Export Controls: Why We Need Them More Than Ever

Keynote Address

Before the Practicing Law Institute
Washington, D.C.

I. Introduction

I am pleased to be able to discuss with you today the important subject of export control. I would like to thank Cecil Hunt for inviting me. Cecil and I have known each other for almost a decade, during which Cecil had a distinguished career as a lawyer for the Department of Commerce. Now that he has left the government, I can reveal something: I used to give him legal advice. Of course, if you know Cecil, you also know that he did not solicit that advice, and if you know me, you also know that Cecil did not follow that advice.

Cecil has asked me to confine my remarks to 20 minutes or less to allow for questions, which I will try to do.

II. Export controls and ground zero

The first topic I would like to take up is the effect of the attacks that occurred on September 11. We did have terrorism before September 11. We also had the spread of mass destruction weapons before September 11. What we did not have was the realization that ground zero is now where we live. The battlefield has shifted. That is the big fact that causes us to conclude that we are at war. But what kind of war? What do the attacks tell us?

There are at least three lessons. First, we know that Al Qaeda is interested in getting weapons of mass destruction. We know this from evidence found in Afghanistan. With money, time, and a place to work, groups like Al Qaeda are going to try to build these weapons.

Second, we know that a terrorist organization could probably deliver any weapon it might produce. If Al Qaeda can organize a 19-person group to fly airliners into buildings, it can smuggle a nuclear weapon across a border. One can, in fact, import a bomb in parts and assemble it in a building; one can drive it across a border in van; one can sail it into a harbor in a ship. The nuclear weapon design that the inspectors found in Iraq was about the size of a beach ball and weighed under a ton. It would fit under your desk.

Third, we know that the attack may be anonymous. The United States was able to find out quickly who launched the attack on September 11, but the next attack might not be so easy. Rather than starting with a list of passengers on an airplane, we would probably be starting with a hole in the ground. And we could be starting without our best investigators.

Why? If someone brings a nuclear weapon into Washington, it would probably be set off at about 12th and Pennsylvania. That is what I concluded several years ago after looking into the question. The bomb would destroy the FBI, U.S. Customs headquarters, U.S. Secret Service headquarters, the Justice Department, and probably the U.S. Treasury building and the White House. It would certainly destroy this room. It is a literal fact that most of us in this room are probably spending our professional careers at what could be the next ground zero.

A biological attack might be even more difficult to figure out. We still have not discovered who mailed the anthrax letters, and may never find out.

It is absolutely necessary for us to keep the means to make these weapons away from terrorists and the nations that support them. And that, of course, is where export control comes in. In the new war against terrorism, export control is a front-line defense. And who are the front-line troops? They are customs officials, border guards, export licensing officers, and intelligence agents – around the world. They are the people who must get up every day and do their jobs in order to keep the rest of the world safe. They are also you – the people in this room. You are the experts in export control. Nothing is more important for the security of the world than what you do.

III. The front-line troops

During the past three years I have had the privilege of meeting a great number of these front-line troops. I have been to sixteen countries in the former East Bloc. They are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Romania, Poland, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, and Uzbekistan. My passport has so many stamps in it that I am beginning to get funny looks when I cross borders. These places are not high on anyone’s list of tourism hot spots. But they are hot spots for proliferation.

All of these countries have serious problems with goods crossing their borders. They must all contend with goods coming out of Russia. They also have problems controlling their own exports. But they want to do better. They want to come toward the West. Many of them want to join Europe, and all of them want to be seen as reliable recipients of Western technology. They know that to do that they need good export controls. And they want our help.

My organization has been trying to give it to them. We have been providing them with our database, the Risk Report, which describes more than 3,000 entities around the world that are linked to mass destruction weapon programs or to terrorism. The information has already been used to stop exports to places like Iran’s military production organizations. We are providing the Risk Report with the help of the State Department, the Defense Department, and the Customs Service.

But while our country is trying to rally the troops abroad, and trying to encourage them to protect our security – what are we doing at home? The answer is: our industry is trying to weaken our own export controls.

The recent bill to renew the Export Administration Act would have weakened U.S. controls dramatically. It was not enacted, I am please to say, although it came close.

We all need to understand that pushing this kind of legislation, or trying dilute our export controls administratively, is something we can no longer afford to do. These front-line troops I have been talking about may be poorer than we are, and they are certainly less organized than we are, but they are not stupid. If they see us weakening our controls, they are not going to enforce theirs. If we don’t keep the faith, neither will anyone else. It is simply not possible to expect that our security will be protected by dropping controls on dangerous technology. And we cannot live in a world where the means to make weapons of mass destruction is within reach of terrorist organizations.

IV. Iraq

This brings me to my last topic: Iraq. We are about to go to war there. Why? To get rid of Iraq’s mass destruction weapon programs. But where did those programs come from? The answer is: from us – from the West. From 1985 to 1990, Iraq received more than $1.5 billion worth of licensed dual-use commodities from the United States.

Virtually every nuclear and missile site in Iraq received licensed, high-speed American computers. America’s leading electronic companies sold sensitive equipment directly to the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission, to various sites where atomic bomb fuel was made, and to a site where A-bomb detonators were made. American companies also shipped controlled items directly to Iraq’s main missile building site, and to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.

It is highly likely that this equipment is still in Iraq and is still being used in Iraqi weapon programs. At the end of November, in the new round of inspections, the inspectors went to a place called the Nassr State Enterprise. Nassr helped extend the range of Iraq’s SCUD missiles so they could reach Saudi Arabia, where they killed our troops in their barracks, and so they could reach Tel Aviv, where they killed Israeli civilians. Nassr also helped Iraq’s secret effort to enrich uranium. Nassr was licensed to receive $1.8 million worth of American machine tools and high-speed computers. They may still be there, as far as we know. In addition to Nassr, the inspectors visited the Al-Qaqaa site. It developed explosive lenses for nuclear weapons before the Gulf War. It too, was licensed to receive U.S. exports, which the inspectors may still be looking for.

It is no exaggeration to say that our problem with Iraq is in large measure an export control failure, that we are still trying to rectify.

These exports no doubt made money for American companies, but they also cost the lives of American troops. During the Gulf War, we sent pilots to bomb plants filled with equipment that American and other Western companies had supplied. Some of those pilots did not come back. Now we are thinking of sending troops again. Some of these troops too will not come back, and they will still be trying to remove a problem that Western industry helped create. So, when we talk about export controls, we are not just talking about money. We are talking about the lives of our soldiers.

V. Conclusion

My point is that in light of September 11, we can no longer afford to put trade above national security. For our own safety, we have to convince the rest of the world to keep the means to make weapons of mass destruction away from terrorists and the countries that support them. But we can never do that if we allow our own companies to sell these same technologies. We can’t have it both ways. If we want to protect ourselves against terrorism, and against rogue regimes like Saddam Hussein’s, we must strengthen export controls, and we must provide the leadership that the rest of the world so desperately needs.