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The FBI checks for radiological contamination in a staged drill at the Orange Bowl in Florida in 2007.

The FBI checks for radiological contamination in a staged drill at the Orange Bowl in Florida in 2007.

13 June 2008

Accelerated Cooperation Needed to Fight Nuclear Terrorism, June 13, 2008

(Malta, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Ireland join initiative)

By Jacquelyn S. Porth
Staff Writer

Washington -- Experts who study terrorist behavior characterize them as opportunists looking to exploit any weakness. One especially worrisome area for potential exploitation is poorly controlled nuclear material.

That is why elements of the international community seeking to combat terrorism and prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons are working in concert through the voluntary Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism.

The initiative was launched two years ago by Russia and the United States.  Acting Under Secretary of State John Rood told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on June 12 that the two nations are committed to expanding the initiative and implementing its work program fully. 

The goal of the 71 partner nations that have endorsed the principles of the initiative is to cooperate in detecting, preventing and responding to the global threat of nuclear terrorism.

The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Malta, Saudi Arabia and Ireland are the newest nations to join the effort that focuses on physical protection of nuclear materials, nuclear detection, search and confiscation, denial of terrorist safe havens, law enforcement, investigation and response to a nuclear incident.

In its June 10 U.S.-European Union Summit declaration, member states pledged to pursue further cooperation in support of the initiative.  All European Union members have endorsed the initiative.

State Department official Andrew Grant told a Global Initiative law enforcement conference in Miami in 2007 that country partners should work closely with private industry and local government to manage the nuclear terrorism risk to the extent that terrorists would be put off by the high cost of attempting an attack and, perhaps, be deterred by a potential attack’s limited effectiveness because of the mitigation preparation by initiative partners.  While no attacks have occurred so far, he said, every effort must be made through the initiative to maintain that “important track record.”

This year Grant, who is director of the Office of Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism, is traveling to Madrid for the fourth Global Initiative meeting hosted by Spain, June 16-18.  He told America.gov that 50 partner nations will be reviewing progress of the initiative since al-Qaida, among others, has expressed intent to use deadly weapons against the United States and its friends and allies.

He said the initiative allows the unique skills of partners to be added to the global tool kit to fight nuclear terrorism.  Grant singled out France as having strong nuclear detection skills to offer and said Europe has extensive expertise in managing the consequences of a nuclear crisis.


There is a role for broad segments of international society in closing the gaps that terrorists seek to exploit.   Foreign, federal, state and local governments, as well the private sector and nongovernmental organizations, all can make a valuable contribution.  Grant said the alliance between the private and public sectors is crucial because 90 percent of the U.S. transportation sector is privately owned, and that percentage is similar in other partner countries.

It is important to engage all sectors, he said, because industry can share cutting-edge technology and security-oriented business models with government.  He specifically pointed to the example of industry practices and procedures that can be used to better secure nuclear material and state-of-the-art gear that can protect employees in radiological cleanup operations. 

The U.S. federal government has been working with the private sector on the margins of the initiative, said Grant, “and now we want to accelerate that work” so that other countries and their industries share expertise, best practices, instruments and tools, and possibly even reorganize efforts as they seek the best approach by combining the disciplines of counterterrorism and counterproliferation.

Grant said U.S. and Spanish officials met with relevant trade associations and some companies that have expressed a strong interest in the Global Initiative.  He said all U.S. Fortune 1000 companies are represented in Spain, which has the eighth largest economy in the world.  Spain has been conducting considerable industry outreach to companies as part of its work to combat nuclear terrorism.

Hong Kong-based Hutchinson Port Holding -- the world’s largest port investor with facilities in 24 countries in the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific -- has offered strong support, as has the French company Areva, which handles nuclear material transport and control.  Multinational General Electric has signed on, too, as has Cardinal Health, which produces and uses radiological materials and would distribute pharmaceuticals in the event of nuclear exposure.  The Missouri University Research Reactor Center is also a supporter; it focuses on nuclear safety and conversion issues.

Finding ways to better integrate the public-private sectors into the initiative will be explored during three days of discussions in Madrid.  Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has been invited to share his experience working through the ramifications of the September 11 terror attack that killed thousands in 2001 and to address the need for leadership to ensure the success of the Global Initiative.

For more information about U.S. policy, see the State Department’s Web site on the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism.

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