A MAJOR INTELLIGENCE FAILURE
The comments by White House press secretary Mike McCurry
and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger suggest that the
Indian nuclear weapons tests represent a major intelligence failure.
The US Government had no advance indication that the tests
would take place, and as of Monday afternoon the National
Security Advisor did not even have independent confirmation
that the tests had taken place.
Given the very high priority that is, or at least should be,
attached to efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons,
these are the wrong answers from the White House. While
Indian denial and deception activities may have complicated
the task of monitoring test preparations, the reaction from
McCurry suggests that there was little if any indication
from the intelligence community of a heightened probability
of Indian nuclear weapons testing. The failure is not
simply one of collection, which could be and apparently
was frustrated by Indian denial and deception activities.
The failure is also one of assessment, as analysis should
have suggested a significantly increased probability
of a test, and the probability of Indian measures to hide
preparations for a test. This should have formed the
basis for a sustained public diplomacy effort by the
US Government to discourage India from testing
nuclear weapons. But there is certainly nothing in the
public record over the past several weeks suggesting
that the Administration was actively working to strongly
discourage such tests.
Berger's late afternoon comment about the absence of
independent confirmation is, if anything, more troubling,
as it suggests that either such intelligence was not made
available to the White House, or that Berger did not trouble
himself to consult US intelligence reports on the subject,
which surely were available so many hours after the fact.
All of which confirms the proposition that the current
organization of the US intelligence community to cover
counter-proliferation issues is broken and needs to be
fixed. This latest failure is in line with last Fall's mixup
over allegations of Russian nuclear weapon testing,
which took far too long to resolve [there was no test].
Those elements of the US intelligence community responsible
for monitoring nuclear weapons and other proliferation
issues are under-funded and poorly organized. Rather
than remaining scattered among obscure corners of
the government, they need to be brought together into
a new National Special Weapons Intelligence Agency,
which would provide the focus and visibility needed to
avoid future intelligence failures.
If adequate warning had been provided, the US government
might have succeeded in convincing India not to conduct
these tests. In the past, such warnings have discouraged
other testing activities, and improved intelligence might have
averted this latest episode, the last chapter of which has
yet to be written.
A special government commission is currently conducting
a study of the organization of the US intelligence community
to address proliferation issues, and the formation of a new
National Special Weapons Intelligence Agency should be
their first recommendation.
Additional background information on the FAS proposal for
a National Special Weapons Intelligence Agency is @