Nunn-Domenici; Mission Subverted

Even as the Soviet Union was collapsing in late 1991, Senators Nunn and Lugar rushed through Congress authorization for the President, Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Energy to (a) assist Russia and the other states of the former Soviet Union secure and safeguard the 30,000 or more Soviet nuclear weapons (b) assist them in dismantling excess nuclear weapons and (c) safely and securely disposing of the fissile material obtained from that dismantlement.

But by 1993, control over the actual nuclear weapons having been reestablished by the Russians, the primary concern became securing and safeguarding fissile materials, that is, the almost pure Plutonium-239 and almost pure Uranium-235 produced for – and recovered from – weapons and for other purposes.

The Russian nuclear weapons infrastructure is functionally divided (as is ours) between the “supply” side (under civilian control) and the “demand” side (under military control).

In the U.S., the supply – the research, development, test, evaluation and production of nuclear weapons – is carried out by a set of private sector entities under contract to the Department of Energy. Similarly, in Russia all the nuke suppliers are civil Institutes housed in the Ministry for Atomic Energy (MINATOM).

Therefore, in mid-1993, Senators Domenici and Nunn took the lead in authorizing an addition to the collective Missions of the DOE National Laboratories. The Labs were authorized to establish, and collectively manage, a collection of cooperative nuclear-weapon proliferation-prevention projects, each to be conducted at one of the MINATOM Institutes, employing only technologists formerly associated with the Soviet nuclear weapons establishment.

The Nunn-Domenici Lab-Institute initiative – sometimes called the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention – had two distinct advantages over the “government-to-government” approach of the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon.

First, because the National Laboratories are government-owned, but private sector Contractor operated (GOCOs), the operating contractors for the Labs could purchase “research products” from the Russian Institutes without either government being involved.

Second, because Senator Domenici had already gotten Technology Transfer to the US private sector written into the Mission Statements of the DOE National Labs, the Lab operating contractors could involve (on a 50/50 investment basis) U.S. private sector entities in any commercial ventures in Russia that resulted from the Lab purchased “research” at the Russian Institutes. That is, follow-on work from the original Lab-Institute project could involve US and Russian private sector entities.

The primary purposes of the US-Russia Lab-Institute programs were to assist the MINATOM Institutes in (a) upgrading to the U.S. level the Russian level of fissile material protection, control and accounting (MPC&A) equipment and procedures and (b) keeping Russian fissile materials, nuclear weapons technologies and technologists at the Russian Institutes, where they belong, rather than in Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya, or the Peoples Republic of China.

Although most of the funds Congress appropriated for these US-Russia Lab-Institute programs were intended to be spent in Russia (buying wherever possible Russian-built equipment and partially paying the salaries of Russian scientists, engineers and technicians), some funds were also spent for: (a) visits of US scientists to MINATOM Institutes to check on the progress of Lab-to-Lab projects, all of which were to be conducted in Russia by Russians and (b) visits of Russian scientists to DOE National Labs to see for themselves how we protect, control and account for our fissile materials, and the equipment we use for those purposes.

However, the incoming Clinton-Gore Administration, when charged with implementing these U.S.-Russian Lab-Institute programs, seemed not to understand their purpose.

Instead of aggressively implementing the Lab-Institute program as it was mandated by Congress, the Clinton-Gore State Department immediately attempted to wrest complete control of the programs from DOE.

The Clinton-Gore State Department and National Security Council Staff also began to urge: (a) the inclusion of Russian Institutes that were known not to have been involved in nuclear programs, but were suspected by the CIA of having been engaged in Soviet (and now Russian) biological weapons development and (b) the “replication” of the U.S.-Russia programs with the People’s Republic of China, for the purposes of “opening a window” into the PRC closed nuclear weapons community.

A report got back to Congress that Clinton-Gore had even offered to set up U.S.-Indian and U.S.-Pakistani cooperative ”stockpile stewardship” programs, by which the integrity of their existing stockpiles could be maintained – like ours – without testing, using supercomputers we would supply them. Whether true or not, in 1997 Congress angrily prohibited in law any such cooperative nuke programs with any nation-state – excepting only Russia.

Partially in response to the seeming inability of the Clinton-Gore Administration to understand the critical role that the DOE nuclear weapons Labs and infrastructure had to play in preventing international nuclear weapons proliferation, Congress passed the Nunn-Lugar-Domenici sponsored Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction Act (Title XIV, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997).

Basically, Title XIV formally gave the “lead” agency responsibility for nuclear-weapon proliferation matters to DOE and chemical and biological matters to the Pentagon.

It also required the President to set up within the National Security Council a Committee on Nonproliferation (composed of representatives of the Secretaries of Defense, Energy, State, et al) who were to prepare a National Preparedness Plan for addressing the WMD Threat domestically and internationally.

The President was required to appoint a WMD “czar” who was to prepare and submit to Congress a consolidated Budget Request for the Committee’s National Preparedness Plan.

The Clinton Administration almost totally ignored the Nunn-Lugar-Domenici Act.

Well, that was ten years ago. Now comes the Government Accountability Office (formerly the Congressional General Accounting Office) to assess the Bush-Cheney stewardship of the badly battered Nunn-Domenici Lab-Institute (IPP) program bequeathed them by Clinton-Gore.


"DOE has overstated accomplishments for the 2 critical measures it uses to assess the IPP program’s progress and performance – the number of scientists receiving DOE support and the number of long-term, private sector jobs created.

"DOE has not developed an exit strategy for the IPP program, even though officials from the Russian government, Russian and Ukrainian institutes, and U.S. companies raised questions about the continuing need for the program.

"DOE has recently expanded the program to include new countries and areas. Specifically, in 2004, DOE began providing assistance to scientists in Iraq and Libya."

Great Zot!

Is one of those Iraqi "scientists" Khidir Hamza, vouched by the neo-crazies to be "Saddam’s Bombmaker"?

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.