Skip to comments.(Russian) Tycoon (living in London) foils ‘nuclear bomb sale’ plot
Posted on 10/23/2004 4:21:05 PM PDT by FairOpinion
THE London-based Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky has claimed that the intelligence services helped to foil a plot by Chechen terrorists to sell a nuclear device on the international black market.
Berezovsky last week described the curious events that led to him tipping off the authorities about the plot.
The exiled Russian oligarch, who according to The Sunday Times Rich List is the 14th richest man in Britain, said that he had contacted British and American intelligence after being approached by a Chechen at his home in Surrey.
The Chechen said he was acting as an intermediary for a man who wanted to sell a nuclear bomb concealed in a suitcase for $3m (£1.6m).
The tycoon arranged for a member of his staff to meet the Chechen at the Bristol hotel in Paris. The two-hour meeting was taped on Berezovskys instructions and the tycoon handed the tape to the CIA at the American embassy in London.
A senior Whitehall security official confirmed that MI5 was aware that Berezovsky had approached the authorities on several occasions offering to assist in investigations into the supply of illicit nuclear and radiological materials.
He has made these allegations to the authorities in private, but we cant discuss the details, the official said.
After the Beslan school siege last month, for which Shamil Basayev, the Chechen warlord, claimed responsibility, the possibility that rebels in the breakaway republic may be able to acquire a small nuclear device is causing alarm among senior officials in Moscow and the West.
Two years ago American officials revealed their fears that Chechen rebels had stolen radioactive materials, possibly including plutonium, from a Russian nuclear power station in the southern region of Rostov.
The disappearance of the materials from the Volgodoskaya nuclear power station, near the city of Rostov-on-Don, heightened fears that weapons-grade material, including caesium, strontium and low-enriched uranium. had been obtained by Chechen terrorists.
The theft was reported by Russian officials to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which told the US energy department. Speaking for the first time about the plot, Berezovsky said that he had been approached in 2002 by a Chechen living in Paris whom he knew as Zakhar.
The Russian tycoon had previously helped Zakhar by giving him $5,000 when the two men were in exile in Paris. He said: I didnt hear from him again until he rang me when I was in England and said he had enormous, very important information about nuclear weapons.
I informed the American embassy in London. I told them it could be serious or it could be a provocation. Berezovsky asked Yuli Dubov, a business associate and fellow exile, to investigate the background to the plot. Dubov said that Zakhar had claimed that the portable bomb was one of several made by Soviet scientists during the early 1990s.
One of them disappeared during the mess of the early 1990s, Dubov wrote in a report. The person who holds this suitcase with a bomb wants to sell it and he (Zakhar) is empowered to act for him.
Zakhar approached Berezovsky. The price asked for it is not large, only $3m. The idea is that Berezovsky pays $3m and advises on whom the A-bomb should be delivered (to). Zakhar will then organise everything in the best possible way.
During a subsequent meeting, arranged at the behest of the CIA in London, Zakhar was asked by Berezovskys aide to provide evidence that the nuclear device existed. But Zakhar, by this time suspecting a trap, failed to do so. Berezovsky said that he reported the matter to British intelligence through an intermediary.
That was end of the affair, as far as Berezovsky was aware. It could have been a hoax and he does not know whether the intelligence services tried to retrieve the nuclear device. The plot is the latest in a series of strange incidents to involve Berezovsky, who was granted political asylum by David Blunkett, the home secretary, last year.
Once Russias most influential tycoon, Berezovsky, 58, has a £1.8 billion fortune and recently bought a Surrey estate for £10m from Chris Evans, the radio DJ. He was forced to flee Russia after falling out with President Vladimir Putin.
It sounds true, or he wouldn't have contacted the intel services.
Related (?) article:
New leads point to election (terror) attack
WTF? Neither caesium or strontium in any quantity or purity is "weapons-grade" for anything, and low-enriched uranium isn't "weapons-grade."
It's simply astonishing how incompetent the media is covering this subject.
I wonder, why a Chechen would approach this "oligarch" (great thief)?
They can be used in a dirty bomb.
I think they figured, that he must hold a grudge against Putin and would be willing to help the Chechen terrorists to blow up a nuke in Russia.
Weapons grade caesium is used in, err, weapons-grade photoelectric cells. Dangerous stuff.
Any traded weapons might have gone subcritical due to shelf-life. In which case 3 million is a lot for a paperweight.
There's no such thing as "weapons-grade" for a dirty bomb.
The smaller the nuke, the shorter the shelf life.
The less shielding that you have, the sooner that your electronics and conventional explosives deteriorate from the radiation.
The less fissionable material that you have, the faster you generally need your atomic trigger isotopes to emit neutrons. The faster you emit neutrons, the shorter your half-life. The shorter your half-life, the less time that you have before the nuke simply fizzles instead of booms.
This is simple physics. Moreover, heavy metals like uranium and plutonium are among the most brittle materials known to man, and the slightest bit of humidity turns them into uranium oxide or plutonium oxide (i.e. worthless rust).
So a "suitcase nuke" from the 1990's is likely little more than a rusted, shattered, fragmented collection of wiring and explosives today.
Even if a dirty bomb is detonated, it would create chaos and economic disaster.
Risk of radioactive "dirty bomb" growing
"Since 1993, there have been 300 confirmed cases of illicit trafficking in radiological materials, 215 of them in the past five years. And the IAEA warns that the real level of smuggling may well be significantly larger, citing reports of a further 344 instances over the past 11 years which have not been confirmed by any of the 75 states that monitor illicit trafficking.
The only two known incidents that could be classed as radiological terrorism have occurred in Russia. In 1995 Chechen rebels buried a caesium-137 source in Izmailovsky Park in Moscow, and in 1998 a container of radioactive materials attached to a mine was found by a railway line near Argun in Chechnya."
Most likely this was a sting operation. There's probably 1,000 stings for every real offer out there. Berezovsky likely saw it for what it was, reported it as a "good citizen" act.
The main problem with a dirty bomb is that the news media will blow it (pun intended) all out of proportion.
Even Japan and Germany in WW2 had the ability to make dirty bombs, it's just that they were more educated and less sensationalistic than the journalists of today (i.e. they knew better than to deploy a militarily useless weapon).
If your radiation source isn't engaging in a chain reaction, then its lethality is limited to people either breathing it in as dust or hanging on to pieces of it like a souvenier trophy necklace.
Brief exposures to non-chain-reaction radiation sources are trivial to your health.
Sadly, our modern news media will scream "PANIC" and "NUCLEAR ATTACK" at the first detonation of a dirty bomb, when the reality is that a dirty bomb is just a bomb...whose dust you don't want to breath and whose schrapnel you don't want to wear as jewelry.
The seller may know that it's not viable, but is hoping to swindle someone else with it. There are a lot of uses for $3M.
The uranium or plutonium is plated with metals to protect them from corrosion.
I don't worry so much about a dirty bomb as I do about nuclear littering. A bomb advertises itself. But what if they just dropped the stuff in a high-traffic area?
>>It's simply astonishing how incompetent the media is covering this subject.
No it isn't. Journalists are generally technologically ignorant and innumerate. If they weren't, they would have been accountants or engineers or some such.
My first reaction was to say: "interesting, IF TRUE", but then I took off the second part, because he did report it to the British and US intel agencies, who followed up on it, so it's likely true.
>>a nuclear bomb concealed in a suitcase
I will never believe ANY of these stories about a suitcase
nuclear bomb. There is absolutely no reason it has to be
'suitcase sized'. The whole purpose of declaring it suitcase
size is for maximum terror by those writing the drivel.
A volkswagen-sized nuke would work just as well. Anything
that can be packed into a cessna could be easily
maneuvered to within a half-mile of a high-valued target.
Two private planes got within a half-mile of President Bush just today.
Any early-1990 suitcase nukes would need electronics to
set them off, but those would be essentially a puddle of
glass after that many years of exposure to radiation.
So the instant I hear 'suitcase nuke' I know the story is
just for its scare-factor only.
I'll be interested to see how the story develops and what British and US intelligence have to say on it.
Really, if BAB said that it was good weather out, I'd still bring an umbrella. I'm surprised he didn't bring up Red Mercuty as well.
It's just poison. Some will get the needed treatment/decontamination in time, some won't, and the rest of the nation won't even realize that much of anything has happened.
No, the big danger from such things is that the news media blows it out of porportion and causes some big scare...and that the resulting scare does real damage.
" ...to believe that the Chechens would try to sell the device instead
of USING it - strains human credulity and defies reason."
Maybe they have more than one, maybe they have more than two brokered through the Russian black market. That would be the only reason I could see them selling one given their hatred.
I also wonder why they wanted to sell to this guy.
Having an old nuke would only help a good engineer reverse engineer the assembly of a new device.
...and the assembly isn't the major technical hurdle. The fabrication of fissionable material into a perfectly shaped pit is a major technical hurdle, on the other hand. But just seeing the remains of what used to be a weapons-grade pit won't help much. Obtaining enough fissionable material is yet another major technical hurdle. Maintenance is yet another.
But just seeing the components of a working (or once-working) device won't really tell you how to construct a new one. Fissionable material has a radiation field that must be respected in construction, design, movement, and assembly. Fissionable material also releases heat that must be taken into account. FM can also go critical if your components ever come too close to each other, among other "pit" falls to building such a device. FM is among the most brittle of all metals, as well as extraordinarily susceptable to rusting into plutonium or uranium oxide. So machining such metals into precise nuclear tolerances is not for amatuers.
"Given the intensity of Chechen/Russian hatred, to believe that the Chechens would try to sell the device instead of USING it - strains human credulity and defies reason."
Excellent point. Kerry will no doubt be using this on the campaign trail: "This only underscores the danger of Pres. Bush's refusal to provide enough money and support to secure Russian nukes"...blah, blah, blah. Even if the Chechens did manage to get there hands on such a weapon, a question would still remain...who gave it to them???
For $13,000 a terrorist could purchase enough diesel fuel, blasting caps, and fertilizer to build a daisy cutter.
That's roughly 0.1% of a small nuke. It makes a nice mushroom cloud to scare the news media into Chicken Littles and gets lots of global airplay, too.
It's also more than 1,000 times as powerful as the car bombs that are being set off in Baghdad. It's roughly a bit more powerful than what went off in OKC back in 1995.
And you could fit it into a truck, plane, or ship.
The technology involved is pre-WW1. Even Palestinians could be taught how to build one.
Call me when they manage to build a simple dasiy cutter. Until then, nukes are out of the question for their level of expertise.
If the Chechen terrorists had a bomb they would most likely have used it and claimed that they had more of them to achive leverage with Russia. This story sounds like B.S. designed to put a positive light on the business man telling it.
Thanks for the ping.
Bookmarking this one.