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Specialized Know-How

[Intelligence Operations] [Collecting Open Source Information]

A would-be proliferator will look broadly, both in terms of subjects and locations, for information that will help it build nuclear weapons. These programs need information to build an indigenous capability to design and manufacture nuclear weapons from the ground up. For the highly sensitive subject of constructing a nuclear weapon itself, often called "weaponization," the country may find relying on foreign experts too risky and will instead seek documents or other records relevant to weaponization to create a self sufficient domestic knowledge base. Other types of important information include leads on potential suppliers of information, materials, and equipment. Toward these goals, a proliferator will seek open, classified, and proprietary information in advanced, industrialized countries or other states knowledgeable about nuclear weapons.

Information-gathering efforts can be quite sophisticated and diverse. Countries may seek all available, relevant information that they can find. With the advent of the internet, the volume of information and ease of access has increased greatly since the 1980s, making it more difficult to control the flow of information to a would-be proliferator.

Proliferant states can be expected to exploit contacts with foreign individuals and companies to obtain sensitive information. They may seek to use completely legal and valid contracts, communications, and transfers to obtain sensitive information. Direct contacts with experts in supplier companies can reap enormous benefits.

The most valuable information is likely to be classified information. However, this type of information can be difficult to obtain. In some cases, foreign experts have knowingly provided such information. In other cases, it has been obtained as part of commercial contracts or intelligence operations.

Intelligence Operations

A country may mount an intelligence operation to obtain sensitive information. The Iraqi nuclear weapons program tried in 1989 and 1990 to establish undercover "elements in the information centers of a number of establishments and companies that had distinguished and important roles in strategic U.S. programs in the 1940s." The goal was to obtain important and classified records. Targeted companies were those that had been involved in U.S. electromagnetic isotope separation (EMIS) program, including Stone and Webster, Union Carbide Corporation, General Electric, and Eastman Kodak (known at the time of the Manhattan Project as Tennessee Eastman Corporation). The Iraqis were hoping to obtain information on the Manhattan-era EMIS facility called the Y-12 plant in Tennessee. They were particularly interested in the design and construction of Y-12 facility, its operation, materials used in the EMIS machines and elsewhere at Y-12, and analysis of results of operating the facility.

The Iraqi intelligence agency told officials in Iraq's nuclear weapons program in late May 1990 that it pursued "several directions to reach the research companies." It noted that the operation demanded "secrecy and delicacy," adding that "an appropriate time limit must be set for our actions to avoid detection or a fiasco." The success of this operation is unknown, although it likely was stymied by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.

Collecting Open Source Information

Countries will target declassified or open sources for desired information. The Iraqi experience has numerous examples of this common strategy.

Iraq compiled document lists from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) International Nuclear Information Service (INIS) database, the Science Citation Index (a leading index of scientific and technical journals published around the world), and other unclassified indices. However, simply ordering copies of such reports from the IAEA or other agencies directly might have exposed Iraq's nuclear weapons efforts, given the limited size and scope of its civil nuclear program. "If you acquire information through the IAEA," said Khidhir Hamza, a former senior Iraqi nuclear scientist and former senior fellow at ISIS, "you might get asked questions."

To help maintain secrecy, Iraq went to extraordinary lengths to disguise its activities, even when it was just seeking books and reports that were readily available in many libraries or major bookstores. In some cases, items on these lists were obtained through intelligence agency channels or commercial purchases by Iraqi agents that were funneled secretly to Iraq through front companies in Europe.

In the 1980s, for example, Iraq's trusted procurement agent Anees Mansour Wadi, an Iraqi expatriate, was instrumental in acquiring open-source literature about key nuclear technologies for the Iraqi nuclear weapons effort. Hamza said that "we gave him [Wadi] specific titles. ... We asked him to get back issues from different journals--explosives journals, metals journals, shockwave phenomena journals--some of them from the first issue; back issues are very expensive. We made an arrangement to get us all kinds of literature and books. The order was for several million dollars. He got most of what we asked for." Hamza said that front companies in Europe received the literature from Wadi, and then shipped the items to Iraq via Iraqi Airways as normal cargo.

Iraq utilized other methods to acquire information, including Iraqis studying abroad, paid agents, embassy employees, and Iraqi scientists traveling overseas. Student networks were exploited by Iraqi intelligence and used to gather reports and materials that were photocopied in university libraries. Iraq would target conferences and scientific meetings, where relevant information could be obtained and contacts with potential suppliers could be developed. At one such conference, held in Portland, Oregon in 1989, members of Iraq's Ministry of Industry and Military Industrialization (MIMI) "got anything that was current in the field about how to make top-notch [high-explosive] lenses." The operatives were able to obtain documents and reports, learn new techniques, and make contacts with suppliers for fast electronics. According to Hamza "many papers were delivered that gave us many indications on which direction to go."

The Iraqi efforts show that establishing discussions or cooperative efforts with suppliers or researchers can, in some cases, yield information that may be classified, subject to export controls, or otherwise sensitive. The revelation of controlled information may have resulted unintentionally or from a poor understanding of controlled information. Although Hamza could provide ISIS with no concrete case where he was involved in obtaining classified U.S. documents, he did observe that "rubbing shoulders" with those with access to sensitive information had reaped important rewards.

The information-gathering process was closely tied to efforts to acquire equipment. From the German companies of Degussa and Leybold, for example, Iraq sought many types of documents, including "manuals, techniques for casting various metals and types of crucibles, company manuals, training manuals, and literature surveys. There were some proprietary documents about the iodine [purification] process [that Iraq initially planned to use to purify highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons]."

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