WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins R-Me., Wednesday examined the nature of the threat of nuclear terrorism against the homeland – the intent and capability of terrorists to obtain nuclear materials, build a bomb, transport it, and detonate it.

At the hearing, entitled “Nuclear Terrorism: Assessing the Threat to the Homeland,” Charles Allen, the Department of Homeland Security’s chief intelligence officer said, “there is no doubt in my mind” that Al Qaeda is intent on obtaining nuclear weapons. The hearing marked the second in a series of hearings examining the role of the federal government in preventing and responding to a terrorist nuclear attack within the United States.

“Al Qaeda has demonstrated a clear intent to develop and use nuclear weapons to achieve its violent jihadist goals,” Lieberman said. “This is daunting and jarring information, but it is our responsibility to bring it forth and do something about it. Our purpose today is not to encourage unrealistic fear but rather to confront the fearful realities we face in the world today so that we can then deal with them in defense of our country and people and our way of life.”

Said Collins: “Even if the probability is low that terrorists could successfully use a nuclear weapon, the possibility of a nuclear attack is a scenario that we cannot afford to ignore. The consequences would be absolutely devastating.”
Hearing witnesses testified it is possible for terrorist organizations to acquire the necessary tools to create a nuclear bomb. And while the federal government is taking some steps to deal with this threat, it must do much more.

“The 20th century was defined by a nuclear arms race between states but… the 21st century will be defined first by the desire and then by the ability of non-states to procure or develop crude nuclear weapons,” said Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, director of the Office Of Intelligence and Counterintelligence at the Department of Energy. “In the early years of the 21st century, we will likely be tested in our ability to prevent non-state efforts to develop and detonate a nuclear weapon.”

In addition to Allen, Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis at DHS and Mowatt-Larssen, witnesses included Matthew Bunn, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; and Gary Ackerman, National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, University of Maryland.

Following the public hearing, members of the Committee received a classified briefing from several intelligence agencies on the threat of nuclear terrorism. The next Committee hearing on the nuclear terrorist threat is scheduled for April 16.