Three Myths vs. the Genie: 

Non-State Actors’ Path to Improvised Nuclear Weapons through Open Source Information


George Michael Barney

American Public University System October 16, 2009

Charles Town, West Virginia

Professor Joseph B. Varner, Thesis Professor


            A non-proliferation expert, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen has often heard three myths about nuclear weapons and non-state actors: 

“It is too hard for men in caves to (design) a nuclear weapon.

Terrorists cannot acquire nuclear material or a nuclear device.

Terrorists are incapable of constructing an improvised nuclear device” (2007).

            The purpose of this research was to test each of these myths through decomposition, and then compare the results of the data collected to predetermined exit criteria.  The findings showed sufficient open source information exists for non-state actors to design and construct a nuclear weapon.  No conclusive determination was made regarding the ability of non-state actors to acquire fissile materials, but significant resources were found that identified specific fissile sources and acquisition methods.

            Non-proliferation efforts have been primarily aimed at restricting acquisition of fissile materials.  Additional non-proliferation review should be considered for sources that identify new design, construction and nuclear facilities information.