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Panel II of a Hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - the G-8 Partnership for Non-Proliferation of WMD


Location: Washington, DC

Panel I of a Hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - the G-8 Partnership for Non-Proliferation of WMD


SEN. BIDEN: Thank you. And let me begin by asking you to do something, Mr. Brooks, that is -- that I think is important for folks to understand. You pointed out that the plutonium -- the plutonium disposition initiative relates to 34 tons of plutonium.

MR. BROOKS: Yes sir.

SEN. BIDEN: Enough for 8,000 nuclear weapons, roughly. Describe for the committee where this 34 tons of plutonium is, and what, from your perspective -- and I'd invite Defense or anyone else to chime in -- what the nature of the security relating to this plutonium is.

MR. BROOKS: It's in various location throughout the Ministry of Atomic Energy's complex. We are working, and this is an area where we've had a good deal of success, to improve the security of those facilities. Rather than give figures in terms of number of facilities, we tend to like to give figures in terms of amount of material. We see about 600 tons of plutonium and uranium in the MINATOM complex. By the end of this year, we'll have had initial upgrades on between 80 and 90 percent of those, and we'll be starting on the more robust comprehensive upgrades. We will --

SEN. BIDEN: Upgrades in security.

MR. BROOKS: Upgrades in security. We will complete the upgrades throughout the MINATOM complex by 2008, which is about three years earlier than I would have testified a year or so ago as a result of a combination of the very strong support of the Congress and some work that Secretary Abraham and his counterpart have done in clearing away bureaucratic obstacles.

SEN. BIDEN: Let me tell you why I asked the question. I'm going to make a comparison that is not -- not completely appropriate. Years ago, when we were trying to get a handle on the drug problem in the world, in the United States, we identified source countries, the type of materials they were producing, the type of activity they were engaged in, precursor chemicals and their sources, et cetera. And we found that it was an incredibly broad problem. And to be able to do everything one would ideally like to do would exceed the resources we had available to us, but we found there were 34 agencies within the federal government who had responsibility for dealing with the drug problem in America, and there was no master plan. There was no list of priorities.

There was no place you could go and ask one person "What is the federal government's plan to deal with this problem? What are you going to attack first? Are you going to attack poppy fields or opium fields -- I mean, excuse me -- or coca fields? What are you -- what continent are you going to look to? I mean, how are you going to allocate your resources?"

Everyone over the past years who's testified about the problem related to weapons of mass destruction and vehicles that can deliver them, and the application of Nunn-Lugar funding has said the extent of the work to be done far exceeds the resources available to do it, yet -- and now we are engaging in a very positive way the energies and hopefully the funds, the monies of other industrial nations, and hopefully, as Senator Lugar said, we'll go beyond the G-8 to get participation here.

But, what confuses me, and this is not a criticism, what confuses me is if I had to go to one place in the federal government and get one document that said these are our priorities, this is our wish list, this is where we're going to expand our limited energies and our funds, and this is where we're going to try and -- Ms. Bronson came as close to anybody at dealing with this issue -- and this is where we're going to try to get our allies and our friends and those who share our concern to weigh in, to be helpful, and that there seems to be, to me, a disconnect between what, if you gave this problem to a management kid at the Wharton School and said "how would you manage this effort?" I would respectfully suggest they wouldn't manage it the way we're managing it. There would be a -- and I -- now granted, this is -- this is all building on what has been an initiative that was incredibly important, started by Senator Lugar and Senator Nunn, and in an environment that has rapidly changed, and we've learned more, and we've learned more about -- both the difficulty in access, the credibility of the assertions, the bureaucratic difficulties getting there, the total amount of the offending material, et cetera.

But, if I were to ask the question, I ask all three of you this, is there any one place I could go to get a single document that said the United States government believes that the single most dangerous elements of this problem are the following, and we are matching, attempting to match our resources to the degree to which we think a danger exists -- has that kind of inventory, has that kind of list, has that kind of prioritization been done, does one exist? And secondly, if it exists, how have we begun to, to use the phrase -- I want to make sure I'm accurate here -- well, I'm not going to quote Secretary Bronson, I may be wrong -- but that the opportunity to work with our allies in dealing with what we think are the priorities?

So, that's my question -- the only question I'll ask you. Is there a place I could go and get one document that said this is our wish list based on the threat that is presented by the existence of this material? And two, we're assigning, ideally -- in the ideal world, what we're going to -- what resources we're going to assign to that, and we're going to seek from the Congress or inter-agency? And three, how do we begin to interface with our allies who are now only, you know, coming to grips with this by their recent commitment?


SEN. BIDEN: That's very helpful. I would like to ask you either in open forum or in a classified forum to -- and I am -- there is no hurry in the sense of days, between now and you tell me a reasonable time -- a month or whatever it takes -- to submit to this committee in writing those which you outlined for me just now, and attached to each of the points you made what are the problems related to that effort, what are the Russian absorption capacity. Be specific in the response. What is that absorption capacity problem? I am not asking you now. How does that play out? What kind of bureaucratic problems are you running into? I would like to have as specific an analysis as we can. And, again, if you conclude that it need to be in a classified forum -- I am not sure why it would be, but if it is, if you conclude that, then you let us know. Let the staff know, Mr. Levine and my staff know. But it would be a very helpful guidepost for us in being able to follow and fully understand the nature of this undertaking, so that you may find -- although it would not be your purpose -- you may find as we have a right to do, since we appropriate monies, that we insist you have more help than you say you need -- because no one ever says they need more than the OMB tells them that they can say they need. But it's the only basis upon which we can determine it -- and I'd very much appreciate that.

And to the extent that each of you would be willing within your sphere to prepare a similar document for us. Now, again, I know I am making work for you, but I know it's all available. This is a matter of gathering this together. It would be a very useful set -- three sets of documents for this committee to have, in order for us to be able to -- and not that Senator Lugar, as the old joke goes, has forgotten more about this than most people are going to learn. But it would be a useful three documents for the rest of the members of this committee, including myself -- if you would be willing to do that.

MR. BROOKS: I'd certainly be delighted in the materials area, and we'll look at other areas where it's appropriate.

SEN. BIDEN: And, Senator Lugar -- I kind of warned him of this ahead of time -- I am going to ask, since I must go to a 12:15 meeting, and I apologize to the last panel, if he would be willing to chair this to its conclusion. But -- and I am going to submit with your permission to each of you -- I have about three to five questions. But the main thing, if you did nothing else for me other than try to organize what we have just spoken about from each of your perspectives, it would be a very, very helpful, at least for me -- and I think for the rest of my committee -- if you would be willing to do that.

Yes, Mr. Wolf?


SEN. BIDEN: No, but you will be able to tell me where you are now. I understand -- we fully understand this is not a static issue. We fully understand this changes -- for example, it could change in direct proportion to our knowledge of what terrorist groups were seeking. I mean, it may very well alter -- I mean, there are certain things that are clear -- that as bad as and as lethal as biological pathogens could be and are, if in fact there is a nuclear device in the hands of a terrorist group and/or even state actors, we know the consequences of that, at least in terms of limiting our potential ability to respond to the actions of the state actors are consequential. So obviously plutonium is a big deal. We also know that anthrax is a problem. But if you are in a world -- I mean, these are the hard -- this is why presidents and secretaries get paid the big bucks. I mean, they have to make these hard decisions, all kidding inside. I mean, you know, as my deceased father used to say, you know, If everything is equally important to you, nothing is very important to you. These are tough calls. And I just want to know where you are at the moment. It is not to hold anyone accountable. This is not to go back and say, Wait a minute now, man, you said, Boom, and you didn't do Boom. That's not the purpose of this -- truly. The purpose of my inquiry relates to the state of the thinking and how it's evolving -- how it's evolving.

I suspect Mr. Brooks is going to be able to be considerably more finite in what -- how he moves than the rest of you are, quite frankly, because of -- well, I won't go into it. But, at any rate, I realize it is not static, but it is nonetheless important that we get a sense of where you are in the game, because you will find -- maybe you will not find, the three of you -- what I have found after 30 years of being a United States senator in oversight hearings is that sometimes there is sometimes a circumstance arises where a specific committee in the Congress may actually be able to be helpful in meshing what we find upon submission our slightly different perspectives. And so that's again as the old bad joke goes, you know, we're from the Congress, we're here to help. But that's really the purpose here, for us to have a better grasp.

Secretary Bronson, you had a comment? And I'll yield to the senator.


SEN. BIDEN: That's exactly the point I am making. And let me be bold enough to suggest that in addition to the incredible and enlightened initiative -- and I am not being facetious -- of you and others at the Feds, there were two other intervening acts. One was 9/11 and the other was Richard Lugar. And that is a fact. I mean, the truth of the matter is we would not be -- I doubt very much, not because you all don't -- you all aren't as concerned as Senator Lugar and others are about those close to two million artillery shells -- not because of that -- but you are concerned. But it is amazing how when, if it were not for Senator Lugar there would have been no public discussion about that particular facility. Internally you'd all discuss it, but it's kind of amazing, you know, when the spotlight is focused on something that everybody at home can understand. It is palpable. They can taste it. They can understand it. They can feel it. They can sense it. They know it. They don't need to have a degree in physics. They don't have to be a United States senator or a secretary. They can -- they understand. This makes no sense to have two million of these shells lying around like in a Wal-Mart on shelving and us not destroying them -- no matter what else they are doing with their money -- even if they are taking every penny we are putting in there and going building tactical nuclear weapons. It makes no sense. None. Zero! People get that. They didn't have any education from anybody, except him showing up with a brief case in that facility. All of a sudden the focus went whoom. And that's why we like to know these things, because we may be able to help.

At any rate, I yield to the man with the brief case. (Laughter.)


SEN. BIDEN: Let me interrupt you for a second to make that point. The hearings on the FBI, when the director of the FBI sat there and said their computers would not be up to the job that they needed to be able to deal with what happened from Minneapolis and Arizona for I think he said 2007 or something -- people went, What? What? We are building highways and we are doing tax cuts and we are doing health insurance, and we are doing all -- and you are telling me that we don't have the money to give to the FBI to do that tomorrow? Because if the money were totally available, that time gets cut by 75 percent. But they had a plan based upon their budget. And when people heard that they went, Give me a break. Now, granted, it was all before us anyway. You know, it was all laid out there. But what you can help us do, for us, is help us be able to explain to our colleagues. I believe, for example, if we went to the floor and said, Look, folks, it's going to cost an extra 10, 20 billion dollars to front-end load within the next 18 months to reduce the destruction of the plutonium stockpile by -- I'm making the numbers up, because I don't know what they are -- by 75 percent -- and we made the case on the floor, we'd get the $20 billion. But you all have to operate as planners based upon what you anticipate, what you are told you are likely to be able to get. All we need to know is what your timeframe is. And we may not win. We may go the floor on this and they say we would rather go out there and provide for building a, you know, a Lawrence Welk Museum in somebody's home state. Okay, so be it. But at least we would be able to make the -- I shouldn't have said that, because there is a Lawrence Welk Museum somewhere. (Laughter.) I'm sorry, I -- it's built. At any rate -- (laughter) -- you understand what I am saying here, okay? But the point is -- and I will stop with this -- it makes a gigantic difference, because our colleagues who don't do this everyday, any more than I do health insurance every day -- I mean, health care every day, not being on that committee -- our colleagues, if they knew what the danger was relative to the amount of money to deal with that danger, they may make a different decision. In the separation of powers deal, it is ours to propose. The president can do it too. But we have fully within our authority to say, Mr. President, we love you. We are going to give you more money to do it faster. You may not like that, but that's our priority. Just like the president is, he gets to propose justices and secretaries; we get to dispose. It's a flip here. And so it's really very important.

And, again, if you think we are exaggerating, think of when Mueller sat there and said, By the way, we won't be able to even have Internet connections -- I mean, excuse me -- e-mail among our own people for the next whatever the hell or heck he said -- you know, X number of years. People went, Wait a minute, my company does that. I am going to go out of business if I don't get mine upgraded. We may go out of business in a different way -- in a different way -- if we don't upgrade ours. And so that's sort of the context, in case you think we're exaggerating our ability with your help to be able to maybe do the job, help you front end load the job you sit there. Because, look, if I go to bed staring at the ceiling sometimes wondering about this, each of you go to bed every night, confident you're doing your best, but staring at the ceiling, going, Whoa, whoa. We may be helping you sleep a little better.


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