The Secret 'White Trains' That Carried Nuclear Weapons Around the U.S.

The Secret 'White Trains' That Carried Nuclear Weapons Around the U.S.

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At first glance, the job posting looks like a standard help-wanted ad for a cross-country trucker. Up to three weeks a month on the road in an 18-wheel tractor-trailer, traveling through the contiguous 48 states. Risks include inclement weather, around-the-clock travel, and potentially adverse environmental conditions. But then the fine print: Candidates should have “experience in performing high-risk armed tactical security work…and maneuvering against a hostile adversary.”

The U.S. government is hiring “Nuclear Materials Couriers.” Since the 1950s, this team of federal agents, most of them ex-military, has been tasked with ferrying America’s roughly 6,000 nuclear warheads and extensive supply of nuclear materials across the roads and highways of the United States. America’s nuclear facilities are spread out throughout the country, on over 2.4 million acres of federal real estate, overseen by the Department of Energy (DOE)—a labyrinth of a system the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists called “highly scattered and fragmented…with few enforceable rules.”

Some sites are for assembly, some are for active weapons, some are for chemicals, some are for mechanical parts. What this means in practice is that nuclear materials have to move around—a lot.

For as long as the United States has had nuclear weapons, it has struggled with the question of how to transport America’s most destructive technology throughout the country without incident. “It’s the weak link in the chain of nuclear security,” said Dr. Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Today the United States relies almost entirely on million-dollar, Lockheed Martin tractor-trailers, known as Safeguard Transporters (SGTs) and Safe Secure Trailers (SSTs) to move nuclear material. But from the 1950s through the 1980s, the great hope for safe transit was so-called “white trains.”

These trains looked entirely ordinary, except for a few key details. They featured multiple heavily armored boxcars sandwiched in between “turret cars,” which protruded above the rest of the train. The turrets had slit windows through which armed DOE guards peered out, prepared to shoot if they needed to defend the train. Known in DOE parlance “safe, secure railcars,” or SSRs, the white trains were highly resistant to attack and unauthorized entry. They also offered “a high degree of cargo protection in event of fire or serious accident,” the DOE assured a wary Congress in 1979.

Though nuclear trains staffed by snipers guarding powerful weapons sounds like something out of an action-adventure film, the trains were far from glamorous. They moved slowly, maxing out at 35 miles per hour—a virtual crawl compared to the average Amtrak train. This meant very long cross-country journeys for their seven-member crews. One of the most common routes for the train took nuclear bombs from Texas to Bangor, Washington, delivering the weapons at a submarine base on the banks of the Puget Sound. Another frequent route took bombs from Texas to Charleston, South Carolina, where a set of submarines sat poised for missions in the Atlantic.

The epicenter of nuclear transit was the Pantex Plant, about 17 miles outside of downtown Amarillo, Texas, a maze-like complex of dozens of buildings located on 10,000 acres of land. Amarillo was the final destination for almost all of America’s nuclear trains and the Pantex Plant was the nation’s only assembly point for nuclear weapons, a role it maintains to this day.

The United States built Pantex in 1941 as a World War II munitions base, and in 1951, it was quietly refurbished to serve a new Cold War role. Soon, a growing portion of Amarillo’s 100,000 citizens were employed in bomb assembly and disassembly. “Inside Gravel Gertie bunkers designed to contain explosions and contamination, moonlighting farmers and silent young mechanics bolt together the warheads for Trident missiles and delicately dismantle older weapons,” wrote the Washington Post in 1982.

While the site received materials like uranium and plutonium from around the country, only Pantex had the heavily shielded cells where the bombs’ mechanical parts could be joined to nuclear material. Assemblers of nuclear warheads, clothed in blue overalls, thick gloves, and safety shoes with rubber slipcovers, worked in pairs to attach the nuclear material and the explosives. From these cells, the bombs were taken to bays where workers would add firing components, casings and tails.

Each day trucks and trains rolled in, carrying plutonium from Georgia and Washington, bomb triggers from Colorado, uranium from Tennessee and neutron generators from Florida. They rolled out on white trains, carrying fully assembled nuclear weapons.

These trains quietly snaked along America’s railroads for 30 years, a top-secret project with an impeccable track record. Yet today, every white train sits in a junkyard or a museum. Why did America abandon its nuclear trains, which many Cold War nuclear experts considered to be the safest mode of transport for sensitive weapons material?

Derailing the White Trains

Anxieties about nuclear war loomed heavily in the national psyche at the turn of the 1980s, and as a growing roster of cities became involved in U.S. nuclear development, Americans began to express (often very justified) fears about the materials being stealthily moved around amid the backgrounds of their lives.

In his first term in office, President Reagan quadrupled defense spending and suggested that the United States was willing to use nuclear strength against the Soviets if necessary. In March 1982, Time Magazine published a cover featuring a billowing red mushroom cloud and the phrase “Thinking the Unthinkable.”

One American reckoning with the “unthinkable” was Jim Douglass, a Catholic theologian affiliated with a nuclear resistance group called Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action. In 1981, Douglass purchased a home in Washington, overlooking the Naval Submarine Base Bangor on the coast of the Puget Sound. Each day Douglass and his wife would look out their front window onto the bay, and again and again they saw the same thing: a white train entering and exiting the heavily secured base.

“It was an awesome sight,” Douglass told People. “You feel the reality of an inconceivable kind of destruction. Anybody who sees this train experiences the evil of nuclear arms, because it looks like what it is carrying — a white night.”

Jim and Shelley Douglass, with the aid of the Ground Zero Center, launched a controversial fight to stop the white trains, what Mr. Douglass called “the most concentrated symbol we have of the hell of nuclear war.” With the aid of a train-buff friend, they determined the most likely route from Amarillo to Washington. They then contacted peace and religious groups on the route, asking them to watch for the train, to organize a prayer vigil or a nonviolent protest when the train appeared, and to inform local newspapers about the train’s arrival.

Actions against the white trains took place throughout the United States, with vigils occurring in more than 300 communities. In Memphis, a white train came inches away from hitting a nun who stood in the middle of the tracks. In Washington, D.C. activists laid a section of railroad in front of the DOE building, and surrounded the track with a blown-up photograph of a white train, a map of its known routes, and a large banner reading, “The Nuclear Train Starts Here.”

The nuclear resistance movement posed serious problems for the DOE. Not only did it generate terrible press, it also directed public attention to what the agency had carefully designed to be a classified process. The DOE wasn’t just worried about angry pacifists, it was worried about someone learning the routes and hijacking a train—a worst case scenario for American nuclear security.

The DOE’s first attempt to thwart protesters involved rerouting the trains. From the DOE command center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, officials issued last minute directives to the engineers to take “the tracks of least resistance.” But as the network of anti-nuclear activists grew, they became increasingly adept at tipping off the community if they saw an unmarked white train plow down their railways. The agency proposed new regulations that would make it illegal to pass information about the routing of the white train, but got little traction.

So the DOE undertook a logical next step: changing the color of the trains. A July 1984 memorandum titled “Color Change of Safe-Secure Railcars” noted that “the painting of these railcars will not stop dedicated protesters from identifying our special trains. However, it will make tracking our trains more difficult, and we believe, enhances the safety and security…” The DOE painted the trains red, green, grey, and blue, but anti-nuclear activists continued to track the trains with relative ease—after all, not many commercial trains had turrets for snipers.

The battle against the white trains reached its peak in 1985, when 146 people were arrested over the course of one train’s journey from Amarillo to Bangor. Jim and Shelley Douglass, as well as many of their closest collaborators were charged with trespassing and conspiracy. But surprisingly, a Washington jury returned a not-guilty verdict for the 20 activists who sat on the train tracks and county officials announced they would no longer arrest people for protesting and obstructing the weapons trains.

Public pressure, activist interference, and a growing constellation of nuclear sites in the U.S. triggered the demise of the controversy-ridden trains. Shortly after the Washington lawsuit, the U.S. government began exclusively using Safeguard Transporters for moving nuclear materials. The DOE expressed confidence that a system of trucks would be easier to obscure and would provide a practical solution to reaching the many nuclear sites far away from train tracks.

The Future of Nuclear Rail

While the white trains came to an unceremonious end in 1987, the Department of Energy didn’t abandon all hope for using trains in experimental national security measures. In 1986, President Reagan approved a system for launching intercontinental ballistic missiles from railways, an initiative known as Peacekeeper Rail Garrison. The plan would park 25 trains carrying two missiles apiece at military bases throughout the U.S. In the case of Soviet agitation, the locomotives would move onto the nation’s railroad network, where missiles could be launched from the train.

Though a group of protesters had effectively brought down the white trains, officials appeared confident that the nation’s rail network could provide an effective means of hiding weapons. By the late 1980s, the United States had 120,000 miles of available track, 20,000 locomotives, and 1.2 million railcars. At any given time, there were more than 1,700 trains on the tracks; military representatives insisted this would make it almost impossible for the Soviets to track where in the U.S. these 50 missile-laden trains had gone. “Rail-garrison will be the mainstay of our strategic defense well into the 21st century,” predicted one Texas Senator.

The Cold War ended before a single missile could roll onto the tracks. When the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991, the U.S. began decommissioning much of its nuclear arsenal and discontinued expensive, experimental projects like Peacekeeper Rail Garrison. But in 2013, the U.S. Air Force briefly toyed with the idea of a similar system, which would move missiles around the tracks of an underground subway system. The Air Force’s rationale remained much the same: if you could keep the missiles moving, you would deter attackers and make it be nearly impossible to pinpoint the weapons’ exact location. Critics have dismissed this proposal as a pie-in-the-sky idea, and even its proponents conceded it would likely take another 50 years to make such a project operational.

Today’s nuclear infrastructure—much of which is focused on decommissioning rather than building weapons—is reliant on Safeguard Transporters and their armed drivers. Much like the rest of the America’s nuclear arsenal, most of the trucks are antiquated; about half of the SSTs are over 15 years old. The trucks, which log over three and a half million miles each year, are accompanied by unmarked escort vehicles and their only easily recognizable feature is their U.S. Government license plates.

“I never had a sense there was a fear about moving things,” said Dr. Robert Rosner, former director of the Argonne National Laboratory, who oversaw the lab’s nuclear waste disposal efforts from 2005 to 2009. “The drivers knew what they were doing. They were accompanied by state police. We had confidence in the physical robustness in the transportation itself,” Rosner recalled, pointing to videos showing how the materials respond to a train crash, a truck flipping, and other potential catastrophes.

Transportation of nuclear materials is currently overseen by the Office of Secure Transportation (OST), an agency that has attracted only minimal attention in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union. But a 2017 Los Angeles Times investigation suggested problems may lurk beneath the surface. OST is understaffed, with the average courier working about 75 hours a week. Turnover is extremely high. In 2010, a DOE investigation found “widespread alcohol problems” within the agency, including incidents that occurred while couriers were on secure transportation missions. The DOE conceded that these episodes “indicate a potential vulnerability in OST’s critical national security mission.”

Major challenges remain for nuclear transportation in America. Plans to “modernize” America’s nuclear arsenal, supported by both the Obama and Trump administrations, means that weapons will be taking more trips than ever on American roads. Beginning in 2010, around one thousand W76 warheads traveled from Bangor, Washington back to Amarillo, Texas, for upgrades to extend the life of the weapon by 30 years—a massive undertaking, entirely dependent on the OST’s fleet of Safeguard Transporters.

Whether waste or weapons, trains or trucks, the United States has been remarkably fortunate in avoiding major transportation mishaps. Since the days of the white trains, the government has insisted that nuclear materials are being moved across the American landscape in the safest possible way, persisting through crashes, fires, and interfering nuns. Yet public fears endure about whether moving such materials can ever truly be “safe.”

“We’ve been moving this stuff since the Cold War, and we’ve never had a major accident,” said Rosner. “But the system depends on secrecy. If we have an accident, that veil will be lifted.”

In the past, a military officer carrying a special briefcase (nicknamed "The Football") had to accompany the President wherever he went. The briefcase carried the secret daily codes needed to launch a nuclear attack along with a list of targets and attack scenarios.

To launch an attack, the President would need to confirm his identity using a code printed on a plastic card (nicknamed "the biscuit"), which the President was supposed to always have in his possession. With today's technology and internet availability, the "football" and the "biscuit" have become obsolete.

As a supreme show of confidence in the new White House Cybersecurity Plan and an ongoing commitment to openness and transparency, the Daily Nuclear Codes are uploaded to this White House website giving the President immediate access to these vital codes wherever he is.

Because these Top Secret codes are protected through the use of a retinal scan, they can only be accessed by President Obama. This online nuclear launch capability along with the Cyber Warfare Command and Control System give President Obama the tools he needs to keep our nation safe.

Nuclear Weapons on a Highway Near You

Adam Weinstein

Nuclear trucking routes in the US Jeff Berlin

“Is that it?” My wife leans forward in the passenger seat of our sensible hatchback and points ahead to an 18-wheeler that’s hauling ass toward us on a low-country stretch of South Carolina’s Highway 125. We’ve been heading west from I-95 toward the Savannah River Site nuclear facility on the Georgia-South Carolina border, in search of nuke truckers. At first the mysterious big rig resembles a commercial gas tanker, but the cab is pristine-looking and there’s a simple blue-on-white license plate: US GOVERNMENT. It blows by too quickly to determine whether it’s part of the little-known US fleet tasked with transporting some of the most sensitive cargo in existence.

As you weave through interstate traffic, you’re unlikely to notice another plain-looking Peterbilt tractor-trailer rolling along in the right-hand lane. The government plates and array of antennas jutting from the cab’s roof would hardly register. You’d have no idea that inside the cab an armed federal agent operates a host of electronic countermeasures to keep outsiders from accessing his heavily armored cargo: a nuclear warhead with enough destructive power to level downtown San Francisco.

That’s the way the Office of Secure Transportation (OST) wants it. At a cost of $250 million a year, 350 couriers employed by this secretive agency within the US Department of Energy use some of the nation’s busiest roads to move America’s radioactive material wherever it needs to go—from a variety of labs, reactors and military bases, to the nation’s Pantex bomb-assembly plant in Amarillo, Texas, to the Savannah River facility.* Most of the shipments are bombs or weapon components some are radioactive metals for research or fuel for Navy ships and submarines.

The OST’s operations are an open secret, and much about them can be gleaned from unclassified sources in the public domain. Yet hiding nukes in plain sight, and rolling them through major metropolises like Atlanta, Denver, and LA, raises a slew of security and environmental concerns, from theft to terrorist attack to radioactive spills. “Any time you put nuclear weapons and materials on the highway, you create security risks,” says Tom Clements, a nuclear security watchdog for the nonprofit environmental group Friends of the Earth. “The shipments are part of the threat to all of us by the nuclear complex.” To highlight those risks, his and another group, the Georgia-based Nuclear Watch South, have made a pastime of pursuing and photographing OST convoys.

Proponents say that the most efficient and reliable way to transport nuclear weapons and components is via the interstate highway system—a legacy of President Eisenhower, who pushed to build it as a national defense infrastructure during the Cold War in the 1950s. But Dr. Matthew Bunn, a Harvard professor who advised the Clinton White House on how to keep nuclear materials secure, acknowledges that nuclear convoys carry risks. “A transport is inherently harder to defend against a violent, guns-blazing enemy attack than a fixed site is,” he says. Moreover, in recent years the OST’s nuke truckers have had a spotty track record—including spills, problems with drinking on the job, weapons violations, and even criminal activity.

The OST doesn’t employ your typical truck-stop 18-wheeler jockeys the agency seeks to hire military veterans, particularly ex-special-operations forces. Besides contending with “irregular hours, personal risks, and exposure to inclement weather,” agents “may be called upon to use deadly force if necessary to prevent the theft, sabotage or takeover of protected materials by unauthorized persons.” At a small outpost in Ft. Smith, Arkansas—the Army base where Elvis was inducted and got his famous haircut—the prospective agents are trained in close-quarters battle, tactical shooting, physical fitness, and shifting smoothly through the gears of a tractor-trailer.

In 2010, DOE inspectors were tipped off to alcohol abuse among the truckers. They identified 16 alcohol-related incidents between 2007 and 2009, including one in which agents were detained by local police at a bar after they’d stopped for the night with their atomic payload. After several agents and contractors were caught bringing unauthorized guns on training missions in Nevada between 2001 and 2004, DOE inspectors determined that “firearms policies and procedures were systematically violated.” One OST agent in Texas pled guilty in 2006 after using his position to illegally buy and sell body armor, rifle scopes, machine gun components, and other assault gear.

There have also been accidents. In 1996, a driver flipped his trailer on a two-lane Nebraska hill road after a freak ice storm, sending authorities scrambling to secure its payload of two nuclear bombs and return them to a nearby Air Force base. In 2003, two trucks operated by private contractors had rollover accidents in Montana and Tennessee while hauling uranium hexafluoride, a compound use to enrich reactor and bomb fuel. (DOE apparently uses some contractors for “low-risk” shipments, while all high-security hauling of weapons is done by OST truckers). In June 2004, on I-26 near Asheville, North Carolina, a truck bound for the Savannah River Site leaked “less than a pint” of uranyl nitrate—liquefied yellowcake uranium, which can be used to produce bomb components.

None of these incidents resulted in significant danger to locals, according to DOE records. Still, officials in Nevada, raising concerns in 2002 about possible federal shipments of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, cited the DOE’s own study stating that a “reasonably foreseeable accident scenario” could cause cancer-related deaths. And a bomb or rocket attack on a truck, DOE had projected, could kill 18,000 people and cost $10 billion to clean up. Such concerns led some activists to dub nuke truckers “the axles of evil.”

Al Stotts, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees OST, declined to comment specifically on any measures taken to increase safety or security. “While we routinely acknowledge that OST’s mission is to transport national security cargoes—nuclear weapons, components and special nuclear materials—we don’t discuss routes, route timing, destinations or specific cargoes of convoys,” he said in an email. “I’m sure you also realize that for national security reasons we do not discuss vehicle tactical roles and capabilities, trailer system details, or operational force numbers and capabilities.”

If a terrorist attempted to attack or take over one of OST’s vehicles (not only 18-wheelers, but also fleet trucks, vans, and even dune buggies), they would have to contend with a lot more than just the specially trained agents manning them. “The trucks have all sorts of goodies, the details of which are mostly secret,” Bunn says. The cabs are fitted with custom composite armor and lightweight armored glass, as well as redundant communications systems that link the convoys to a monitoring center in Albuquerque. A driver has the ability to disable the truck so it can’t be moved or opened, and the truck is designed to defend itself, OST officials claim. How so remains unclear, though its parent agency, the DOE, contracted in 2005 with an Australian weapons company called Metal Storm to develop a robotic 40-millimeter gun that could “distribute large quantities of ammunition over a large area in an extremely short time frame.”

*Correction: The article originally stated that OST employs 600 couriers it employs 350, among a total staff of 600.

Truck: Aleksandr Volodin/istock Missile: simplesample/shutterstock

The mystery surrounding nuke truckers has given rise to conspiracy theories. In May 2008, several locals near Needles, California, reported seeing a fiery blue-green UFO crash. Intrigued by the UFO story, Las Vegas investigative TV reporter George Knapp traveled to the alleged crash site—and stumbled upon a convoy of OST agents.

After some wangling, the agents offered Knapp a look at their trucks and operations. “They’re a little bit 007, with maybe a dash of Rambo, but maybe the smarts and technology of a Tom Clancy hero,” he told his viewers. The truckers denied any involvement with a UFO, but they confirmed that they spend a lot of time training in and hauling materials out of DOE’s Nevada Test Site—adjacent to the fabled Area 51.

As sophisticated as the vehicles apparently are, problems have also cropped up with planning and equipment. A 2007 DOE safety report found that the trucks’ emergency checklists in many cases recommended smaller-than-advisable quarantine areas around an accident site, potentially putting bystanders and first responders at risk. In 2002, the DOE approved a plan to haul plutonium parts from Rocky Flats, Colorado, to Savannah River and the Lawrence Livermore nuclear lab in California—using 45-gallon cans that had failed government crush tests. According to internal documents, several DOE engineers worried that if a truck carrying the radioactive cans were “hit by a train” or “hit from behind by a large, heavy vehicle, the crush environment may occur.” The plan was scrapped after California anti-nuclear activists obtained copies of the documents through a FOIA request.

Ellenton monument park Adam Weinstein

The stretch of Highway 125 that runs through the middle of the 200,000-acre Savannah River Site is surrounded by a marshy, piney wildlife preserve with periodic gated pull-offs. Occasionally, a massive alien-looking pipeline crosses the roadway, just high enough to let tractor-trailers pass under it. Westbound, beyond the crest of a small hill, steam rises from the site’s network of uranium, plutonium, and tritium plants. A series of roadside signs display terse warnings: NO STOPPING OR STANDING FOR NEXT 17.3 MILES, and DO NOT LEAVE HIGHWAY.

There is one sanctioned place to stop midway through the complex—but only during daylight and just for a few minutes, according to the signs. The tiny park has a historical marker commemorating where Ellenton, South Carolina, once existed, before President Truman ordered the town leveled in 1950 for the nuclear site. If ever there was a place to spot a nuke trucker, this is it. Within a moment of parking our car, a red tractor-trailer with a rust-colored shipping container plows by, trailed by two dark Ford Excursions. On the truck’s door is painted “O.S.T.” It’s quickly gone. “Conducting a truck-spotting operation is a big undertaking from a personnel time standpoint,” Clements, the nuclear watchdog, had told me before I embarked on the recon.

The Ellenton marker is next to the road, so when the next truck cruises by about 20 minutes later, I snap a picture of the monument with the big rig in the background. Shortly thereafter, a tan pickup truck with government plates pulls out of the guard tower area and up to the empty intersection next to the park. The driver idles and watches us for a long moment before turning and heading up the road.

Another five miles or so west, beyond side roads leading to the 3 Rivers Solid Waste Authority complex and the Wackenhut Security headquarters, we reach the other side of the nuclear complex, and Jackson, South Carolina. Highway 125 becomes “Atomic Road” in the middle of town.

At the BP gas station on the corner of Atomic Road and Silverton Street, I ask the twentysomething cash-register attendant if she’s ever seen the nuke truckers or their rigs around town. She sheds her polite smile, giving us and our car out the window a second look. “I wouldn’t know anything about that,” she says, declining to give her name. “Here’s your receipt.”

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Inside the Uranium Underworld: Dark Secrets, Dirty Bombs

O ne night last spring, Amiran Chaduneli, a flea-market trader in the ex-Soviet Republic of Georgia, met with two strangers on a bridge at the edge of Kobuleti, a small town on the country’s Black Sea coast.

Over the phone, the men had introduced themselves as foreigners&mdashone Turkish, the other Russian&mdashand they were looking for an item so rare on the black market that it tends to be worth more, ounce for ounce, than gold. Chaduneli knew where to get it. He didn’t know that his clients were undercover cops.

From the bridge, he took them to inspect the merchandise at a nearby apartment where his acquaintance had been storing it: a lead box about the size of a smartphone, containing a few pounds of radioactive uranium, including small amounts of the weapons-grade material known as uranium-235. The stash wasn’t nearly enough to make a nuclear weapon. But if packed together with high explosives, these metallic lumps could produce what’s known as a dirty bomb&mdashone that could poison the area around the blast zone with toxic levels of radiation.

In the popular culture, the dealers who traffic in such cargo are usually cast as lords of war with tailored suits and access to submarines. The reality is much less cinematic. According to police records reviewed by TIME in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, Chaduneli’s associates in the attempted uranium sale last spring included construction workers and scrap-metal traders. Looking at the sunken cheeks and lazy left eye in his mug shot, it seems improbable that lousy capers like this one could rise to the level of a national-security threat. But the ease of acquiring ingredients for a dirty bomb is precisely what makes them so worrying.

As the number of nuclear-armed countries has grown from at least five to as many as nine since the 1970s, the danger of World War III has been joined by a host of secondary nuclear threats. The possibility that a warhead, or the material to build one, could fall into the hands of a rogue state or terrorist helped drive President Barack Obama’s deal to temporarily halt Iran’s alleged weapons program. North Korea, which is now believed to have more than a dozen warheads and has been busily testing intercontinental missiles to carry them, has also been the world’s most active seller of nuclear know-how. Pakistan is developing battlefield tactical nuclear weapons, which are smaller and more portable than strategic ones, even as its domestic extremist threat grows.

The danger from dirty bombs is spreading even faster. For starters, they pose none of the technical challenges of splitting an atom. Chaduneli’s type of uranium was particularly hard to come by, but many hospitals and other industries use highly radioactive materials for medical imaging and other purposes. If these toxic substances are packed around conventional explosives, a device no bigger than a suitcase could contaminate several city blocks&mdashand potentially much more if the wind helps the fallout to spread. The force of the initial blast would be only as deadly as that of a regular bomb, but those nearby could be stricken with radiation poisoning if they rushed to help the injured or breathed in tainted dust. Entire neighborhoods, airports or subway stations might need to be sealed off for months after such an attack.

The lasting effects of a dirty bomb make this weapon especially attractive to terrorists. Fear of contamination would drive away tourists and customers, and cleanup would be costly: the economic impact could be worse than that of the attacks of 9/11, according to a study conducted in 2004 by the National Defense University. “It would change our world,” President Obama said of a potential dirty bomb in April 2016. “We cannot be complacent.”

Obama’s successor is certainly alive to the nuclear threat. In a Republican primary debate in December 2015, Donald Trump said the risk of “some maniac” getting a nuclear weapon is “the single biggest problem” the country faces. But he suggested that the world would be safer if more countries acquired nukes. His Administration has yet to set out a policy for countering the danger of a dirty bomb the position Trump takes could be crucial. By training and equipping foreign governments to stop nuclear traffickers, the U.S. has played a central role in fragile or unstable areas of the world where highly dangerous materials can fall into the wrong hands. The goal, according to Simon Limage, who led the State Department’s nonproliferation efforts during the last five years of the Obama Administration, is “to push the threat away from U.S. shores.”

Georgia is one of the best examples of how these efforts have worked on the ground. Over the past 12 years, the U.S. government has provided more than $50 million in aid to help the former Soviet republic, a nation of only 3.7 million people, in combatting the trade in nuclear materials. Though it possesses no nuclear fuel of its own, Georgia sits in the middle of what atomic-energy experts sometimes refer to as the “nuclear highway”&mdasha smuggling route that runs from Russia down through the Caucasus Mountains to Iran, Turkey and, from there, to the territory that ISIS still controls in Syria and Iraq.

All along that route, the U.S. has helped install nuclear detectors at borders, trained police units to intercept traffickers and provided intelligence and equipment to local regulators of nuclear material. “The Americans brought all the technology,” says Vasil Gedevanishvili, director of Georgia’s Agency of Nuclear and Radiation Safety. “They secured every border around Georgia.”

The payoff was clear in 2016, when Georgian police busted three separate groups of smugglers for attempting to traffic in nuclear materials&mdasha spike in arrests the region hadn’t seen in at least a decade. They foiled an attempt in January to smuggle cesium-137&mdasha nasty form of nuclear waste that could be used in a dirty bomb&mdashacross the border into Turkey. Three months later, on April 17, Georgian police caught a group of traffickers trying to sell a consignment of uranium for $200 million.

At the end of that month, Chaduneli and four of his associates were arrested in Kobuleti by a team devoted to countering nuclear trafficking that has received training, equipment and intelligence from various arms of the U.S. government. “So in some sense this was a success story,” says Limage, who met the team during a visit to Georgia in December, less than two months before he resigned from his post as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. “But none of the gains we’ve made with these partnerships are permanent. They’re all reversible.”

And they’re becoming even more essential to international security. Over roughly the past three years, as the U.S.-led coalition has advanced against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the terrorist group has been shifting tactics. Rather than urging its followers to come join the fight in Syria, ISIS recruiters now call for attacks against the West using whatever weapons are available. The continued erosion of the group’s territory may not make it any less dangerous. “It may make them more desperate,” says Andrew Bieniawski, vice president of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a U.S. nonprofit that works to reduce the risk of nuclear weapons and materials. “And they may try to raise the stakes.”

There have already been plenty of signs that ISIS would like to go nuclear. After the series of ISIS-linked bombings in Brussels killed at least 32 people in March 2016, Belgian authorities revealed that a suspected member of a terrorist cell had surveillance footage of a Belgian nuclear official with access to radioactive materials. The country’s nuclear-safety agency then said there were “concrete indications” that the cell intended “to do something involving one of our four nuclear sites.” About a year earlier, in May 2015, ISIS suggested in an issue of its propaganda magazine that it was wealthy enough to purchase a nuclear device on the black market&mdashand to “pull off something truly epic.”

Though the group is unlikely to possess the technical skill to build an actual nuclear weapon, there are indications it could already possess nuclear materials. After the group’s fighters took control of the Iraqi city of Mosul in 2014, they seized about 40 kg of uranium compounds that were stored at a university, according to a letter an Iraqi diplomat sent to the U.N. in July of that year. But the U.N.’s nuclear agency said the material was likely “low grade” and not potentially harmful. “In a sense we’ve been lucky so far,” says Sharon Squassoni, who heads the program to stop nuclear proliferation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. “I honestly think it is only a matter of time before we see one of these dirty-bomb attacks.”

Obtaining ingredients for such a weapon is not, it turns out, the hard part. According to Chaduneli’s lawyer, Tamila Kutateladze, his associates found the box of uranium in one of the scrapyards where he would find old bric-a-brac to sell. His co-defendant in the case, Mikheil Jincharadze, told police that “unknown persons” had delivered the box inside a sack of scrap iron, according to interrogation records and other court documents obtained by TIME in Georgia.

That version of the story did not convince investigators, and even Chaduneli’s lawyer wondered how such a thing could turn up in a pile of trash. “A mere mortal cannot just get his hands on this stuff,” Kutateladze told TIME in her office in Tbilisi. “You have to have a source.”

But the Georgian authorities have so far been unable to determine that source with any certainty. Similar investigations in the past, most recently in 2010 and 2011, have traced the nuclear material back to reactors in Russia. Among the most famous cases involved a small-time Russian smuggler named Oleg Khintsagov, who tried to sell a sample of highly enriched uranium in 2006 to a Georgian police officer posing as a wealthy Turkish trafficker. “He said he could get much larger quantities from his sources in Siberia,” recalls Shota Utiashvili, who oversaw that case as Georgia’s Deputy Interior Minister at the time. “We think it’s from an old stockpile of this stuff that’s been laying around and periodically looking for a buyer.”

During the chaos that followed the Soviet collapse in the early 1990s, radioactive material was frequently stolen from poorly guarded reactors and nuclear facilities in Russia and its former satellite states. Police intercepted shipments of it transiting through cities as faraway as Munich and Prague in those years, and nuclear experts believe that large batches of Soviet nuclear fuel are still unaccounted for and most likely accessible for well-connected traders on the black market.

The potential source that most concerns investigators in Georgia is the region of Abkhazia, a Russian protectorate that broke away from Georgian control in the early 1990s. It is one of several unrecognized pseudo states&mdashoften referred to as frozen conflict zones&mdashthat Russia has helped maintain in the former Soviet space. With no internationally acknowledged borders, these regions often function as way stations for smugglers, allowing everything from guns and cigarettes to contraband caviar to be trafficked under the radar of international law. “These spaces are ungoverned,” says Squassoni of CSIS. “So what we risk when we look at these conflict-torn regions is that people will try to make a living any way they can, and they may not have any scruples about what they’re smuggling across these borders.”

On the border between Moldova and Ukraine is the pro-Russian enclave of Trans-Dniestr, where Moscow has stationed about a thousand troops since the region’s violent split from Moldova in the early 1990s. This sliver of land along the Dniestr River was a base for one of the world’s most notorious nuclear smugglers, Alexandr Agheenco, a dual Russian-Ukrainian citizen nicknamed the Colonel, who is wanted by U.S. and Moldovan authorities for attempting to sell weapons-grade uranium to Islamist terrorist groups in 2011. One of his middlemen was caught that year in a Moldovan sting operation police reportedly found the blueprints for a dirty bomb in his home. But the Colonel remains at large.

More recently, Russia has carved a fresh pair of conflict zones out of eastern Ukraine, where separatist rebels used weapons and fighters from Russia in 2014 to seize territory around the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk. According to research compiled by CSIS, the war has destroyed 29 of the radiation detectors that would normally monitor the movement of nuclear material along the border between Russia and Ukraine.

But Abkhazia is the only one of these conflict zones that has ever possessed its own nuclear facilities. Physicists recruited from Germany after World War II set up the first Soviet centrifuges at the Sukhumi Institute of Physics and Technology, which remained a key pillar in the Soviet nuclear program through the Cold War. After the fall of Soviet Union, the newly independent Georgian government fought separatists who wanted to keep Abkhazia within Moscow’s orbit.

When the civil war reached Sukhumi in 1992, its scientists set up patrols to protect their stores of radioactive material from looters and paramilitaries. The war ended the following year with Abkhazia’s de facto secession from the rest of Georgia, and the fate of its nuclear stockpiles has been something of a mystery for international observers ever since.

Officials in Russia say there is no longer any nuclear material in Abkhazia. But Georgia disputes this. Gedevanishvili, the head of the country’s nuclear-safety agency, says the Sukhumi Institute still conducts experiments using radioactive sources. “We don’t know what security measures they take. We know nothing about their work.”

Russia has its own reasons to worry about dirty bombs. The explosion that killed at least 14 people and wounded dozens of others in the St. Petersburg metro on April 3 was just the latest of dozens of terrorist attacks since the early 1990s. Over that time, Moscow has worked to secure nuclear stockpiles throughout the former Soviet Union, often with help and funding from the U.S. But as relations with Washington have eroded, Moscow has cut off cooperation, insisting it no longer needs American assistance.

Whether he wants to or not, President Trump will play a key role in determining the danger from dirty bombs in coming years. Since his election, Trump has denounced the work of the U.N. as a “waste of time and money,” even though U.N. organizations like the International Atomic Energy Agency are responsible for monitoring nuclear stockpiles and advising countries on keeping them safe. Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Energy, former Texas governor Rick Perry, previously called for its dissolution, but defended its mission during nomination hearings the department oversees the U.S. nuclear arsenal and safety at nuclear sites.

Trump’s new budget proposal, which the White House published on March 16 under the title “America First,” would slash programs that contribute to U.S. security in ways subtler than guns and walls. It would cut foreign aid, diplomacy and development programs&mdashall of which have helped the U.S. forge a global network of alliances against nuclear trafficking. “This isn’t rocket science,” says Limage, the former State Department official. “A lot of the nonproliferation progress that has been made around the world has been through patient, careful diplomacy.” Countries that would otherwise not have the means or the motivation to target smugglers of nuclear material have received regular encouragement, training and aid from the U.S. in these efforts.

The Trump Administration takes the threat “very seriously,” Tom Bossert, President Trump’s Homeland Security Advisor, tells TIME. “The President’s budget blueprint specifically calls out U.S. programs dedicated to reducing the dangers of WMD terrorism or nuclear proliferation,” he says. “We continue to work domestically and with a broad set of international partners and international organizations to better secure any materials that might contribute to WMD terrorism and to mitigate the effects of an attack, should one occur. The prospect of WMD terrorism is one of the many reasons that we must remain vigilant in our counterterrorism efforts across the globe.”

In Georgia, there are obvious risks to letting partnerships lapse. From the bridge where Chaduneli went to meet his buyers, it would take just a couple hours for a dirty bomb’s ingredients to reach Turkey by car or boat, and only days more to reach Syria or Iraq. His family home stands within view of the border with Azerbaijan, a notoriously corrupt dictatorship with links to Iran. Local kids often ride their bikes next to the border crossing, a barbed-wire fence guarded by a few lethargic soldiers.

They are a thin line of defense in an era when nuclear threats emerge not only from military and rogue regimes, but from the hard economic reality of some of the world’s most forgotten places. An honest job in this region brings in a few hundred dollars per month. So the lure of trafficking across these borders is constant, says Chaduneli’s mother Tamila.

The undercover agents who arrested him offered to pay $3 million for that box of uranium. At the end of their trial in December, all of the suspects in Chaduneli’s case took a plea deal in exchange for lighter sentences Chaduneli got three years in prison. In his one-story home, which has an outdoor kitchen with a wood-burning stove and gets intermittent electricity, his mother says she has no idea how his friends got their hands on a batch of nuclear material&mdashor why her son joined a plot to sell it. “The money,” she says, “might have clouded his eyes.”

Court Battle in the Netherlands

by Cees Wiebes

One of the compilers of this publication, Dr. Cees Wiebes, had his own personal experience with the secrecy regime that blankets nuclear deployments in the Netherlands. On 3 April 2015 he filed a Freedom of Information Act (FIOA) request with the Netherlands Ministry of Defense (MoD). His request was for copies of historical documents from the Ministry’s archives relating to technical agreements with the United State government or the U.S. Department of Defense or other official U.S. bodies concerning the stationing of U.S. nuclear weapons on Dutch territory dating from the 1960s. The Ministry rejected the request after long internal deliberations and consultations with the office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In May 2017 after his initial FOIA request was rejected, Wiebes took his case to the lower court in Amsterdam. The MoD was represented by the Country Counsellor and nine advisers. Wiebes represented himself. The judges made clear from the start that the Dutch FOIA was not applicable to NATO documents. Wiebes argued that he was not asking for NATO documents. He was asking for Dutch official documents dealing with internal deliberations between three ministries (MoD, Foreign Affairs and the Cabinet Office). He requested official papers dealing with bilateral negotiations by the Dutch government with the U.S. government leading up to the treaties for storage of nuclear weapons on Dutch soil. In that case the Dutch FOIA was absolutely fully applicable.

The lower court ignored Wiebes’ argument. The judges concluded that in this case they were solely dealing with NATO documents. But how could they know? As a matter of fact, they did not take the opportunity to inspect the relevant documents themselves and simply embraced the statement by the government. In the archives of the MoD, Cabinet Office and Foreign Office Dutch official documents can be found that do not have a NATO classification. By ignoring Wiebes’s argument, the judges blatantly violated the law, which stipulates that the Lower Court must inspect the documents themselves. The judges also pointed to earlier verdicts by the Council of State, the highest appeals court in The Netherlands, regarding the release of NATO documents. These earlier verdicts were all negative: no release of NATO materials.

Wiebes argued that those earlier verdicts were irrelevant because those older FOIA requests were completely different cases. The case of Wiebes was unique and therefore needed a unique approach, which the lower court did not grant him. The judges also stated that it was not appropriate or necessary for the MoD to forward the original FOIA request to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cabinet Office because the Dutch FOIA was not applicable. They were flat wrong in this stance: the Dutch FOIA was fully applicable because Wiehes was asking for official internal deliberations, such as discussions with officials from other ministries. The MoD was obliged by law to forward his request to the other ministries but they did not. The MoD should have consulted NATO as to whether relevant documents in this matter could be declassified. However, the MoD did not. Finally, the judges of the Lower Court unquestioningly embraced the statement of the MoD that all documents which Wiebes found in the Dutch National Archives were released by a sloppy archivist who declassified the documents by mistake.

All Aboard Russia's Nuclear Weapon Apocalypse Train

The nuclear missile-armed train system begins service in 2020.

A new rail-mounted intercontinental ballistic missile is due to hit Russian railroads in 2020. Russian state media has announced the BZhRK "Barguzin" rail-mounted nuclear missile will begin testing in 2019 and enter service the following year. The scheme is designed to make the country's nuclear arsenal more mobile and thus more difficult to locate in wartime.

One of the many problems with ICBMs is they are high-priority targets in the event of nuclear war. That is, each belligerent would want to destroy the other's nuclear weapons, and those weapons are sitting ducks if they're stuck in missile silos and the enemy knows where they are. To get around this problem , Russia has chosen to put many of its ICBMs on gigantic wheeled, mobile launchers.

Starting in 2019, Russian strategic forces will continue the shift towards mobile missiles with the new "Barguzin" train-mounted ICBM. Barguzin is the YS-24 "Yars" missile placed on a train-mounted launcher. Yars weighs 54 tons, is just over 60 feet long, and according to Russian sources has a range just over 6,800 miles. Yars is already deployed in underground silos and mobile launchers (see above), and placing it on trains will be the third basing scheme for this new missile.

According to The National Interest, there will be five railroad ICBM regiments, each with a train and six missiles. Each of missile will allegedly carry ten warheads, meaning this modest force of just 30 missiles will pack a total of 300 warheads. In reality the actual number will be slightly smaller, as each missile will likely pack a number of so-called "penetration aids" including dummy warheads and radar jammers instead of live warheads.

Placing so many warheads on a single missile has several advantages. First it's easier to maintain fewer missiles than more. Second, when it comes to nuclear combat, sending ten warheads at once hurtling towards the enemy makes it more difficult to shoot them all down. Russia is worried about America's ballistic missile defense shield deployed in Eastern Europe weakening its ability to target the United States. The missile shield is actually deployed to protect Europe from missiles originating from the Middle East and has no ability to protect the United States, but Russia still plans to counter the system.

The New Start treaty allows both the United States and Russia to maintain a limit of 700 ICBMs, submarine-launched missiles, and bombers, but 1,550 actual warheads. While the treaty has been very useful in negotiating down the number of warheads, missiles and bombers both sides owns, it also encourages each side to pack more than one warhead on each missile to maximize the number of deployed warheads.

Russia prefers mobile ICBMs. With 6.6 million square miles of territory spread out over 11 time zones, it has plenty of room to hide missiles on the move. During the 1980s, the Soviet Union placed RT-23 "Molodets" missiles on trains, but they were all retired by 2005. The Russian government promises that the Barguzin missiles will be virtually invisible to outside surveillance because they will slip into the Russian railway system and, from the point of view of spy satellites, will be indistinguishable from other railway traffic.

There are problems with a railroad basing system. Commercial railroad tracks go places like major cities, and for security reasons it's best to avoid those places. Second, a railroad ICBM can't leave the rail network, making railroad-mounted missiles much easier to locate than road-mobile missiles. Finally, cutting the railroad lines with a nuclear weapon, or even an explosive charge detonated by a special forces soldier or saboteur, can derail the train or limit its ability to move.

The Secret History of the Impending War with Iran That the White House Doesn't Want You to Know

"The hard-liners are upping the pressure on the State Department," says Leverett. "They're basically saying, 'You've been trying to engage Iran for more than a year now and what do you have to show for it? They keep building more centrifuges, they're sending this IED stuff over into Iraq that's killing American soldiers, the human-rights internal political situation has gotten more repressive -- what the hell do you have to show for this engagement strategy?'"

But the engagement strategy was never serious and was designed to fail, they say. Over the last year, Rice has begun saying she would talk to "anybody, anywhere, anytime," but not to the Iranians unless they stopped enriching uranium first. That's not a serious approach to diplomacy, Mann says. Diplomacy is about talking to your enemies. That's how wars are averted. You work up to the big things. And when U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker had his much-publicized meeting with his Iranian counterpart in Baghdad this spring, he didn't even have permission from the White House to schedule a second meeting.

The most ominous new development is the Bush administration's push to name the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization.

"The U.S. has designated any number of states over the years as state sponsors of terrorism," says Leverett. "But here for the first time the U.S. is saying that part of a government is itself a terrorist organization."

This is what Leverett and Mann fear will happen: The diplomatic effort in the United Nations will fail when it becomes clear that Russia's and China's geopolitical ambitions will not accommodate the inconvenience of energy sanctions against Iran. Without any meaningful incentive from the U.S. to be friendly, Iran will keep meddling in Iraq and installing nuclear centrifuges. This will trigger a response from the hard-liners in the White House, who feel that it is their moral duty to deal with Iran before the Democrats take over American foreign policy. "If you get all those elements coming together, say in the first half of '08," says Leverett, "what is this president going to do? I think there is a serious risk he would decide to order an attack on the Iranian nuclear installations and probably a wider target zone."

This would result in a dramatic increase in attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, attacks by proxy forces like Hezbollah, and an unknown reaction from the wobbly states of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where millions admire Iran's resistance to the Great Satan. "As disastrous as Iraq has been," says Mann, "an attack on Iran could engulf America in a war with the entire Muslim world."

Mann and Leverett believe that none of this had to be.

Flynt Lawrence Leverett grew up in Fort Worth and went to Texas Christian University. He spent the first nine years of his government career as a CIA analyst specializing in the Middle East. He voted for George Bush in 2000. On the day the assassins of Al Qaeda flew two hijacked airplanes into the World Trade Center, Colin Powell summoned him to help plan the response. Five months later, Leverett landed a plum post on the National Security Council. When Condoleezza Rice discussed the Middle East with President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, Leverett was the man standing behind her taking notes and whispering in her ear.

Today, he sits on the back deck of a house tucked into the curve of a leafy suburban street in McLean, Virginia, a forty-nine-year-old white American man wearing khakis and a white dress shirt and wire-rimmed glasses. Mann sits next to him, also wearing khakis. She's thirty-nine but looks much younger, with straight brown hair and a tomboy's open face. The polish on her toenails is pink. If you saw her around McLean, you wouldn't hesitate:

Soccer mom. Classic soccer mom.

But with degrees from Brandeis and Harvard Law and stints at Tel Aviv University and the powerful Israeli lobby known as AIPAC, she has even better right-wing credentials than her husband.

As they talk, eating grapes out of a bowl, lawn mowers hum and birds chirp. The floor is littered with toy trucks and rubber animals left behind by the youngest of their four children. But the tranquillity is misleading. When Mann and Leverett went public with the inside story behind the impending disaster with Iran, the White House dismissed them. Then it imposed prior restraint on them, an extraordinary episode of government censorship. Finally, it threatened them.

Now they are afraid of the White House, and watching what they say. But still, they feel they have to speak out.

Like so many things these days, this story began on the morning of September 11, 2001. On Forty-fifth Street in Manhattan, Mann had just been evacuated from the offices of the U.S. mission to the United Nations and was walking home to her apartment on Thirty-eighth Street -- walking south, toward the giant plume of smoke. When her cell phone rang, she picked it up immediately because her sister worked at the World Trade Center and she was frantic for word. But it wasn't her sister, it was a senior Iranian diplomat. To protect him from reprisals from the Iranian government, she doesn't want to name him, but she describes him as a cultured man in his fifties with salt-and-pepper hair. Since early spring, they had been meeting secretly in a small conference room at the UN.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

Yes, she said, she was fine.

The attack was a terrible tragedy, he said, doubtless the work of Al Qaeda.

"I hope that we can still work together," he said.

That same day, in Washington, on the seventh floor of the State Department building, a security guard opened the door of Leverett's office and told him they were evacuating the building. Leverett was Powell's specialist on terrorist states like Syria and Libya, so he knew the world was about to go through a dramatic change. As he joined the people milling on the sidewalk, his mind was already racing.

Then he got a call summoning him back to Foggy Bottom. At the entrance to a specially fortified office, he showed his badge to the guards and passed into a windowless conference room. There were about a dozen people there, Powell's top foreign-policy planners. Powell told them that their first job was to make plans to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. The second job was to rally allies. That meant detailed strategies for approaching other nations -- in some cases, Powell could make the approach, in others the president would have to make the call. Then Powell left them to work through the night.

At 5:30 a.m. on September 12, they walked the list to the office of the deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage. Powell took it straight to the White House.

Mann and Leverett didn't know each other then, but they were already traveling down parallel tracks. Months before September 11, Mann had been negotiating with the Iranian diplomat at the UN. After the attacks, the meetings continued, sometimes alone and sometimes with their Russian counterpart sitting in. Soon they traded the conference room for the Delegates' Lounge, an airy two-story bar with ashtrays for all the foreigners who were used to smoking indoors. One day, up on the second floor where the windows overlooked the East River, the diplomat told her that Iran was ready to cooperate unconditionally, a phrase that had seismic diplomatic implications. Unconditional talks are what the U.S. had been demanding as a precondition to any official diplomatic contact between the U.S. and Iran. And it would be the first chance since the Islamic revolution for any kind of rapprochement. "It was revolutionary," Mann says. "It could have changed the world."

A few weeks later, after signing on to Condoleezza Rice's staff as the new Iran expert in the National Security Council, Mann flew to Europe with Ryan Crocker -- then a deputy assistant secretary of state -- to hold talks with a team of Iranian diplomats. Meeting in a light-filled conference room at the old UN building in Geneva, they hammered out plans for Iranian help in the war against the Taliban. The Iranians agreed to provide assistance if any American was shot down near their territory, agreed to let the U.S. send food in through their border, and even agreed to restrain some "really bad Afghanis," like a rabidly anti-American warlord named Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, quietly putting him under house arrest in Tehran. These were significant concessions. At the same time, special envoy James Dobbins was having very public and warm discussions in Bonn with the Iranian deputy foreign minister as they worked together to set up a new government for Afghanistan. And the Iranians seemed eager to help in more tactical ways as well. They had intimate knowledge of Taliban strategic capabilities and they wanted to share it with the Americans.

One day during the U.S. bombing campaign, Mann and her Iranian counterparts were sitting around the wooden conference table speculating about the future Afghani constitution. Suddenly the Iranian who knew so much about intelligence matters started pounding on the table. "Enough of that!" he shouted, unfurling a map of Afghanistan. Here was a place the Americans needed to bomb. And here, and here, he angrily jabbed his finger at the map.

Leverett spent those days in his office at the State Department building, watching the revolution in the Middle East and coming up with plans on how to capture the lightning. Suddenly countries like Syria and Libya and Sudan and Iran were coming forward with offers of help, which raised a vital question -- should they stay on the same enemies list as North Korea and Iraq, or could there be a new slot for "friendly" sponsors of terror?

As a CIA analyst, Leverett had come to the view that Middle Eastern terrorism was more tactical than religious. Syria wanted the Golan Heights back and didn't have the military strength to put up a serious fight against Israel, so it relied on "asymmetrical methods." Accepting this idea meant that nations like Syria weren't locked in a fanatic mind-set, that they could evolve to use new methods, so Leverett told Powell to seize the moment and draw up a "road map" to peace for the problem countries of the Middle East -- expel your terrorist groups and stop trying to develop weapons of mass destruction, and we will take you off the sponsors-of-terrorism list and start a new era of cooperation.

That December, just after the triumph over Afghanistan, Powell took the idea to the White House. The occasion was the regular "deputies meeting" at the Situation Room. Gathered around the table were the deputy secretary of state, the deputy secretary of defense, the deputy director of the CIA, a representative from Vice-President Cheney's office, and also the deputy national security advisor, Stephen Hadley.

Hadley hated the idea. So did the representatives from Rumsfeld and Cheney. They thought that it was a reward for bad behavior, that the sponsors of terrorism should stop just because it's the right thing to do.

After the meeting, Hadley wrote up a brief memo that came to be known as Hadley's Rules:

If a state like Syria or Iran offers specific assistance, we will take it without offering anything in return. We will accept it without strings or promises. We won't try to build on it.

Leverett thought that was simply nutty. To strike postures of moral purity, they were throwing away a chance for real progress. But just a few days later, Condoleezza Rice called him into her office, warming him up with talk of how classical music shaped their childhoods. As he told her about the year he spent studying classical piano at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, Leverett felt a real connection. Then she said she was looking for someone to take the job of senior director of Mideast affairs at the National Security Council, someone who would take a real leadership role on the Palestinian issue. Big changes were coming in 2002.

He repeated his firm belief that the White House had to draw up a road map with real solutions to the division of Jerusalem and the problem of refugees, something with final borders. That was the only remedy to the crisis in the Middle East.

Suppressed/Classified: America’s Secret Thermobaric Nukes

The United States possesses and may well have used a devastating weapon designed to emulate terror attacks and even natural disasters.

Editor’s note: With the threat of nuclear terrorism against the US looming large, this article from 2014 has been noticed in Russia and elsewhere and will be the subject of media coverage over the next 48 hours.

Much of the information below was received from physicists from the DOE who confirmed that this was their initial working hypothesis for explaining the events of 9/11.

There are tens of thousands of articles in VT’s archives, this is only one. Why is it vital now? Gordon Duff

The nuclear pendulum is swinging back the other way now, with mini-nukes much more likely to be used for one-shot kill targets

Friday, July 4, 2014 – originally published by Press-TV

By Gordon Duff with Jeff Smith for Press TV and Veterans Today

The United States possesses and may well have used a devastating weapon designed to emulate terror attacks and even natural disasters.

The “thermo-metric bomb”, a combination of illegal enhanced or “salted” radiation or “neutron bomb” and infrared/thermal booster, weighing in at 10,000 pounds, is controlled by a “shadow” parallel command structure at one time under the direct control of former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Today, no one knows who controls these weapons, deployed on the B2 bomber on specially modified bays or any place a storage container or delivery truck can be left uninspected.

We do know this, they have been deployed, they have been used, and “they work really well.”

A description of the weapon, designed for clandestine nuclear warfare:

“It is called a “Nuclear Thermobaric bomb”. This is what the 10,000lb bomb is that the B-2 was modified for. It uses a 1 kiloton primary surrounded by over 5,000 lbs. of iron oxide in powdered form. The devices are placed into a thick steel case, similar in looks to the Fat Man Bomb used on Hiroshima in 1945. The iron oxide or thermite is used as a secondary to make a very large heatwave blast.

It converts neutrons into infrared thermal heat energy, reducing fallout. It is an “infrared neutron bomb”. If you place several tons of iron oxide around a small nuke it will turn it into a massive enhanced radiation weapon. The neutron bomb is not the only enhanced weapon. There is an entire series of these devices such as the X-ray bomb and the EMP bomb. All primaries are nuclear. The secondaries vary depending on need or use.”


In a leak received from a national intelligence agency other than the US, it has been learned that, during the late 1990s, the US sought to develop advanced bunker-buster bombs as Russia was moving its strategic command center deep underground, beyond the reach of anything in America’s arsenal.

A virtual stream of leaks is a clear sign that, in the light of events in the Ukraine, Syria, and Iraq, the “rule book” is being thrown out. From a discussion of the real 9/11 report, citing the use of nuclear weapons, the official finding of the United States Department of Energy:

“Again the original Sandia report that I read stated that it was salted or enhance radiation device, not just a standard low-level nuke. The report only identified the type of primary used being in the W-54 series of primary boosters made at Hanford. The secondary radiation enhancement part of the weapons used was eradicated from the text.”

The birth of this weapon is a story in itself. From the highest level source:

“It is used to destroy very large metal objects such as rail yards, refineries, oil storage tanks, steel mills, and very large suspension bridges. It is also good on tank columns and big ships (supertankers).

The cover story is that it is one of the “new B-61 bunker-buster mods” that the Air Force wants. This is to hide new weapons development that is banned by congress and Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty or ‘SALT 2.’”

With the cancellation of the nuclear bunker-buster programs, the new “salted ‘secondary’” modified nuclear weapons went “dark,” and in doing so, eventually disappeared from official inventories and official “command structures” as well.

Over the past 24 months, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey removed “undesirable elements” from America’s nuclear command. Almost no one was left. Was General Dempsey securing “toys” like the thermometric bomb from rogue commanders who had used it in Afghanistan, as several reports confirm or even in the United States?

From Wikipedia:

“The ‘bunker buster bomb’ was revisited after the Cold War during the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and again during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. During the campaign in Tora Bora, in particular, the United States believed that “vast underground complexes,” deeply buried, were protecting opposing forces. Such complexes were not found. While a nuclear penetrator (the “Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator”, or “RNEP”) was never built, the U.S. DOE was allotted a budget to develop it, and tests were conducted by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. The RNEP was to use the 1.2 megatons B83 physics package.[17]

The Bush administration removed its request for funding [18] of the weapon in October 2005. While the project for the RNEP seems to be in fact canceled, Jane’s Information Group speculated in 2005 that work might continue under another name.[20]

A more recent development (c. 2012) is the GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a 30000-pound conventional gravity bomb. The USAF’s B-2 Spirit bombers can each carry two such weapons.”

Even Wikipedia was able to discern continuing “black projects” and budget irregularities that our sources indicate allowed the nuclear war to be waged by the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld cabal.


Weapons designed with one purpose in mind, clandestine nuclear warfare, and “staged” natural disaster” or bringing to reality the continual “promises” of Dick Cheney, nuclear devastation of one or more American cities by “terrorists,” is closer to reality each day.

With the theft of 350 “nuclear pits” from the Pentax facility in Amarillo, Texas, and the confirmed use of nuclear weapons in the demolition of the World Trade Center on 9/11, confirmed by multiple intelligence agencies and the Department of Energy/Sandia 9/11 report of 2003, a dozen nations could well provide facilities and expertise, nations like Germany or Saudi Arabia, for the continued production and deployment of these “city killers.” From a high-level source at an American nuclear lab, part of a group that believes these weapons were used as part of 9/11.

“These devices (thermometric nuclear weapons) are very good in an urban environment because they reduce fallout and mainly destroy steel infrastructure and power telecommunication systems only.

EMP effect. (Melted cars on 911).

The EMP effect is restricted to very long wavelengths due to the magnetic self-induction produced by the presence of the very heavy iron tamper surrounding the core. It is intended to melt steel, engine blocks and metal weapons, tanks, artillery, rifle barrels and set off ammunition. (Exploding bullets on 911)

It will induce a very high-intensity magnetic pulse into any electrically conductive metal. (iron, steel, copper, aluminum) The thicker the metal the more energy it will absorb. So very thin metal will only heat up but not melt. This is called the skin effect.

In this case, the steel structure of the buildings on 911 acted as a Faraday shield and absorbed most of the EMP pulse, turning it into more heat energy.”


The briefing materials leaked include technical drawings, discussion notes, and detailed explanations on the chemistry and physics of thermometric weapons. From these materials as they apply to discussion notes from the DOE/Sandia 9/11 report:

“In this case, the iron oxide is sucked into the plasma ball immediately vaporizing it into nano-sized particles when cooled. Iron absorbs more neutrons than any other non-nuclear material. It also holds the neutrons until cooled. It is the best heat transfer system ever devised for a Thermobaric weapon system. The hot plasma is then shot up the central core vaporizing anything in contact with it. Over-pressure would be minimum and light flash would be entirely in the Infrared / UV spectrum. The irradiated iron oxide is the heat transfer system needed to vaporize the central core all the way up the tower and it explains the ground zero-high thermal temperatures lasting for so long.

Ionized Iron oxide is the mechanical heat transfer medium needed to melt the steel. The thermal blast energy has to travel up to 1,000 feet. The nuclear fireball is only 150 feet maximum in size. In order to transfer all of its energy, it needs a thermal moderator. This is the job of the iron oxide to transfer the thermal radiation energy from the primary blast to the secondary load. It is referred to as impedance or thermal load matching. You half to efficiently transfer the thermal energy of the fireball to the secondary load being the steel columns and beams of the building that are over 1,000 feet away from top to bottom.

This maximizes the efficiency of the weapon. Without the added plasma material added to the fireball thermal transfer needed to melt the steel would be restricted to the outermost limits of the plasma ball or about 150 feet maximum. This may also enhance the EMP effect of the weapon.”

I am told the president of the United States will learn of these weapons programs only through reading this article. Even Wikipedia and Jane knew something was afoot, projects hidden from Congress projects with a life of their own.

The issue isn’t secretly modified weapons, illegally designed and built but rather that we have no idea where they are, under whose control or how often they have been deployed.

What we do know is that they have been deployed. What we need to know is how to make sure they are never “deployed” again.

  • The original VT Nuclear Education Article with Jeff Smith
  • The Nuclear Thermobaric weapon
  • Submitted to Wikipedia but Curiously “Removed” and Edited

A Nuclear Thermobaric Weapon is a type of enhanced radiation weapon that utilizes boosted plasma from the nuclear fireball to generate an intense, high-temperature explosion, and in practice, the blast wave produced is typically larger and longer in duration than in conventional explosive weapon design.

The fuel-air bomb is one of the most well-known types of thermobaric weapons. Most conventional explosives consist of a fuel-oxidizer of premix gunpowder, containing 25% fuel and 75% oxidizer, whereas thermobaric weapons are almost 100% fuel, so thermobaric weapons are significantly more energetic than conventional explosives of equal weight. Their reliance on atmospheric oxygen makes them unsuitable for use underwater, at high altitude, and in adverse weather. However, the low yield nuclear thermobaric weapon solves this problem and can be used almost anywhere that it is needed.

Thermobaric weapons cause considerably more destruction when used inside confined environments such as steel-reinforced buildings, tunnels, caves, and bunkers due to the sustained thermal blast wave created, and by consuming the available oxygen inside these spaces.

In contrast to a standard explosive, where oxidation in a confined region produces a blast front from essentially a point source. In a thermobaric explosion, a flame front accelerates to a much larger volume producing very high-pressure fronts both within the burning fuel and in the surrounding air.

Thermobaric explosives apply the principles underlying unconfined vapor cloud explosions, which include those from dispersions of flammable dust and droplets. Such explosions are most often encountered in flour mills, their storage containers, coal mines, oil tankers, and refineries.

A typical thermobaric weapon consists of a container packed with fuel, in the center of which is a small conventional-explosive or scattering charge. Fuels are chosen based on there exothermic properties of oxidation, usually consisting of powdered metals such as aluminum, magnesium, or iron oxide, a self-contained partial oxidant.

A thermobaric bomb’s effective yield involves a number of factors, among these, are how well the fuel is dispersed, how rapidly it mixes with the surrounding atmosphere and the initiation of the igniter and its position relative to the container of fuel. In some cases, separate charges are used to disperse and ignite the fuel. In other designs, stronger cases allow the fuel to be contained long enough for the fuel to heat to well above its auto-ignition temperature, so that, even its cooling during expansion from the container, results in rapid ignition once the mixture is within conventional flammability limits.

In a nonconventional nuclear thermobaric weapon design using iron oxide as the plasma fuel or secondary booster. The continued combustion of the outer layer of molecules as they come into contact with the plasma fireball generates additional heat which maintains the temperature of the fireball, allowing it to expand fare greater than normal in size and thus helps to sustain the detonation for a longer period of time. As in the conventional thermobaric design, a very strong outer bomb casing will allow the secondary boost material to be contained long enough for the fuel to be properly absorbed into the plasma fireball drastically increasing the fireball size and effectiveness as a thermal induction source.

This allows the weapon to be for more effective in the use against very large harden steel objects or any black bodies that will rapidly absorb infrared radiation at a distance.

In confinement, a series of reflective shock waves are generated, which helps maintain the fireball and can extend its duration for several seconds as the exothermic recombination reaction occurs.

Further damage can result as the fireball cools and the pressure drops sharply, leading to a partial vacuum. When used in confined spaces as the flame front accelerates through it, a piston-type afterburning effect also occurs, producing a massive secondary explosive blast and a high-pressure shock wave.

Fuel-air explosive

A fuel-air explosive (FAE) device consists of a container of fuel and two separate explosive charges. After the munition is dropped or fired, the first explosive charge bursts open the container at a predetermined height and disperse the fuel in a cloud that mixes with atmospheric oxygen, the size of the cloud varies with the size of the munition. The cloud of fuel flows around objects and into structures. The second charge then detonates the cloud, creating a massive blast wave. The blast wave will destroy unreinforced buildings, equipment and kills or injures people. The antipersonnel effect of the blast wave is more severe in foxholes, on people with body armor, and in enclosed spaces such as caves, buildings, and bunkers.

Fuel-air explosives were first developed, and used in Vietnam, by the United States. Russian scientists developed their own FAE weapons, which were reportedly used in Afghanistan. Since then, research and development have continued and currently, Russian forces field a wide array of third-generation FAE warheads.

The blast or kill mechanism against living targets is unique and unpleasant. What kills is the pressure wave, and more importantly, the subsequent rarefaction or vacuum, which ruptures the lungs. If the fuel deflagrates but does not detonate, the victims will be severely burned and will also inhale the burning fuel. Since the most common FAE fuels are highly toxic, undetonated FAE should prove as lethal to personnel caught within the cloud as most chemical agents.

Russian developments

The Russian armed forces have developed thermobaric ammunition variants for several of their weapons, such as the TGB-7V thermobaric grenade with a lethality radius of 10 meters (33 ft), which can be launched from a RPG-7. The GM-94 is a 43 mm pump-action grenade launcher which is designed mainly to fire thermobaric grenades for close quarters combat.

With the grenade weighing 250 grams (8.8 oz) and holding a 160 grams (5.6 oz) explosive mixture, its lethality radius is 3 meters (9.8 ft) however, due to the deliberate “fragmentation-free” design of the grenade, 4 meters (13 ft) is already considered a safe distance.

The RPO-A and upgraded RPO-M are infantry-portable RPGs designed to fire thermobaric rockets. The RPO-M, for instance, has a thermobaric warhead with a TNT equivalence of 5.5 kilograms (12 lb) of TNT and destructive capabilities similar to a 152 mm High explosive fragmentation artillery shell.

The RSgH-1 and the RSgH-2 are thermobaric variants of the RPG-27 and RPG-26 respectively. The RSgH-1 is the more powerful variant, with its warhead having a 10 meters (33 ft) lethality radius and producing about the same effect as 6 kg (13 lb) of TNT. [

The RMG is a further derivative of the RPG-26 that uses a tandem-charge warhead, whereby the precursor HEAT warhead blasts an opening for the main thermobaric charge to enter and detonate inside.

The RMG’s precursor HEAT warhead can penetrate 300 mm of reinforced concrete or over 100 mm of Rolled homogeneous Armour, thus allowing the 105 millimeters (4.1 in) diameter thermobaric warhead to detonate inside.

Other examples include the SACLOS or millimeter wave radar-guided thermobaric variants of the 9M123 Khrizantema, the 9M133F-1 thermobaric warhead variant of the 9M133 Kornet, and the 9M131F thermobaric warhead variant of the 9K115-2 Metis-M, all of which are anti-tank missiles.

The Kornet has since been upgraded to the Kornet-EM, and its thermobaric variant has a maximum range of 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) and has the TNT equivalent of 7 kilograms (15 lb) of TNT. The 300 mm 9M55S thermobaric cluster warhead rocket was built to be fired from the BM-30 Smerch MLRS. A dedicated carrier of thermobaric weapons is the TOS-1, a 24-tube MLRS designed to fire 220 mm caliber thermobaric rockets. A full salvo from the TOS-1 will cover a rectangle 200𴥨 meters.

The Iskander-M theater ballistic missile can also carry a 700 kilograms (1,500 lb) thermobaric warhead.

Many Russian Air Force munitions also have thermobaric variants. The KAB-500-OD variant of the KAB-500KR has a 250 kg (550 lb) thermobaric warhead. The ODAB-500PM and ODAB-500PMV unguided bombs carry a 190 kg (420 lb) fuel-air explosive each. The KAB-1500S GLONASS/GPS guided 1,500 kg (3,300 lb) bomb also has a thermobaric variant. Its fireball will cover over a 150-meter (490 ft) radius and its lethality zone is a 500-meter (1,600 ft) radius.

In September 2007 Russia exploded the largest thermobaric weapon ever made. The weapon’s yield was reportedly greater than that of the smallest dial-a-yield nuclear weapon at its lowest setting.

Russia named this ordnance the “Father of All Bombs” in response to the United States developed “Massive Ordnance Air Blast” (MOAB) or the “Mother of All Bombs”, and it held the position of being the most powerful non-nuclear weapon in history.

The bomb contains a 7 tons charge of liquid fuel ethylene oxide, mixed with aluminum, surrounding a high explosive charge that when detonated creates an explosion equivalent to 44 metric tons of TNT.

US developments
Current US FAE munitions include:

The XM1060 40-mm grenade is a small-arms thermobaric device, which was delivered to U.S. forces in April 2003. Since the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, the US Marine Corps has introduced a thermobaric ‘Novel Explosive’ (SMAW-NE) round for the Mk 153 SMAW rocket launcher. One team of Marines reported that they had destroyed a large one-story masonry type building with one round from 100 yards (91 m).

The AGM-114N Hellfire II, first used by U.S. forces in 2003 in Iraq, uses a Metal Augmented Charge (MAC) warhead that contains a thermobaric explosive fill using fluoridated aluminum layered between the charge casing and a PBXN-112 explosive mixture. When the PBXN-112 detonates, the aluminum mixture is dispersed and rapidly burns. The resultant sustained high pressure is extremely effective against people and structures.

According to the UK Ministry of Defense, British military forces have also used thermobaric weapons in their AGM-114N Hellfire missiles carried by Apache helicopters and UAVs against the Taliban in the War in Afghanistan.

The US military also used thermobaric weapons in Afghanistan. On 3 March 2002, a single 2,000 lb (910 kg) laser-guided thermobaric bomb was used by the United States Army against cave complexes in which Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters had taken refuge in the Gardez region of Afghanistan.

Thermobaric and fuel-air explosives have been used in guerrilla warfare since the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing in Lebanon, which used a gas-enhanced explosive mechanism, probably propane, butane, or acetylene. The explosive used by the bombers in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing incorporated the FAE principle, using three tanks of bottled hydrogen gas to enhance the blast. Jemaah Islamiyah bombers used a shock-dispersed solid fuel charge, based on the thermobaric principle, to attack the Sari nightclub in the 2002 Bali bombings.

2017 Background Articles on 9/11/01

Background Articles – 2016

Background Articles – 2015

  1. The Secret of America’s Doomsday Waste
  2. VT Nuclear Education: The History of Nuclear Weapons Design 1945 to 2015
  3. VT Nuclear Education: The Uranium Hydride Bomb
  4. VT Nuclear Education: Subcritical and micro fission explosives
  5. VT Nuclear Education – Freon and the Hohlraum
  6. The Secret Nazi role in Building the Atomic Bomb
  7. How the Nazi A-Bomb Worked
  8. VT Nuclear Education: Critical Mass
  9. VT Nuclear Education: Laser and Nuke Weapon Calculator
  10. VT Nuclear Education: Germany
  11. 9/11 Science: Craters and Explosive Damage
  12. Neutron Bombs and Other Toys
  13. NEO: Building Nuclear Case Against Saudis
  14. VT Nuclear Education: The Secrets of EMP Weapons
  15. VT Nuclear Education: Explosive Properties of Reactor Grade Plutonium
  16. Nukes on Yemen, Confirming Proofs: Yield Estimation from Illumination Time
  17. Nukes on Yemen, Confirming Proofs: Introduction to Nuclear Operations
  18. Nukes on Yemen-Confirming Proofs: Calculating Nuclear Blast Yield from the Flash
  19. How Israel Was Busted Nuking Yemen
  20. Saudis Have Israel Nuke Yemen for Them
  21. VT Warning of EMP Plot Confirmed by Guardian
  22. VT Nuke Education: Thorium Warnings
  23. VT Nuclear Education: CIA/Iran Trial and more disclosure
  24. NEO – CIA Torture Report Ties Cheney/Bout to 9/11 Nukes
  25. The DOE Defends Nuclear 9/11

Background Articles – 2014

  1. Too Classified to Publish: Bush Nuclear Piracy Exposed
  2. Nuke Cancer from 9/11 Revealed
  3. 9/11 NUKE DEMOLITION PROOF: Firefighters Radiation Cancers “Off the Scale”
  4. Doc Submitted By Russian Intel
  5. Constructing the Nuclear Child
  6. VT Nuclear Education Series
  7. Nuclear Education Series: Dimona Classified
  8. VT Nuclear Terrorism Education Series
  9. VT Nuclear Education: Undeniable Proof of 9/11 as a Nuclear Event
  10. VT Nuclear Education: As the Hammer Drops
  11. VT Nuclear Education: Mossad/N. Korea Links, MOX
  12. Nuclear Roundtable: America’s Nuclear Arsenal
  13. Officials Cite “Thermo-Nuke” in 9/11 Demo
  14. VT Nuclear Education: Fission Based Thermobaric Weapons
  15. IAEA investigators: Audit reveals US, not Iran the Problem

VT Supporting Material on 9/11, Nuclear Physics and Disclosure Issues

Second China defector gives biological weapons information

U.S. intelligence agencies recently increased their knowledge of China’s covert biological weapons program with the help of a defector from the People’s Liberation Army, according to people familiar with the incident.

The defector escaped from China and traveled to Europe, where he is under the protection of a European government security service, according to the sources. The PLA defector believes that Chinese intelligence has penetrated the U.S. government and is therefore wary of cooperating with the CIA and other Western spy agencies.

Still, the defector has provided some information about China’s biological arms program that has reached the U.S. government. No other details of the defection could be learned.

However, the defector is the second person from China to provide information about Chinese biological research with potential weapons applications.

Chinese virologist Yan Li-meng fled to the United States from Hong Kong this spring and charged in news interviews that the virus behind the COVID-19 pandemic was manufactured in the Wuhan Institute of Virology and appears to be designed from two viruses stored in a PLA laboratory.

The State Department provided new details about China’s covert biological weapons program in a recent report on arms compliance.

“The United States has compliance concerns with respect to Chinese military medical institutions’ toxin research and development because of the potential dual-use applications and their potential as a biological threat,” the report said. “In addition, the United States does not have sufficient information to determine whether China eliminated its assessed biological warfare program, as required under Article II of the [Biological Weapons] Convention.”

A senior Trump administration official in May disclosed that China is working in secret on biological weapons, including arms capable of targeting specific ethnic groups with pathogens.

“We are looking at potential biological experiments on ethnic minorities,” the official said.

Chinese military publications since 2017 have described biology as a new domain of warfare, and one report warned that a future war could involve “ethnic genetic attacks.”


Defense Secretary Mark Esper is warning that China and Russia have militarized space and that any future conflicts will involve space warfare.

“In the years ahead, wars will be fought not just on land and sea as they have for thousands of years, or in the air as they have for the past century, but also in outer space and cyberspace in unprecedented ways,” Mr. Esper said in a speech Wednesday.

To be ready, the U.S. military needs to modernize its forces for high-intensity conflict, he said.

The Air Force has had high-tech military advantages, but China and Russia are catching up.

“Our near-peer rivals, China and Russia, seek to erode our long-standing dominance in air power through long-range fires, anti-access aerial denial systems and other asymmetric capabilities designed to counter our strengths,” Mr. Esper said.

The defense secretary warned that China and Russia have turned space, once a peaceful arena, into “a warfighting domain.”

“They have weaponized space through killer satellites, directed-energy weapons and more in an effort to exploit our systems and chip away at our military advantage,” Mr. Esper said.

China recently tested a reusable space plane that placed an unknown object into orbit.

Beijing also has rapidly developed an array of space warfare capabilities, including several types of ground-launched anti-satellite missiles capable of hitting satellites in different orbits ground-based lasers that can blind or damage orbiting satellites and small robotic satellites capable of maneuvering and grabbing orbiting satellites.

Russia also has developed anti-satellite missiles and ground-based anti-satellite lasers.

By contrast, the Pentagon’s new Space Force has a single announced weapon system: an electronic jammer capable of disrupting satellite communications.

Mr. Esper said the X-37 space plane is one of the systems that will enhance high-technology military capabilities, the first time the secretive reusable spacecraft has been mentioned as part of military defenses.

The X-37 has conducted six missions and is currently in orbit. The craft is capable of conducting space defense and offense operations, U.S. officials have said.

Mr. Esper said U.S. military power in the future will be depend on maintaining superiority in what he called “the ultimate high ground.”

To address space warfare, the Trump administration created the Space Command, a unified combatant command, and the Space Force, which will develop a cadre of space warriors, he said.


The commander of the Strategic Command, the military unit in charge of nuclear war fighting, said China is in the midst of a major nuclear buildup that will double the size of its nuclear warhead stockpile, currently assessed as in the low 200s, over the next 10 years.

China has long said it would not be the first to use nuclear arms in a conflict, but its buildup of forces appears to be preparing for a launch-on-warning capability similar to that of the United States and Russia.

Adm. Charles A. “Chas” Richard, the Stratcom commander, spoke with reporters this week and questioned whether the “no first use” pledge is a strategic deception by Beijing.

“As a military commander, what I look at more is another nation’s capabilities, less about what their stated intentions are, and I see China developing a stack of capabilities that would be inconsistent with a no first use policy,” he said. Chinese nuclear forces “certainly have the capabilities to execute any number of deterrent or employment strategies that are seemingly inconsistent with a no first use policy.”

China has deployed thousands of long-range missiles in a variety of basing modes, including in silos, on road- and rail-mobile launchers, and on submarines.

Beijing, according to the Pentagon’s latest annual report on the Chinese military, is also developing a bomber-launched ballistic missile. A new DF-41 missile is being deployed with multiple, independently targetable reentry vehicles, or MIRVs.

Asked about current JL-2 missiles that cannot reach the United States unless they are closer to U.S. shores, Adm. Richard said: “Well, what I would offer is to not shoot behind the duck, and I would actually pay more attention to the JL-3 missiles that they’re working on, which give them a greatly expanded range.”

The JL-3 will be deployed on newer ballistic missile submarines and will provide greater strike capabilities.

China’s strategic power cannot be measured by its warhead stockpile alone, the admiral argued.

“You have to look at the totality of it, the delivery systems, what they’re capable of, what their readiness is,” Adm. Richard said.

Adm. Richard spoke from the Omaha-based command in charge of nuclear forces that include land-based Minuteman missile fields in the western United States a strategic bomber force at bases around the countries and nuclear missile submarines always at sea.

Russia also is building up nuclear and conventional forces. Both Moscow and Beijing are seeking to outpace U.S. forces, he noted.

“We are on a trajectory for the first time in our nation’s history to face two peer nuclear-capable competitors who have to be deterred differently, and we’re working very hard to meet that challenge,” Adm. Richard said.

Russia is building up its forces with new nuclear and conventional weapons, counterspace arms, cyberweapons and new hypersonic missiles. Moscow also is waging “gray zone” warfare below the level of kinetic conflict.

Adm. Richard declined to comment when asked about President Trump‘s comments to author Bob Woodward that the United States is developing a powerful secret nuclear weapon.

The four-star admiral also said his forces remain “mission capable” for a conflict despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Troops of the command had to adapt to the pandemic conditions, Adm. Richard said without specifying what steps were taken.

“Bottom line here is we’re ready,” he said. “And why is that important? It’s important for us to remember that throughout this challenge of COVID-19, no threats went away, right? Nothing else changed, no one gave up a single nuclear weapon based on the fact of COVID-19. In fact, it’s going in the other direction.”

The details reveal the true danger of Iran’s secret nuclear program

Israel's discovery of Iran’s secret nuclear archive is extraordinary. Even more amazing is that Israel says it managed to smuggle out 55,000 pages of documents and another 55,000 files on 183 CDs. Explaining it during a televised news conference in Tel Aviv on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Benjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE underscored one simple point: Iran has lied. Though he did not cite it, clearly the line in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons” — is nonsense, if Israel's documentation is accurate.

Many articles will dissect Iran’s diplomatic duplicity. Some pundits may even examine a religious angle, arguing that Iranians can justify telling lies for a higher purpose. Its opponents will call for tossing out the JCPOA others will urge its repair. Few will attempt to scrutinize the technical details that formed the basis of Netanyahu’s case. That’s a pity it’s challenging to comprehend, but not impossible.

Project Amad : In English, this translates to being Iran's Organization for Planning and Special Supplies Netanyahu gave its dates as 1999 to 2003, but its work began earlier. Project Amad consolidated all of Iran’s previous military-related nuclear activities. Iran is thought to have decided on the need for nuclear weapons after seeing Saddam Hussein in neighboring Iraq pushed out of Kuwait so easily by U.S.-led forces in 1991.

Kiloton : An explosion achievable by 1,000 tons of TNT, or its nuclear equivalent. Iran was hoping to produce a weapon with the power of 10 kilotons Netanyahu labeled it as being the size of the American nuclear bomb that flattened the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945, although that bomb exploded with the energy of about 15 kilotons. The Iranian nuclear device would have fit in a missile warhead, making it about three feet in diameter.

Uranium-235 : This isotope of uranium can be used in a nuclear bomb. Normal uranium, known as U-238, won’t work. U-235 makes up just 0.7 percent of normal uranium. It has to be enriched, therefore, typically by being spun in gaseous form in high-speed centrifuges, so that the U-235 becomes 90 percent of the metal.

Casting a nuclear core : A core is made up of two hemispheres of enriched U-235. Each hemisphere is cast as molten metal separately in a mold. Netanyahu did not say how much U-235 is needed, although it is probably around 20kg, or 44 pounds.

Implosion system : To cause a nuclear explosion, a core must be physically squeezed so that a chain reaction happens. This squeezing is achieved by conventional high explosive surrounding the core exploding in an inward direction — an implosion. It’s extremely difficult to achieve symmetrically think in terms of squeezing a grapefruit so that it becomes the size of a lemon without squirting any juice in your eye.

Nuclear test sites : Theoretically, a good design will work without testing but there is only one way to be sure. Iran apparently had identified five different potential locations it would be interesting to know whether it had prepared any tunnels or infrastructure.

Shahab-3 missile : Shahab is Persian for “meteor.” This missile design is from North Korea, where the missile is known as the Nodong. Pakistan uses the same missile, using the name Ghauri. Both the North Korean and Pakistani versions are nuclear-capable.

2003 : This was when Iran notionally stopped its nuclear weapons work, although it continued the work covertly and continued to enrich uranium, claiming it needed the enriched product for a peaceful civil nuclear program.

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh : The leader of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, then and now.

SPND : The organization that continues to carry out Iran’s nuclear weapons research. The initials translate as Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research . It is based near Malek Ashtar University in Tehran. According to Netanyahu, many of Project Amad’s key personnel work today for SPND.

Fordow : The initially-secret uranium enrichment facility that Iran built under a mountain near the city of Qom. It not only was hidden but also would have been difficult, if not impossible, to destroy even using the most advanced bunker-busting bombs. Netanyahu said it was planned during Project Amad, but its existence was not revealed until 2009.

IAEA : The International Atomic Energy Agency, the Vienna-based organization that inspects nuclear facilities across the world, was tasked with giving a “ Final Assessment on Past and Present Outstanding Issues Regarding Iran’s Nuclear Program .” In December 2015, Iran denied to the IAEA “the existence of a coordinated program aimed at the development of a nuclear explosive device.”

MPI technology in hemispherical technology : MPI stands for multipoint initiation an implosion is caused by the simultaneous detonation of separate charges of conventional high explosive. The greater the number of separate explosive charges (the “multipoint”), the better chance of a perfect implosion, causing, in turn, a nuclear explosion. Hemispherical technology relates to the spherical core of highly-enriched uranium being made up of two halves.

Metallurgical work : This refers to the need for the hemispheres to be exactly the same size and fit together perfectly, requiring a very high standard of casting and polishing.

Hydrodynamic modelling : Perfecting the implosion shockwave so that it is exactly uniform and of sufficient power that it forces the outer metal casing of the bomb, known as the tamper, to accelerate into the core. Think of metal being under such forces that it behaves like a liquid.

In sum, making an atomic bomb is as much an engineering challenge as anything else, provided the fissile material such as Uranium-235 is available.

Simon Henderson is the Baker Fellow and director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is the co-author, with Olli Heinonen, of “ Nuclear Iran: A Glossary ,” published in 2015 by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.