US, DTI conduct WMD training


The South African Department of Trade and Industry and the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have hosted the first ever bilateral Weapons of Mass Destruction Commodity Identification Training (WMD-CIT) instructor workshop in Pretoria.

The US Embassy in a statement says American and South African inter-agency officials, including NNSA and a multi-National Laboratory training team and the South African Revenue Service and South African Department of Energy, “discussed global best practices to help front line inspectors identify weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and WMD-related goods across international borders.”

The training took place in November.

Recognising WMD and related goods allows law enforcement officials to stop and respond to suspicious transfers,” the embassy adds, touting the training as “another example of US and South African partnership to cooperate to build capacity in combating proliferation networks.”

NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino says the export control capacity building partnership with SA “is an important part of our joint efforts to prevent WMD materials, equipment and technology from falling into the hands of terrorists and proliferators, and is critical to implementing President Obama’s unprecedented nuclear security agenda.”

“SA is an important nonproliferation partner, and this new area of partnership will further international efforts to prevent illicit WMD-related commodity transfers.”

D’Agostino notes the CIT Instructor Training was a “train-the-trainer” workshop “uniquely tailored to the needs of frontline inspectors”, and was jointly customised with the SA government “to address the requirements of SA’s future CIT trainers and curriculum developers, based on lessons learned via our own experiences and those of our international partners implementing CIT programmes. 

The workshop included coverage of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapon and missile development processes and an in-depth overview of related materials and equipment.

The WMD CIT Program was developed by NNSA’s International Nonproliferation Export Control Program (INECP), which has collaborated with more than 60 countries to strengthen implementation of WMD-related export controls.

INECP works with the Department of State’s Export Control and Related Border Security Program (EXBS) and has trained more than 12 000 customs and export control officials worldwide since September 2001.

Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the US Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science in the nation’s national security enterprise.

The NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the US nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; reduces the global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the US Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the US and abroad.

SA constructed and maintained six gun-type atomic fission bombs between 1982 and 1989. At the time then-President FW de Klerk cancelled the programme, construction of a seventh weapon was underway. The SA then entered the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NNPT) and the WMD programme was subsequently dismantled under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The NNPT is incorporated in SA law under the Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction Act of 1993 that provides for control over WMD and establishes a Council to control and manage matters relating to the proliferation of such weapons.

The Council falls the Minister of Trade and Industry.

SA scored a notable victory in countering WMD proliferation when the North Gauteng (Pretoria) High Court imposed a suspended 18-year jail sentence on Gerhard Wisser, a German engineer who admitted to participating in the nuclear smuggling network formerly headed by the father of the Pakistani atom bomb Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan. Wisser also forfeited assets worth 2.8 million euro and R6 million respectively.

According to SA’s National Prosecuting Authority Wisser manufactured, imported and exported uranium enrichment equipment and other sensitive nuclear technology as part of a network orchestrated by Khan to benefit Pakistan and Libya’s nuclear weapons programmes.

The conviction followed the September 2004 arrest of Johan Andries Muller Meyer, a South African engineer and founder of the SA-based firm Tradefin Engineering for contraventions of the Nuclear Energy Act.

Meyer became a state witness and testified that he had been acting on behalf of Krisch Engineering, another SA-based engineering firm established in 1971 by Gerhard Wisser.

Investigators then arrested Wisser and Daniel Geiges, a Swiss engineer who served as project manager at Krisch. The duo at first denied involvement in procuring or manufacturing controlled equipment and contended that the parts in question were to be used in a water purification plant.

The evidence suggested otherwise. The online WMD Insights publication notes Wisser was contacted in 2000 and provided blueprints to manufacture a “compact pipework system” for an “anonymous client.”

Although Wisser recognised the blueprints as a uranium enrichment plant, he proceeded with the deal and awarded the contract to Meyer’s Tradefin Engineering firm. Wisser later claimed that he believed that the plant was destined for Pakistan’s civilian nuclear energy program. For his part, Meyer admitted that he had suspicions about the destination of the plant when two Libyan engineers travelled to South Africa to inspect the plant in 2002, and he finally realised the true intent of the plant in 2003 following a payment originating from Libya.

The project was allegedly halted in 2003 due to Wisser’s fears that the transaction would be discovered. The seizure in October that year of the cargo ship BBC China, which had been transporting uranium enrichment equipment from a Khan network facility in Malaysia to Libya, publicly exposed both the network and Libya’s nuclear ambitions.

The SA Press Association reported in September 2007 that Krisch may have been nuclear equipment to Pakistan from as early as 1986.