Welcome and Introductory Remarks at the 2016 E.C.-U.S. Counter Nuclear Smuggling Workshop

Simon Limage
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nonproliferation Programs, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation
Karlsruhe, Germany
March 7, 2016

(As Prepared)

Good morning. Thank you, Dr. Lutzenkirchen, for your kind introduction, and to the Institute for Transuranium Elements for opening these impressive facilities to host this workshop. I was here in February 2014 when we partnered with the European Commission to hold the first Counter Nuclear Smuggling Workshop of this kind and was truly impressed with the quality of the discussions and the outcomes of that workshop.

At that workshop, experts from more than 30 countries gathered together to share best practices and lessons learned in using investigative and technical best practices to counter nuclear smuggling, including law enforcement techniques, using radiation detection systems, and how bilateral and multilateral cooperation can help us locate and roll up smuggling networks.

Due to the success of that event, and taking into account participant feedback about ways to build on those outcomes, I am pleased to be here again two years later to welcome all of you— again representing more than 30 countries and international organizations — who have traveled from around the world to contribute to the 2016 Counter Nuclear Smuggling Workshop. As Dr. Betti mentioned, I am the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nonproliferation Programs at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation. I manage the State Department’s nonproliferation programs and advance our efforts to combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction. The offices and initiatives I oversee address the full range of nuclear security and other WMD issues.

I believe the work all of you will do together over the next three days will contribute significantly towards helping the international community prevent terrorists, criminals and all other unauthorized actors from acquiring nuclear or radioactive materials that could be used in nuclear weapons or radiological dispersal devices. Achieving this objective remains one of the most important security challenges we face in the years to come, and I am proud to be part of this important work.

Despite the progress the international community has made in securing nuclear and radioactive material around the world, we must also face the fact that even after the past six years of Summit attention and ever-deeper real-world cooperation on countering nuclear smuggling, our work is far from complete. The threat that a terrorist organization or other malicious actor could acquire nuclear or other radioactive materials continues to pose one of the most challenging threats to international security. As we will hear tomorrow, seizures of weapon-grade nuclear materials in Georgia in 2010 and in Moldova in 2011 suggest such materials still remain in illegal circulation and could be used in an improvised nuclear device or radiological dispersal device. The international community has had some success seizing smuggled material, but little is known about the quantity of material that remains out of regulatory control or those seeking to obtain it.

What we do know, and the primary reason that brings all of us here this week, is that no country can address this threat alone. As we delve into this issue over the next two days, through presentations, demonstrations, and discussions, I think we will quickly realize that dealing with the threat of nuclear smuggling requires a multi-disciplinary approach and enhanced international cooperation. We must continue to set goals to help us advance toward a more secure world, recognizing that the tasks required to do so are not simple. They involve complex and evolving scientific techniques, national nuclear security policies and processes, and expanding threats and risks. We must work together to investigate smuggling networks, remove trafficked material from the black market, and arrest and prosecute the individuals involved. This is the focus of our work this week.

We are fortunate that some of our colleagues from Bulgaria, France, and Moldova are here this week to demonstrate firsthand the reality of the threat that we face, with their briefings on successful nuclear material seizures that took place in each of their countries. I hope their briefings will prompt meaningful discussions over the next three days about the challenges governments face in investigating these activities and overcoming challenges to share information related to nuclear smuggling incidents.

The International Atomic Energy Agency and INTERPOL are two of the most important institutions for multilateral work on countering nuclear smuggling, and we welcome their presence at this conference. The IAEA’s Incident and Trafficking Database (ITDB), which has voluntary participation by 131 States, is recognized as the most reliable and comprehensive information-sharing mechanism for governments to alert the international community of a new incident involving nuclear or radioactive materials detected out of regulatory control. Since the ITDB was established in 1995, information on more than 2,922 incidents has been shared with the international community of experts through the ITDB reporting mechanism. Recognizing the broad range of incidents included in the ITDB—from incidents involving the attempt to buy or sell radiological or nuclear materials to the detection of radioactively contaminated materials at a scrap metal facility—the IAEA has taken steps to more clearly differentiate between ITDB incidents that involve trafficking attempts from incidents involving materials out of regulatory control where trafficking is not known to have occurred.

Although we recognize that there are surely incidents that go unreported, the information reported to the ITDB demonstrates that nuclear and other radioactive materials continue to be discovered out of regulatory control, posing safety issues and potentially serious security issues. And in addition to the valuable information and analysis that it provides, the ITDB program has also created a platform where technical experts can discuss the issue and associated challenges, and work together to find solutions and share best practices. We believe that these efforts will allow for a strengthened analytic capability in identifying transnational trafficking trends and conducting analysis on a range of nuclear security incidents. I look forward to hearing more this afternoon from our colleague from the IAEA’s Division of Nuclear Security, Mr. David Smith, about the IAEA’s efforts in this area.

INTERPOL’s CBRNE Sub-Directorate also plays a critical role in helping its member states’ law enforcement agencies build their capacity to interdict nuclear and radioactive materials smuggling, investigate smuggling cases, and effectively prosecute nuclear and radioactive material smugglers. Through its ongoing Operation Fail Safe, launched at the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit, INTERPOL supports the international law enforcement community in tracking the transnational movement of individuals involved in the illicit trafficking of nuclear or other radioactive materials. In addition to promoting information sharing on the smuggling of nuclear and other radioactive materials the CBRNE Sub-Directorate is making great strides to reinforce the global capacity to prevent, detect and respond to nuclear terrorism and to develop a global network of officers who have the necessary skills and ability to respond to such threats. We will have the opportunity to learn from our colleague, Mr. Alan King, about INTERPOL’s expanding efforts in the area of countering nuclear smuggling, including lessons learned from INTERPOL’s Global Conference on Counter Nuclear Smuggling held in late January in Lyon.

Through a whole-of-government approach, the United States ensures it is fully prepared to investigate nuclear smugglers, detect and recover nuclear and other radioactive material out of regulatory control, and arrest and prosecute the criminals involved. In addition to federal departments and agencies engaged in this effort, U.S. federal agencies work closely with state and local officials, and the private sector. Each department and agency possesses unique and complementary personnel, equipment, capabilities, and legal authorities to respond quickly and effectively to a radiological or nuclear smuggling incident.

Recognizing the transnational nature of the nuclear smuggling threat, the United States also places great importance on working at the bilateral and regional levels to strengthen international capacities to counter this threat. I would like to briefly share with you how the Department of State has expanded our diplomatic engagements, bilateral and multilateral workshops, and exercises with international partners on CNS.

Working bilaterally, the Department of State’s Office of Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism works with partner nations to develop political agreements—called Joint Action Plans—that specify priority goals to strengthen capabilities to prevent, detect, and respond to incidents of nuclear and radiological smuggling. Currently, the Department of State has 14 Joint Action Plans that address both short-term and long-term bilateral goals to counter nuclear smuggling. Most recently, we established a Joint Action Plan with the government of Jordan. Secretary of State John Kerry and Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh signed the most recent agreement in January in Washington, DC. The Joint Action Plans and subsequent bilateral dialogues include steps to strengthen CNS investigative capacities and encourage national-level coordination between law enforcement, security services and technical experts.

One of the key challenges we have seen countries face is the ability to prosecute cases of nuclear and radioactive material smuggling. Because of this gap, we developed—in coordination with the United States Department of Justice—legal review sessions where, upon request, we help our foreign partners complete a detailed review and assessment of their national legal and criminal code. Through this assessment we identify areas where there are gaps in national laws and then provide recommendations on how to amend these laws. One of the critical elements to the success of these reviews is to not just have the lawyers in the room, it also requires having investigators and law enforcement officers actively participate and help the lawyers understand the kinds of cases they are encountering. In turn, the lawyers can also help educate law enforcement officers on the legislation that may be used to investigate and prosecute criminals involved in nuclear smuggling activities.

As we conducted our legal reviews we began to realize most prosecutors and judges are not trained in the basic concepts of nuclear smuggling cases and so do not understand the nuances of a nuclear smuggling case. To address this issue we hold regional dialogues for prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement to encourage effective prosecutions of radiological or nuclear smugglers. The Regional Prosecutors Dialogue is a model we have used twice: First, in April 2014 with Georgia, Moldova, and Armenia; and again in April 2015 with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Both workshops achieved their objectives and participants acknowledged the need for further coordination and strengthened bilateral and international relationships.

To successfully respond to an incident of nuclear or radioactive material smuggling, governments must be trained and well-coordinated before an incident occurs. To help address this need, we work with partner nations to develop plans and procedures that outline how the response to a nuclear smuggling incident will be conducted at the national level. This ensures the appropriate national officials are able to assess the information, counter the threat, analyze seized material, investigate the incident, and then prosecute the perpetrators. As I am sure many of you here are aware, drafting plans of this nature can be quite complex, especially when they require coordination between ministries who often disagree. To help identify and address these complexities, we work with international partners to hold exercises and initiate drafting sessions. Through these engagements, we believe that our partners will be better positioned to respond adequately and efficiently to smuggling incidents if and when they occur.

Additionally, the Department of State serves as the chair of the Nuclear Trafficking Response Group and coordinates U.S. support in co-chairing the multilateral Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. The NTRG coordinates, upon request, the U.S. government’s assistance to foreign governments in response to a nuclear or radiological material detection event. The NTRG brings together experts from from U.S. nonproliferation, law enforcement, intelligence, and technical communities to respond to foreign requests for assistance in a timely and efficient manner.

The GICNT develops and executes multilateral activities that build partners’ capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to acts of nuclear terrorism.

President Obama convened the first Nuclear Security Summit in Washington six years ago to address one of the greatest threats to international security—the threat of nuclear terrorism. We made further progress at the 2014 Summit at The Hague and we hope to continue to build on that progress at the 2016 Summit in a few weeks’ time, and beyond. Over the past several years, our governments have pursued many counter nuclear smuggling activities at the national and international levels that reinforce Summit objectives. Our activities here this week will further complement the commitments our Leaders pledged at the 2010, 2012, and 2014 Nuclear Security Summit.

At the previous Nuclear Security Summits, our leaders outlined specific steps that we have taken and intend to take — both collectively and individually — to counter nuclear smuggling. Some of these steps are reflected in the Summit Communiqués, and in the “Statement of Activity and Cooperation to Counter Nuclear Smuggling,” coordinated by the Government of Jordan. We have the pleasure of hearing from His Excellency, Ambassador Makram Queisi, who has been working diligently to once again coordinate this Statement and create a community of like-minded leaders to discuss the challenges and best practices associated with countering nuclear smuggling.

On March 31 and April 1, President Obama will host the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC. This will be the fourth in a series of Summits that have brought together leaders from 50+ countries and four international organizations to highlight accomplishments and commitments made towards reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism. Through the Summit process, the international community has strengthened the international organizations and multilateral legal instruments that make up the nuclear security architecture, and improved coordination between them. Moving forward, we must not only consider the progress we have made, but also acknowledge the work that remains to be done to prevent nuclear or radiological terrorism.

This week, all of you will work together to explore new and emerging techniques for investigating nuclear smuggling networks, detecting and recovering nuclear and radioactive materials outside regulatory control, and analyzing seized material to trace its illicit movement.

The hands-on demonstrations, exercises, and scenario-based activities that you will participate in this week represent a collective next step toward advancing key capabilities to counter nuclear and radioactive materials smuggling and reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism. Countering nuclear smuggling is a dynamic challenge that requires national coordination and regional and international cooperation. Every country has a role to play, so I thank all of you for your continued commitment to working together to address this important threat and I wish you all a very productive workshop. Thank you.