NSA: Proliferation Watch: U.S. Intelligence Assessments of Potential Nuclear Powers, 1977-2001

17 December 2013 — National Security Archive

First Publication of Recently Declassified Satellite Photographs of South African Nuclear Test Site–1977

New Release of CIA Report on September 1979 South Atlantic Mystery Flash Joins Annals of Dubious Secrets by Exempting Pages of Previously Released Information

Energy Department and Defense Intelligence Agency Reports Illuminate Pre-War Controversy over Iraqi Procurement of Aluminum Tubes for Alleged Gas Centrifuge Program

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 451

Posted — December 16, 2013

For more information contact:
William Burr or Jeffrey T. Richelson- 202/994-7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu

Washington, DC, December 16, 2013 — The Soviet Union assisted the United States in its effort to curb South Africa’s nuclear program in August 1977 when Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev sent President Jimmy Carter a message that Moscow’s spy satellites had noticed signs of nuclear weapons test preparations at a site in the Kalahari Desert. Very quickly the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) directed spy satellites to photograph the site which intelligence analysts later agreed was geared to nuclear testing. The U.S. government has declassified some of those satellite photographs for the first time. Published today by the National Security Archive and the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project, the photographs of the Kalahari site appear in a declassified article from Lawrence Livermore Laboratory’s Special Projects Division, later known as the “Z Division.” This and other reports by the Special Projects Division are also published for the first time by the National Security Archive in a collection of intelligence studies and articles on nuclear proliferation issues.

Other recently released reports provide new information on high-profile incidents such as the recent Iraq war and the mysterious flash over the South Atlantic on 22 September 1979.

Intelligence reports produced by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) shed light on a key claim made by the Bush administration during the lead-up to the Iraq War: that specialized aluminum tubes sought by the Iraqis would be used for gas centrifuges for producing highly enriched uranium. As national security adviser Condeleeza Rice put it, the tubes were “only really suited for a nuclear weapons program.” That was incorrect, but it at least ran parallel to the DIA view that the tubes’ “specifications are consistent with earlier Iraqi gas centrifuge rotor designs.” By contrast, Department of Energy experts, who were highly familiar with uranium enrichment technology, argued that the tubes’ design and construction made them better candidates for building conventional rockets than for gas centrifuges.

This release includes a heavily excised version of the Director of Central Intelligence report from December 1979 titled The 22 September 1979 Event, referring to the controversial mystery flash over the South Atlantic, which may have been a nuclear test. The massively excised version of the report published today includes previously unreleased material. However, most of the withheld information — including analysis of whether Israel, South Africa or both were behind the event — was declassified by the CIA years ago. This discrepancy is a prime example of both the enduring problem of over-classification and of the U.S. government’s great difficulty in making consistently rational declassification decisions.

Also published today:

* A Special Projects Division report on South African nuclear intentions and capabilities which found that it had a “high caliber” program, but no evidence that South Africa had a “complete” weapons capability or that it had produced or acquired fissile material.
* A CIA analysis of South Africa’s “nuclear options” which found no “clear” capability to produce highly enriched uranium, but that it was likely that the South Africans were preparing for a “series of nuclear tests” before the Kalahari site was discovered.
* A CIA study of Iraq’s nuclear intentions saw “no hard evidence” that it was intent on acquiring a weapons capability but argued that seeking one was consistent with that country’s interest in a hegemonic regional role.

This collection complements numerous Electronic Briefing Books on nuclear proliferation intelligence, most recently “Nuclear Proliferation Intelligence, 1966-1991,” National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 423, also published jointly with the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project.

Check out today’s posting at the National Security Archive’s Nuclear Vault – http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nukevault/ebb451/

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