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US intelligence failed, and how!

Papers released by an American univ stress on how US had failed to warn of '74, '98 nuke tests, writes Anuj Dhar.

india Updated: Apr 14, 2006 01:53 IST
Anuj Dhar (
Anuj Dhar (

It's barely been a secret, but the declassified documents released on Thursday by the National Security Archive at George Washington University have only accentuated the pathetic extent to which the US intelligence had failed to warn of India's nuclear tests.

And this happened despite the US gathering intelligence on Indian nuclear activities since 1958 "through all the means at its disposal", writes Jeffrey Richelson, writer of recently published book Spying on the Bomb, who obtained the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) documents.

The documents of the 1974-1975 and 1998 vintage assess the reason "why the US Intelligence Community failed to provide warning of the 1974 and 1998 tests" at Pokhran as well as "recommendations to address the deficiencies in performance that the assessments identified".

One of the earliest document in the series is a CIA overview of the Indian Nuclear Energy Program dated February 18, 1958, which also discussed "the possibility that the Indian government would pursue military applications".

Surprisingly, the CIA had noted as back as October 24, 1964 that "while India has the capability to develop an atomic bomb, the present government does not plan to do so".

The agency was shocked by the Pokhran-1 on May 18, 1974 that made India world's sixth nuclear power to test the device.

In 1995 India had to pull back from conducting its second test "due to American pressure that followed the discovery of test preparations by US spy satellites", Richelson reveals.

But the US was famously duped again in 1988. A CIA paper, published less than a month before Pokhran-2, suggested that "a decision to alter India's policy on nuclear weapons is not imminent".

Then, as we all know, the Buddha smiled again.

First Published: Apr 14, 2006 01:18 IST