Unclassified Statement for the Record by John A. Lauder, Special Assistant to the DCI for Nonproliferation, on the Worldwide WMD Threat

To the Commission to Assess the Organization of the Federal Government to Combat the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction
April 29, 1999

Weapon Program: 

  • Biological
  • Chemical
  • Missile
  • Nuclear


Thank you Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice-Chairman, and members of the Commission.

I welcome being here today to help inform and support the work of this Commission. We in the nonproliferation intelligence community look forward to your recommendations in helping us deal with the formidable challenges that the United States Government faces in seeking to anticipate, assess, counter, and even roll back the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Conveying to you a full understanding of both the threats and what we in the Intelligence Community are doing to combat those threats are best dealt with in the closed sessions of the Commission. There are some observations and trends, however, that I can highlight in this unclassified setting. I have provided a Statement for the Record, and with your permission I will now draw from it to make some key points.

Let me say first that I particularly welcome being here with Dale Watson of the FBI. Also here to help answer the Commission's questions is Debra Shelton of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Other experts are in the room and we will ask them to identify themselves if we need to call on them to help during the questioning. The interagency team that all of us represent is a symbol of the type of cooperation that we have been fostering and indeed that is essential to providing the intelligence that this country needs to understand and address the proliferation challenge.

DCI George Tenet has emphasized in his appearances before Congress that no issue better illustrates the new challenges, complexities, and uncertainties that we in the Intelligence Community face than the proliferation of WMD and their delivery means. Over the past year, we have witnessed the nuclear tests in South Asia, continued concerns about Iraq's WMD programs, broader availability of technologies relevant to biological and chemical warfare, and accelerated missile development in Iran, North Korea, and--most recently--in Pakistan and India. Particularly worrisome to the Intelligence Community is the security of Russian WMD materials, increased cooperation among rogue states, more effective efforts by proliferants to conceal illicit activities, and growing interest by terrorists in acquiring WMD capabilities.

US intelligence is increasing its emphasis and resources on many of these issues, but there is a continued and growing risk of surprise. We appropriately focus much of our intelligence collection and analysis on some ten states, but even concerning these states, there are important gaps in our knowledge. Moreover, we have identified well over 50 states that are of proliferation concern as suppliers, conduits, or potential proliferants. Our analytical and collection coverage against most of these states is stretched, and many of the trends seen, such as the possibility of shortcuts to acquiring fissile material and increased denial and deception activities, make it harder to track some key developments, even in the states of greatest intelligence focus.


Looking at the supply-side first: Russian and Chinese assistance to proliferant countries has merited particular attention for several years. Last year, Russia announced new controls on transfers of missile-related technology. There were some positive signs in Russia's performance early last year but, unfortunately, there has not been a sustained improvement. Expertise and materiel from Russia has continued to assist the progress of several states. For example, Russian entities have helped the Iranian missile effort in areas ranging from training, to testing, to components. This assistance is continuing as we speak, and is playing a crucial role in Iran's ability to develop more sophisticated and longer-range missiles.

Making matters worse, societal and economic stress in Russia seems likely to grow, raising even more concerns about the security of nuclear weapons and fissile material. Although we have not had recent reports that weapons-usable nuclear material is missing in Russia, what we have noticed are reports of strikes, lax discipline, poor morale, and criminal activity at nuclear facilities. These are alarm bells that warrant our closest attention and concern.

Moreover, these same stresses are propagating a "brain drain" in which WMD-related technologies--particularly those relating to biological weapons (BW) and chemical weapons (CW)--are for sale by Russian individuals to proliferant states. As you know, plugging this brain drain and helping provide alternative courses for the former Soviet Union's WMD infrastructure are key goals of US nonproliferation policy, as well as a variety of US and international cooperation programs with Russia and other former Soviet states.

The China story is a mixed picture. China is actively studying membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime, has promulgated controls on dual-use nuclear technology, and tightened chemical export controls. We cannot yet be certain, however, that the new export control mechanisms will be effective, and worrisome contacts continue between Chinese entities and countries of concern.

Both the Chinese Government and Chinese firms have long-standing and deep relationships with proliferant countries, and we are not convinced that China's companies fully share the commitments undertaken by senior Chinese leaders. While all aspects of China's proliferation behavior bear continued watching, we see more signs of progress on nuclear and chemical matters than on missile assistance.

There is little positive that can be said about North Korea, the third major global proliferator, whose incentive to engage in such behavior increases as its economy continues to decline. Successes in the control of missile technology--for example, through the Missile Technology Control Regime--have created a market for countries like North Korea to exploit illicit avenues for conducting sales activities in this area. Missiles, and related technology and know-how, are North Korean products for which there is a real market. North Korea's sales of such products over the years have dramatically heightened the missile capabilities of countries such as Iran and Pakistan.

North Korea's sales are the most striking example of what we call "secondary proliferation." Countries such as India, Pakistan, and Iran--traditionally seen as technology customers--have also now developed capabilities that they could export to others.


Turning to the demand side, let's focus first on nuclear programs. Intelligence Community experts disagree on whether last year's nuclear testing in South Asia produced new stresses on international nuclear norms. Those who believe there are new stresses argue that despite many improvements to the nuclear nonproliferation regime in this decade, several factors foreshadow a decrease in the effectiveness of nuclear nonproliferation measures. Some nuclear supplier states are pursuing nuclear and dual-use trade--even with non-NPT and "rogue" states. The technology and equipment needed to make nuclear weapons have become more accessible commercially. More sophisticated denial and deception measures, as well as a growing trend toward nuclear self-sufficiency, may also protect clandestine nuclear programs from interdiction.

Last spring dramatically made clear that both India and Pakistan are well positioned to pursue development of advanced nuclear weapons and build significant nuclear arsenals. We remain concerned about the prospects for renewed testing by India and Pakistan, and the resulting escalation of the nuclear arms race on the subcontinent.

Meanwhile, Iran also seems to be pushing its program forward. Russian entities continued to market and support a variety of nuclear-related projects in Iran, despite Russian assurances that cooperation is limited to the civilian Bushehr nuclear power reactor. This project, along with other nuclear-related purchases, will help Iran augment its nuclear technology infrastructure.

. . .

Other activity over the past year included the first launches of the North Korean Taepo Dong-1 and the Iranian Shahab-3. Both the Ghauri and the Shahab-3 are based on North Korea's No Dong. With a range of 1,300 km, the No Dong, Shahab-3, and Ghauri significantly alter the military equations in their respective regions. In short, theater-range missiles with increasing range pose an immediate and growing threat to US interests, military forces, and allies--and the threat is increasing.

. . .

Foreign assistance is a fundamental factor behind the growth in the missile threat. For example, foreign assistance helped Iran save years in its development of the Shahab-3 missile, which is based on the North Korean No Dong and, as I noted earlier, includes Russian--and, to a lesser extent Chinese--assistance. Moreover, Iran will continue to both seek longer range missiles and foreign assistance in their development.

Iraqi capabilities to develop missiles also continue to be a concern. Before the Gulf War, Iraq was ahead of Iran in such developments. If sanctions against Iraq were lifted, or if the United Nations monitoring regime were to be less intrusive, we would have to assume that Iraq would seek longer-range capabilities.

. . .

Against the backdrop of an increasing missile threat, the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons (CBW) takes on more alarming dimensions. At least sixteen states, including those with missile programs mentioned earlier, currently have active CW programs, and perhaps a dozen are pursuing offensive BW programs.

One of the most active players has been Iran. It already has manufactured and stockpiled CW, including blister, blood, and choking agents, and the bombs and artillery shells for delivering them. Even though it is a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), Tehran continues to obtain foreign equipment and materials that could be used to create a more advanced and self-sufficient CW infrastructure. Tehran also continues to seek dual-use biotechnological equipment from Russia and other countries-ostensibly for civilian uses. Iran began a biological warfare program during the Iran-Iraq war, and it may have some limited capability for BW deployment.

. . .

Numbers alone, however, do not adequately reflect the true nature of the growing CBW threat. The greatest change is that individual CBW programs are becoming more dangerous in a number of ways.

First: As deadly as they now are, CBW agents could become even more sophisticated. Rapid advances in biotechnology present the prospect of a wholly new array of toxins or live agents that will require new detection methods and preventative measures, including vaccines and therapies. Russian whistleblowers have warned publicly of a new generation of CW agents, sometimes called "Novichok" agents, that might also necessitate new detection and treatment approaches. To compound the problem, Third World proliferants probably are already seeking such technology and could develop or acquire advanced agents in the near future.

In addition, researchers are exploring different ways to use BW, including mixtures of slow- and fast-acting agents, and "cocktails" with chemical agents.

Gains in genetic engineering are making it increasingly difficult for us to recognize all the agents threatening us. Also, BW attacks need not be directed only at humans. Plant and animal pathogens may be used against agricultural targets, creating potential economic devastation.

Second: CBW programs are becoming more self-sufficient, challenging our detection and deterrence efforts, and limiting our interdiction opportunities. Iran is a case-in-point. Tehran--driven in part by stringent international export controls--has set about acquiring the ability to produce domestically the raw materials and equipment needed to support indigenous chemical and biological agent production.

Third: Countries are taking advantage of denial and deception techniques, concealing and protecting CBW programs. Concealment is simpler with BW because of its overlap with legitimate research and commercial biotechnology. Even so, a CW capability can fairly easily be embedded into a commercial pesticide plant or other parts of an industrial chemical infrastructure.

Even supposedly "legitimate" facilities can readily conduct clandestine CBW research and can convert rapidly to agent production, providing a mobilization or "breakout" capability. As a result, large stockpiles of CBW munitions simply may not be required in today's CBW arena.

Fourth: Advances are occurring in dissemination techniques, delivery options, and strategies for CBW use. We are concerned that CBW-capable countries are acquiring advanced technologies to design, test, and produce highly effective CBW munitions and sophisticated delivery systems, such as cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles.

Two other phenomena complicate the problem. The first is brain drain; as mentioned previously, scientists with transferable know-how continue to leave the former Soviet Union, some potentially for destinations of proliferation concern. Second, the struggle to control dual-use technologies only gets harder. A few individuals are ready to take advantage of this and are ready to transform opportunities for human betterment into threats of human destruction.

The same technology that is used for good today, can, if it falls into the wrong hands, be used for evil tomorrow. The overlap between BW agents and vaccines, and between nerve agents and pesticides is, as you know, considerable. The technologies used to prolong our lives and improve our standard of living can quite easily be used to cause mass casualties. BW technology is, in part, widely available because all societies have a legitimate need for the biotechnology on which it is based.

I would offer one footnote on the difficulty of assessing the threat from biological and chemical weapons today: Intelligence is all about ascertaining not only the capabilities, but also the intentions of one's adversaries. Because of the dual utility of the technology and expertise involved, the actual CBW threat is in fact tied directly to intentions. Getting at this intent is the hardest thing for intelligence to do, but it is essential if we are to determine with certainty the scope and nature of the global biological and chemical warfare threat.

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In closing, let me reiterate our concern regarding the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and long-range delivery systems worldwide. This concern should, and does, motivate us all to do everything we can to counter the threat and to defend against it. Our efforts have received a tremendous boost from the support we have received here on the Hill to provide funding for a number of measures that will strengthen our intelligence capabilities. Moreover, the DCI has launched a Strategic Direction initiative that will strengthen our clandestine collection and analytical work by putting more operations officers on foreign streets and more analysts on accounts, and then support them to the hilt with the best tools available.

In addition, the new positions of Deputy Director of Central Intelligence for Community Management and the Assistant Director of Central Intelligence for Collection give the DCI effective new tools for carrying out his responsibilities in planning, programs, and budget development, requirements management, and acquisition oversight across agency and disciplinary lines. Both officers play an important role in forging interagency strategies, including for collection, against WMD and proliferation issues.

I believe that the changes we have made or are implementing will enhance the overall effectiveness of the Intelligence Community in managing and expanding our efforts to support US national nonproliferation goals. Although many steps have been taken to improve our understanding of the threat, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to anticipate or collect against every military action or terrorist act involving WMD.

There is more that needs to be done, and we will work with many players throughout the US Government on the next steps. Although the growing WMD and ballistic missile threat cannot be met by US Intelligence alone, our work will be crucial to defending American interests and protecting American lives.