downsize the scope of the Office of Detainee Affairs and shift the office to the control of a different assistant secretary of defense, special correspondent Rowan Scarborough reports.
A defense official said the reorganization is being eyed in light of the fact that the Obama administration has moved major decision-making on detainees from the Pentagon to the Justice Department. officer who headed the Obama campaign’s outreach to military veterans, has been mentioned as the next detainee office chief. William H. Tobey, until recently the Energy Department’s deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation at the National Nuclear Security Administration, stated recently that the danger of terrorists obtaining nuclear material for a bomb is real.
Mr. Tobey said U.S. aid to Russia has helped secure nuclear facilities but concerns remain about nuclear material being stolen or smuggled out of the country. “There are research reactor sites in Russia that use highly enriched uranium; they remain a concern,” he told the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control.
On terrorists seeking nuclear material, Mr. Tobey said: “I don’t think you can separate terrorists and nonproliferation issues. We’re worried about the material falling into the hands of terrorists, but we’re also worried about it falling into the hands of nation-states that would pursue illicit weapon programs.”
In Russia, the threat of nuclearmaterial smuggling depends on the type of facility, he said. “If you’re talking about research reactors, it’s probably less likely that it would be an insider threat,” Mr. Tobey said. “But if you’re talking about other, larger, facilities where weapons-usable material is handled, an insider threat would probably be more acute. We know from experience that bulk material is more vulnerable to theft by insiders.”
One of the key questions for those seeking to prevent the use of a terrorist bomb is whether the origin of the material can be traced after one is set off.
Asked if a nuclear bomb detonated in the United States could be traced, Mr. Tobey said, “At this point I think there’s an excellent chance that we would be able to determine physical characteristics which would point to the origin of material that went off in a bomb. But these things take time. It’s not something that could be done overnight. Moreover, even if the country of origin of such material is known with certainty, it does not necessarily explain how it came to be in a weapon that detonated. Was it, for example, used directly by a nation-state, sold by a nation-state to a third party, or stolen by a third party?”
Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project, said Mr. Tobey’s disclosure that Russian research reactor sites remain vulnerable is worrisome.
“These sites probably contain many bombs’ worth of highly enriched uranium in the form of fresh reactor fuel,” Mr. Milhollin said. “It would increase everyone’s security to have this material fully protected. [. . . ] The new administration should make it a high priority to protect these sites. It is the one obvious thing we can do to reduce the risk of weaponready nuclear material falling into the wrong hands.”
Bill Gertz covers national security affairs. He can be reached at 202/636-3274, or at email@example.com.