Russo-American Nuclear Cities

Kenneth R. Timmerman

The AmericanSpectator

July 1999


Kenneth R. Timmerman is acontributing editor for Reader's Digest and a frequent contributor toThe American Spectator.

Since 1994, theClinton administration has been spending taxpayer dollars to employRussian nuclear scientists and weapons designers in civilianprojects, with the laudable goal of seeking to prevent them fromselling their talents to rogue states such as Iran, Iraq, NorthKorea, and Libya.

But a recent review by the General Accounting Office (GAO) foundthat some of the money has helped the Russians develop better nuclearweapons, missiles, and biological weapons--and that many civilianprojects financed with U.S. taxpayer money have direct militaryapplications. Even worse: Some of the U.S.-funded scientists andinstitutes are developing weapons for Iran and Libya.

Despite these warnings, the Clinton administration now proposes tospend an additional $600 million to launch a massive public worksproject in ten Russian "nuclear cities." Although these sites areostensibly closed to outsiders, Iranian visitors have in the lastfive years been spotted at some of Russia's most sensitive weaponslabs, including Vector and Obolensk, where scientists havegenetically engineered human and animal viruses to produce the mostdeadly biological weapons known to mankind.

The GAO concluded in February that the Nuclear Cities Initiativeis "likely to be a subsidy program for Russia for many years ratherthan a stimulus for economic development," and recommended that it bescaled back. It also said the Department of Energy (DOE), which willoversee the program, should more vigilantly check the backgrounds ofRussian scientists slated to benefit from U.S. taxpayer largesse, inorder to ensure that weapons designers do not enter classified U.S.facilities and do not use U.S. funds to subsidize new weaponsdevelopment.

Heading the Nuclear Cities program at DOE is Assistant Secretaryof Energy Rose Gottemoeller, the same official who fired thedepartment's head of security programs because she suspected him ofleaking information to Congress on the disastrous state of securityat DOE nuclear storage plants and at the national labs ("NuclearSecurity Meltdown," TAS, June 1999). In her academic writings, Ms.Gottemoeller has urged the U.S. to abandon its long-standing policyof strategic ambiguity by declaring publicly that the U.S. will notbe the first to use nuclear weapons. But Rose Gottemoeller is notjust any anti-nuclear academic: In 1993 she became National SecurityCouncil director for Russia and the other Soviet successor states.Since then, she has presided over policies that advanced the careerof former KGB Director Yevgeni Primakov, turned a blind eye toRussia's nuclear and missile transfers to Iran, and supportedPresident Boris Yeltsin at the expense of democratic reformers,plying him with political favors and cash that went directly intooff-shore bank accounts. Although she has no hands-on managerialexperience, Gottemoeller inherits a program crippled by poormanagement and lack of oversight, which seems destined to haveprecisely the opposite effect of its stated intention of helping weanRussia away from nuclear weapons.


Despite the collapse of the Russian economy, the Russiangovernment continues to develop new nuclear submarines and newmissiles. Russia's latest missile, the Topol-M (SS-27), went intoservice last December. According to Yuri Solomonom, generalconstructor at the Moscow Institute of Heat Technology, whichdesigned it the SS-27 was conceived to "effectively penetrate" theantimissile systems "of any state," and could be converted to amultiple warhead missile if Russia discards START II. It is the onlystrategic missile in the world--including the U. S.--that has amaneuverable nuclear re-entry vehicle to allow it to defeatanti-ballistic interceptors.

The SS-27 is not the only troubling nuclear weapons project thatappears to have taken priority over. the Russian economy. Since 1991,the Russians have pumped more than $6 billion into building agigantic underground military complex, designed to withstand a directnuclear blast, at Yamantau Mountain in the Urals. "The Russians haverefused to provide any credible explanation for the purpose of thissite," says Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Penn.), who claims to have raisedYamantau at every meeting he has had with the Russian government overthe past four years. The underground complex is so big the Russianshad to build two entire, 60,000-person cities, known as Beloretsk15&16, just to support the workers building it down below. Workat Yamantau continues day and night, even now. "This is a projectthat is so secret that only the upper levels of the Russiangovernment know about it," Weldon said. "It is extremelydestabilizing. It means that they are thinking about having asuccessful first strike capability." Theories abound as to what thesite might house -a secret nuclear weapons production plant, an ABMsite, a giant ground-based laser, or another directed-energy weapon.Even the CIA doesn't know for sure. The reinforced undergroundbunkers take up 400 square miles, "an area as large as Washington,D.C. inside the Beltway," Weldon said.

Where do the Russians get all the money for such mega-projects?One source is clear: the U.S. taxpayer. Since 1993, the Clintonadministration's misguided nonproliferation programs have pumped morethan $2.5 billion into Russia's military-industrial sector. Now, lotsmore is on the way.


When he unveiled the $600 million Nuclear Cities Initiative lastSeptember in Vienna at a joint press conference with Russian Ministerof Atomic Energy Yevgeni Adamov, Energy Secretary Bill Richardsonpraised the Russians for their willingness to open ten previouslyclosed nuclear cities.

"This is a Russian-led effort to 'rightsize' their nuclear complexand use the valuable skills of their scientists and engineers topromote economic development and new enterprises -to turn thescientific and technological expertise that resides in their premierweapons facilities toward peaceful uses," Richardson said. "I can notemphasize enough how important it is to us all that economic hardshipnot drive Russian nuclear weapons scientists into employment inplaces like Iran and North Korea."

But that was not what the Russians promised at all, according to aGAO audit. The GAO's own investigators were denied entry to Sarov(formerly known as Azarmas-16, one of Russia's two nuclear weaponsdesign institutes) earlier this year. In a meeting with the auditorsoutside the closed city, Sarov officials acknowledged that "it willbe difficult to attract commercial partners to a city located behinda fence." Meanwhile, the collapse of the Russian banking system hasruled out any support from Russian private companies to defenseconversion, the original goal of the U.S. programs. U.S. officials inMoscow warned the auditors that "care should be taken in transferringfunds to any project in Russia lest the money be swallowed up in abankrupt financial institution."

As part of the Nuclear Cities Initiative, U.S. nuclear scientistsare being asked to train their Russian counterparts in Westernbusiness techniques and management skills--clearly, not their strongsuit. The program will also provide "support systems for depression,women's rights, language training, and job retraining," according tothe GAO. The DOE's stated aim is to help the Russians to developviable commercial projects that will attract Russian and foreigninvestment capital. "The notion that the national labs can help theRussians to commercialize their nuclear weapons technology isabsurd," says former Pentagon official Henry Sokolski. "The labs haveno notions of commerce. The problem is that with enough utopianism,you can commit the very crime you're trying to prevent."

A DOE official who worked extensively with the Russians on effortsto convert their nuclear weapons and missile industries to civilianends deems the programs a resounding failure. "The majority of U.S.taxpayer investments in Russia since 1992 have been misdirected,because they did nothing to convert military production to viablecivilian projects," he says. "There has been inadequate oversight, alack of direct involvement by U. S. industry, and no effort to createan environment where the Russians have an economic interest in theoutcome." For offering such criticisms, the official was removed fromdealing with Russia and placed into administrative limbo by hissuperiors.

Russian lab directors complained to the GAO auditors that it was"unrealistic to expect that nuclear scientists trained under theSoviet system can easily make the transition to a market-basedeconomy," while their U.S. counterparts acknowledged that U.S.nuclear labs are "not the place to raise venture capital and developmarkets for products because a laboratory does not have that kind ofexpertise." Despite this, GAO reported that DOE officials werecalling the program a success "because it has at least temporarilyemployed thousands of weapons scientists at about 170 institutes andorganizations throughout Russia and other Newly IndependentStates."

Temporary employment does little to reach the goal of thenonproliferation programs mandated by Congress, which is to help theRussians make the shift from designing and building new weapons todesigning and building commercially viable products. Of the 400Russian projects managed by the Department of Energy since 1994, none"can be classified as long-term commercial successes, and only a fewhave met with limited success," the GAO auditors found. Instead ofpumping in money to keep Russian nuclear labs and other weaponsdesign institutes open, the former DOE official argues that the U.S.should foster "patient capital" (as opposed to venture capital) forlong-term investments in new, state-ofthe-art civilian factori es inRussia, designed from the ground up to produce marketable goods. "Youneed direct project management by U.S. industry, and you need anoverall strategy, as during the Marshall Plan. As it is, we're takingtank factories and trying to get them to make tennis shoes. Missileplants are making lawn chairs. None of this is commercially viable."Once the U.S. government funds for such projects dry up, the tankfactories and missile plants will go back to making tanks andmissiles.

Even Russian lab directors are complaining that in its naiveapproach to proliferation, the Clinton administration is makingdangerous mistakes. TAS has learned that one Russian lab directorwarned the director of DOE's Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention(IPP) project in Moscow in November 1996 that U.S. taxpayer money wasbeing funneled into Russia's most dreaded biological weaponsfacilities, and that, given the way the U.S. had structured theprograms, there was nothing he could do to stop it.


The State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology, known asVector, was founded in the 1970's to carry out topsecret researchinto deadly viral weapons. Given all new labs and a new charter byMikhail Gorbachev in 1987, Vector "weaponized" new strains ofsmallpox at a time when the World Health Organization declared thedisease eradicated worldwide. On May 24 of this year, the WorldHealth Organization voted not to destroy the remaining worldstockpiles of smallpox, which in theory are held only at Vector andin Atlanta, Georgia, for fear the Russians may have transferred themto rogue states for use as weapons. Worldwide smallpox vaccinationwas halted nearly twenty years ago, leaving most of the world'spopulation with no immunity -and thus, easy victims of a Third Worldbiological attack. According to Ken Alibek, a Russian defector whowas deputy director of Vector's parent organization, Biopreparat, theU.S. has only 7 million doses of smallpox vaccine, putting major U.S.cities at the mercy of any large-scale terrorist attack. Smallpox haskilled 500 million people this century alone, making it the deadliestdisease known to man.

Before Alibek defected from Russia in 1992, Vector also developeda new form of the Ebola virus known as Marburg-U, a disease whichliquefies the victim's internal organs and causes the pores of theskin to ooze blood from internal bleeding. Vector's state-of-the-artproduction facility near the Siberian town of Koltsovo continues toreceive funds from IPP and the U.S. Department of State, under aparallel program known as the International Science and TechnologyCenters (ISTC). Vector's programs are still "too sensitive todiscuss," say former officials, who voice concern that the StateDepartment has provided general support funds which Vector can usefor whatever purpose it chooses. These funds were awarded Vectordespite U.S. government awareness that the institute is currentlydeveloping new biological weapons for the Russian military, includinga new strain of German measles that creates AIDS-like symptoms in amatter of days. A Vector researcher went to Iran on a contractapproved by the Russian government, the GAO discovered, at the sametime that Vector was receiving U.S. taxpayer grants, ostensibly todevelop new vaccines. And according to Alibek, who published achilling insider's account of Russia's secret biological weaponsprograms earlier this year (Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of theLargest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World, Random House,$24-95), Vector scientists have recently succeeded in introducing agene from Ebola into the smallpox Virus to create "a smallpox-Ebolaweapon."

Obolensk, a sister organization, to Vector, located in the Moscowsuburbs, is also receiving ISTC grants and is developing agenetically enhanced variant of Anthrax resistant to all knownvaccinations--the ultimate in biological warfare. "These institutesare definitely beyond the pale," said Zachary Davis, a nuclearanalyst for the Congressional Research Service.

They are not the only Russian grant recipients working onquestionable projects. Of the seven Russian institutes hit with WhiteHouse sanctions in January for selling missile-related equipment andtechnology to Iran, most were recipients of ISTC grants, a StateDepartment official supervising the program acknowledges. "Since thesanctions, we have suspended any new contracts with these entities,"the official says.

One of the entities was TSAGI, also known as the AerohydrodynamicInstitute. TSAGI contracted in early 1997 to build a wind tunnel, atthe Shahid Hemat missile plant outside of Tehran, which is being usedby Iranian and Russian missile designers to refine the Shahab-3missile. Successfully test-fired in July 1998, the Shahab-3 givesIran the capability for the first time of reaching Israel with anuclear weapon. A follow-on missile, the Shahab-4, is also beingdeveloped with Russian assistance, and will be able to target U.S.NATO bases in Europe. The ISTC was planning to fund a TSAGI projectinvolving new aircraft designs aimed at improving wake vortexdisturbance, a phenomenon which can cause small planes to crash whenthey cross the wake of a larger aircraft.

Other institutes whose ISTC-funded projects have been put on holdinclude NPO Trud, which sold liquid fuel booster technology to Iran,the Moscow Aviation Institute, and the Baltic State TechnicalUniversity, where Iranian missile designers were being trained. TheScientific Research and Design Institute of Power Technology (NKIET)was also receiving ISTC funds. Deputy Atomic Energy Minister BulatNigmatulin acknowledged that NKIET had held talks with Iran, aimed atbuilding heavy-water and light-water reactors. However, he said,"these talks did not lead to anything and were halted when talksreached more concrete matters." Nigmatulin then used a Clintoniandefense to explain why NKIET should not be punished: "If a wifedances with another man the whole night and nothing happens in theend, I don't understand why the husband would be upset and jealous,"he said. "And they didn't even dance all night." Two weeks later, onFebruary 1, the Ministry of Atomic Energy announced that a group Of40 Iranians was arriving in Russia that month for a 13-month trainingprogram in nuclear reactor operations. So much for dancing.

Nor were NKIET's Iranian contracts its only dubious foreigndalliance. The GAO found that NKIET had provided training to Libya onlight-water reactors, prior to the IPP contract award in 1996. YetWhite House officials desperately sought to spare the firm fromsanctions. "Rose Gottemoeller argued that NKIET was the only game intown," a source privy to the administration's arguments tells TAS."She claimed they were the only Russian enterprise that had masteredthe technology needed to maintain the containment of the Chernobylreactors, and had to be protected, whatever the cost."


Critics of the State Department's ISTC program include OlesLomacky, an American who served as Executive Director of ISTC inMoscow from 1995 to 1997 "The purpose of these programs is verynoble, but the difference between our intent and our actions is nightand day." Lomacky and others involved in the programs who asked notto be named cited poor management and careerism as impediments tomeeting the administration's nonproliferation goals. "The grandscheme is, if you give Russian scientists enough money, they willstop doing what they were doing before, which was designing weapons.That is just a fantasy," says Lomacky. "Our objective ought not to bemaintaining the nuclear cities, but creating opportunities for thesepeople to do other things somewhere else. As it is, the same peoplewho were designing bombs in the Soviet era are still there."

Lomacky and others are highly critical of the State Departmentdirector of the ISTC program, career bureaucrat Anne Harrington. "Shehas no technical background, and she is not a manager. And yet she ismicromanaging the entire program," Lomacky says. "She sees this asher power base." Others accuse Harrington of seeking to become the"vicar" of U.S. foreign aid programs to Russia, counting her successby the amount of U.S. taxpayer aid she can personally distribute.

"At least with the IPP programs, which are managed by the labs,you have one U.S. nuclear scientist managing one Russian project," aformer U.S. intelligence officer who has tracked both programs tellsTAS. "That is expensive, but it provides some element oftransparency. With ISTC, each U.S. manager is responsible for as manyas 60 Russian projects. For God's sake, if you're going to give themmoney, you need to make sure you know what they're doing. Most of thetime, the ISTC doesn't have a clue. They are actually providing U.S.taxpayer dollars to fund proliferation. We need to get our scientistsinto those Russian labs, not write the Russians a blank check so theycan do whatever they want."

A senior State Department official involved in managing ISTCdefends Harrington and her management of the projects, and insiststhat U.S. monitoring teams have stayed on-site at troublesomeinstitutes--including Vector--for as long as four months at a time."If our job were science, we'd be working with the Russian Academy ofScience," the official says. "But our job is nonproliferation. So weengage the institutes that are the most likely targets of countriesseeking to acquire missile, biological, and nuclear weaponstechnology. This requires us to devise a careful oversight andmonitoring program."

Even this official acknowledges that most ISTC monitoring isconducted by Russian employees working out of ISTC's Moscowheadquarters, giving rise to accusations of collusion.

As chairman of the ISTC board, former Bush administration armscontrol expert Ron Lehman, acknowledges that the administration'snonproliferation efforts in Russia walk a fine line between aidingRussian weapons programs and shutting them down. "There is no way Ican guarantee that just by paying money to a Russian scientist he isnot going to help Iran or Iraq:' Lehman tells TAS. "Its not going tobe 100 percent successful. But we are far better off having thecontact than not. It's important to encourage the Russians to worktogether with outside scientists on civilian projects." Lehmaninsists that the programs are taking a "hard-nosed view" toward U.S.nonproliferation goals, and feels the gains of working with theRussians far outweigh the risks of providing limited subsidies toRussian weapons research.

The DOE has accepted the GAO's criticism and has pledged tocorrect the deficiencies the government auditors found in the IPPprogram. But while individual programs can be corrected, theadministration's approach toward the collapse of Russia remainsfragmented, fraught with bureaucratic infighting, and lacking anystrategic vision.

In a separate review of the Russian programs, released this May,the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) pointed out that U.S. taxpayerscurrently spend $700 million per year on programs aimed at enhancingnuclear security in Russia that have simply failed to solve theproblem. "Sizable quantities of fissile materials in Russia remainunprotected; no effective export control system or enforcementmechanism exists to ensure that stolen materials or warheads are notsmuggled out of the country; and thousands of weapons scientists andnuclear workers are facing economic hardship because of budget cutsand recession," says the CBO.

For all that, administration critics such as Rep. Weldon believewe should continue to engage the Russians, and that the "grossmishandling" of the nonproliferation programs can be corrected."There should be a joint oversight committee, with Russian andAmerican scientists, to select the programs that do the most good,"says Weldon. "We are not doing the real work of stabilizing thoseweapons of mass destruction Russia still has. Instead, we're justmaking contractors rich."

We have been lucky so far, but the Clinton administration'spiecemeal response to the momentous challenge created by the end ofthe Cold War will face far greater scrutiny after the first nuclearterrorist bomb goes off on Main Street, and Americans realize that itcould have been prevented.