The US Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF)

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The Issue

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the threat posed by excess weapons and materials in the successor states was widely understood and received the lion's share of attention and resources. However, "loose nukes" and unsecured nuclear materials were not the only threats to arise from the fall of the Soviet empire. Equally dangerous and exponentially more complex was the threat of "brain drain" proliferationâ€"weapons technology transfer through under- or unemployed former Soviet weapons experts. Russia and the other Soviet successor states were unable to support the enormous Soviet WMD complex they inherited, leaving all those who worked within that complex in unstable, difficult circumstances. By 1992, life for the once privileged community of scientists, engineers and technicians drastically deteriorated. Tens of thousands lost their jobs or waited months for their paychecks. Even the brightest scientists and engineers were forced to seek wages from unconventional sourcesâ€"whether driving taxi cabs or selling their talents to foreign governments or terrorist organizations.[1] All told, the Soviet weapons complex employed an estimated 50,000-60,000 nuclear experts, 65,000 bioweapons professionals, and 6,000 chemical weapons experts.[2] All were capable of spreading critical components of sensitive information to hostile groups and states. Given the poor economic performance of Russia and other FSU states, many scientists who could not find jobs elsewhere faced a literal choice: go hungry or sell your expertise to the highest bidder.

The US Government realized the danger of the situation and acted innovatively throughout the 1990s with "scientist redirect" programming aimed at enhancing US national security by engaging former Soviet Union scientists, engineers and technicians currently or formerly involved with weapons of mass destruction in peaceful and sustainable commercial pursuits.[3] With these programs, the US Government acted aggressively to reduce the pool of specialists susceptible to the economic conditions that make brain drain a serious risk.

Authorized by Congress in 1995, the US Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF) was opened in 1996 by the National Science Foundation as a unique public-private partnership whose mission is to support international scientific and technical collaboration through grants, technical resources, and training. CRDF's Nonproliferation Programs help combat brain drain proliferation by providing support for US researchers to collaborate with former Soviet weapons specialists and distributing grants to aid in efforts to commercialize promising FSU technology.[4] The rationale behind the Nonproliferation Programs is succinctly described by former UN weapons inspector and current CRDF Board Member David Kay: "If you want to avoid proliferation you want a country that is stable, is prosperous, and is engaged with the rest of the world. That involves, at its core, the scientists and engineers that were there and involved in dirty weapons programs. We must integrate them and provide them with a future with the West."[5] Today, much of CRDF's mission is devoted to strengthening research in science, health, and industry across the states of the FSU, but the organization is also active in helping the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia gear their scientific development toward more sustainable and productive employment for personnel of proliferation concern.[6]

Although it receives money from the US Government, the Foundation is an independent, non-governmental organization. Initially funded by the Soros Foundation and a matching grant from the Department of Defense, most US Government funding now comes through the Freedom Support Act (FSA) account, a pool of money controlled by the State Department for assistance to former Soviet states. This is supplemented by other government sources (such as the Defense Threat Reduction Agency) and private sector sources like Bechtel National, Inc. In 2005, CRDF's Nonproliferation Programs received over $22 million in multi-year contract and grant support to help stem brain drain proliferation.

The core of CRDF's nonproliferation activities is its Cooperative Grants Program (CGP), which gives priority to grants involving former weapons scientists.[7] Working with American research teams allows FSU scientists to utilize their scientific expertise while learning Western procedures, techniques, and research models that will allow them to compete in the global scientific market.[8] All grant proposals must undergo a rigorous review process; those accepted average approximately $60,000 and include funding for travel, equipment, financial support for the scientists' home institution, and individual financial support.[9] CRDF also operates the Grant Assistance Program, which works with the Department of Energy's Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention to facilitate collaboration between former Soviet weapons scientists and Western institutions.[10] The Grant Assistance Program relies on several "enabling agreements" with FSU states which allow CRDF to transfer tax-free funds to participants, bypass obstacles to travel, and procure equipment without traditional delays.[11] The private sector portion of CRDF's nonproliferation work is greatly bolstered through its Industry Grants Programs, which "fund commercially-oriented projects among US for-profit companies and Eurasian organizations."[12] The First Steps to Market program funds collaboration between American companies and FSU researchers to assess the commercial potential of a new technology; the Next Steps to Market program funds projects with "more immediate commercial prospects or potential."[13]

Over time, the Foundation has become a critical partner of all three Departments (Defense, Energy, and State) tasked with nonproliferation activities, from management support under a Defense Threat Reduction Agency contract for cooperative biological research to facilitating the transfer of equipment for the National Nuclear Security Administration's nonproliferation programs to support for implementation of the State Department's BioIndustry Initiative, Bio-Chem Redirect Program and International Science Centers.[14] CRDF also promotes industry partnerships and science education, and developed a series of sustainable national research institutions across the FSU. The foundation has further augmented its programming by expanding its work outside of the former Soviet Union with projects in Iraq and the Middle East, increasing the pool of personnel that can benefit from the redirection programs.[15]

In its ten years of activity, the Foundation has achieved great success with limited funding. As of January 2006, CRDF had contributed $38 million to more than 500 collaborative research projects involving former Soviet weapons scientists.[16] In Ukraine alone, CRDF has awarded 517 grants, committed more than $10.5 million, and helped redirect 674 weapons specialists.[17] The ingenuity that CRDF staff has applied to its mission has been facilitated by enviable flexibility the organization has been granted in pursuing its mandateâ€"particularly when compared with similar government efforts. This freedom of movement has made CRDF one of the most efficient and successful operational entities within the suite of US nonproliferation programs. Consider the following success stories:

  • CRDF held a special research competition in which teams of former weapons scientists worked with American research teams to develop new technologies to fight terrorism. The projects resulted in "numerous products and plans in areas ranging from underground security and rapid biotoxin detection, to next-generation x-ray technology."[18]
  • A CRDF grant has helped a group of Russian former weapons scientists use their expertise in nuclear fuels for civilian medical purposes. Originally supported by the Initiative for Proliferation Prevention, the research team obtained a CRDF grant to help commercialize the technology.[19]

CRDF represents unique potential for the United States Government not only to better leverage and integrate programming across government agencies, but also act with innovation due to fewer bureaucratic restrictions. Exploiting CRDF's potential in this manner would offer an elevated return on investment as compared to similar efforts imbedded within US government agencies and an enhanced opportunity for sustainability. If offered sufficient means and an enhanced mission, CRDF's Industry Grants Programs and their potential involvement in activities across government agencies could increase industry's role in successful sustainable redirection.



  • CRDF receives a limited amount of funds from the US Government. In order to continue its programming, it must rely on donations from foundations, the private sector, and other philanthropies.
  • No systematic effort has been made to address the next generation of FSU scientists who may possess potentially dangerous capabilities, who are not engaged in global research networks, and who therefore may have the motivation to proliferate and lack the transparency requisite to deter such behavior.
  • Too little effort has been made to include industry actors as employers rather than customers of technology and "incentivize" their employment of the scientific capacity in the region.


Q & A

Q: How serious was the brain drain threat when the Soviet Union collapsed?
A: It was estimated that the Soviets had employed some 50,000-60,000 nuclear experts, 65,000 bioweapons specialists, and 6,000 chemical weapons professionals.[20] These staggering numbers do not take into account the thousands involved in Russia's ballistic missile programs. All were capable of spreading critical components of sensitive information to hostile groups and states. The retirement and death of many of these scientists has not reduced the threat, as a new generation with potentially dangerous knowledge is now looking for employment.

Q: Have any well-known American companies participated in CRDF programs?
A: CRDF grants can be awarded to private companies (both large and small), academic institutions, and other research groups. The 3M Corporation has been involved in several projects, such as collaborative research to determine the potential benefits of bacteriophages, tiny viruses that infect and kill bacteria, for potato crops. The project paired a 3M scientist with a former bioweapons scientist from the Republic of Georgia.[21] Hewlett Packard has worked with a team of Ukrainian physicists researching nano-objects made of silicon.[22] The University of Southern California has worked with a group of former bioweapons scientists in Russia to develop new compounds to combat anthrax.[23]

Q: Is CRDF a government entity?
A: No. The Foundation is an independent non-profit, non-governmental organization. Although it receives funding from government sources, it does not come under government control. Without full funding by the US government, CRDF is forced to seek out donations to continue its work. Some of the non-government entities currently funding CRDF include: The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; Carnegie Corporation of New York; Bechtel National, Inc.; and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.[24]


Quick Facts

  • The average CRDF collaborative grant is for only $60,000 and lasts only two years
  • Estimates of the Soviet nuclear workforce ranged from 50,000 to 60,000. Most of those individuals needed new work and better pay after the Soviet Union crumbled.
  • As of January 2006, CRDF had contributed $38 million to more than 500 collaborative research projects involving former Soviet weapons scientists.


Recent Legislation

  • N/A


Applicable Treaties, Legislation, and Other International Agreements

  • For information on the activities of the United States Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF), please visit its website:


Talking Points

  • At the end of the Cold War, there was a significant risk of brain drain proliferation as scientists who were formerly part of the Soviet military complex lost their jobs or went without pay. Even the top scientists were faced with a choice between lower level employment or selling their knowledge to other states or terrorist groups.
  • Recognizing this potential threat, the United States established the CRDF as a means of redirecting this scientific talent into civilian research and development projects.
  • Since then, the program has grown considerably, having helped redirect 25,000 scientists toward civilian work. Unfortunately, this is still insufficient to meet the scope of the problem.
  • A new generation of scientists with weapons expertise is looking for jobs in the former Soviet states. Failing to address this new threat could potentially be catastrophic for US national security.
  • At the current rate, it will take thirteen years for the Department of Energy to employ all of the target population of FSU weapons scientists in sustainable, peaceful employment.[25] This target group represents only a small portion (11,000) of the overall threat.



  • A National Security Council designee should spearhead an interagency process to reassess the global role of CNP efforts in today's context. One of the main objectives of this reassessment is to produce a detailed and timely analysis, including an "exit strategy" for US assistance where appropriate. The role of scientist redirect programs should be an important component in this analysis, which should ensure that sustainability is a larger emphasis in the programs to ensure a successful US "exit."
    [See Book Recommendation #1]
  • United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 calls on all states to enhance their capacities to prevent the development, possession, use, or transfer of weapons of mass destruction and related materials by non-state actors. The US Government could use CRDF's expertise in nonproliferation programs to facilitate aspects of 1540 implementation by states in need of assistance.
    [See Book Recommendation #4]
  • NNSA should broaden the scope of sustainability efforts in order to exploit existing programs that could enhance efforts toward sustainability. NNSA activities should focus on the development of a robust nuclear security supply capacity equivalent to the demand created in over a decade of fostering nuclear security requirements in Russia. CRDF could be used to foster this capacity, and will help move the US-Russia relationship away from patronage and toward partnership.
    [See Book Recommendations #5 and #17]
  • Create a bicameral congressional task force whose objective is to regularly provide briefings from a broad array of the actors involved in actual implementation of CNP initiatives. Congress members often fail to grasp the importance of scientist redirect programs like those of CRDF. If the task force idea is too ambitious, Congress should at least set up off-the-record briefing sessions with NNSA officials who can express the need for brain drain proliferation prevention.
    [See Book Recommendations #7 and #19]
  • Channel CRDF projects to meet the needs of other government programs. Bioweapons scientists can use their expertise to help fight infectious diseases. Nuclear scientists can help create new safeguards equipment to aid CNP programs. By coordinating programs to redirect scientists with internal US Government programs to achieve specific technological advances needed to solve our own energy, nonproliferation, counterterrorism, intelligence and other needs, the US could better achieve its existing nonproliferation goals with respect to brain drain while exploring potential technological solutions to existing security concerns at lower cost.
    [See Book Recommendations #8 and #17]
  • Create an appropriate incentive structure in CRDF to engage potential employers (i.e. private industry actors) whenever possible. The programs that emphasize technology development rarely create numerous sustainable jobs, most of which are the result of serendipity. Tax incentives and other inducements could be used to engage private industry in redirect efforts.
    [See Book Recommendation #8 and #18]
  • Engage the G8 business communities and the FSU target community in a rigorous informational exchange regarding the types of expertise available and potential advantages of employing the target community.
    [See Book Recommendation #8]
  • The United States government should appoint an independent broker to facilitate a dialogue between agency implementers and private sector players. Through the establishment of a "business roundtable" dedicated to more effective implementation of the broad panoply of CNP programs, this "honest broker" would: (a) survey the landscape to define novel areas of collaboration (such as in scientist redirection); (b) identify the relevant players from both government and the private sector; (c) build a network to foster productive relationships; (d) act as host and moderator of a regular series of roundtable discussions; (e) provide a critically absent feedback loop between government and private industry, (f) facilitate a process of consensus building among all pertinent players in the CNP arena designed to promote the US Government's broad foreign policy objectives and promote sustainability of the CNP agenda. Incorporating more private sector participants into US redirect programs will help CRDF better achieve its objectives.
    [See Book Recommendation #9]
  • CRDF should specifically target collaborative efforts between industry and FSU weapons expertise to meet demands generated by the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership and the Global Nuclear Terrorism Reduction Initiative, among others.
    [See Book Recommendation #18]
  • The State Department should bolster the capacity of CRDF's Industry Grants Program (First steps to Market and Next Steps to Market) to increase private industry involvement in commercially viable initiatives.
    [See Book Recommendation #24]

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[1] Ken Alibek, Biohazard (New York: Random House, 1999): 270-279.

[2] Amy E. Smithson, Toxic Archipelago: Preventing Proliferation from the former Soviet Chemical and Biological Weapons Complex, (Washington: The Henry L. Stimson Center, 1999), accessed at:

[3] United States Industry Coalition, "The Program," accessed at:

[4] Anthony Wier, "Stabilizing Employment for Nuclear Personnel: Civilian Research and Development Foundation," Securing the Bomb, 5 November 2002, accessed at:

[5] David Kay, quoted in: CRDF, "Our Key Focus Areas: Nonproliferation," accessed at:

[6] United States Civilian Research and Development Foundation, "Overview," About CRDF (2006), accessed at:

[7] CRDF, "Our Key Focus Areas: Cooperative Research," accessed at:

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] CRDF, Annual Report 2004 (Arlington, VA: United States Civilian Research and Development Foundation, 2006), accessed at:

[11] CRDF, "Our Services: Grant Assistance Program," accessed at:

[12] CRDF, "Our Key Focus Areas: Industry Partnerships," accessed at:

[13] CRDF, "Our Key Focus Areas: Industry Partnerships: Industry Grants Programs," accessed at:

[14] CRDF, Annual Report 2004, op. cit., note 9.

[15] Ibid.

[16] CRDF, "CRDF and the Nonproliferation Challenge," January 2006.

[17] CRDF, "Looking Back, Moving Forward," 1 September 2005, accessed at:

[18] CRDF, "CRDF: Meeting the Evolving Nonproliferation Challenge," October 2005.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Amy E. Smithson, Toxic Archipelago, op. cit., note 2.

[21] CRDF, "A New Strategy for Control of Potato Bacterial Diseases Based on Application of Specific Phages," accessed at:

[22] CRDF, "Computer Simulation of Stimulated Growth of Silicon Wires on Silicon Substrate," accessed at:

[23] CRDF, "Development of New Anti-anthrax Agents," accessed at:

[24] CRDF, "Funders," accessed at:

[25] National Nuclear Security Administration, FY 2007 Congressional Budget Request, (Department of Energy: Washington, 2006): 497, accessed at:

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Last Updated on June 1, 2007