Thursday, 8 October 2015

Moldova: Nuclear smuggling deals to Terrororist´s "thwarted"

video: Moldovan gangs try to sell nuclear material

In the former Soviet republic of Moldova, the police working with the FBI have been reported to have stopped four attempts already by smugglers to sell nuclear material to the Middle East over the past five years. 

An investigation has found that the smuggling gangs with suspected Russian links have attempted to sell nuclear material to Islamic extremists from Isis.

In the backwaters of Moldova, authorities working with the FBI interrupted four attempts in the past five years by the gangs that sought to sell radioactive material to Middle Eastern extremists, The Associated Press news agency discovered. The latest known case came in February this year, when a smuggler offered a huge cache of deadly "Caesium 135" enough to contaminate several city blocks  and specifically sought a buyer from Isis.  SDR wishes to note that the Caesium usually wanted for bombs is Caesium 137.

The smuggler, Valentin Grossu, offered the supply of Caesium to what he thought was an Isis representative in exchange for €2.5 million, according to the investigation. The representative was in fact an informant.

“You can make a dirty bomb, which would be perfect for the Islamic State,” the smuggler said in a meeting at a nightclub in the Moldovan capital  of Chisinau. “If you have a connection with them, the business will go smoothly.”

After initial suspicions and 20 meetings, Grossu was persuaded the informant was an authentic Isis representative and the pair met to exchange money, in a sting operation that ended up with Grossu in jail.
AP writes that, the investigation has also uncovered an attempt to sell bomb grade uranium to a buyer from the Middle East.

In that operation, wiretaps and interviews with investigators show, a middleman for the gang repeatedly ranted with hatred for America as he focused on smuggling the essential material for an atomic bomb and blueprints for a dirty bomb to a Middle Eastern buyer. 

In wiretaps, videotaped arrests, photographs of bomb-grade material, documents and interviews, investigators found that smugglers are explicitly targeting buyers who are enemies of the West. 

The developments represent the fulfilment of a long-feared scenario in which organized crime gangs are trying to link up with groups such as Isis and al-Qaeda both of which have made clear their ambition to use weapons of mass destruction. 

The sting operations involved a partnership between the FBI and a small group of Moldovan investigators, who over five years went from near total ignorance of the black market to wrapping up four sting operations. 

Informants and police posing as connected gangsters penetrated the smuggling networks, using old-fashioned undercover tactics as well as high-tech gear from radiation detectors to clothing threaded with recording devices. 

However their successes were undercut by striking shortcomings: Kingpins got away, and those arrested evaded long prison sentences, often quickly returning to nuclear smuggling.  For strategic reasons, in most of the operations arrests were made after samples of nuclear material had been obtained rather than the larger quantities. That means that if smugglers did have access to the bulk of material they offered, it remains in criminal hands. 

The repeated attempts to peddle radioactive materials signal that a thriving

nuclear black market has emerged in an impoverished corner of Eastern Europe on the fringes of the former Soviet Union. Moldova, which borders Romania, is a former Soviet republics.

What is Caesium-135 ?
Normally when it comes to dirty bombs we talk about cesium 137 so we now ask what is 135?
Caesium-135 is a mildly radioactive isotope of Caesium, undergoing low-energy beta decay to barium-135 with a half-life of 2.3 million years. It is one of the 7 long-lived fission products and the only alkaline one. In nuclear reprocessing, it stays with Cs-137 and other medium-lived fission products rather than with other long-lived fission products. The low decay energy, lack of gamma radiation, and long half-life of 135Cs make this isotope much less hazardous than 137Cs or 134Cs.
A nuclear reactor will also produce much smaller amounts of 135Cs

 Yahoo news writes what we at SDR think might be incorrect the :

In many of the smuggling cases, the ringleaders insulated themselves through a complex network of middlemen who negotiated with buyers in order to shield the bosses from arrest. In this case, Chetrus was the go-between.
Yahoo has never been brokers in the shady great areas, so here it is how a long chain is created and its not for the sake of safety but rather greed that create that chain. The long chain mostly has the outcome that no deal ever takes place
The following is an example; 
Already in the early 90s Europe attempts where made to sell Caesium,
SDR already know of attempts by amateur brokers trying the same in the early 90s! 
Back then most of Europe had no laws on what a broker can sell and what was little known then and not prohibited was offshore firms. The problem  with the so called mixed brokers ( selling anything from sugar to metal ) were that when they did get a mail they would then offer it further via fax machine, where the brokers commonly changed names replacing the name with the new seller representatives with “him self”.  So if any deal would manage to go forward the entire chain would be 10 or more persons waiting for the deal to happen without knowledge of each other….. This was so common it even had a name: Amateur Broker chain.

Its not to be neglected as a joke as in the early 90s many commodity deals actually took off and all of Europe bought any high grade metal from the former Soviet and very little questions were asked. 
Luckily for all of us the strategic materials never made it to any end user.
It was rumoured back then that Saddam Hussein was the buyer of anything thinkable however it was most likely just a urban legend….

Back to the present day….
The Moldovan police and judicial authorities shared investigative case files with the AP exclusively it seem in an effort to spotlight how dangerous the black market has become.  They say a breakdown in cooperation between Russia and the West means that it is much harder to know whether smugglers are finding ways to move parts of Russia's vast store of radioactive materials!

Unimaginable but real was the following comment: “We can expect more of these cases,” said Constantin Malic, one of the Moldovan investigators. “As long as the smugglers think they can make big money without getting caught, they will keep doing it.”

The FBI and the White House declined to comment. The US State Department would not comment on the specifics of the cases. 

US Department of State praises Moldova
“Moldova has taken many important steps to strengthen its counter nuclear smuggling capabilities,” said Eric Lund, spokesman for the State Department's bureau in charge of nonproliferation. “The arrests made by Moldovan authorities in 2011 for the attempted smuggling of nuclear materials is a good example of how Moldova is doing its part.” 

The wiretapped conversations exposed plots that targeted the United States, the Moldovan officials said. In one case, a middleman said it was essential the smuggled bomb-grade uranium go to Arabs, said Malic, an investigator in all four sting operations.   “Malic said: 'I really want an Islamic buyer because they will bomb the Americans.”' 

The middleman, a former KGB informant called Teodor Chetrus clung to a Soviet-era hatred of the West, Malic said, repeatedly ranting about how the Americans should be annihilated because of problems he thought they created in the Middle East.  “He said multiple times that this substance must have a real buyer from the Islamic states to make a dirty bomb,” Malic said.  

The three other thwarted deals seen were:

- In 2010 three people were arrested after a sawn-off piece of a depleted uranium cylinder was exchanged for cash.
- Investigators broke up a deal in 2011 to sell weapons-grade uranium to a potential buyer in the Middle East.

- 2014 a sample of unenriched uranium was exchanged for $15,000 (£9,800).  Six people were arrested but five got away.

Dirty bomb Cesium in the past:
There have only ever been two cases of caesium-containing bombs, and neither were detonated. Both involved Chechnya. The first attempt of radiological terror was carried out in November 1995 by a group of Chechen separatists, who buried a caesium-137 source wrapped in explosives at the Izmaylovsky Park in Moscow. A Chechen rebel leader alerted the media, the bomb was never activated, and the incident amounted to a mere publicity stunt.
In November 1995 by a group of Chechen separatists, who buried a caesium-137 source wrapped in explosives at the Izmaylovsky Park in Moscow. A Chechen rebel leader alerted the media, the bomb was never activated, and the incident amounted to a publicity stunt.

In December 1998, a second attempt was announced by the Chechen Security Service, who discovered a container filled with radioactive materials attached to an explosive mine. The bomb was hidden near a railway line in the suburban area Argun, ten miles east of the Chechen capital of Grozny. The same Chechen separatist group was suspected to be involved.  Despite the increased fear of a dirty bombing attack, it is hard to assess whether the actual risk of such an event has increased significantly. The following discussions on implications, effects and probability of an attack, as well as indications of terror groups planning such, are based mainly on statistics, qualified guessing and a few comparable scenarios.

Sources: BBC RT AP and SDR