A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

START researchers available to discuss radioactive material stolen in Mexico

Experts available on RN smuggling, organized crime and its potential nexus with terrorism

(Updated Dec. 9: Background report available here).

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – (Dec. 4, 2013) – With Mexican authorities reporting today that a truck carrying "extremely dangerous" radioactive material – cobalt-60 – has been stolen in Mexico, researchers from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) are available to discuss radiological and nuclear (RN) smuggling, organized crime in the region and the potential collaboration between transnational criminal groups and terrorist organizations.

  • Gary Ackerman, Director of the Special Projects Division and the Acting Director of the Unconventional Weapons and Technology Research Program at START, cautions that, “We should not jump to conclusions about terrorists and criminals working together when it comes to RN smuggling – most criminal organizations, for a variety of reasons, would want nothing to do with such a high-risk activity.”
    Ackerman has led research investigating the smuggling of radiological and nuclear materials in Central America, focusing on the potential for collaboration between terrorist organizations and transnational criminal groups in this domain.
    Ackerman says, “There are some, albeit fairly unlikely, circumstances in which the decision calculus of organized crime might change in this respect and we should be paying close attention to these dynamics.”
  • Brandon Behlendorf, START Senior Researcher, can discuss the potential modalities and methods for moving radioactive material through Mexico, and if desired, smuggling it into the United States.
    Behlendorf says, “Given the size and amount of radiation shielding required to protect those transporting cobalt-, the options for smuggling the material into the United States in its current form are somewhat limited.”
  • Michelle Jacome, START Researcher, can discuss the organized crime threat in the region and the challenges and options potential groups have in moving or selling such material within Mexico or in the United States.
    Jacome says, “At this point, we have no idea who stole the truck and what their motivations were. If it were a known criminal organization, such an acquisition – intentional or not – could create unwanted notoriety from law enforcement and U.S. officials. That could disrupt more mundane illicit activities and cost the organization more than the radiological material would be worth.”

Contact Jessica Rivinius, (301) 405-6632 or Rivinius@umd.edu, to arrange an interview or seek more information from any of these experts.