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CNN PRESENTS

CNN Presents: Nuclear Terror

Aired September 12, 2004 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR, CNN PRESENTS, NUCLEAR TERROR: Hello I'm Fredricka Whitfield, CNN PRESENTS is straight ahead. But first a quick a look at what is happening now in the news.
Jamaicans begin cleaning up from Hurricane Ivan, their island was spared a direct hit but it still suffered major damage and casualties. At least 16 people are reported dead.

And U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell does not believe a strange cloud in North Korea was caused by a nuclear weapons test. A mushroom shaped cloud appeared Thursday near North Korea's border with China. South Korea's news agency said the cloud was the result of an explosion.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center.

The threat of nuclear terrorism is the focus of a CNN Special airing next. Stay tuned for CNN PRESENTS NUCLEAR TERROR.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is our worst nightmare. Terrorists armed with a nuclear bomb.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They claim that they have at least two nuclear (UNINTELLIGIBLE) bombs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it plausible, could al Qaeda obtain enough nuclear material to build a bomb?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The amount of plutonium you would need for a nuclear bomb would fit easily in a Coke can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could they smuggle it into the United States?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The number of ways that people could get a weapon into the country is almost unlimited.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what impact would the nightmares scenario have on a major U.S. city?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole basically burned and blasted out of the center of Los Angeles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This would make 9/11 seem like a you know a toothache.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR, CNN PRESENTS: Terrorists, al Qaeda armed with a nuclear weapon, a chilling possibility and a real threat. Welcome to a special edition of CNN PRESENTS. I'm Aaron Brown. It's the worst-case scenario a nuclear strike right in the heart of a major American city. Could it happen? The answer terrifying enough is yes. Three years after 9/11 experts say the threat is real. Over the next hour we investigate the nightmare of nuclear terror, how easy it might be to pull off and what we can do to prevent it. Here now is CNN's David Mattingly.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Macao a small island in the South China Sea. Once a Portuguese colony now controlled by China. For decades Macao has been the seeding under belly of Asia. A steamy neon slathered gateway to the International underworld. It is a place where Chinese gangs came to spread violence and North Korean spies learned how to operate in the west.

Today it is a place where tourist comes to test their luck in the casinos and to satisfy other urges in the arms of prostitutes. But look more deeply into the shadows some say you will likely find a base of operations for a sophisticated North Korean smuggling network that in the past moved drugs, counterfeit money, and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

MATTHEW BUNN, MANAGING THE ATOM PROJECT, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: North Korea is a country that has a history of selling any weapon it had to virtually anyone who would buy.

MATTINGLY: So could a terrorist group come to Macao shopping for nuclear material? And would the North Koreans sell it to them? The experts who study the nuclear threat fear the answer could be yes. In fact they say the transaction would surprisingly simple. A North Korean agent operating virtually unnoticed slips into one of the hundreds of bars, he meets an al Qaeda middleman. He makes an exchange, then the al Qaeda operative heads into the night getting lost amongst the tourist and the prostitutes on the prowl.

All it takes is a small bag like this; big enough to easily hold enough highly enriched Uranium or plutonium to incinerate the core of an American city.

BUNN: The amount of plutonium you would need for a nuclear bomb would fit easily in a Coke can.

MATTINGLY: Matthew Bunn studies the security or insecurity of the world's nuclear material.

BUNN: It is very plausible that a well-organized and sophisticated terrorist group might be able to put together at least a crude nuclear bomb. They do want to kill as many people, as many Americans in particular as possible. They have said publicly that they want nuclear weapons and they have repeatedly tried to buy stolen nuclear material, tried to recruit nuclear scientists.

GRAHAM ALLISON, HARVARD PROFESSOR, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR TERROR": If simply keep doing what we are doing today the likelihood of a nuclear terrorist attack with in the decade is more likely than not. MATTINGLY: Graham Allison a Harvard Professor and former defense department official warns in a new book that we are dangerously vulnerable to a terrorist nuclear attack.

ALLISON: No event like this has happened in America history, this would make 9/11 seem like a toothache.

MATTINGLY: The small amount of nuclear material needed to bring terror and economic havoc to the United States can be found in many places around the world. In American weapons labs, in Third World research reactors. In Russian facilities with questionable security. And in Pakistan where the nuclear establishment has a history of proliferation and no links to al Qaeda.

And it can be found in North Korea, which has flaunted its nuclear weapons program and made plain it's wiliness to break international proliferation accords.

STEPHEN FLYNN, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: You can take radioactive material and put it into a canister and effectively seal it so it's not dangerous for the individual.

MATTINGLY: Steve Flynn has been studying for years long before 9/11. How terrorists might attack the U.S. with a weapon of mass destruction. He so first as a Coast Guard officer, then while working for former presidents Bush and Clinton.

FLYNN: The reality is Central Intelligence Agency has said the more likely way a weapon of mass destruction would come in the United States is in a ship, and likely to be in a shipping container.

MATTINGLY: Most about the size of the typically truck trailer containers like these are the vehicles of choice on the super highway of international train. Tens of thousands of containers head for the U.S. every day, 90 percent of the goods used by American retailers and manufacturers that come from overseas are moved in containers aboard massive ships.

The busiest container port in the world in Hong Kong, just an hour away from Macao. Terrorism experts say an al Qaeda agent could easily slip into this bustling city and find a way to get his nuclear material or an actual nuclear device into one of these containers. Despite many efforts made by the U.S. and other governments and private industries since 9/11. Experts like Flynn say containers are America's Achilles heel.

FLYNN: They are in-between 16 and 18 million containers worldwide. Where any body who can get a container ordered to their home or work place, they can load it up, you close it off, you put 50 cent lead seal with a number on it and then you hand it to a transportation provider, somebody you may not otherwise invite into your home. There are bad guys all over our transportation system to date happily we haven't a messing of a terrorist with the criminal. But I worry that we are living on borrowed time.

MATTINGLY: Flynn's new book "America the Vulnerable" is a start warning.

FLYNN: I mean nations should be quite concerned about how vulnerable we remain. You know the fact is since 9/11 we really haven't been working overtime trying to make ourselves less of a soft target.

MATTINGLY: On a scale of one to 10 how prepared are we for that attack?

FLYNN: We were on 9/11 a one, and today we maybe getting up to a three. We got a very long ways to go.

MATTINGLY: The U.S. government admits there was a problem but says it moving quickly to fix it. The secretary of homeland security Tom Ridge even came to one of the most important ports in the country to make the point.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM RIDGE, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: In the past efforts to secure this vast global industry both here and the United States and throughout the world we are isolated and we are scattered and they were uncoordinated. Like other areas of critic vulnerability the United States and United States Coast Guard recognizes problems coordinated with stakeholders in partners, identified this practices and took specific actions to secure our homeland and the global economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: But despite these efforts Steve Flynn and others argue containers could still be the poor man's nuclear missile.

(on camera): Will we ever know what is in all those boxes?

JOHN MEREDITH, MANAGING DIRECTOR, HUTCHISON PORT HOLDINGS: No, you will never know for certainty on every single container.

Is this one of the old cameras or one of the new ones?

MATTINGLY (voice over): John Meredith moves more boxes than anyone else in the world, 44 million a year. He is the managing director of Hutchison Port Holdings the largest port operator in the world with 44 facilities in 17 countries. Forty percent of the containers that end up in the U.S. go through one of his ports. Meredith is based in Hong Kong where 10,000 trucks a day come to Hutchison facility with a container likely heading for the U.S.

And Meredith is very worried about what could be put into one of those boxes.

MEREDITH: So many millions and millions, millions of products are coming, flowing into the country and no one at the moment is tracing where they came from and tracking how they got there.

MATTINGLY: Meredith says companies like his are ready and able to improve container security. With devices like X-ray machines, radio seals on containers and radiological detectors. But he says the U.S government needs to set a uniform standard for all companies shipping containers into U.S ports.

MEREDITH: I've been many times to Washington and said we don't have any U.S. assets, we don't own any United States ports but we would like to offer our services, our systems just tell us what they need to be in place. We can't do it ourselves.

MATTINGLY: But there is no one person or one agency in charge. Responsibility for containers security lies across multiple agencies.

MEREDITH: The ports are now secured. But what is not secured is the supply chain. The movement of the boxes through the system and that is the Trojan horse.

MATTINGLY: And if the Trojan horse a nuclear devise hidden inside a container were detonated ports would shut down and so would the global economy.

FLYNN: If you shut those down for a period of two to three weeks we shut down the global trade system that is what we are talking about playing with here.

MATTINGLY: And if that bomb made it to an American city the human toll would be even worse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thirty two thousand people would die as a result of the blast, higher radiation, further 160,000 people could die as a result of fallout.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTINGLY: This is the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The nations biggest container port 43 percent of all the goods that come into the U.S. by water in shipping containers come through here.

FLYNN: The Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach is not only America's most critical port but also potentially the most important port in the world.

MATTINGLY: It is one of the single biggest engines driving the U.S. economy, a gateway to more than $200 billion in annual trade. With more than 5,000 ships unloading over 9 million cargo containers a year. If the numbers don't impress you consider this, with out this port store shelves would empty, factories would close and untold thousands would find themselves out of job.

If terrorist inserted one of their agents somewhere into the long chain of companies involved in sending a product from a factory in south China to the United States they would be in a position to get a nuclear devise into a box. Then onto a container, into the frenzy of commerce heading west. And onto a ship headed for California. And the devise would not have to detonate to blow a hole in the U.S. economy.

If authorities got a tip about a nuclear device in one of these boxes they might well shut down the port to find it.

FLYNN: And so if you shut down this port your talking about this is the warehouse for the entire national economy. We don't have big warehouses any more; it's in this transportation system.

MATTINGLY: Steve Flynn has been banging the drum raising awareness about Maritime Security, he says is deeply vulnerable.

FLYNN: Most Americans that I meet are simply flummoxed by the fact that well we can track FAA can track airplanes, turns out we can't track ships.

It is a fool's game to be playing this way. There are things that we could be doing at reasonable costs to rein in this risk, not to eliminate it but to rein it in.

MATTINGLY: He is not alone in his fears.

NOEL CUNNINGHAM, CHIEF OF OPERATIONS, PORT OF LOS ANGELES: I worry a lot, never in all my days that I thought in my life time that I would be concerned about dirty bombs and international terrorist.

MATTINGLY: Noel Cunningham is the chief of operations for the Port of Los Angeles. Along time senior officer with the LAPD. He had to learn a lot about nuclear terrorism in the last decade.

CUNNINGHAM: I really believe that somewhere in this country it will happen.

MATTINGLY: If it does this is what it could look like.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three of them are critical we need another company here and I will need them with full breathers on, they are going to go in the hot zone.

MATTINGLY: Here the federal government is testing how it's agencies would react if a dirty bomb shipped to the U.S. in a container exploded in the port of Los Angeles. The exercise mobilized the FBI, the Department of Energy, FEMA, the Coast Guard, Customs, the EPA and Defense Departments and army of local authorities. Similar exercises were held across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our goal here is take to take the lessons of 9/11 where we've seen failings in coordination command communication and try and stress those and fix them.

MATTINGLY: In the post exercise analysis authorities concluded some things work well, some things like communications between the 50 agencies involved did not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey chief, we got five critical needs to be transported, I can't get EMF6 to answer.

CUNNINGHAM: Well we know that we're vulnerable and there are gaps. But we are trying to make sure it doesn't here. But we believe it will happen. MATTINGLY: A dirty bomb blowing up in a port threatening surrounding neighborhoods is one terrible possibility. But there is one much worse, in these scenarios, a bomb similar in size to those used on Japan in World War II comes into the L.A. port in a container. And is loaded on to a truck, the truck drives into downtown Los Angeles and the bomb is detonated by remote control.

MATTHEW MACKENZIE, NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: Thirty two thousand people would die; these people would die as a result of intense blast, high winds and intense heat radiation from the fireball. A further 160,000 people though could die as a result of exposure to fall out.

MATTINGLY: Matthew MacKenzie, a physicist working for the Natural Resources Defense Council, using the same special software that helps the federal government gauge the impact of a nuclear war. He can create a model for a catastrophe. Just enter the city, the date and the size of the bomb, a simple point of click for the ultimate terrorist attack.

MACKENZIE: What the code shows is a hole basically burned and blasted out of the center in Los Angeles.

MATTINGLY: What about the radiation?

BUNN: The radiation, the fallout plume impacts a much larger area of Los Angeles.

A nuclear bomb is what happened to Hiroshima where an entire city was obliterated in an instant by a single bomb that is what we're talking about here. And unfortunately it does not take a Manhattan Project to make a nuclear bomb. Potentially, even a relatively modest cell of reasonable skilled people could put together at least a crude nuclear bomb that would be capable of incinerating the heart of any major city in the world.

MATTINGLY: In a city like Los Angeles, or maybe New York or Washington D.C., the cities attacked on September 11.

BUNN: No one, of course, can reliably calculate the probability of a nuclear terrorist attack in the United States. But I believe it's likely enough that it significantly reduces the life expectancy of everyone who lives and works in downtown Washington D.C. or New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: A nuclear attack on an American city with the North Koreans providing the nuclear firepower. Could it really happen? Ahead on CNN PRESENTS a closer look at the North Korean connection.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: We just showed you how terrorist might buy nuclear material from North Korean agents operating on the island of Macao but how likely is that scenario? Would North Korea really help a terrorist group arm itself with a nuclear weapon? CNN's Mike Chinoy investigates the North Korean connection.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE CHINOY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In the stormy waters off Japan a ship where it shouldn't be radio intercepts show it's talking to North Korea. The Japanese Coast Guard orders the ship to halt. Warning shots are fired. No response. The Japanese then strike hard to disable what they suspect as a North Korean spy ship. Possibly carrying a cargo of drugs. Night falls the Japanese move to board suddenly the North Korean's return fire in the dark the smoldering ship then sinks beneath the waves. Months later the Japanese raise the ship they confirm the North Korea connection; they find weapons from grenade launchers to machine guns.

And sophisticated communications gear reviewing calls to known members of the Japanese underworld. North Korea has long been one of the major suppliers of drugs not only to Japan but too much of Asia. Since the late 1970s, according to the U.S. State Department more than 50 North Koreans, including diplomats, have been arrested on drug- related charges in more than 20 countries.

RAPHAEL PERL, CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE: Very clearly the North Koreans state is basically a continuing criminal enterprise.

CHINOY: And say government and intelligence sources in Asia and the U.S. the drug business may have even more sinister purposes.

PERL: Number one that it finances and underwrites the costs of the nuclear program. And number two that the skills and methods the North Korean's employ for smuggling drugs are used or will be used to smuggle weapons technology and nuclear materials.

CHINOY: There is little doubt the regime of Kim Jong Il has the nuclear material, a decade ago the CIA was convinced the north had at least one or two nukes. Since then North Korea has withdrawn from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and announced that it has reprocessed thousands of spent fuel rods into weapons grade plutonium.

JACK PRITCHARD, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I for one am now convinced that they probably have the plutonium if not the weapons for an additional six nuclear weapons in addition to the one or two that they have now confirmed they have.

CHINOY: Isolated, hungry and desperately poor. North Korea says it needs nukes to protect itself from a hostile world. Especially the United States. And it also needs cash.

Hwang Jang-yop, the most senior North Korean official ever to flee his homeland confirms that criminal activity is officially sanctioned there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Engaging in criminal activities stems from the fact that the country is so short of foreign currency even embassy's don't have funds to operate. That is why the government allows criminal acts. CHINOY (on camera): Intelligence sources say the headquarters of North Korea's criminal operations is known as Bureau 39, located in the heart of Pyongyang. It coordinates lucid activities all around the world. And for years one of the key bases of Bureau 39 has been here in Macao.

Security consultant Steve Dickers (ph) spent 20 years as a Hong Kong policeman tracking North Korea's dirty dealings here.

He says long standing connections with organized crime give the North Korean's a ready-made network for smuggling nuclear material.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These people in town have early infrastructure, they have the ability to move money very quickly, they have companies situated around the world, they have assets in people who can support the North Koreans.

CHINOY: But would North Korea do it, actually sell nuclear material to terrorist? There is no question Pyongyang has been happy to sell missiles to anybody who asks.

ALLISON: Their cash crops are missiles, which they have supplied to everybody. Sold to Egypt, to Iran, to Iraq, to Yemen right in the middle of the war. So if you have money to pay you can buy a missile from North Korea.

CHINOY: To prevent the North Korean's from entering the nuclear market place the Bush administration mobilized more than a dozen other nations in what is called the Proliferation Security Initiative. Training to board ships, to seize cargo, to go out to stop North Korea's illicit exports.

PERL: The bottom line is that we have no evidence that North Korea has been selling technology to terrorist individuals or groups and in my personal opinion unless they found themselves completely back to the wall this type of a policy will not be persuaded.

CHINOY: But diplomatic efforts to end North Korea's nuclear program are deadlocked. And Pyongyang openly accusing the Bush administration of preparing for Iraqi-style regime change there are fears the north could conclude it's back is against the wall. Is the North Korea regime in your view capable of making nuclear materials available to terrorists?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I don't know for sure but I do know that North Korea is capable of doing whatever is in its interest.

CHINOY: Which is why North Korea's drugs and nukes are more than passing interest to worried governments around the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: From the suspicions surrounding North Korea to the fear over Russia's missing nukes coming up on CNN PRESENTS are they safe? Terror in Russia's nuclear stockpile when we continue. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Welcome back to CNN PRESENTS. 13 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, this one time enemy from the Cold War may still pose an ominous, if unintentional threat. The whereabouts and safety of Russia's nuclear arsenal are of great concern right now. The United States is helping Russia secure its nuclear assets, but many experts believe those weapons and that material remain prime targets for terrorists. Here is CNN's Jill Dougherty.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Russia's far north Region of Murmansk, an army convoy carrying nuclear weapons rolls through the countryside straight into a terrorist ambush. Army commandos chopper in. When the fighting is over, the terrorists are defeated. The nuclear weapons are safe. Chemical troops move in to decontaminate the area. This is a military exercise watched closely by Russia's defense minister and NATO observers. Nuclear weapons in transit, they know, are a key point of vulnerability to terrorists. Overall, however, the defense minister claims, Russian nukes are safe.

SERGEI IVANOV, RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER (through translator): Unfortunately, a myth is being circulated in various regions of the world that Russian nuclear weapons are being guarded in a poor and unreliable manner. This is just a myth. We are paying great attention to this issue.

DOUGHERTY: Never in the history of the Soviet Union or Russia, he says, have there been attempts to steal nuclear weapons. But Russian and U.S. experts aren't so sure.

BUNN: We know that terrorists have actually carried out reconnaissance at Russian nuclear warhead storage facilities. These are facilities whose very locations are state secrets in Russia, but apparently secrets that the terrorists were able to penetrate.

DOUGHERTY: After the USSR fell apart, in a rare success story, 4,000 strategic nuclear weapons and more than 20,000 tactical nukes, including so-called suitcase bombs, were brought back to Russia from former Soviet republicans and Eastern Bloc countries.

ALLISON: Whether they were all taken back and destroyed, you know, I hope that story is true, but I don't think they know and I don't think we know.

DOUGHERTY: But even if terrorists could buy or steal a nuclear weapon, coded electronic locks would make it virtually impossible for outsiders to detonate. A more urgent threat: Terrorists could obtain nuclear bomb making material called HEU, highly enriched uranium. The Soviet Union produced approximately 1200 metric tons of HEU, more than any other country in the world. While measures to secure that material are under way, there is a long way to go. The International Atomic Energy Agency has documented 18 cases of theft of potential nuclear bomb material. Russia, a country plagued with economic upheaval and corruption, is a rich target for nuclear theft. BUNN: The material that we do know has been stolen and has been seized, most of it is thought to have come from Russia. We have seen, for example, kilograms of highly enriched uranium showing up in the backseat of a car in Prague that almost certainly came from a particular facility in Russia. We've seen plutonium arriving in Munich on a flight from Moscow that was stolen in Russia.

DOUGHERTY: On a busy street in the center of Moscow, the Kurchatov Institute designs nuclear power plants. On its large campus, seven nuclear reactors with 100s of pounds of highly enriched uranium, enough for dozens of nuclear weapons. Just a few years ago, some building were protected by simple chain link fences overgrown with weeds. Now, thanks to funding from the United States, security at the Institute has been upgraded. Yet, U.S. experts say, in the past two years, terrorists, assumed to be from the breakaway Republic of Chechnya, have carried out reconnaissance at the Institute.

According to the Russian government-owned newspaper, Chechen fighters who seized 800 hostages in a Moscow theater in October 2002 originally considered attacking the Kurchatov Institute and blowing it up. Both Russian and U.S. security services believe some Chechen rebels have links to al Qaeda and few doubt that if either group were able to obtain nuclear bomb material, they would use it.

(on camera) Russia and the United States, the two Cold War nuclear powers have been working to keep nuclear stockpiles out of the hands of terrorists since the early 1990s, years before al Qaeda became a household word. But experts on both sides say progress is too slow, the threat too urgent.

(voice-over) Together, since the end of the Cold War, Russia and the U.S. have destroyed enough nuclear bomb making material for thousands of weapons, but one half, 600 tons of Russia's nuclear material, still needs to be put in fail-safe storage.

ALLISON: In the two years after 9/11, these programs succeeded in securing from theft fewer potential nuclear weapons in Russia than in the two years before 9/11.

DOUGHERTY: Russia and the United States know what must be done. Current plans call for securing all nuclear material in Russia by 2008, yet neither country knows will that be just in time or just too late.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: When it comes to nuclear technology, why steal it when you can buy it? Just ahead on CNN PRESENTS, the man from Pakistan, why one of America's closest allies in the war on terror may also be one of our greatest threats.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Pakistan has become one of America's key allies in the War on Terror, but the fact is Pakistan is also a nation divided, a nation with nuclear power and conflicting interests. More now from CNN's David Ensor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice over): He's been called the Wal-Mart of nuclear proliferation.

ALLISON: A. Q. Kahn probably is the pioneer of nuclear black marketeering.

ENSOR: The orchestrator of a vast underground network, selling nuclear technology and secrets to the highest bidder.

ALLISON: So this guy has people producing centrifuges in Malaysia, transferring money in Dubai, doing contracts in Israel, doing something in New Jersey.

ENSOR: He sold to countries like Libya and Iran and just as easily could have sold to terrorists. The full extent of Khan's network is not known.

PERVEZ HOODBHOY, NUCLEAR PHYSICIST, QUAID-EAZAM UNIVERSITY: New revelations are taking place. The skeletons are walking out of the nuclear closet and I do believe that this matter is not going to rest now.

DR. A. Q. KHAN: I take full responsibility for my actions and seek your pardon.

ENSOR: But after Khan's televised confession, punishment for the man revered as the father of the Pakistani nuclear program was anything but severe. House arrest and a pardon.

GEN. PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PAKISTANI PRESIDENT (through translator): He is still the hero of our country. He is larger than our lives.

ENSOR: Even though the Pakistani government claims Khan acted for the most part alone, others are skeptical.

HOODBHOY: There is a bit of a credibility gap over here because the nuclear installations have been under a multi-tiered security layer and it's very difficult to conceive of equipment being removed from those installations or for people involved in the nuclear establishment to travel overseas without the authorities knowing.

ENSOR: The Khan case is a prime example of what Harvard professor Matthew Bunn calls the insider threat in Pakistan.

BUNN: Many insiders in Pakistan's nuclear establishment hold extreme Islamic views. We know that at least two senior Pakistani nuclear weapon scientists met with Bin Laden, discussed nuclear weapons.

ENSOR: While the Pakistani military is believed to keep tight guard on nuclear facilities, who is doing the guarding is another question. BUNN: The famous Roman question, "Who guards the guardians?" is a critical one. If 41 heavily armed terrorists can show up without warning in the middle of Moscow, imagine how many might show up at a Pakistani nuclear weapon storage facility and then do you think the guards at that facility are going to fight them off or help? That, to my mind, is a very open question.

ENSOR (on camera): But Pakistani officials say they're making good progress in the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda. As for nuclear control, they insist that changes made since the Khan affair ensure that it couldn't happen again and they say that security of the nuclear weapons couldn't be tighter.

SHEIKH RASHID AHMED, PAKISTANI INFORMATION MINISTER: This program is totally in safe hands and there is a command and control system where nobody can enter in that area and we are responsible people.

MUSHARRAF: Pakistan nuclear program is here to stay.

ENSOR (voice-over): But there is another concern, the stability of the Musharraf government itself. And who could come next.

BUNN: What if the government of Pakistan falls and a Taliban- like government seizes power in a country that already has a nuclear- weapons arsenal? This is also a very serious issue. Or what if, rather than a Taliban-like government taking power, government control in general more or less collapses in Pakistan and Pakistan becomes essentially a failed state?

ENSOR: After all, there were two attempts on the life of General Musharraf, both in December of 2003. In one, at least 15 were killed after explosive laden trucks rammed his motorcade.

BUNN: If you can't protect your president, it's hard to imagine that you're really providing 100 percent reliable protection for nuclear stockpiles.

ENSOR: In Pakistan's western tribal areas there are still remnants of the Taliban. U.S. intelligence officials say they believe Osama Bin Laden is most likely there, too. Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir once asked Bin Laden whether he had nuclear weapons.

HAMID MIR, PAKISTANI JOURNALIST: He said that yes, we have nuclear weapons as a deterrent if these weapons will be used against us than we also have the right to use these kinds of weapons against Americans and their allies.

ENSOR: Pakistan did not choose its current leader in a democratic election, yet its future and the future of its nuclear arsenal one day could depend on its people. Ironically, that, too, raises concerns. In a PEW research poll taken earlier this year, 65 percent of Pakistanis asked said they had a favorable view of Osama bin Laden. Just 7 percent had the same view of President Bush.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BROWN: Nuclear secrets from Pakistan, security concerns in Russia, the North Korean factor. Coming up on CNN PRESENTS: We know how terrorists might get nuclear weapons, but what can the United States do to stop them?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: We've told you much about how terrorists might obtain their nuclear weapon, how they might transport and of course the devastation such an attack would cause. But what can be done to stop it? What is being done and what isn't being done? For that, here again is CNN's David Mattingly.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

MATTINGLY (voice-over): In the desert near Las Vegas, a team from the National Nuclear Security Administration is looking for a nuclear device.

Using a specially equipped plane to measure radiation readings on the ground, technicians are training for the nightmare scenario, having to locate a terrorist nuclear or dirty bomb that has made it to the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We know where it's at now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess we're mission complete and we can go home to Las Vegas.

MATTINGLY: But in ports around the country, the U.S. is trying to prevent just the scenario this team is preparing for. If a nuclear device were in the hands of terrorists and on its way to the United States, this is how the U.S. is prepared to find it. Customs agents searching containers. Coast Guard officers boarding ships at sea. All after a 96 hour advance notice before a ship arrives at a U.S. port.

VERA ADAMS, SEAPORT DIRECTOR, CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION: We want to push our zone of safety around the United States out as far as we can, which is why we've set up our officers overseas in the foreign ports to look at that before it even gets on a ship, which is why we do the screening 24 hours before those containers are loaded.

MATTINGLY: Physically searching every container would mean economic gridlock. So customs officials look for anything unusual, suspect points of origin, a broken seal, strange crew behavior, all to identify which shipments to inspect. Customs agents physically inspect just 6 percent of incoming containers and rarely inspect private vessels, even those big enough to carry a nuclear device.

BUNN: Border security is a worthwhile final line of defense, but it's really a very desperate final and porous line of defense. The United States is a big country with big borders. Ocean going yachts can sail right up one of our major rivers, like the Hudson or the Potomac.

MATTINGLY: It's why some experts say the first line of defense must be here, thousands of miles from U.S. shores.

BUNN: The key chokepoint is getting that nuclear material in the first place. If we can make sure that all of the bomb material in the world and all of the nuclear weapons in the world is secure and accounted for we can prevent nuclear terrorism from ever occurring.

ALLISON: The U.S. loses zero ounces of gold from Fort Knox. None. The Kremlin loses no treasures from the Kremlin Armory. So do we know how to lock up things that we are serious about locking up? Absolutely.

MATTINGLY: But worldwide security requires worldwide cooperation and that can sometimes be a problem.

BUNN: Bureaucratic disputes have been allowed to fester even for security equipment at nuclear warhead sites where terrorists have actually been carrying out reconnaissance at those very sites. And the fact that that's still true more than two years after the 9/11 attacks I find just amazing.

SPENCER ABRAHAM, SECRETARY OF ENERGY: Access. Getting to the access issues has been a challenge, but we're surmounting it. It doesn't happen overnight, but as respect and confidence on both sides grows it makes it easier.

MATTINGLY: Energy Secretary Abraham says improving security can be a simple matter of guns, guards and gates provided to Russia by the U.S. Experts acknowledge there is good work being done, but that the pace is too slow, priority not high enough.

BUNN: There is nuclear material that is being permanently destroyed. It's an amazing and little known fact that half of all of the nuclear generated electricity in the United States today is coming from dismantled Russian nuclear bombs. But the thousands of bombs worth of material that have been destroyed that way still represent less than a quarter of the highly enriched uranium Russia had when that effort started. So there is a long, long way to go yet.

MATTINGLY: Bunn estimates at the current rate it would take 13 years to fully secure Russian nuclear material. Abraham disputes that and says they'll be done by 2008.

ABRAHAM: We are moving it faster than it's ever been moved before and hopefully we'll be able to pick up the pace even further.

MATTINGLY: What worries many experts more than nuclear security in Russia is the nuclear wildcard of North Korea where a negotiating table, rather than locks and alarms, may hold the most promise. But how to negotiate is the subject of debate.

ALLISON: We're not punishing them and we're not rewarding them, we're just not talking to them.

MATTINGLY: Graham Allison blames the Bush administration for an impasse with North Korea. He says what's needed is the carrot of economic benefits and a big stick. ALLISON: I believe we have ultimately to be able to pose a credible military threat. Now is this going to persuade them to be nice people? Is it going to persuade them to give up the regime? No. Are they going to be evil? Yes. But they're not going to be nuclear- armed evil.

ABRAHAM: This obviously involves a lot of delicacy and I think it unwise to view these meetings in the kind of way that perhaps we've looked at arms negotiation with either Russia today or the Soviet Union in the past. It's a different type of playing field, a different type of approach and a different type of a government there.

ALLISON: While there is not much debate on what needs to be done, there is disagreement on how quickly we're getting there. In the end, combating the threat of nuclear terrorism may come down to being not a ticking bomb but a ticking clock.

BUNN: We're absolutely making progress and investments we're making in that are hugely cost effective investments in U.S. national security. But we're not doing as much as we can as fast as we can or as fast as we must. Today there is still an enormous danger that the terrorists will get there before we do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: There is no doubt that terrorists and terrorist organizations like al Qaeda see nuclear technology as the great equalizer. It's unclear if they'd use nuclear weapons if they had them, but no one is going to take that chance. And the experts say that a nuclear terrorist attack is preventable if action is taken now. That's it for this edition of CNN PRESENTS. I'm Aaron Brown. Thanks for joining us and we'll see you next week.

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