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Nuclear Safeguards Education Portal

Historic Case: Leonid Smirnov

Leonid Smirnov (photo source: PBS)
Leonid Smirnov (photo source: PBS) 

Let's take a look at a historic case study to give us an example of how one insider was able to take advantage of his position:

In 1992 Leonid Smirnov, the foreman of the Podolsk Chemical Research Institute in Russia, decided to use his access to steal highly enriched uranium (HEU). Smirnov had unlimited access to HEU on a daily basis. As a trusted insider at the facility, he was in charge of inventorying and weighing the waste material, and as such he knew that he could take up to 3% of recycled HEU without detection.

Smirnov used his access to smuggle out 1.5 kg of HEU in 50 gram batches over a 5 month period:

"I'd take a fifty gram vial -- the kind we used to take samples to the laboratory. So when no one was looking during a smoke break or just when no one was there, I would measure off a little from the box into a vial, shake it off (still in the box), wrap it up, then take it out of the box and place it on a clean rag in gloves and wipe the vial with a special chemical solution. I would check the Geiger counter--how it crackled, how strong it crackled. But we only had a Geiger counter for Beta particles. If it didn't crackle, I would roll it up in clean paper and hide it in my pocket. Later, I'd throw it in my bag. That was it and I'd take it out of the plant." (Source: PBS)

Smirnov's position as an insider allowed him to conduct a protracted theft of dangerous material, as well as defeat the material accountancy system in place. Although he was eventually arrested in 1992 before he could find a potential buyer, he managed to steal 1.5 kg of weapons-grade fissile material that was never reported missing from the facility.

This is an example of how easily insiders may be able to bypass the security and accountancy systems and cause major damage to the organization or even the world. 

All insiders are different: they have different motivations, targets, access, and skills, all of which make each one uniquely capable of conducting an attack. The Smirnov case illustrates how difficult it is to profile an insider threat.

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