The Black Market for Nuclear Weapons

The Black Market for Nuclear Weapons

The collapse of the USSR brought about a period within Russia of unbridled chaos, devolving into a free-for-all amongst citizens unsure where their next meal might be coming from. Everything that could have been stolen, was stolen, and included in that were up to 400 nuclear weapons. But where did all of these weapons end up, and how secure is the rest of Russia’s apocalyptic arsenal today? Will the nuclear black market be responsible for the next major terrorist attack? On the panel this week – Robin M Frost – (Uni. of Ottawa) – Eric Gomez – (CATO) – Foeke Postma – (Bellingcat) – Andrew Futter – (Uni. of Leicester) Follow the show on @TheRedLinePod Follow Michael on @MikeHilliardAus For more information please visit –

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Episode Overview:

Part 1: A Suitcase Full of Terror (3:56)

  • Robin M Frost begins our conversation with a look at the chaos of the collapse of the Soviet Union, which included nuclear sites in former Soviet states that were widely secret from the public until the end of the Cold War.

  • We discuss the realistic concerns about the security of these former sites, which independent investigations have proven to be extremely lax in security and operational protocols, and how much of a risk they pose for the nuclear black market.

  • What has stopped non-state actors who would want to use a nuclear weapon in an attack? Frost identifies a number of factors, including the difficulty of obtaining and fashioning enriched uranium into a suitable configuration for a weapon, the difficulty of constructing the triggers necessary to detonate, and the sophisticated knowledge required to build such a weapon.

  • The threat of “salting” a regular explosive device with spent radioactive materials, a radiological weapon, is a much more realistic threat according to Frost and could be created using much more readily available materials kept under significantly less security across the globe.

  • Interestingly, the IAEA notes that organised crime in the former Soviet Union has avoided dealing in nuclear materials, with Frost speculating both fear of handling the materials, the attention that would be brought upon their

Part 2: Recorking the Champagne (27:12)

  • Eric Gomez asserts that nuclear safety protocols are stronger than the public consensus seems to believe, backed up through the lack of accidental denotation of nuclear weapons.

  • Gomez notes the abundance of “tactical nukes” in the former Soviet Union, often forward-deployed with military units, which are small in payload but highly portable and typically featuring less safety protocols (i.e. codes for activation), poses the greatest threat to international safety today. However, many of the components in those weapons have degraded, leading to a questionable potency for those weapons in the current age.

  • We unpack how the United States security guarantee has served as a deterrent for other countries to develop their own nuclear weapons, but also note the scale of infrastructure (allowing for easy detection) and difficulty to build nuclear weapons is a major factor in preventing the spread of nuclear nations.

Part 3: A Fortified Castle… with a Broken Screen Door (46:02)

  • Foeke Postma posits that security of facilities and weapons are as strong as the people that guard it, noting the abundance of data in the modern world create highly traceable individuals and reveal the location of sites, transit routes, and other highly sensitive information that can be obtained on the black market.

  • Postma talks about how social media accounts and fitness devices are regularly used by Open Source Intelligence operatives and journalists to uncover such sensitive information, walking us through his work uncovering how US military personnel inadvertently revealed a multitude of sensitive security protocols about US nuclear weapons and the bases at which they are stored.

  • Postma notes that governments and potentially non-state actors are no doubt utilising these OS opportunities to map military and intelligence networks, including current members of Russia’s GRU military intelligence service.

Part 4: Dumb Luck (1:08:27)

  • Andrew Futter notes that while there’s been a combination of luck and success with the security of nuclear weapons facilities, it’s not easy to assess what has been effective so far and what will need to change to continue success in the evolving security environment.

  • Futter notes the success of the AQ Khan proliferation network allowed for the flow of information about how to achieve a nuclear weapon program to several states with nuclear ambitions, but also demonstrates the scale of work that would be required to successfully launch such a program.

  • The fear of culpability is likely a major deterrent against states aiding non-state actors in the creation or use of a nuclear weapon, but Futter unpacks the possibility of a state being framed in a false flag attack, through the use of material or markers linked to that state in order to exacerbate tensions or trigger conflict.

  • We unpack nuclear deterrence theory and how in practice that would work in the modern day, noting that a significant amount of weaponisation would be required to be effective, as well as a certain level of overt testing and demonstration. We also talk about delivery methods and why missiles remain both preferred from a command and control perspective.

The Red Line’s Broken Arrows Reading List:

We’ve compiled a list of further reading to better understand the geopolitics of the nuclear black market.


The Politics of Nuclear Weapons

Andrew Futter


America’s Nuclear Crossroads: A Forward-Looking Anthology

Eric Gomez

Preventing Black Market Trade of Nuclear Technology

Matthew Bunn

Bretannike Rebellion

Bretannike Rebellion by Juilan Langer

I love a good story from a time before history, even if it’s not really from a time before history.

Or is it?

I have recommended the work of Julian Langer a few times, as you probably remember, and this is another of those times.

Julian has crafted a wonderful “tale of the tribe” with his new work, Bretannike Rebellion

It’s a nice, light, summer read that is short content-wise but long on thoughtfulness.

Julian and I see eye to eye on many philosophical and environmental issues, and my alter ego, Ezra Buckley, also approves of his work.

I don’t want to ruin the revelation of the work for you personally because I hate when reviewers talk too much about someone else’s work they are recommending, so in the interest of brevity, I’ll simply say, read it.

The tale is entertaining while also being thought-provoking, and the accompanying poetry pieces alone are worth the time investment.

Bretannike Rebellion belongs on your virtual or physical shelf.

Bretannike Rebellion –

-Ezra Buckley

Mark Fisher’s “K-Punk” and the Futures That Have Never Arrived

Fisher feared that we were losing our ability to conceptualize a tomorrow that was radically different from our present.Photograph by Georg Gatsas / Verso Books
Fisher feared that we were losing our ability to conceptualize a tomorrow that was radically different from our present.Photograph by Georg Gatsas / Verso Books

Mark Fisher was a writer and academic from the English Midlands who, in the early two-thousands, felt at odds with many of the institutions around him. Fisher, then in his mid-thirties, had devoted himself to theories of capitalism and Internet culture that few people in his immediate vicinity appeared to care about. He was zealous about obscure music and cinema at a time when critical discourse seemed to be reorienting itself around our biggest stars. So, in 2003, he decided to start a blog.

Fisher’s blog was called K-Punk. The K came from kyber, the Greek root of “cyber,” and it was intended to signal his interest in a time before the rise of the sort of cyber boosterism that Fisher associated with Wired magazine. Punk, for Fisher, was a way of being and seeing that involved a refusal of things as they were. The blog would be a place to workshop and refine ideas, and a forum for debates that seemed marginal within academia but too dense for mainstream magazines.

Blogging, in those days, at its best, seemed like a distinct genre of writing and thinking. Fisher’s posts were adventurous and idiosyncratic, chasing allusions across his bookshelf, record collection, and multiple screens—a riff on Ronald Reagan, for instance, might be routed through Jonathan Swift, the Dadaists, and Fredric Jameson. K-Punk gave Fisher space to revisit past enthusiasms: the hyperactive dance singles, experimental filmmakers, and pulp novels that had rewired his outlook when he was growing up in Margaret Thatcher’s nineteen-eighties. He revisited some of these influences—the author J. G. Ballard, the philosopher Slavoj Žižek—frequently enough that, if you were a regular reader of the blog, they became a part of your world view, too.

But if there was a single theme around which K-Punk’s eclectic energies organized, it was the future. Specifically: What happened to it? Fisher feared that we were losing our ability to conceptualize a tomorrow that was radically different from our present.

K-Punk attracted an avid readership, and, in 2009, Fisher published “Capitalist Realism,” a slim, powerful book about “the widespread acceptance that there is no alternative to capitalism.” Fisher saw signs of exhausted resignation in everything from the faces of his students to grim Hollywood movies set in the near-future (“Children of Men,” “Wall-E”) to “Supernanny,” a British reality show about parents unable to rein in their misbehaving kids. Fisher was interested not only in the political causes and cultural expressions of this exhaustion but in its emotional dimensions, too: the feelings of sadness or despondency that seem increasingly common across the political spectrum.

“Capitalist Realism” became a cult favorite in part because of the relentless energy of Fisher’s writing and in part on account of the rousing call to arms that he offered in its pages. “The tiniest event can tear a hole in the grey curtain of reaction which has marked the horizons of possibility under capitalist realism,” he writes. “From a situation in which nothing can happen, suddenly anything is possible again.”




Directed by Nasir “Nas” Jones and Peter J Scalettar, Supreme Team is a three-part limited docuseries that takes an in-depth look at the notorious Queens, New York gang, and tells the real story from the mouths of its two leaders and family members, Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff and Gerald “Prince” Miller.



The real story of the notorious Queens, NY crime syndicate known as the Supreme Team, as told by its two leaders, Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff and Gerald “Prince” Miller. Through the voices of these two infamous entrepreneurs as well as hip hop legend LL Cool J, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, journalist Joy Reid, singer Ashanti, producer Irv Gotti and others in the local community, viewers are given access beyond the headlines to examine the broader cultural dynamics and the impact that this small group had on hip hop and society at large.

I knew awake the rapper/ Robert / Bobby Crimo


a book by Ezra Buckley of The PsychoPath.Org