Skip to main content

Profit And 'Peril' In The Secret Nuclear Trade

Until his arrest in 2004, nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan -- the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb -- ran a vast smuggling network that sent nuclear material to Iran and Lybia. In his book Peddling Peril: How the Secret Nuclear Trade Arms America's Enemies, weapons expert David Albright explains how Khan's network continues to threaten global security.


Other segments from the episode on March 18, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 18, 2010: Interview with David Albright; Review of Big Star's CD box set "Keep an Eye on the Sky."


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Profit And 'Peril' In The Secret Nuclear Trade


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

There's smuggling, and then there's smuggling. We're going to talk about
nuclear smuggling, the illicit trade in nuclear technology. It's the most
underappreciated and terrifying facet of global nuclear proliferation,
according to my guest, David Albright.

This nuclear underground is one reason why it's so difficult to detect or
prevent the construction of secret nuclear facilities. The smuggling is driven
by profits, big money for the countries, companies and criminal networks that
deal in proliferation.

Albright says if there wasn't a profit motive, countries like Pakistan and
North Korea would have real trouble acquiring nuclear weapons. Albright is the
author of the new book "Peddling Peril: How the Secret Nuclear Trade Arms
America's Enemies." He's the founder and president of the Institute for Science
and International Security, which focuses on stopping the spread of nuclear
weapons. It investigates and monitors nuclear proliferation.

David Albright, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Let's talk about the story of
Syria's nuclear program, because that's a very revealing case study, and also
your group discovered the location of the nuclear program, which Israel bombed.
So remind us about the story of the Israeli attack on what they assumed was a
nuclear reactor.

Mr. DAVID ALBRIGHT (Institute for Science and International Security): The
attack on the Syrian reactor was a big surprise publicly. All that we saw
initially was that something militarily had happened inside Syria.

Israel denied they'd done anything. Syria tried to trivialize it. The United
States wouldn't say anything, and so it was a big mystery. And so the only
thing that really happened over the several weeks was ambiguous leaks occurred
that over time pointed to that a nuclear site had been hit inside Syria.

But Syria, of course, was denying that; in fact denies it to this day, that it
was a nuclear site.

My own group got very curious about what was hit. I mean, we were hearing
stories it's a biological weapons site, chemical weapons site, missile site,
nuclear, and we decided to try to find out using commercial satellite imagery.

And so we got a lot of imagery of Syria and started to look and also started to
interview people in the media and governments and eventually came across a site
near the river, Euphrates River, that looked like a nuclear reactor that North
Korea would've been built, and when we published that, it was the only evidence
of an actual site that had been attacked, and then after publication we were
able to get an image that showed the place had been flattened, and then the
damage from the bombing, and then the Syrians had come in and just kind of
cleared everything off and scraped the earth. And so it's a fairly dramatic
confirmation that this was the right place.

Governments, for various reasons, did not want to talk about this.

GROSS: Yeah, why not? Israel was so proud when it bombed the reactor, the
nuclear facility near Baghdad.

Mr. ALBRIGHT: That's right.

GROSS: So why, in 2007, did it not want to take credit for bombing what was a
nuclear facility in Syria?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: What emerged when I talked to Israeli officials and U.S.
officials was as long as Syria didn't say anything, they didn't see anything to
be gained by kind of making it public and in a sense admitting that they've
attacked a nuclear site.

They worried about sort of the general Arab reaction that could occur, that if
they really admitted to it, then there could be quite a bit of condemnation by
various Arab governments. But if no one was admitting anything happened, then
that condemnation really couldn't take place.

One of the things that happened after Israel bombed the Osirak reactor in

GROSS: The one in Iraq, uh-huh.

Mr. ALBRIGHT: In Iraq - was that there was universal condemnation. The Israelis
were members of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and there was an
effort, a successful effort, launched to throw them out for attacking another
country's nuclear facilities.

And the United States had to so defend Israel that it ended up as a threat,
that it carried out, in fact, withdrew from the International Atomic Energy
Agency for a year or two. And can you imagine, with everything going on with
Iran, North Korea, Syria, if the United States withdrew from the International
Atomic Energy Agency now?

So there are forums where this could've played out very negatively, and so I
think the United States and Israel breathed a sigh of relief that Syria was
willing to keep it quiet, and they knew the facility was gone. And Syria can't
build reactors. It depends on imports of reactor components. So they could also
say, look, this problem's been dealt with for X number of years, and if Syria
wants to keep it quiet, all the better. We don't have to deal with the
political repercussions.

GROSS: Now, one of the really interesting things about the Syria story is the
connection to North Korea. You said that your group, the Institute for Science
and International Security, was able to say this is probably a nuclear reactor
because it looked like the kind of nuclear facility that North Korea would

Mr. ALBRIGHT: That's right.

GROSS: So what's the North Korea connection to the Syria nuclear program?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Well, when we looked at the imagery overhead, the building looked
fairly nondescript, and we learned later that Syria had gone to tremendous –
taken tremendous steps to try to disguise the facility so it wouldn't look like
a North Korean reactor. But when you naively measure the dimensions from
overhead, and you end up with dimensions that are very close to a North Korea
reactor that's at the Yongbyon site, and you end up concluding that despite all
this camouflaging, that it sort of looks like this North Korean reactor.

GROSS: So what did North Korea supply to Syria, and how much money do you think
North Korea got for it?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: That's – there are a lot of questions that remain, and one of
which is what Syria paid and exactly what Syria got. I mean, the evidence seems
to suggest that Syria got reactor technology. They got some engineering
support, and they've gotten some – they got some reactor components.

They must have gotten some uranium to fuel the reactor. Syria also utilized
North Korean trading companies to buy things in Europe for the reactor. And so
you had North Korea both providing things directly and then organizing, in
collaboration with the Syrians, the kind of smuggling of reactor components or
equipment to the site.

But it's – probably one of the biggest mysteries right now is: Did North Korea
provide uranium? And there's some media reports, which depend on intelligence
information, that suggests that there was a certain amount of uranium sent to
Syria from North Korea, but it's still unconfirmed, and the Syrians refuse to
cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency, so they're, the
inspectors are more or less stuck.

GROSS: So this Syrian facility that was bombed by Israel in 2007, that was a
nuclear – that was designed to be a nuclear reactor that could be used for
generating uranium for nuclear weapons?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: The reactor was designed so that it could use uranium fuel to
make plutonium, and then the plutonium could be used in nuclear weapons.

GROSS: Got it. I've never designed a weapon myself. So it gets a little

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Now, you write in your new book that as a source of proliferation, North
Korea has nearly matched the A.Q. Khan network. That's pretty amazing. I mean,
how much do you think North Korea has exported in terms of supplies that are
needed for renegade nuclear facilities?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Well, with Syria it's pretty extensive, and this program, the
supply was stopped, but I think North Korea intended to go all the way,
probably, with Syria. And whatever Syria wanted, they probably would've either
provided directly or helped Syria get.

With other countries it's less clear. I mean we know North Korea provides
missile assistance to many countries: Syria, Iran, did it in the past with
Egypt. There are suspicions that North Korea may be helping Burma acquire some
nuclear items.

I mean, we know they're cooperating on military items, but there's also concern
that they may have crossed over into some nuclear areas. And the problem is
North Korea likes money, and it doesn't demand very much of its customers.

I mean, it demands secrecy and large payments, and it's willing to do a lot for

GROSS: So North Korea poses two kinds of nuclear threats to us. One is their
own nuclear capacity, which is what now? And the other is their ability to
export to other nuclear wannabes. So what do you know about North Korea's
nuclear capacity now?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: North Korea has a small nuclear arsenal. It's tested twice
underground. So it has more confidence that its nuclear weapons will work. It's
program is largely based on plutonium that it got out of a reactor at the
Yongbyon nuclear site north of Pyongyang. It appears to be able to put a
warhead on a ballistic missile. And all these things probably don't work that
well, but nonetheless, they probably work well enough.

North Korea has also been – or has restarted to accelerated a program to enrich
uranium using gas centrifuges, and that centrifuge assistance to get the
program going originally came from Pakistan and A.Q. Khan, but then it's
essentially been on its own.

I think that in recent times they've accelerated their centrifuge program, and
that would probably mean they want to get the other nuclear explosive material,
highly enriched uranium, and you just have to wonder what they want with that,
but typically when countries go that route of having both plutonium and highly
enriched uranium, it's to build more sophisticated weapons, including up to
thermonuclear weapons.

So North Korea seems determined to continuously expand its nuclear weapons
capabilities and its nuclear arsenal.

Now, at the same time, it likes to sell things, and as the Syria case
demonstrates, it's willing to sell nuclear facilities, and so you have to worry
that it's going to be selling centrifuges.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is David Albright. He's the author
of the new book "Peddling Peril: How the Secret Nuclear Trade Arms America's
Enemies." He's also the founder and president of the Institute for Science and
International Security, which investigates and monitors nuclear proliferation.
Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is David Albright. His new book is called "Peddling Peril: How
the Secret Nuclear Trade Arms America's Enemies." He's the founder and
president of the Institute for Science and International Security, which
investigates and monitors nuclear proliferation.

Now, you write a lot about A.Q. Khan in your book, who, again, is the father of
Pakistan's bomb and the leading – until he was arrested – the leading smuggler
of nuclear materials. And you say that A.Q. Khan refused, declined to help al-
Qaida, that he was approached three times by al-Qaida. Why didn't they work
with – why didn't the A.Q. Khan network worth with al-Qaida? I'm glad they
didn't, but why didn't they?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Well, I think they had their own limits. I mean, members of the
network would surprise you if you met them. I mean, in the United States we
kind of call some of them country club people. I mean, they were respectable
businessmen in Europe, South Africa, Dubai.

Khan is, you know, is very learned, and I think they were horrified that al-
Qaida could get nuclear weapons. And so there were just lines that they weren't
willing to cross.

GROSS: Is that in part because A.Q. Khan is Pakistani and maybe not sympathetic
to al-Qaida's cause?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Well, it's hard to know his motives. I mean, he – but he's not a
fundamentalist. I mean, he's most popular among kind of the right-wing,
fundamentalist part of the Pakistani public, but he's not a fundamentalist. And
so I don't think he would normally warm up to al-Qaida, Taliban.

He wouldn't want his children to have been – he has two daughters. He's not
going to want them put under the controls of groups like the Taliban. So I just
don't think he's that drawn to those kind of people, and I think he understands
too that, you know, there's lines that if he crosses, I mean, he knows that
he's risking his life – I mean, and if you're not ideologically motivated to
help the Taliban and al-Qaida, then why would you want to take that kind of
risk? I mean, no amount of money is worth ending up dead.

GROSS: So you know, we're talking about Khan in the present tense, but he's not
active as a smuggler anymore, is he?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Not as far as anyone knows. He's essentially a free man, and what
you have to worry about is just that he's helping intellectually. I mean...


Mr. ALBRIGHT: Well, through passing information that's on CDs, or he uses – to
communicate with journalists he does it through his wife's email account. And
so I think that kind of communication is easily monitored, but if you have a
courier carrying something, a trusted courier, that – it starts to get harder
to monitor if he's not under house arrest or under close surveillance. And I
think the restrictions on him have gone down.

He's certainly mad. He's mounted almost a media campaign to try to, you know,
what he calls clearing his name, but it's – and so he is active in engaging
people internationally. And so you have to worry that he could be thinking
about helping some others.

GROSS: You describe Libya as the pinnacle of the A.Q. Khan network's

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Yeah, Libya was the pinnacle of the A.Q. Khan network's
achievements. I mean, it was – it involved 100, $200 million. It was a country
willing to buy whole facilities, was open to help on making the nuclear weapon
itself. It was tolerating pretty slow deliveries of the key items and had very
deep pockets and had no incentive to reveal anything at the time.

GROSS: Now, Libya on the other hand is the only country that abandoned a
nuclear program. Why did Libya abandon its nuclear program? This is, what, in

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Three, that's right, and I think there are many reasons. One is –
one is the sanctions were taking a toll on Libya, that Gadhafi didn't want to
take anymore, I mean - and he was also solving, starting to solve this issue
over the bombing of this Pan Am plane over Lockerby, Scotland that resulted in
so many deaths.

And so he was starting to resolve that internationally, and I think he was
willing to slow down the program. Now, what was important was it's not clear he
would've ended it if something else hadn't happened, and that was the busting
up of the Khan network by the CIA and MI6.

GROSS: And that made it harder for Libya to get what it needed?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Well, what happened is the busting up was so thorough that they -
and they gained such incredible evidence that - in a sense 100 percent iron-
clad evidence that Libya had this secret nuclear weapons program underway with
the help of Khan, that they had to admit to it. They couldn't get out of
admitting to it, and since they were interested in reducing sanctions
internationally, they basically had to go all the way and give it up.

And so it was one of these cases where the CIA and MI6 launched a very
successful operation. It took many years, but the operation was so successful
that it helped convince Libya to completely give up nuclear weapons, which we
saw by how the International Atomic Energy Agency was allowed to come and do a
thorough set of inspections to scrub all this out.

GROSS: Since your group monitors nuclear proliferation, and Libya is one of the
few countries that actually abandoned its nuclear program, what lesson do you
take away from the Libya story?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Well, one is that you can convince countries to give up nuclear
weapons. In that sense, sanctions can have a very important role in convincing
countries to give up nuclear weapons, as can intelligence operations that are
directed at disrupting nuclear weapons efforts.

It also shows how important inspections are, that the inspections can either
reveal a program after the fact, unfortunately in the case of Libya, but the
weakness of the inspections that were in Libya – Libya refused to let the IAEA
do its job – can also - should send an alarm to the international community
that maybe something's going on here and increase suspicions that something
secret with nuclear weapons is going on.

GROSS: You tell a great story in your book about this family, a father and two
sons, the Tinners, who are from Switzerland and were part - I think they were
part of the A.Q. Khan network, and then they became informants for the CIA. So
tell us, first of all, what they did for the network.

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Friedrich Tinner was at the beginning of the Khan smuggling
network. He worked with Khan in the '70s and was very important in Khan getting
the wherewithal to make nuclear weapons in Pakistan. And he was interested in
additional business, and so he was anxious and interested in this offer with
Libya that evolved in the 1990s.

And he became responsible for making the centrifuge components for the deal,
and he enlisted his two sons to help, and so they launched a major effort to
find ways to make centrifuge components. They would contract with, for example,
a company in Switzerland to make, let's say, 30 components. They were setting
up, or established, a company in Malaysia to make another dozen or so
components, and they were looking to set up workshops, other places to be able
to make centrifuge components.

And so they were working internationally to find the ways to put together what
amounted to about a million components, and they were running into some
trouble, but overall they were succeeding, and we call them the Three Tinners.
It's the father, Friedrich, and then two sons, Urs and Marco.

GROSS: So how did the Three Tinners become CIA informants?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Well, as far as I could determine, I mean there's, it's – the
main way was through Urs. He had some trouble with the law, and...

GROSS: This is one of the sons.

Mr. ALBRIGHT: That's right, and he'd been sent to Dubai to take over Tinner
operations there. Dubai was a major hub for the Khan network, and it had no
export laws, and so kind of all this activity was legal, and so they didn't
have to worry about police shutting them down.

And so he was initially contacted by the CIA and kind of convinced to be what I
would view as a reluctant source for things. I don't think he was a CIA
operative at that point, but it allowed the CIA to start to see what was going
on and to figure out what the Khan network was up to with regard to Libya.

It's – at some point in 2002, 2003, the CIA and MI6 convinced the Three
Tinners, the father and the two sons, to participate. The Tinners were visited
in June of 2003. One of them, Marco, the son, was kind of pressed to turn over
a lot of information to the CIA at his home, including computer files. June of
'03 is the date when it is viewed when the Tinners kind of, in essence, went on
the CIA payroll.

GROSS: David Albright will be back in the second half of the show. His new book
is called "Peddling Peril." Albright is the founder and president of the
Institute for Science and International Security. I'm Terry Gross, and this is

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross back with David Albright. We're
talking about nuclear smuggling, the elicit trade and nuclear technology that
has enable rogue states to get nuclear weapons and to start nuclear weapons
programs. Albright is the author of the new book "Peddling Peril."

When we left off, we talking about the three Tinners, a father and two sons
from a Swiss family named Tinner, which was part of A.Q. Khan's nuclear
smuggling network and then became informants for the CIA. Albright was able to
learn what information the Tinners provided.

Mr. ALBRIGHT: I obtained some documents in 2005 that showed that the Tinners
actually sold the CIA quite a few of the centrifuge components they were

GROSS: Sold the CIA?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: That's right. They sold it.

GROSS: After they became informants or before?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: That's right. So this was after June of '03, and that makes sense
from the CIA's point of view, is buy up what you can. Keep it out of the hands
of Libya. And so it made a lot of sense to buy it up. But what was clever is
the Tinners got the same amount of money from the CIA, according to this
shipping document, as they were charging the Kahn network. I mean the CIA
didn’t get any discount on the centrifuge parts, and it was - Tinners were
collecting for this set about a million dollars for the sale.

The Tinners were also providing information about the network, and Urs was
tasked - he was in Malaysia at that point. He was tasked to find out the date
of a crucial shipment of centrifuge parts that were bound for Libya. In
essence, it would be the smoking gun of this whole effort if it could be
seized. And so Urs provided the shipping - did get the shipping documents.

It terrified him to do this but he did get the shipping document or the
shipping information and was able to alert the CIA about the departure of the
shipment and then the CIA was able to track the shipment and then finally seize
the goods that were on the ship. It was called the BBC China. And that became a
smoking gun, and at that point, Libya could no longer deny what was going on,
and that helped turn them to say, look, then we really do have something and
we're going to give it up.

GROSS: I'm not going to be surprised if the three Tinners become the subject of
a movie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Well, that's right. But, you know, they're like Mafia informers
and they broke a lot of Swiss laws. And they're subject to prosecution in
Switzerland, and that's...

GROSS: Well, actually, don’t you write that they ended up serving more time
than anybody else in the A.Q. Kahn network?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: That's right. And because as soon as they were arrested, they
said, look, we work for the CIA. The CIA certainly wasn’t saying that very
openly, and it started sending signals to the Swiss government that, yeah,
these guys had done some good things. But what happened, unfortunately, was the
Swiss prosecutor said, look, you broke some pretty serious laws here. And yes,
maybe you did some good, although we can't get the U.S. to really tell us much
about that, but you broke these laws and you’re accountable for those. Please
cooperate with us so we can understand what you did.

And the Tinners took the position of total noncooperation with the Swiss
prosecutors. And so the Swiss government or the Swiss court system was under a
bind. They could flea with the help of the CIA. They're not cooperating, and so
they decided to keep them in jail. And yes, they ended up - the two brothers
served probably more time than anyone else. The father was released after about
six months for health reasons.

GROSS: And the sons served what, five years was it?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Three and four years.

GROSS: Okay. Okay. I want to talk with you about Iran. Not only because they're
probably very close to nuclear weapons now, but also because you played a role
in uncovering their nuclear program. So let's start with that. What was your
group's role in uncovering what Iran was up to?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: In 2001 we learned Iran had secret nuclear sites. I mean we
didn’t know where they were. But an Iranian opposition group in August of 2002
revealed that there were two secret nuclear sites near various - two cities:
Natanz and Iraq. And what that allowed us to do is start to buy commercial
satellite imagery and start to try to find those sites. And after an
investigation we found them. And what we were mystified by was one near the
town of Natanz.

The opposition group had called it a fuel fabrication plant, which wasn’t very
credible to us because we knew Iran had such a plant elsewhere and that's not a
very sensitive facility if you’re thinking of nuclear weapons. And so what we
were able to do was figure that this site was a gas centrifuge plant. And so we
were able to release, in conjunction with CNN, this pretty dramatic story that
Iran was building this gas centrifuge plant.

Now, the International Atomic Energy Agency and intelligence agencies knew this
already, but the public didn’t know. And more importantly, Iran, because it
wasn’t in the public domain, was continuing to deny that it had such a facility
and so our revelation forced Iran's hand to publicly reveal its gas centrifuge

GROSS: Now you write you were very surprised by the Bush administration's
reaction to the public disclosure of Iran's nuclear program.

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Yeah. I was surprised and disappointed. I mean they appeared so
confident that in a sense the military option would work that their reaction to
us was, look, when we get to Baghdad we're turning right instead of...

GROSS: In other words, after Baghdad, Iran.

Mr. ALBRIGHT: That's right. Instead of thinking, well, how do you work this
thing diplomatically when you’ve got to start to get Iran in a corner, how do
you get concessions from them? Regardless of any military plans, you have to
have a policy and a plan to deal with Iran, and if they're at a disadvantage,
you want to be ready to take advantage of that.

GROSS: During the Bush administration, Seymour Hersh wrote several articles
about how the Bush administration was considering attacking Iran. And I'm
wondering - how close do you think the Bush administration ever got to actually
following through on that threat to turn right after Baghdad and attack Iran
because of its nuclear program?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: I never thought they got very close. I mean if things had gone
differently in Iraq, I think they may have gotten very close and maybe even
tried something. But I think the military lost the appetite. I mean the
policymakers didn’t lose the appetite to make threats, but you didn’t see much
behind those threats, and Iran didn’t seem to see much behind those threats and
actually got emboldened. Plus, it used that, those threats, to rally its, in a
sense its nation.

You know, it could use it as, for propaganda value to say how, you know, what
the United States is intending to do and you better stick with us and, you
know, support the nuclear program, which is, you know, the right of every
Iranian. And so I thought it was used pretty effectively by the Iranian regime
to gain support for a nuclear program. And the Iranians are some of the only
people in the world who even know what a centrifuge is. I mean it's not normal
for people to actually understand what a gas centrifuge is, but the Iranians,
because of this nationalism behind the program, tend to.

GROSS: So what is the state of Iran's nuclear program now?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Iran's program is pretty advanced. I mean its centrifuge program
is capable if it wanted to do so start making weapon grade uranium. It may take
a while to get enough for a bomb, but still it could do it. I don’t personally
think right now they're ready to do it or willing to do it because that means
they're going to be exposed to tremendous international pressure and possible
military strikes. So I think in 2010 I don’t expect Iran to make a move toward
nuclear weapons; 2011, 2012, it could be a different story.

GROSS: Isn't there a debate now too about what do we do? Do we bomb Iran if it
builds a nuclear - a weapon, or do we practice, you know, containment - try to
prevent them from actually using it and hope that like with China, like with
the former Soviet Union, that the weapons will exist but not be used?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Well, there's another way of approaching it too, which is really
more motivated by Libya and South Africa, which is the containment - in a way
it's a like a mini cold war, is meant to show a determination to end the
program and try to end it before it gets nuclear weapons. If it gets nuclear
weapons, try to end it then and get Iran to give up those nuclear weapons. And
so it's not a program – it's not a containment to accept it, it’s a program to
end it, and at the same time to try to limit the spread of nuclear weapons into
the region.

And so that's part of the reason to start to work more closely with the Arab
states, is you don’t want Saudi Arabia panicked about Iran and then seek some
kind of nuclear umbrella or alliance with Pakistan. You know, you don’t want
Egypt feeling that, look, you know, we had to tolerate Israel's nuclear
arsenal, now we're supposed to tolerate Iran's? And then they seek their own
indigenous capability, probably with smuggling, to develop nuclear weapons

So the containment strategy is to limit the damage Iran does, deter it against
using its nuclear capabilities or eventually its weapons, and then try to limit
the damage that's done, while having a policy that's aimed at getting rid of
those Iranian weapons.

GROSS: How would you compare the Obama and Bush strategies for dealing with
Iran's nuclear aims?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Well, I think the Bush administration finally, you know, started
to think through what it wanted to do, and the last year or two wasn’t too bad.
But it was too, in a sense, too little too late. Obama came roaring in, willing
to do all kinds of things. And I think it’s from Iran's point of view, it may
be a little too late, and that they're so close to having this nuclear weapons
capability, feeling that the punishment so far for moving in those directions
has been so manageable - it's not been slight but it's been manageable - that I
think they want to go further and try to get as far as they can and they're not
in the mood for negotiations. And I think they still view that - the regime
views that going in this direction helps them domestically.

And so I think for Obama, you know, it was unfortunately maybe a little late.
And so he now has the unpleasant job of ratcheting up the pressure while
avoiding war. With Israel in the background, that's never easy.

GROSS: My guest is David Albright, the author of the new book "Peddling Peril."

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is David Albright. He's the author of the new book "Peddling
Peril: How the Secret Nuclear Trade Arms America's Enemies." He is also the
founder and president of the Institute for Science and International Security,
which investigates and monitors nuclear proliferation.

You make some suggestions in your book about what the international community
could do to prevent more countries from becoming nuclear countries. Tell us a
couple of those suggestions.

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Well, I think in looking at illicit trade the things that kind of
popped out at ISIS...

GROSS: That's your group.

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Yes. And that I also could see in working with companies, is part
of the problem is we don’t detect this illicit smuggling soon enough. I mean in
a way the CIA was lucky to bust the Kahn network. I mean it didn’t have to
happen that way. Israel was lucky to learn about the Syrian reactor before it
went online and then it bombed it. But bombing is not a good option, and so
these last lines of defense are just not - they're necessary but they're what
you want.

And so you want first lines of defense and that really, part of that is
detecting this activity much quicker. And what I've seen in practice is
companies are natural allies in this. They don’t want their stuff in these
secret programs and they're pretty sophisticated at spotting these suspicious
inquiries for their products. And when they work with governments, it becomes
synergistic and the detection comes much earlier and the intelligence agencies
or governments get to see into these networks much quicker and more deeply.

GROSS: What do you think the odds are that there will be a nuclear attack in
some country, on some country, in your lifetime?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Well, I think the chance of it is low, but it’s not low enough,
and if you think of the Chernobyl accident in 1986 that spread radiation all
over Europe and Russia, these low probability events can happen. And if it's a
nuclear weapon, it's devastating. It could kill tens or hundreds of thousands
of people. And so I don’t feel very confident that it's not going to happen.
And although I see it as low chance it could happen, that's far too high of a
chance given the destructiveness of these weapons. And I think we have to do
everything we can to try to reduce the number of countries with nuclear weapons
and to actually work toward getting rid of all nuclear weapons. I mean maybe
we'll never reach that, but it's a lot healthier to try to get rid of these
things, which I don’t think anyone sees as beneficial.

GROSS: You talk about how the A.Q. Kahn network turned down al-Qaida when al-
Qaida wanted nuclear materials from them. What do you think the odds are that
al-Qaida will actually have a nuclear weapon?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: I think al-Qaida's going to work very hard to try to get one, and
the more countries that get nuclear weapons or are working on nuclear weapons,
then al-Qaida's chances improve. They need the nuclear explosive material and
they're going to have to get it, and that's not easy. They're also going to
learn how to make a nuclear weapon, at least a crude one that would work for
them. And it would certainly be simpler than the ones nations need. But
unfortunately, in a sense, time is on their side.

GROSS: When I was a kid growing up during the Cold War, I used to have like a
lot of nuclear war nightmares.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: We were doing the nuclear drills. We had to hide under a desk and stuff
like that. So...

Mr. ALBRIGHT: I did those too.

GROSS: Yeah. So since you’re in the nuclear nonproliferation business and
you’re studying this nuclear stuff all the time, you’re so immersed in it, do
you have like nuclear dreams?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Not anymore. I mean I used to - I certainly got into this
business out of kind of the horror that I saw that nuclear weapons could do,
and at that time it was between United States and Russia.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ALBRIGHT: And it - but it didn’t require much to be totally devastating.
And so I used to think about it more. I must say, you know, I've gotten, I
wouldn't say I've gotten used to it, but I've learned to live with it and it's
really - I think it’s important that people work on it, but you’ve got to
accept that it’s your in a sense staring into, you know, some pretty ugly
things when you work on it.

GROSS: And do you meet a lot of pretty ugly people too? Do you meet any of the
proliferators that you write about - any of the smugglers?

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Yeah, very much so. I mean we sometimes in the past have hired
them. If they're willing to plead guilty, we're willing to hire them as
consultants to tell their story, help us understand smuggling better. I've met
people in countries like Iraq, South Africa, that were involved in their
nuclear weapons programs and, you know, some are creepy. You know, some are
very nice people. You know, some you can, you know, you can kind of laugh and
kind of make kind of banter about the, you know, the smuggling or the making of
the bomb or the tricking of the supplier.

I mean, you know, you can always have human relationships with these people,
and many of them are quite nice. But there are some really creepy ones and that
makes this whole thing a little more dangerous, that this isn't just nice
people in a sense making mistakes. I mean there's some evil people out there
who want people to get nuclear weapons and on the other side want nuclear
weapons, and they're not going to hesitate to use them if it was up to them.

GROSS: Well, thank you so much for talking with us. I really appreciate it.

Mr. ALBRIGHT: Well, thank you very much.

GROSS: David Albright is the author of "Peddling Peril" and he's the founder
and president of the Institute for Science and International Security. You can
read a chapter of his book on our Web site,
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Alex Chilton: Remembering A 'Star'-Crossed Singer


It was kind of shocking to learn that Alex Chilton died yesterday at the age of
59. He was scheduled to perform this weekend at the South by Southwest music
conference in Austin.

When Chilton was a teenager in the 1960s, his band the Box Tops had the hits
"The Letter" and "Cry Like a Baby." In the early '70s, Chilton co-founded the
band Big Star. The band sold almost no records but became an underground
legend, as did Chilton. So revered was he by the next generation that the
Replacements recorded a song simple called "Alex Chilton."

Tomorrow we'll listen back to an interview with Chilton. Now we'll listen back
to our rock historian Ed Ward's review of a four disc collection of Big Star
recordings, demos and outtakes that Ed says was one of the most welcome
reissues of 2009.

(Soundbite of song, "Way Out West")

BIG STAR (Rock Band): (Singing) She's a schemer and she makes me mad. But I
love her a lot, those lonely nights. I was in a big room, playing my things.
Oh, I wish you were here. She can be so kind when she's not trying to hide. She
tries not to love me but she knows she can't. And why don't you come...

ED WARD: Big Star was almost named the Sweden Kream. Taking a break from
recording at Ardent Studios in Memphis one evening, the four band members, Alex
Chilton, Chris Bell, Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel, were standing outside
talking about what to name this group which had suddenly come into being. There
were two buildings across the street. One was an ice cream shop, the other a
Memphis grocery chain with a big red star as a logo.

Bell, Stephens, and Hummel were school friends, and Chris and Jody worked at
Ardent at night learning how to run a recording studio. They were rabid
Anglophiles; Chris often told his brother he'd been born in the wrong country
at the wrong time and should be leading a band like the Who or the Kinks.
Certainly they wrote some interesting songs, and at one point John Fry, one of
the owners of Ardent, went to New York with a tape they'd made, only to have it
turned down as being too derivative of the Beatles.

Into this situation came Alex Chilton, who as a 16-year-old had tasted major
success as the front man of the Box Tops, whose hits "The Letter" and "Cry Like
a Baby" had given him an education in how to be ripped off by your record
company. He'd used Ardent for some Box Tops sessions, and now that he was free
of his contract, he dropped by to see his old friend Chris Bell. Soon, he was
at Ardent at night too, and writing songs with Chris. They were good.

(Soundbite of song, "When My Baby's Beside Me")

BIG STARR: (Singing) Don't need to talk to my doctor. Don't need to talk to my
shrink. Don't need to hide behind no locked door. I don’t need to think. 'Cause
when my baby's beside me, I don’t worry. When my baby's beside me all I know.
When my baby's beside me, I don’t worry. When my baby's beside me all I know.

WARD: The best Big Star songs are a distinctly American take on the kind of pop
the British Invasion had brought to this country, and far from the sort of
southern rock the Allman Brothers and others were doing in 1972, when Big
Star's ironically named debut, "#1 Record," was released on the new Ardent
Records label. Ardent did recording for Stax when Stax's studios were
overbooked, and with Stax being distributed by Columbia, Ardent, as a division
of Stax, was assured of blanket distribution.

But that's not what happened. A casualty of machinations within Columbia, "#1
Record" barely got distributed at all. It got a rave review in "Rolling Stone,"
but a rave review's not much good if you can't buy the album. Chris Bell, who'd
been working for years on this band, before Alex Chilton came along, was
devastated. To make things worse, his long-time girlfriend left him. Words were
spoken, fists flew, and by the time it was over, Chris was in a psychiatric
institution. Alex and the other two continued making demos, and a couple of
years later, in 1974, a second album, "Radio City," appeared. It was even

(Soundbite of Song, "September Gurls")

BIG STAR: (Singing) September gurls do so much. I was your butch and you were
touched. I loved you well, never mind. I've been crying all the time. December
boys got it bad. December boys got it bad.

WARD: "September Gurls" would be a hit, but not for Big Star, and not for over
a decade, when the Bangles recorded it in a more pop-friendly world. Andy
Hummel threw in the towel and went back to school. Meanwhile, Chris Bell was
recuperating. Like Chilton, he was from a wealthy family, so it was relatively
easy for him to pack up with his brother and head to Europe for an extended
trip. He took with him two recordings he'd made, and was honored when Beatles
engineer Geoff Emerick mixed one of them for him.

(Soundbite of song, "I Am the Cosmos")

BIG STAR: (Singing) Every night I tell myself, I am the cosmos. I am the wind.
But that don't get you back again. Just when I was starting to feel okay,
you're on the phone. I never wanna be alone. Never wanna be alone.

WARD: But he couldn't get any record companies to bite on "I Am the Cosmos" or
the equally excellent "You and Your Sister," even after EMI had reissued the
two Big Star albums in England, so he went back to Memphis and took a job with
his family's restaurant management company while recruiting a band of young
kids to work with him. Coming home from a rehearsal late at night a few days
after Christmas, 1978, he went off the road at high speed and was killed.

Rumors persisted among the growing Big Star underground, though, that there was
a third album in the can, tracks cut in 1974 by Alex and Jody, who was still
working at Ardent as an engineer, and overseen by producer Jim Dickinson. There
was, in fact, and it was experimental, eccentric, and uncommercial — just what
the fans wanted.

(Soundbite of song, "Nighttime")

BIG STAR: (Singing) At nighttime, I go out and see the people. Air goes cool
and hurrying on my way, and dressing so sweet, all the people to see. They're
looking at me, all the people to see. And when I set my eyes on you...

WARD: By the time the album — titled either "Third" or "Sister Lovers,"
depending on which version you bought — came out in 1978 on the tiny PVC label,
Big Star was history. Jody continued to work at Ardent, and Alex spent a number
of years washing dishes in a New Orleans restaurant. Eventually, however, the
band's reputation hit critical mass, and reissues became available. All those
kids who'd bought "#1 Record" and "Radio City" had bands now, and their music
was called power pop. Chilton emerged, reluctantly, to record some more and
produce the Cramps. He still wasn't a big star, but he was a legend.

GROSS: Ed Ward lives in the South of France and wants to thank Kent Benjamin
for his help with the piece.

Alex Chilton died yesterday. He was 59. Tomorrow we'll listen back to an
interview with him.

I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of song, "Won't You Let Me Walk You Home From School")

BIG STAR: (Singing) Won't you let me walk you home from school? Won't you let
me meet you at the pool? Maybe Friday I can get tickets for the dance and I'll
take you. Won't you tell your dad, get off my back...

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Daughter of Warhol star looks back on a bohemian childhood in the Chelsea Hotel

Alexandra Auder's mother, Viva, was one of Andy Warhol's muses. Growing up in Warhol's orbit meant Auder's childhood was an unusual one. For several years, Viva, Auder and Auder's younger half-sister, Gaby Hoffmann, lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. It was was famous for having been home to Leonard Cohen, Dylan Thomas, Virgil Thomson, and Bob Dylan, among others.


This fake 'Jury Duty' really put James Marsden's improv chops on trial

In the series Jury Duty, a solar contractor named Ronald Gladden has agreed to participate in what he believes is a documentary about the experience of being a juror--but what Ronald doesn't know is that the whole thing is fake.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue