Regional Training Dialogue Strengthens Nuclear Smuggling Prosecutions

Law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and judges from throughout Central Asia gathered in Bishkek, April 1-3, for a U.S. Department of State-sponsored regional training dialogue on nuclear smuggling to share experiences and discuss best practices for investigating and prosecuting these very serious criminal cases.

The participants – representing Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – heard presentations from a number of U.S. experts, observed a demonstration of equipment used to detect radioactive materials, and participated in an interactive exercise that helped them to identify common impediments to effective prosecutions and ways to overcome them.

More than 20 years of nuclear and radioactive materials trafficking around the world highlight the continuing threat that terrorists or other malicious actors could acquire the means to construct a crude nuclear or radiological weapon.  Since 1993, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Incident and Trafficking Database has documented 18 instances in which authorities seized highly enriched uranium or plutonium that had fallen out of regulatory control.  Addressing this transnational security threat requires a wide variety of capabilities, including systems for investigating and prosecuting these crimes.

Nuclear and radiological smuggling incidents often involve a related series of illicit actions that occur without regard to national borders; material stolen in one country might be moved through another and put on the black market in a third.  As a result, investigating and prosecuting the smugglers involved in these cases requires strong regional cooperation.  Participants at the event in Bishkek reaffirmed the importance of coordinating with international counterparts to obtain evidence, secure witness testimony, and share information in support of such investigations and prosecutions.

Attendees heard from legal experts, technical specialists, and investigators from the U.S. Departments of Justice and State, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, INTERPOL, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime on investigation and prosecution best practices, tools, and resources.  The discussions touched on ways to incorporate scientific analyses into cases, requirements for submitting certain evidence into court, the benefits of coordinating between domestic and international agencies, and the criminal codes that provide guidance for investigations and trials.

During the workshop, the Kyrgyz State Customs Service showcased a sampling of the equipment and methods it uses to detect radioactive materials crossing Kyrgyz borders and respond to smuggling incidents.  Participants also took part in a hands-on exercise, in which they applied the lessons learned from the three-day event to a fictional but realistic smuggling scenario.

The United States has bilateral agreements with all four of the governments represented at the event – Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – to collaborate on counter nuclear smuggling activities.  The workshop in Bishkek helped to advance these cooperative agreements and strengthen regional and global security by enhancing capabilities to investigate and prosecute nuclear and radiological smugglers and thus deter future smuggling attempts.