National lab trains U. S. customs agents against WMD

September 15, 2003

RICHLAND, Wash. -- Scientists at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will train U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspectors to identify and halt smuggling of weapons of mass destruction during a special training course this week in Richland. The course marks the start of a second year for the training program, which is being conducted by PNNL with the newly created Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.

In a three-day course, U.S. border inspectors receive comprehensive training to detect, identify, interdict and investigate the illicit movement of materials, commodities and components associated with the development or deployment of weapons of mass destruction.

The course is the first government-sponsored program that educates U.S. border inspectors specifically about weapons of mass destruction. About 25 inspectors participate in each course. PNNL and the CBP share instructional responsibilities. The National Nuclear Security Administration's Second Line of Defense program sponsors the training.

"Our class is designed to supplement training the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection already provides its inspectors. The NNSA-sponsored training has become even more important in light of the growing need to protect against weapons of mass destruction coming into our country," said Bill Cliff, PNNL program manager. "Our goal is to ensure that the inspectors, who represent the first line of defense along our borders, have the knowledge and familiarity with weapons of mass destruction needed to be successful in their jobs."

Since June 2002, nearly 300 inspectors have completed the training course. The curriculum includes classroom instruction and hands-on demonstrations and exercises designed to familiarize inspectors with the materials and components associated with weapons of mass destruction and dual-use items.

"The priority mission of U.S. Customs and Border Protection is detecting and preventing terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States, and this includes weapons of mass destruction," said CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner. "This valuable training program ensures that the men and women of CBP are well-equipped and well-trained for the extraordinarily important mission they face." CBP inspectors learn about how biological agents can be spread through infection or dispersal; the use of chemical precursors in the manufacturing of chemical agents such as mustard gas; the radiation signatures of reactor-grade and weapons-grade plutonium and uranium compared with industrial and medical isotopes; and the operation of missile-delivery systems.

Hands-on training includes instruction on advanced detection technologies like radiation pagers, gamma spectrometers, standard border enforcement inspection tools, and an ultrasound system developed at PNNL called the Acoustic Inspection Device, which identifies contents and can locate hidden compartments in sealed containers.

The U.S. border inspector training classes are modeled after a training program targeted to inspectors from other countries called INTERDICT/RADACAD, for Interdiction of Materials and Radiation Academy. The international program has been jointly conducted by PNNL and the former U.S. Customs Service under funding from multiple agencies, including NNSA and the Defense and State departments. The RADACAD program trains border inspectors from Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union to thwart potential smuggling of weapons of mass destruction.

The international training program has led to several seizures of special nuclear materials and dual-use commodities overseas. Since its creation in 1997, RADACAD has trained more than 300 border agents from nearly 20 foreign countries.

"The combination of the U.S. and international training programs means there are two lines of defense -- one here at home and one overseas -- against weapons of mass destruction being smuggled into the United States," Cliff said.

Both courses are conducted at the Department of Energy's Volpentest Hazardous Materials Management and Emergency Response, or HAMMER, training facility in Richland (
NNSA's Second Line of Defense program (, which sponsors the U.S. training, was established to interdict smuggled nuclear material at Russian borders.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is a Department of Energy Office of Science research facility that advances the fundamental understanding of complex systems, and provides science-based solutions to some of the nation's most pressing challenges in national security, energy and environmental quality. The laboratory employs more than 3,800 scientists, engineers, technicians and support staff, and has an annual budget of nearly $600 million. Battelle, based in Columbus, Ohio, has operated PNNL for the federal government since the lab's inception in 1965.

DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

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