FBI, EU authorities have disrupted several attempts to sell nuclear material to extremist groups like ISIS to dirty bomb U.S. cities

Monday, October 12, 2015 by

(NationalSecurity.news) The FBI, in conjunction with European authorities, has disrupted a number of attempts by nuclear smugglers to sell radioactive materials to extremist organizations so they can build dirty bombs and set them off in Western cities.

As reported by The Associated Press (AP), at least four intercepts have taken place in the “backwaters of Eastern Europe,” after authorities caught up with gangs that are suspected to have ties to criminal elements in Russia as they sought to sell the nuclear material to Middle Eastern extremists.

The latest known case, the AP reported, came in February of this year, when authorities intercepted a smuggler offering a massive cache of deadly cesium – enough to contaminate several city blocks – while seeking a buyer from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The criminal organizations, with ties to the successor to Russia’s KGB, have developed a thriving nuclear materials black market in the small, impoverished Eastern European nation of Moldova, say investigators.

Though there have been arrests, the most worrisome aspect of this growing, deadly enterprise is that a number of kingpins managed to escape, while those arrested have not gotten long prison sentences and were soon freed to rejoin nuclear smuggling rings.

The AP obtained investigative case files from Moldovan police and judicial authorities in a bid to expose the dangerous rings and demonstrate how large the nuclear black market has gotten.

Those officials say that the breakdown in cooperation during the Obama Administration between Washington and Moscow has meant that it is now much more difficult to know where and how smugglers are moving portions of Russia’s vast store of radioactive materials. Officials say they have no idea how much of those materials have made it onto the black market, the AP reported.

“We can expect more of these cases,” Constantin Malic, a Moldovan police officer who investigated all four cases, told the newswire. “As long as the smugglers think they can make big money without getting caught, they will keep doing it.”

The AP further reported:

In wiretaps, videotaped arrests, photographs of bomb-grade material, documents and interviews, AP found a troubling vulnerability in the anti-smuggling strategy. From the first known Moldovan case in 2010 to the most recent one in February, a pattern has emerged: Authorities pounce on suspects in the early stages of a deal, giving the ringleaders a chance to escape with their nuclear contraband — an indication that the threat from the nuclear black market in the Balkans is far from under control.

Moreover, Moldovan authorities are not sure that suspects who got away were not holding onto the bulk of the nuclear materials, and they don’t know whether the smuggling rings, which are attempting to sell to enemies of the West, have already succeeded in transferring deadly nuclear materials to terrorists – and all at a time when ISIS has been clear about its pursuit of, and willingness to use, weapons of mass destruction.

The AP notes that the cases involved secretive meetings in a high-end nightclub, blueprints on how to manufacture dirty bombs and one nervous undercover investigator who “slammed vodka shots” before meeting with smugglers.

According to documents reviewed, informants and one police officer posing as a well-heeled gangster, complete with a Mercedes-Benz provided by the FBI – penetrated smuggling gangs. Police would then use a combo of tried-and-true undercover tactics and high-tech gear including radiation detectors and clothing that was threaded with recording devices.

“In the age of the Islamic State, it’s especially terrifying to have real smugglers of nuclear bomb material apparently making connections with real buyers,” Matthew Bunn, a Harvard professor who led a secret study for the Clinton Administration on the security of Russia’s nuclear arsenal, told The Associated Press.

According to wiretapped conversations provided by Moldovan authorities, investigators repeatedly uncovered plots targeting the United States. During one operation, a middleman told an informant posing as a buyer that it was vital that the smuggled uranium go to Arab extremists.

“He said to the informant on a wire: ‘I really want an Islamic buyer because they will bomb the Americans,'” said Malic.

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