And part of the war against these weapons of mass destruction is being fought right here. It's an international effort under way in the quiet, southeast corner of Washington State.
The ring of men and a few women hanging around an obstacle course of cargo containers and 55 gallon barrels are Customs agents and police officers from the Czech Republic. But in this desert classroom, they are becoming part of America's war on terrorism.
With the help of trainers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, they are learning to use some of the United States' most sophisticated anti-smuggling technology -- sort of "James Bond" tools for customs agents.
For instance, an ultrasound device for seeing through walls. A trainer demonstrates, holding what looks like a large cordless drill against a barrel, "If I do not get an echo back for example, that could be an indication that there's something hidden in the barrel."
Another device identifies types of materials through a small probe and a laptop computer. PNNL trainer Aaron Diaz directs his small class of Czech customs agents, "OK, now search the library. What does that say? Aluminum? Aluminum."
A small pager-style device emits a beeping noise that tells the user a container is emitting radiation. These are just some of the training technologies used at the PNNL training facility that have led to some spectacular seizures. It may also have averted some terrible tragedies.
For instance, agents seized a shipment of highly enriched uranium in Bulgaria, uranium ore from South Africa, and zirconium, a strategic metal that IRA members wanted to sell to Iraq.
That's just a handful of the successes the trainers at PNNL point to. "These are transit countries," explains lead trainer Bill Cliff. "If that material gets through to an end user, so to speak, by the time we see it, it may be a finished product."
The idea is to help transit countries like the Czech Republic tighten its borders, make it tougher to smuggle anything associated with weapons of mass destruction.
"The threat is real," explains Kevin Cummings, U.S. Customs regional director for Central Europe. "The people are there who want to acquire the equipment and it's a very difficult job to track this equipment and to identify it at the borders.
So far, the U.S.-sponsored program has trained agents from 18 foreign countries. "It's very useful," says Jan Skalicky with the Czech Republic's Customs. He sees the threat first-hand. "We are close to the former Soviet Union and countries where very dangerous materials are produced, nuclear stuff, chemicals."
The agents from the Czech Republic will go home better able to stop dangerous smugglers. From the U.S. perspective, that makes America safer.
The U.S. Customs Service pays to bring foreign nationals here for training through the PNNL program. It estimates costs at nearly half a million dollars per class. But pointing to its successes, PNNL staffers say if it prevents even one tragedy, it is worth it.