Congressman Weldon Fears Soviets Hid A-Bombs Across U.S.


The Military Research Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee heard testimony about the possibility that the former Soviet Union prepositioned man-portable nuclear weapons on the territory of the United States at a 26 October 1999 hearing. The committee, chaired by Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA), listened to testimony by Professor Christopher Andrew of Cambridge University (United Kingdom), co-author of The Sword and the Shield, a 1999 book based on KGB archival materials, and Col. Oleg Gordievsky, a former KGB officer who defected to Great Britain. Andrew testified about Cold War-era KGB documents that detailed the locations of hidden weapons and equipment caches which had been placed in Western Europe and the United States to supply KGB sabotage teams that would take action against Western countries in the event of war.  The documents used to write The Sword and the Shield, which were smuggled out of Russia by former KGB archivist Vasiliy Mitrokhin, allowed authorities in Switzerland and Belgium to uncover bobby-trapped caches of sabotage equipment. Austrian authorities tried but failed to locate a similar cache outside Vienna, where road construction had altered the terrain and removed the landmarks needed to uncover it. The documents noted that similar caches had been placed in the United States, in New York, Texas, California, Montana, and Minnesota, but did not include details of their locations or contents. Gordievsky confirmed the prepositioning of such caches in Western Europe and the United States. Weldon expressed concern that these caches could contain 'suitcase nukes,' man-portable atomic demolition munitions (ADMs).  Although the Mitrokhin documents do not include any evidence that these sabotage caches include 'suitcase nukes,' Weldon argued that the 1998 claims of former GRU Col. Stanislav Lunev (see abstract 19980480 for details), who said that 'suitcase nukes' had been smuggled into the United States by Soviet military intelligence agents, as well as the claims of former Russian Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, who in 1997 claimed that a number of 'suitcase nukes' were unaccounted for (for details see the overview 'Are Suitcase Nukes on the Loose?' in  the NIS Nuclear Profiles Database), suggested that 'suitcase nukes' had been included in these caches. Andrew, when asked if he believed 'suitcase nukes' had been included in the caches prepositioned in the United States, said, 'I find it highly improbable that any actually exist on the soil of the United States.' Gordievsky also argued that while KGB plans for the prepositioning of small ADMs in the United States probably existed, 'whether [inaudible] it has come to actually bringing them here, is a big, big step.' Weldon lambasted the Clinton administration for not aggressively questioning the Russian government about the existence and location of hidden KGB weapons caches in the United States. At the outset of the hearing, Weldon presented what he termed a 'notional model' of what a 'suitcase nuke' might look like, although he emphasized that 'no one in the West actually knows what a Russian 'nuclear suitcase' bomb looks like.' [Russian officials have repeatedly denied that such small ADMs were ever produced by the Soviet Union.]  He said that using unclassified data on nuclear artillery shells, the model demonstrated that the 'essentials' of a small nuclear weapon could fit into 'an attache case. Displaying this model to the committee, Weldon described it as a 'plutonium-fueled gun-type atomic weapon having a yield of one to 10 kilotons.' [Open sources on the history of nuclear weapons design note that owing to its high rate of spontaneous fission, plutonium is not suitable for use in a gun-type nuclear weapon. A gun-type weapon using plutonium would be unreliable, since stray neutrons might initiate a premature chain reaction, either greatly reducing the explosive yield of the device, or causing a 'fizzle' with greatly reduced yield.][1]

Abstract Number:  19990900
Headline:  Congressman Weldon Fears Soviets Hid A-Bombs Across U.S.
Date:  26 October 1999
Bibliography:  Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe,
Author:  US Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) Holds Hearing on Russia and the KGB, Washington, DC

[1] Paul P. Craig and John A Jungerman, Nuclear Arms Race: Technology and Society (New York: McGraw Hill), p. 212.

October 26, 1999

This article is part of a collection examining reported incidents of nuclear or radioactive materials trafficking in or originating from the Newly Independent States.

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2019.