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Peddling Peril: How the Secret Nuclear Trade Arms America's Enemies Hardcover – March 16, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Albright, founder and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, offers an uneven exposé on the illicit trade in nuclear technology and the threats it poses to American security. Following in the traces of such earlier investigations as Gordon Correra's Shopping for Bombs (2006), Albright details how the convergence of easy money and weak [export] controls on the sale of high tech equipment created a perfect storm that was easily exploited by North Korea and such rogue proliferators as A.Q. Khan, the founder of Pakistan's nuclear program, who established a transnational network of smugglers to sell nuclear weapons capabilities to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. Albright also examines the efforts of al-Qaeda to obtain nuclear weapons and the cat-and-mouse game between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency over that nation's nuclear ambitions. While acknowledging that nuclear proliferation is difficult to detect and stop, the author cautions against fatalism—a deadly foe—but the turgid prose and esoteric nuclear tutorials slow the narrative and likely will tax the understanding, if not patience, of lay readers. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* A former CIA and NSA intelligence analyst who heads an organization that monitors nuclear proliferation, Albright traces in disturbing detail exactly how nuclear technology has proliferated worldwide in the last 20 years. The trail leads back to the infamous Pakistani nuclear specialist A. Q. Khan, who began by stealing technology back in the 1970s from under the noses of his easily duped Dutch employer and a lax Dutch government, then sharing it, first with his home country and subsequently with Iran, Libya, and North Korea, along with Iraq, South Africa, even al-Qaeda. The shock is not only how far-reaching was Khan’s mischief but also how easily he carried it out, working with all-too-willing suppliers and around national governments that had neither the monitoring capabilities nor—even when Khan’s actions were discovered—the political will to stop him. Albright argues for establishing universal laws and norms against nuclear smuggling, securing existing nuclear stocks, and developing a globally interconnected system that would provide early detection of nuclear trade. A book that puts into context our genuine nuclear peril, while offering concrete ideas on how to reduce it. --Alan Moores
Top customer reviews
Given the potential consequences of nuclear proliferation and the complexity of the issues, one would hope experts in this field could summarize issues in a way that policy makers (and the public) can understand and take action.
Unfortunately the author (who I respect tremendously,) and the book fails- the author provides a laundry list of facts and fails to integrate them in a coherent whole.
Nuclear weapons complex
Trying to describe the dangers of proliferation without putting centrifuges in context of a weapons complex assumes the reader is a domain expert like the author. In the 244 pages of the book there wasn't a single description of the components of a weapons complex.
It would have been helpful to start with the U.S. Manhattan Project and describe and diagram what were the key facilities necessary for a Plutonium weapon. How were these facilities different for a U-235 weapon? Why did we and other countries choose both?
This introduction could have been done in a 2 pages and a simplified diagram of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.
Nuclear weapons Design
The goal of fissile material production is a weapon. Using U-235 versus plutonium has benefits and drawbacks. What are they? Why are fusion weapons harder to produce?
This introduction to the weapons could have been done in a 1/2 page with a diagram of the two types of fission weapons and a third showing a fusion device.
U-235 Separation Choices
Why did the U.S. initially use electromagnetic separation versus thermal, to produce U-235? Why has centrifuge separation for U-235 become the current method of U-235 production for proliferators?
This introduction could have been done in 2 pages and a diagram.
Amazingly the book lacks a diagram of the components that make up a centrifuge. Yet the numbingly long list of centrifuge parts are thrown out to the reader without context. ([...] and the NRC have simplified diagrams, so do many others.)
This didn't have to be a huge section of the book, 5 pages would have sufficed, but it would have turned the mind-numbing laundry list of facts into a coherent story.
Centrifuge separation plant
The core of this book is how Pakistan used illicit trade to build their centrifuge separation plant and closes with Iran about to complete theirs. Unbelievably nowhere in the book is a diagram of the subsystems that make up of a centrifuge separation plant. Yet a key part of the book is the litany of vendors and individuals who contributed to the illicit trade in these subsystems. Where was Leybold-Heraeus's vacuum systems used? Without a diagram these are gratuitous facts without context.
Then how are centrifuges assembled into cascades? How many are needed to get to enriched uranium? To weapons grade?
As this is the heart of the book, 5 pages with a diagram would have allowed the reader to follow the story of not only the Pakistani effort, but understood Iran's progress to date.
Iran's progress in enriching fuel would be understandable to a layman if there had been a canonical diagram of a separation plant. Then the author could have used it to show their progress year by year. No wonder policy makers and the public are confused.
The author has mined the literature for a list of people and companies who are at the heart of the proliferation scheme. Chapter Two "Pakistan Gets the Bomb" is everything that's wrong with this book. It tells the story of Pakistan and Khan's network in acquiring centrifuge and separation plants components. But it reads like an extended set of footnotes - wonderful for a researcher, but unbelievably tedious an inaccessible to anyone not filing a police report.
All it would have taken is a flow chart, org chart of or some visual way to connect the cast of characters and company's.
If this book had been marketed as a scholarly research paper I would have rated it much differently (4-stars) than one with a glossy cover and a mass-market title.
My suggestion to the author; you are a great researcher. But if the intent is to reach more than your peers who are experts in WMD and proliferation you need to be able to tell this story simply. Assume you were briefing a member of congress who wasn't a proliferation expert. You have 30 minutes and you want them to understand and remember the issues. It can be done with five diagrams.
Try drawing them and revise the book.
If you read this book, you might wonder why people don't get mad at these individuals who have made the world insecure. They endangered the world's peace, so they could get rich.
The book is well organized; it deals with each country in a separate chapter so that you can keep track of the narrative for that country. The chapters are arranged in such a way that the story of one country is informed by information given in previous chapters about other countries. As you read each chapter, a larger narrative unfolds, linking together the activities of engineers, salesman, arms dealers, and politicians in a dozen countries. The book solidly achieves its purpose of knitting together thousands of details into one coherent, understandable story spanning decades and continents.
The book is written in a straightforward, clear accessible style. It seems to me (I'm not an expert on the subject) thoroughly researched, completely accurate, detailed and informative. Each sentence provides a piece of information; there is no filler. The research in each chapter is supported by dozens of references. Clearly David Albright has done his homework and he knows inside and out what he has written about.
If you want to know how impoverished countries such as North Korea or Pakistan, (and soon Iran), got nuclear weapons and how close we are to terrorists armed with nuclear weapons, then you'd do well to read this book. I hope you do.