may have some loose nuclear material to deal with.
MR. RUSSERT: Former Senator Fred Thompson. And the chairman and vice chairman of the September 11th Commission: former Governor Tom Kean and former Congressman Lee Hamilton.
Announcer: America's press conference of the air...
MR. RUSSERT: And in our MEET THE PRESS Minute, nuclear fears in the midst of the Cold War; the first director of the Office of Defense and Civilian Mobilization from September 7, 1958.
(Videotape, September 7, 1958):
MR. LEO HOIGH (Director of the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization): But you must not leave the radioactive particles next to you or within the home, and that's sound advice to you.
MR. RUSSERT: But first, the threat of nuclear terrorism in 2005. This was President Bush Friday giving the commencement at the U.S. Naval Academy.
(Videotape, Friday, Naval Academy commencement address):
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: We're using all elements of national power to deny terrorists the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons they seek.
MR. RUSSERT: A somber warning from the commander in chief. Let me start with the September 11th Commission report and read these words: "The greatest danger of another catastrophic attack in the United States will materialize if the world's most dangerous terrorists acquire the world's most dangerous weapons. ...al Qaeda has tried to acquire or make nuclear weapons for at least ten years. ...officials worriedly [discussed] in 1998 reports that bin Laden's associates thought their leader was intent on carrying out a `Hiroshima.' These ambitions continue. In the public portion of his February 2004 worldwide threat assessment to Congress," former [Director of the CIA, George] "Tenet noted that Bin Laden considered the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction to be a `religious obligation.' He warned that al Qaeda `continues to pursue its strategic goal of obtaining a nuclear capability.'"
Chairman Kean, are you convinced that al-Qaeda is single-minded about obtaining nuclear weapons?
FMR. GOV. THOMAS KEAN, (R-NJ): I don't think there's any question about it. They've talked about this, as you've said, for 10 years. He talks about a Hiroshima. He's studied it. He feels that when we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, that it psychologically ended the war because the Japanese couldn't continue anymore. He believes that if he did the same thing to an American city, that we would get out of the Middle East, and therefore, it's his goal, and he's doing everything he can--they have been doing everything they can to acquire the means of both the methods and the materials in order to do this to an American city.
MR. RUSSERT: Congressman Hamilton, has he gotten close?
FMR. REP. LEE HAMILTON, (D-IN): Oh, we just don't know. We know his intent. There's no doubt about his intent. We're less sure about his capability. The tough part of getting a nuclear weapon is getting access to highly enriched uranium. And we have no doubt that he's trying to do that. What his capabilities are are in doubt. But, of course, this is the greatest threat to the national security of the United States. I don't think there's any disagreement on that among the commissioners. And so the good news is that you can prevent it if you can secure these materials.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to February 16, 2005, the United States Senate. Here's Porter Goss, the director of the CIA, testifying.
(Videotape, February 16, 2005):
MR. PORTER GOSS: It may be only a matter of time before al-Qaeda or other group attempts to use chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons. We must focus on that.
MR. RUSSERT: And then the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, asked Mr. Goss the following questions.
(Videotape, February 16, 2005):
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER, (D-WV): And I'd ask you, sir: Is the material missing from Russian nuclear facilities sufficient to construct a nuclear weapon?
MR. GOSS: Senator, the way I would prefer to answer that question is: There is sufficient material unaccounted for so that it would be possible for those with know-how to construct a nuclear weapon.
SEN. ROCKEFELLER: Can you assure the American people that the material missing from Russian nuclear sites has not found its way into terrorist hands?
MR. GOSS: No, I can't make that assurance. I can't account for some of the material so I can't make the assurance about its whereabouts.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Nunn, that's chilling. What can you tell us? How much is missing from Russian facilities, former Soviet Union facilities? How much nuclear materials are missing around the world?
FMR. SEN. SAM NUNN, (D-GA): Tim, there's a lot of material that's not accounted for. That doesn't necessarily mean that it has been sold or stolen, but it means we don't have a good baseline inventory of how much material there is and where it is. And that is one of the first steps that we've got to take. We and the Russians ought to have a baseline inventory of al of that nuclear material that is weapon grade, all of our weapon-grade nuclear material. We ought to have the same baseline inventory for every research reactor. Those research reactors are in over 40 countries around the world. Over 100 of them have enough highly enriched uranium in the research reactors to make a nuclear weapon. So if you don't have a baseline, you don't know when something is missing. And it's not only what may be missing in the past, but we don't have a baseline going forward. And so we've got to have that baseline.
We also need a baseline on tactical nuclear weapons. These are small weapons that are portable that could be stolen or sold. And we don't know how many the Russians have. We hope they know how many they have. That's where we need real presidential leadership; not just President Bush, but also President Putin. They need to step up to the plate, because there's a very large missing agenda here in terms of what we're even addressing.
MR. RUSSERT: The Russians may not know where all their tactical nuclear weapons are?
MR. NUNN: I don't know whether they know. I hope they know how many they have and precisely where they're located. We don't know that. We have no assurances of that. And what we need here is a bilateral agreement between the United States and Russia so that we tell them how many we have, they tell us how many they have and where they're located. We need transparency and we need bilateral agreements between the United States and Russia, starting there, and then it could expand to other countries.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Lugar, how secure do you believe the nuclear materials are in Russia?
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR, (R-IN): Well, they're reasonably secure, but I'd just follow on my colleague Sam Nunn's thought, that from the very beginning of our so-called non-nuclear program, we emphasized the accounting aspects of this. The Russians were, in our judgment, not necessarily sloppy about this, but they had handwritten documents covering many time zones. You know, the thought of computerizing this system, going after it--I don't think it's ever been a part of their repertoire. It needs to be a part of ours. In other words, I agree, our insistence upon this is of the essence, because ultimately what we're getting to here is that you have to control the stuff at the source. Once it gets out, trying to interdict it, to find it and so forth becomes infinitely more expensive and difficult, maybe impossible. And I think at this time in history, the Russians take this responsibly. They don't want to see it in the hands of Chechnyans, for example, and so therefore our interests are the same. The question's just physically doing it, laboratory by laboratory, piece by piece, and this systematic aspect has somehow escaped the process, in my judgment.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Thompson, you play a lead role in this new docudrama called "Last Best Chance." This is a scene of a Russian soldier, who's about to have a third child, who's offered five years' salary to provide two nuclear weapons to terrorists. How realistic is this kind of scene?
MR. THOMPSON: I think that it's realistic. I think that in times past it's probably been more realistic than it is today. I had an opportunity when I came to the Senate in '94 to follow the legacy of these gentlemen here in the Nunn-Lugar program and the bipartisan concern that this was the greatest threat that we had and I became one of those that was concerned. I went to the Russian equivalent, I guess, of Los Alamos, one of those old sites where they had these materials and made these weapons, and had a chance to see the shoddy way in which they were protected behind wooden doors with inadequate locks, being guarded by people who oftentimes weren't even getting paid, who were very vulnerable to compromise, and met with the scientists there who themselves were unemployed for the most part, you know, very vulnerable themselves to being co-opted by someone. So I had an opportunity firsthand to see that and so I think the film's very realistic in that respect.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you know of any situation where a Russian soldier may have sold nuclear materials?
MR. THOMPSON: I don't have personal knowledge of that, but we know the general quantity of the material, and we know what a pitiful condition that they were in when Senators Nunn and Lugar started their program.
MR. RUSSERT: Graham Allison has written a book, "Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe." He writes: "There are strategic chokepoints in the nuclear supply chain that, if closed tightly enough, could reduce the likelihood of a nuclear bomb going off in a city to nearly zero. ... We don't lose an ounce of gold from Fort Knox, nor do the Russians lose a single [piece of] artwork...from the Kremlin Armory. ... Why should we imagine that gold or art objects are more valuable and worthy of protection than nuclear weapons and materials?"
Seems like a very logical point.
MR. KEAN: It's absolutely logical, and I just--why everybody doesn't see it, as I understand it from what I've read, in the present scenario, it's going to take 14 years for us to secure these materials, just in the ex-Soviet Union. We don't have 14 years, and again, I've read that scientists have looked at this, say there's about a 50 percent chance as things now stand that in the next six years there will be an attack of some sort on some American city. We haven't got 14 years. So we've got to have the leadership, both the president and the bipartisan leadership as represented here to stand up and do something about it faster.
MR. RUSSERT: What is the problem? Here's another scene from "Last Best Chance" where a U.S. president, played by Fred Thompson, is speaking to the Russian president. Let's watch.
(Videotape from "Last Best Chance"):
MR. THOMPSON: This is a good start, but there's still much to do. As you know, you have dozens of facilities and hundreds of tons of nuclear materials that are not secure. Together we started trying to lock it down 10 years ago. If we had finished that job, we wouldn't be having that conversation, but we both have layers of bureaucrats who now fighting over trivial terms.
Unidentified Man #2: Well, Sam, it is not so trivial. You demand access to our most sensitive nuclear sites. My intelligence people call that spying.
(End of excerpt)
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Lugar, this suggests that there's still a lack of complete trust between the Americans and the Russians.
SEN. LUGAR: Well, to say the least. You know, often the suggestion that we spend more money this year, last year, what have you, may be a good idea but only if there is access to sites. For instance, in the biological area, there are four sites that simply are off limits to us altogether. And I've approached the defense minister of Russia about this, and he's unable to get to them. There are vested interests in Russia...
MR. RUSSERT: The defense minister of Russia...
SEN. LUGAR: Yeah, Ivanov.
MR. RUSSERT: ...can't get--he can't get to his own sites?
SEN. LUGAR: He said he was sorry, that this is not possible. After I go out to Kurof specifically, first of all, told that I can fly but my plane won't land. Finally after working with the foreign office, we land the plane, and I see people in our ISTP--International Science Technology Program--who have been down the street, who have retired, who tell us what's going on up the street, but that's still the level. And I said, "This is nonsense. What you need over here are pharmaceutical and chemical companies from America to help you clean this stuff up to save Russian people." And this is the degree of difficulty here.
Now, I would say furthermore with regard to dismantling missiles, the Russians only still want to do it so many at a time, and so it goes. This is a real push. Now, on the other hand, diplomatically, we could have been better at it. My judgment about our folks, which every administration is, is that they have not pursued what they needed to do as vigorously as possible. There were other things on the agenda with the Russians, other things on their minds. And maybe they didn't think the program we had was all that worthwhile to begin with. We go with ebbs and flows on this. But still, the importance of pursuing this subject today is to stress the urgency of both governments taking this seriously, the accounting for every bit of it at the source.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Nunn, there have been critics of Nunn-Lugar. Rich Kelly wrote in the Cato Institute magazine article that, Nunn-Lugar wasteful, dangerous illusion, that you're actually subsidizing the Russian military.
MR. NUNN: Well, the Russian military came down on the Soviet military after the break-up of the empire, came down like 80 percent, 90 percent in terms of expenditures. So the idea that we are going to give them a chance to build back up with this program to me is absolutely absurd. We're basically requiring that the work be done before the money is paid in most cases.
Is there some possibility of corruption or fraud? Absolutely. But what large government program does not have that possibility, including what we're doing around the world in Afghanistan and Iraq and other places that are very important? So we do have some possibility of waste. There's no doubt about that. There have been mistakes made.
But when you look at mistakes here, when you look at the tiny amount of money being spent compared to what we would go through if we had a nuclear explosion, just one crude weapon going off in a city anywhere in the world would destroy a great deal of the confidence required for our economy, our world economy to operate. So the stakes are enormously high.
We have to have cooperation with Russia. It has to be the front-burner issue between President Putin and President Bush. It has to be kept on the front burner by them. They have to ask their staffs every day, "What has the bureaucracy done today to remove the obstacles?" We have to get rid of the problems of access. We have to get rid of the problems of liability. That's got to be done, I think, at the presidential level. These obstacles, by both bureaucracies, are just unacceptable given the stakes that we have.
MR. RUSSERT: What do you mean by that, "liability"?
MR. NUNN: The question if some accident happened while we were handling nuclear material, helping the Russians, who is liable for it? Well, of course, the U.S. government doesn't want to be held liable unless there's gross negligence or something of that nature, and the Russians want more liability. We were able to work this out in the early stages. It's gotten more difficult as suspicions have gone up. But we have to change the psychology.
What Senator Lugar said about the Russians, they're really sometimes hard to work with, no question about that. But they have their own pride, they have their own sense of sovereignty. They have their own set of suspicions that grew out of the Cold War. We've really had them in a supplicant position, asking for funds and basically letting us have access to all of their sites. I think we've got to have much more reciprocity. I think we've got to have it on the biological side. We need to have transparency, and we need to have accountability on the biological side. We suspect them, they suspect us. We need to do that with tactical nuclear weapons, and we need to do it with materials. A little reciprocity here from the United States, giving them access to some of our sites, is not going to do harm to our national security and could open up a great deal, in my view, in cooperation from Russia.
MR. RUSSERT: What about each side having their nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert?
MR. NUNN: Well, that makes no sense. It makes no sense, and particularly from our security point of view, it makes no sense because the Russian's radar system and their warning systems have deteriorated substantially, so there's more chance of an accident now, not a deliberate attack; that possibility has gone dramatically down, but there's more chance of an accident now than there was during the Cold War. Makes no sense to have several thousand weapons that basically are on hair-trigger alert. It makes no sense for us to be in a position with our offensive forces so the Russians have to make a decision within 10 or 15 minutes, if they get a warning that we may be attacking, and it may be a false warning. It makes no sense at all. It's against our national security interest. Here again, you've got to have presidential leadership. These changes are not going to bubble up from the bottom. They've got to come from the top.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Thompson, do you agree with that?
MR. THOMPSON: Yes, I do. I do. I think that you have some inherent things you have to break through that have been difficult, going to continue to be difficult. I think that their nuclear capability, their arsenal is still one of the things that a lot of their older people take pride in, one of the last vestiges of the old power days that they have. I think opening all that up, giving it up is something that many insiders there don't want to do. I think some of our folks have some legitimate concerns. Some of our contractors don't want to be held liable in Russian courts. The rule of law there still leaves something to be desired, to say the least.
So these are things that are tough things to break, but they've made a lot of progress. You know, my understanding is now that they're talking to us and getting our help in terms of their dilapidated early warning system and so forth and, you know, we shouldn't sell short, you know, what's happened over the last decade in terms of securing and locking down a lot of these things, about half, I guess, of the Russian materials and Russian sites and so I think as Sam says, we have to continue to press from the top and get the kind of leadership that we need, at a time when there's so much competition for interest and resources here at home with regard to securing ourselves and our borders and our infrastructure and all of that, reforming our intelligence community, starting a Homeland Security Department and so forth-- all that requires effort, time, and attention, and large amounts of money. So I think that this deserves a higher priority than we've had, but it's certainly in the midst of a lot of other things that deserve consideration, too.
MR. RUSSERT: Bottom line, do you believe that the Nunn-Lugar Initiative has been worthwhile in America's security interest?
MR. THOMPSON: No question about it. It started the ball rolling. I think that there are a lot of additional programs now that the Department of Energy and other parts of the government have picked up on and so forth, but I think it's been one of the great bipartisan achievements of the last several decades.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you the Nunn-Lugar scorecard: All nuclear weapons removed from Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan; nuclear warheads deactivated, 6,564; nuclear missiles destroyed, 1,103- -13, excuse me; nuclear launchers eliminated, 1,056; nuclear warhead and material sites with security upgrades, 73. Senator Lugar, what's left to be done?
SEN. LUGAR: Well, the rest.
MR. RUSSERT: How much is the rest?
SEN. LUGAR: About half. I would say that in the case of bombers, transcontinental bombers, well over half of those have now been destroyed. Probably most of the types of submarines likewise, but at the same time, you know, these are threats that Americans have to look at in two ways, one of which is we're on good terms with the Russians. The chances of a nuclear attack by Russia are diminished and probably zero. But the accidents that might occur, the maintenance of these warheads that require constant attention so there's not a nuclear event in Russia. This is one reason why Russians always take us to the oldest ones first, because nobody really knows how long they last without a problem of this sort.
And as Sam has said, the hair-trigger alert business really has to have attention, because the Russian system is deteriorating and we're giving advice to the Pakistanis and the Indians, how they might avoid a nuclear incident, because they're not really prepared. We are, and we should know more about this as we deal with the Russians.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think we, the Russians and the United States, should go off of hair-trigger alert?
SEN. LUGAR: Yes, because at this particular juncture, this is a setup for a potential accident which, mercifully, has not occurred for half a century. And anybody who has been into one of those silos and gone down 13 stories and watched where a Russian sat hours at a time with pictures of the United States cities, the targets, from one of the 10 warheads that was on the missile on that silo--that's a chilling effect. This was for real, for 50 years. Now...
MR. RUSSERT: There's a picture of an American city on...
SEN. LUGAR: Yeah. Pictures, plural. So the Russians had a good idea where this thing was going to go and which 10 cities were going to be annihilated. Now, I saw such a thing in Ukraine; mercifully, it's gone. So the whole silo's gone. When Sam and I were out there, we saw a silo blown up. I have a picture in my office of it--the cable taken up.
MR. NUNN: Pulled the key. Pulled the key to blow it up.
SEN. LUGAR: Yeah. And so thank goodness, but still about half of it remains. Now, getting back to our first point, of the source, so does all of the fissile material after you take the warheads off of the missiles--and that was what the first indicator is. What do you do with the warheads? They're in tombs, of sorts, sort of sitting there with records of when they were built and how long they might have efficacy, and likewise how long before there might be a nuclear event. But someday we got to get them out of the tombs, down to the train station to take them down to where you begin to disassemble them. So--and then the fissile material is still around. Now, if the security for all of this is not first class all the way through, we just have a whole set of problems. Now, whether it's al-Qaeda or some other group, the possibility of preying upon this is evident.
MR. NUNN: Tim, could I inject one point here? The Nunn-Lugar scorecard you showed up there a minute ago talked about taking three countries out of the nuclear business: Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine. People would be interesting; every now and then you need a parable of good news. If you look at the light bulbs in this facility right here, the--theoretically, at least, one-tenth of the power, the electricity, coming to these light bulbs--one out of every 10 light bulbs is furnished by the nuclear material that was coming--that came from the missiles and the warheads that were dismantled in those three countries and in Russia. We're buying highly enriched uranium from those countries out of their warheads. They gave up all their nuclear materials and their nuclear weapons. It goes to Russia. It's blended down to low-enriched uranium. We're buying it and burning it in our power plants. And we have--about 50 percent of our nuclear fuel is low-enriched uranium coming from those bombs and those weapons, and it's about one-tenth of our electricity in this country. So there's hope here.
MR. RUSSERT: There's been a lot of discussion about the administration's role in all this. This was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: "The security of nuclear materials in post-Soviet Russia is still a cause for concern, but there is no `huge problem,' says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. ...Although she declined to provide statistics, Rice said, `I don't think that people should believe that we have a huge problem with a lack of security of nuclear material...'"
Congressman Hamilton, do you agree with that?
MR. HAMILTON: No, I do not. I think he we have a huge problem. This is a question of real priorities and urgency, as the senators have made very clear. And it's a tough problem because there are a lot of things competing for our interests and our resources today. But we believe that this is the most urgent threat to the American people, and although the likelihood of nuclear weapons being used against us by terrorists or whomever is not the highest, the consequences would be devastating, just devastating. Talking about several thousand people on 9/11 who lost their lives; devastated this country. We're talking now about the possibility of hundreds of thousands of Americans losing their lives.
I put this problem in an altogether separate category. And I think that the question is one of priorities. You cannot cut through these questions of bureaucracy, which incidentally are not all on the Russian side. We have the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, the Department of State all involved in administering these programs, and some of the bureaucratic problems are our own. You cannot cut through those. You cannot cut through the problems of access. You cannot cut through the problems of liability or the problems of how much money you spend without very direct, strong presidential leadership on this question. And I do not agree with statements that minimize the problem. I think that's exactly the problem, in a sense. You have to elevate this above all other problems of national security, because it represents the greatest threat to the American people.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe it's a huge threat?
MR. KEAN: Absolutely, and it requires a whole new mind-set. We went through all the Cold War and the idea is mutual destruction. We wouldn't throw it at them because we'd get it right back. They wouldn't throw it at us because they would be destroyed if they did, and we got through, 50 years or so, thinking about that. This is entirely different. These are small bands of people in uncontrolled parts of the world who don't care about that anymore. They simply want to destroy us. If some of them get destroyed themselves in the process, it doesn't matter any different--anymore. It's a whole new way of thinking. We got to understand that. If we understand that, then we've got whole new approaches on how to deal with that, and I'm not sure we have those approaches the way we should as yet.
MR. HAMILTON: Tim, we spend about a billion dollars a year on the Nunn-Lugar program today. We had a commission a few years ago headed by Senator Howard Baker and Lloyd Cutler, who recently passed away. I served on that commission. We recommended $3 billion a year, $35 billion over a 10- year period. I understand it's not primarily a matter of funds. I think Dick Lugar mentioned that a moment ago, because the programs that you have today seem to be adequately funded, the projects. But the problem is, we ought to be doing a lot more projects, and it does need, in my view at least, more funding, although that is certainly a debatable item. But the importance of budget is this. It's not just about money. Budgets are the way you signal priorities in this government, by all odds the most important signal. And I think more money is needed here to carry out a lot more projects, and that's part of pushing forward the priority here on this pre-eminent problem.
MR. RUSSERT: The administration did have success with Libya, and also taking down the AQ Con Network. Senator Lugar, as a Republican, do you believe that the Bush administration has done enough in terms of Russia and its nuclear and biological facilities?
SEN. LUGAR: No. I think the successes are there, but I agree with the general gist of this conversation, that--you know, the program started, because Sam Nunn invited some Democrats to breakfast and I invited some Republicans. We brought Ash Carter down from Harvard who'd written a paper about this. This didn't start with the president of the United States or the secretary of defense or the secretary of state. In many cases, they've all been reluctant, not bystanders but people that had to be convinced, year after year, that somehow something was going on here, and it didn't happen on my watch, it was still worth doing.
Now, you know, hopefully we've gone past that, but as Lee says, right now the priorities that the Baker- Cutler Commission pointed out, that others have, are still there. They're not being met. So this administration--and in fairness, every time I call President Bush, he says, "Well, I'm going to call Condi Rice right away," or Don Rumsfeld. And he does, and they call people. But if somebody like us around the table was not calling them--you know, that's why our government really works, checks and balances. But this was a congressional initiative. In many ways it still is and that's why it's important that we outline what needs to be done at this level and hope that we can convince our administration to do it.
MR. RUSSERT: We're going to take a quick break and come back and have a lot more of our conversation about the threat and prevention of nuclear terrorism.
MR. RUSSERT: More of our discussion on the threat and prevention of nuclear terrorism with Nunn, Lugar, Kean, Hamilton and Thompson after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. We've been talking about controlling the source, and this underscores it. Here's from the September 11th commission report.
"A nuclear bomb can be built with a relatively small amount of nuclear material. A trained nuclear engineer with an amount of highly enriched uranium or plutonium about the size of a grapefruit or an orange, together with commercially available material, could fashion a nuclear device that would fit into a van like the one Ramzi Yousef parked in the garage of the World Trade Center in 1993. Such a bomb would level Lower Manhattan."
And here's a scene from "Last Best Chance," a conversation between the national security adviser, the chief of staff and the secretary of Homeland Security. Let's watch.
(Videotape, "Last Best Chance"):
Unidentified Man #3: How do we keep one of those devices out of the country once they've left the source?
Unidentified Man #4: Every year, six million cargo containers come into this country by ship. Now, we have radiation detectors in several ports, but we're not in all of them. If we close those ports, the economy will stop dead. These weapons are easily shielded, a thin shield of lead will do.
Unidentified Man #5: Well, why don't we just shut down the borders, just stop every SUV, truck and van that comes to a crossing?
Unidentified Man #4: Sure, we can try. But this is a free country, open borders, lots of little roads, miles of open coastline.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Thompson, is it possible to stop nuclear weapons from getting into this country?
MR. THOMPSON: Well, we've got to try. We don't know. I think the time has passed when we can think we're ever going to be totally safe again. And it's a matter, in large part, of how much money we want to spend to be as safe as we can be. We can do a lot better than what we're doing. But you can tell from that that it is a tremendous challenge to keep that small a quantity of material of any kind from crossing our borders. We've got to do a much better job because the consequences of this particular action would be so devastating if it occurred.
MR. RUSSERT: Based on your research during your tenure as head of the 9-11 Commission, how porous are our borders for something like this?
MR. KEAN: Still extraordinarily porous. I mean, we just said in the film, we have not got a machine yet that will really detect nuclear materials properly as it comes across. They're too easy to shield, they're too easy to hide.
MR. RUSSERT: And Homeland Security is working very hard on that.
MR. KEAN: They're working hard on it, but they're not there yet. And we've had something, evidently it didn't work very well, that we spent a lot of money on. So we're going to try again, and we're working on it.
In addition, we're working, of course, on border security, but we've got very long borders on both our sides, plus the container ports. And it is very, very difficult, will take a long time. And that's why Nunn-Lugar is so very important. If we don't get this stuff at the source, if we don't lock it down, once it's escaped from those sources, once it's away and moving around the world, it's going to be very hard to stop.
MR. HAMILTON: There's no silver bullet here. The key is a multilayered defense. The emphasis has to be at the source. But after that, you have to have a lot of different layers of defense in order to protect yourself. We want the borders to be open. We don't want to close down these borders. That's part of this being a free country. So the problem here is to let the--keep the bad guys out and let the good guys in, keep the bad materials out and let the good materials in. And the good guys and the good materials far exceed the bad. But those good guys and good materials are enormously important to this country. So you have to have a multilayered defense, you have to operate at the borders, you have to operate within this country, you have to operate at the source to have all kinds of defenses. The president's proliferation security initiative to interdict weapons on land, sea and air is a very good initiative, but you have to recognize that you're not going to be able to stop it all.
MR. RUSSERT: If you had any doubt about Osama bin Laden's intent, I refer everyone to this. "In 2003, Osama bin Laden sought and received a religious ruling or fatwa from a radical Saudi cleric authorizing the use of a nuclear bomb against U.S. civilians as permissible under Islamic law. The ruling concluded that their use would be mandatory if it were the only way to stop U.S. actions against Muslims. `If a bomb that killed 10 million of them and burned as much of their land as they have burned Muslims' land were dropped on them, it would be permissible,' the ruling concluded."
SEN. LUGAR: Well, Tim, clearly he said this, but it works principally because there are a number of young people in life now who are prepared to commit suicide. Whether they are people in madrassa schools in Pakistan, quite apart from al-Qaeda--in other words, a different psychology, like the 9/11 people who went into the Trade Center. Now, because of this, we need two more things we haven't discussed today: better intelligence. And this means a lot of meshing of gears with every country, with the Germans, with the French, with the Russians, so that even if Osama has these objectives and there are even instruments, these suicidal young people, they can still be stopped if we know where they are, where they're coming from. Likewise, the money flow; a lot of good work done in our international banking system, even within our own country. The Treasury cooperating with other people in ways we haven't before; intrusions in privacy perhaps, but an attempt to stop the money flow. So that by stopping the money and getting some better idea through intelligence, we once again get back away from our borders. We're looking at other countries and other activities and disrupting whatever is out there.
MR. RUSSERT: But the Robb-Silverman Commission said, "The intelligence community knows disturbingly little about the nuclear programs of many of the world's most dangerous actors, including Iran and North Korea. In some cases, it knows less now than it did five or 10 years ago." Senator Nunn.
MR. NUNN: We've got to dramatically improve our intelligence, but we also have to--as Tom said a few minutes ago, we have to change the basic thought process. Director ElBaradei basically said in reference to the non-proliferation conference that we just finished in New York without any...
MR. RUSSERT: The International...
MR. NUNN: Yeah, the international agreement...
MR. RUSSERT: ...Energy Atomic Agency.
MR. NUNN: It's the deal between have nations with nuclear weapons and have-not nations that agree not to have nuclear weapons. But the have nations agreed to take steps years ago with every president endorsing those, including our incumbent administration, to basically reduce the dependency on nuclear weapons and make them less a part of the overall value equation. We aren't doing that, and Director ElBaradei said it's hard to tell people to quit smoking when you're chain smoking yourself.
We've got to change the psychology. We've got to understand that there is almost an identity of interest between the United States and Russia--between the United States, Russia, and China and Japan and Europe. We all have a stake in this. We're getting--we really have more security interest in common now than we had in the last 100 years in terms of the major powers, but we're not behaving as if we do, and we've got to change the whole psychology here. This is a partnership. This is a race between cooperation and catastrophe.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me read one last comment from Graham Allison. "The absolute best place to start in getting your mind around this problem is to think about what happens when a nuclear weapon goes off in Boston, New York or Los Angeles. ..." Not if, but when. "What logically flows from that scenario is the overriding, categorical imperative to do everything we possibly can to avoid such a catastrophe, on the fastest possible timetable. This is not a case where it's possible to do too much. Because if a nuclear bomb goes off in one of our cities, it will be an America-altering event. ... If a couple of our cities are hit--and if it happens once, it can happen twice--it will be a civilization- threatening event."
MR. HAMILTON: The one reaction I have to that, Tim, is--we've been talking a lot about the American government's responsibility, and, obviously, it's the lead government, but we need a lot more help from the G8 nations, for example. They've made commitments here to deal with nuclear proliferation, and they've not followed through on those commitments. This is not just an American problem; this is a worldwide problem. And we certainly need a lot more help than we've been getting from our allies, who have given us rhetorical support, but not very much material.
MR. THOMPSON: It's amazing sometimes how much we have to hear in order for it to sink in in this country. We were--Osama bin Laden declared war on us in 1985; we kind of let that slide. We were aware of our intelligence deficiencies; we kind of let that slide for a long while. And now we're hearing this, and we still are not prioritizing perhaps as much as we should. And what has happened here, of course, is that the threat has been there for a long, long time. These loose nukes and so forth have been around. The destruction they could do to an American city--that threat has been there for a while. What has changed now is the number of people who are willing to carry out an operation to use those weapons. So you have the addition of the suicidal terrorists, plus the new nation-states, rogue nations, if you will, that are clearly developing the similar capabilities.
So it's--we're just in the very, very beginning, in terms of attention, in terms of need for leadership, in terms of money in this nation in addressing this problem, which surpasses all the other problems that we think we have in this country.
MR. RUSSERT: An alliance between North Korea and al-Qaeda?
MR. THOMPSON: Yes. Oh, certainly, it's realistic. The nation-state developments--it takes a country, basically, to have the infrastructure to really develop these things, and so any kind of nation-state that has that capability and alliance with a terrorist organization is the ultimate threat, seems to me, and very realistic one.
MR. RUSSERT: Not trying to alarm the American people, but to talk straight to them this morning, I'd like to go around the table. Chairman Kean, let me start with you. Based on everything you've learned during the course of your work as chairman of the September 11 Commission, do you believe it's a distinct possibility that you could witness a nuclear bomb in the United States of America in your lifetime?
MR. KEAN: I believe that, and we talked to nobody who had studied this issue who didn't think it was a real possibility. And if we don't perhaps head Lincoln's advice and, at this point, think anew and act anew, I worry very seriously.
MR. HAMILTON: Oh, yes, I think it's a distinct possibility. This technology is spreading. It's no longer confined to a few people or one or two countries. We've been fairly fortunate with the non- proliferation regime over a period of several decades now. We don't have nearly as many nuclear-power countries as might have been predicted 30 years ago. So the technology is spreading; terrorism is spreading; radical Islam is spreading. You've got an explosive mix here.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Nunn?
MR. NUNN: I agree. I think, though, that the message ought to be: It is certainly possible, but it is also preventable. There are a lot of things we can do that we have not done. I think the public can get involved by getting their leaders to put this on the front burner. Lastbestchance.org will get you a copy of the film. We believe that getting the public involved to help people like Dick Lugar, who are over there every day trying to explain to people why the Nunn-Lugar program is not foreign aid--and that goes on constantly. He and Joe Biden and others who support this program need help, so we need the American public involved, and also, we haven't gotten this formula yet. We've got to get a way to get this message to the Russian people. They've got to put pressure on their leaders, also.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Lugar, a distinct possibility?
SEN. LUGAR: Yes, but I have the optimism that Sam has, that it's preventable. And I would just say: The need for more effective diplomacy in which we get together with the Russians so they help out our seven partners in Europe to spend this money that Lee Hamilton's talking about. Or are we--really work with great people like Jim Reed and Andy Weber and others who are there in the Pentagon now who have been instructors to us about what happens with chemical weapons, which we haven't talked a whole lot about and which may be a threat, or a dirty bomb, in which you don't have a nuclear bomb explosion but you pretty well ruin a city--these are all aspects that are preventable but more likely.
MR. RUSSERT: Before we go, Mr. Chairman, will John Bolton be confirmed by the United States Senate to be ambassador to the U.N.?
SEN. LUGAR: I think that Dr. Bill Frist will find a way.
MR. RUSSERT: Will the Democrats get the materials they're seeking, the background information they want?
SEN. LUGAR: I don't know, and that is an important question, which we all should...
MR. RUSSERT: Should they have it?
SEN. LUGAR: I think the intelligence people have to be heard. They feel in our Intelligence Committee, no. With regard to whatever happened in Syria with John Bolton, perhaps. My guess is that these were tactical maneuvers and are not really material to the nomination.
MR. RUSSERT: But there will be a vote?
SEN. LUGAR: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: And he will be approved?
SEN. LUGAR: I believe so.
MR. RUSSERT: Chairman Dick Lugar, Sam Nunn, Fred Thompson, Tom Kean, Lee Hamilton, thank you for a very sobering discussion this morning.
Coming next, nuclear fears in the midst of the Cold War: our MEET THE PRESS Minute from 1958, some of the very same issues, only then it was the Soviet Union.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. The 1950s: The Cold War enters its atomic stage. As Americans grow increasingly fearful of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union, schools institute duck-and-cover drills.
(Videotape, educational campaign film):
Unidentified Man #6: Now, tell me right out loud, what are you supposed to do when you see the flash?
Unidentified Children: (In unison) Duck and cover!
MR. RUSSERT: Bomb shelters are constructed and the government mounts a nationwide educational campaign for civil defense.
(Videotape, September 7, 1958):
MR. NED BROOKS (NBC News): According to a recent study by the RAND Corporation, a full-scale attack on the United States could wipe out 90 percent of our population. The readiness of our civil defense measures, in case of war, could be the deciding factor of national survival. Our guest today is the first director of the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization. He is Mr. Leo Hoigh, the former governor of Iowa.
MR. LAWRENCE SPIVAK (NBC News): If we had a nuclear attack today or any time in the near future, do you think there are many Americans who would know what to do?
MR. HOIGH: Yes, sir, I believe that there are a great number of people that would know what to do, particularly if they would follow the directions and instructions of the local authorities. We, of course, in our office, work with them and we do hope that this information is disseminated to all of the people.
We're getting that message to you. We hope that you will then take action after you get the message.
MR. SPIVAK: Governor, I understand you printed some millions of copies of this handbook.
MR. HOIGH: Forty-two million, yes.
MR. SPIVAK: Governor, on decontamination you have a picture of a woman with a carpet sweeper and a man taking a shower and the suggestion is made that this can be washed away. "Radioactivity decays as time passes. Moreover, fallout like dust can be removed from surfaces by washing, by vacuum cleaning, by plowing under."
MR. HOIGH: And that is...
MR. SPIVAK: Is this a realistic thing...
MR. HOIGH: That's...
MR. SPIVAK: ...to give to the American people?
MR. HOIGH: That is realistic, that's based upon scientific research.
MR. SPIVAK: And if 150 of our big cities were attacked by nuclear weapons, you expect the women of this country to get their carpet sweepers out and the men to take showers?
MR. HOIGH: Well, Mr. Spivak, now remember this. If there are particles that are blown into the home, pick them up, get them out and do it with the machine and then throw it outside after you've done it. But you must not leave the radioactive particles next to you or within the home. And that's sound a advice to you.
MR. SPIVAK: Do you have a shelter in your home?
MR. HOIGH: Yes, sir.
MR. SPIVAK: Do you know many people who have a shelter?
MR. HOIGH: Well, I'll tell you, my children visit with other children and they're encouraging the neighbors, and I find that my neighbors now are...
MR. SPIVAK: There are five of us, here, Governor. I question whether one of us here has a shelter.
Unidentified Man #7: The vote seems to be no.
MR. HOIGH: That's right but now suppose we build one for you, I don't think you would accept it.
MR. SPIVAK: Yes, I would, Governor. Yes, I would, Governor.
MR. HOIGH: Oh, I doubt you...
Unidentified Man #7: Mr. Steele...
MR. HOIGH: You know, when you participate in something, then you understand it and you appreciate your responsibility in it.
MR. SPIVAK: Governor, I'd accept it.
MR. HOIGH: Good.
MR. RUSSERT: And we'll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: That's all for today. We'll be back next week at a special early time in most cities, 8 a.m. Eastern, when our guest will be the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman. That's an early time before the French Open tennis finals, 8 a.m. Eastern. Check your Web site for a complete list of air times, mtp.msnbc.com.
If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS. And on this Memorial Day weekend, remember and thank those who gave their lives for our freedom.
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