Weapons of Mass Destruction:

Additional Russian Cooperation Needed to Facilitate U.S. Efforts to Improve Security at Russian Sites

GAO-03-482: Published: Mar 24, 2003. Publicly Released: Mar 24, 2003.

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Terrorists and countries of concern may be able to gain access to poorly secured weapons of mass destruction at sites throughout Russia. To address this threat to U.S. national security, the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Energy (DOE) have obligated more than $1.8 billion since 1992. GAO was asked to report on U.S. programs to help improve security at sites where Russia stores (1) weapons-usable nuclear material, (2) nuclear warheads, (3) dangerous biological pathogens, and (4) chemical weapons. For each area, GAO assessed U.S. plans to address security threats at sites in Russia, U.S. progress in implementing those plans, and the primary challenges facing DOD and DOE.

The Departments of Defense and Energy have made slow progress in helping improve the security of sites in Russia with weapons of mass destruction against the threat of theft or diversion because Russia is not providing needed access to many sites. Unfortunately, there is little reason to believe this situation will change in the near future. DOE plans to help secure Russia's weapons-usable nuclear material by 2008; however, the department lacks access to many sites. As a result, most of DOE's expenditures in the past 2 years went to functions other than securing buildings, such as maintaining previously installed equipment and developing nuclear security regulations. While important, these efforts do not advance DOE's objective of protecting all buildings with weapons-usable nuclear material. DOD and DOE have pursued different approaches to securing nuclear warhead sites. DOE recently scaled back its plans, and the two agencies will face coordination issues, such as deciding which agency will secure sites in both of their plans. DOD has made little progress in securing dangerous pathogens at the 49 sites where Russia and the United States have collaborative programs. Russia has consistently refused DOD access to sites and has closed some sites to U.S. security programs. Negotiations on a bilateral agreement to implement this assistance have also stalled. DOD's efforts to secure chemical weapons have focused on a destruction facility that will not be complete until 2006. It may be 40 years before Russia's nerve agent stockpile can be destroyed. DOD has improved security at two sites, but two thirds of Russia's stockpile remains vulnerable to theft.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: Congress may wish to consider allocating additional funds for improving security at the three remaining sites in Russia that store nerve agent but have not received U.S. security assistance.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: As of April 26, 2007, Congress has not appropriated funds to improve security at the three Russian chemical weapons storage sites (Pochep, Maradykovsky, and Leonidovka) referenced in the matter for congressional consideration.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: Given the lengthy time frame for the destruction of Russia's chemical weapons stockpile, the Secretary of Defense should consider working with Russian officials to develop practical plans for securing chemical weapons while in transit to the planned destruction facility at Shchuch'ye.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2003, we reported that it could take Russia 40 years or more to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile. At the time of our report, Russia planned to move most of its nerve agent stockpile several hundred miles by rail to a chemical weapons destruction facility. As a result, we recommended that DOD work with Russian officials to develop plans for securing chemical weapons while in transit. In response, DOD worked with the Russian government to develop practical plans for securing chemical weapons during transit. While continuing to study this issue, in October 2005, the Russian government adopted a plan to build destruction facilities at all of its chemical weapons storage sites. Consistent with the GAO recommendation to reduce risk, Russia no longer plans to transport chemical munitions great distances by rail.

    Recommendation: Given the lengthy time frame for the destruction of Russia's chemical weapons stockpile, the Secretary of Defense should consider reassessing the need to provide improved security at the three sites in Russia that store nerve agent but have not received U.S. security assistance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD did not concur with this recommendation in the report and has not implemented it as of April 3, 2007. In addition, DOD's five-year plan for future spending for the CTR program does not contain any funds to install security upgrades at chemical weapons storage sites in Russia. At an April 9, 2007, meeting, DOD officials re-iterated their continued non-concurrence with the recommendation.

    Recommendation: In developing the department's plan to enhance security at Russian biological sites, the Secretary of Defense should clearly articulate criteria the department should use to rank the relative threat posed by different types of pathogens and review the security under which they are kept to identify the biological sites that pose the greatest security risks and would therefore have highest priority for and receive the most extensive U.S. assistance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2003, we reported that DOD had made little progress addressing security concerns at Russian sites with dangerous biological pathogens. We found that DOD 1) had limited information on the location and security of Russian biological sites, 2) had not determined how many biological sites in Russia it planned to help secure, and 3) had no time frames for completing its work. We recommended that DOD develop criteria to guide its plans to help secure Russian biological sites to ensure that assistance was provided to those sites that pose the greatest security risks to the U.S. DOD concurred with our recommendation. In response to the recommendation, DOD developed a Strategic Plan in June 2003 to guide its efforts to combat the proliferation of biological pathogens in the former Soviet Union. As part of its deliberations leading up to the Plan, DOD developed ranking criteria to determine whether to perform security upgrades at biological sites in Russia. Criteria included 1) how easily the local pathogen could be weaponized, 2) quality of existing security, 3) whether DOD/DTRA could gain access to the facility, and 4) the level of interest/cooperation from the host country in upgrading the site. According to DOD officials, as of April 2007, DOD uses a ranking tool to make decisions on providing security upgrades at sites in Russia and other countries with dangerous biological pathogens.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Defense and Energy should develop an integrated plan to ensure that their related programs to help secure Russia's nuclear warheads work together to address implementation issues, such as determining which department will provide assistance to certain sites and resolving equipment standardization concerns.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2003, we reported that DOD and DOE pursued different approaches to securing nuclear warhead sites in Russia. We found that DOD and DOE did not know how many additional sites they planned to help secure, had not determined which department would improve security at sites they both had in their plans, and had not worked together to standardize the types of security equipment provided to Russia. As a result, we recommended that DOD and DOE work more closely together and develop an integrated plan to help secure Russia's warhead sites. In response, DOD and DOE improved their coordination mechanisms for sharing information and avoiding duplication of effort. Under the aegis of NSC guidance, the departments in 2005 agreed on what sites to upgrade and which department would install the upgrade. They have also developed common design standards to ensure consistency in the assistance provided to Russia warhead storage sites. DOD and DOE have also adopted similar approaches in how they manage the contracts for installing the security upgrades.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Defense and Energy should develop an integrated plan to ensure that their related programs to help secure Russia's nuclear warheads work together to address implementation issues, such as determining which department will provide assistance to certain sites and resolving equipment standardization concerns.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2003, we reported that DOD and DOE pursued different approaches to securing nuclear warhead sites in Russia. We found that DOD and DOE did not know how many additional sites they planned to help secure, had not determined which department would improve security at sites they both had in their plans, and had not worked together to standardize the types of security equipment provided to Russia. As a result, we recommended that DOD and DOE work more closely together and develop an integrated plan to help secure Russia's warhead sites. In response, DOD and DOE improved their coordination mechanisms for sharing information and avoiding duplication of effort. Under the aegis of NSC guidance, the departments in 2005 agreed on what sites to upgrade and which department would install the upgrade. They have also developed common design standards to ensure consistency in the assistance provided to Russia warhead storage sites. DOD and DOE have also adopted similar approaches in how they manage the contracts for installing the security upgrades.

    Recommendation: Given the current lack of access of many nuclear weapons complex sites, the Secretary of Energy should reassess the department's expedited plans to provide security enhancements to Russian facilities housing weapons-usable nuclear material.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2003, we reported that DOE planned to help secure Russia's estimated stockpile to 600 metric tons of weapons-usable nuclear material by 2008. However, DOE's lack of access to sensitive sites in the Russian nuclear weapons complexes created a significant challenge to DOE's plans. As a result, we recommended that DOE reassess the department's expedited plans to provide security enhancements to Russian facilities housing weapons-usable nuclear material. In response, DOE negotiated new access agreements with the Russian government and signed a new Joint Action Plan with Russia detailing the remaining scope of DOE's efforts to help secure nuclear material in Russia. Under the 2005 Action Plan, DOE plans to complete its installation of security upgrades by 2008, but narrowed the scope of DOE's initial plans to secure all of Russian nuclear material. Specifically, DOE no longer plans to help secure hundreds of tons of nuclear material at two key sites in the Russian nuclear weapons complex because Russia will not allow DOE access.

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