The ghost of AQ Khan
Fox has an interesting story about the state of nuclear weapons technology proliferation.
A draft report released by a former U.N. weapons inspector found that the international smuggling ring that supplied nuclear designs to Iran, Libya, and North Korea also obtained the blueprints for an advanced nuclear warhead, The Washington Post reported Sunday.
David Albright, a well-known nuclear weapons expert, said that designs for a nuclear device small enough to fit on a ballistic missile were found on computers belonging to the now-defunct smuggling ring of rogue Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.
Swiss authorities, under the direction of the IAEA reportedly destroyed the computer contents, said the Post. But Albright — who is known for exposing the location of Iran's secret nuclear facilities — warns the electronic blue-prints, made up of hundreds of pages of documents, could easily be copied and shared with a number of countries, according to the newspaper.
"These advanced nuclear weapons designs may have long ago been sold off to some of the most treacherous regimes in the world," Albright wrote in his report, which was obtained by the newspaper.
I think any reasonable person can deduce several very probable things from this information. First, that a number of regimes, including but not limited to, Iran, Libya, and North Korea, are interested in developing nuclear weapons outside of the non-proliferation regime. Second, that nuclear weapons design information is already available to them, and possibly to any private party with the money to purchase it.
It is less probable, but certainly reasonable to conclude that because elements of the Pakistani government have been involved in AQ Khan's activity, it is by no means impossible that al-Qaeda has the weapons design information.
It is therefore possible that the only thing standing between the world and a rogue nuclear weapon or weapons are industrial and engineering difficulties. That is, the stockpiling of fissile material the development of the weapons components (such as fuses) themselves and the refinement of delivery systems. The existence of an advanced design means that a delivery system could be fairly small. A small cargo aircraft, a large executive jet or a pallet on a 747 freighter.
Since all the industrial and engineering difficulties are probably going to be solved over the course of several decades there is a real probability of a future nuclear September 11. Like the original September 11, it may feature multiple simultaneous attacks. Perhaps upon the original cities, perhaps upon a dozen or more.
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