March 28, 2006

Investigators enter US with “dirty-bomb” material

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Four years after the September 11
attacks, investigators were able to easily enter the United
States with enough radioactive material to make two so-called
dirty bombs, according to a report on a government undercover
investigation obtained on Monday.

Two teams made simultaneous entries at the U.S.-Mexican
border and the border with Canada carrying radioactive material
in their vehicles in December 2005, the Government
Accountability Office (GAO) said in the report on its

The congressional watchdog agency said the test was
designed to examine potential weaknesses related to radiation
monitors that have been installed at U.S. border ports of
entry, the GAO said.

The monitors worked. But the investigators, posing as
employees of a fictitious, still got past the border patrol
with fake paperwork authorizing them to transport the material,
the report said..

"The CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) inspectors never
questioned the authenticity of the investigators' counterfeit
bill of lading or the counterfeit NRC (Nuclear Regulatory
Commission) authorizing them to receive, acquire, possess and
transfer radioactive sources," the GAO said in a letter to Sen.
Norm Coleman, chairman of a Senate Homeland Security

"We believe the amount of radioactive sources that we were
able to transport into the United States during our operation
would be sufficient to produce two dirty bombs, which could be
used as weapons of mass disruption," the letter said.

Coleman, a Minnesota Republican, requested the
investigation. His subcommittee has scheduled a hearing on
Tuesday to examine how the United States is guarding against
nuclear and radiological threats.

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security was not
immediately available for comment.

A dirty-bomb could spew radioactive material across an
entire city neighborhood. Preventing a dirty-bomb attack has
been a key U.S. national security concern since September 11.

As part of the GAO undercover test, investigators easily
bought a small amount of radioactive material from a commercial
source by telephone, the agency said.

The purchase was not challenged because suppliers are not
required to determine whether buyers have a legitimate reason
for acquiring such material and are not required to ask for an
NRC authorization document when small quantities are purchased,
the GAO said.

"We could have purchased all of the radioactive sources
used in our two undercover border crossings by making multiple
purchases from different suppliers... using false identities,
and had all of the radioactive sources conveniently shipped to
our nation's capital," the letter said.