Apr 14 2006
*** updates at the end***
Hold onto your seats folks, this could be a block buster news weekend! Apparently Bill Clinton authorized the leaking of flawed nuke plans to Iran via the CIA during his administration. This is according to James Risen, the same Risen that leaked the NSA details in a disasterous act of misreporting:
Last night, radio talk show host and former US Justice Department official Mark Levin shocked many listeners when he reported that President Bill Clinton gave nuclear technology to the Iranians in a harebrained scheme.
He said that the transfer of classified data to Iran was personally approved by then-President Clinton and that the CIA deliberately gave Iranian physicists blueprints for part of a nuclear bomb that likely helped Tehran advance its nuclear weapons development program.
The CIA, using a double-agent Russian scientist, handed a blueprint for a nuclear bomb to Iran, according to a new book “State of War” by James Risen, the New York Times reporter, who exposed the Bush administration’s controversial NSA spying operation, claims the plans contained fatal flaws designed to derail Tehran’s nuclear drive.
Well, this is a really, really dangerous game that must be done right. If the flaws are not in the proper place (areas where fixing the flaws is impossible to unravel) then the idea backfires badly. Second, going through a group that can fix the flaws in the US design gives the conduit plausible deniability. Going through Russian scientists means the Russian scientist can make key corrections (for a proper price) and pretend they had nothing to do with it. Apparently some of these pitfalls may have occurred:
But the deliberate errors were so rudimentary they would have been easily fixed by sophisticated Russian nuclear scientists, the book said.
The operation, which took place during the Clinton administration in early 2000, was code named Operation Merlin and “may have been one of the most reckless operations in the modern history of the CIA,” according to Risen.
Clearly it was a reckless move. What, pray tell, was the upside? Why take a risk like this unless there was a HUGE payoff? Please note the timeframe for this – 2000 – the election year. That means Tenet was head of the CIA. The turf wars between CIA, State and DoD were raging under Clinton as well as Bush. But this mistake demonstrates the CIA had a lot of serious problems right before 9-11. No wonder the CIA has been acting like it has.
I had not been overly concerned with Iran’s enrichment program because the magic in a nuke is getting the war head designed to create the implosion of sufficient capability to start the chain reaction. This is high tech explosive technology and not easily solved. And the way to solve it is through testing which sends a signal to the West that something is afoot. But now I am not comfortable at all:
It called for the unnamed scientist, a defector from the Soviet Union, to offer Iran the blueprint for a “firing set” — the intricate mechanism which triggers the chain reaction needed for a nuclear explosion.
Risen said the Clinton-approved plan ended up handing Tehran “one of the greatest engineering secrets in the world, providing the solution to one of a handful of problems that separated nuclear powers such as the United States and Russia from rogue countries such as Iran that were desperate to join the nuclear club but had so far fallen short.”
So much for having an obvious indicator of where the Iranians may be in their weapon design. Since this was done out of apparent stupidity it cannot be treason. But it is definitely one of the most dangerous ‘leaks’ I have ever seen. Making a pile of uranium go critical is the difference between a nuclear weapon and a pile of biohazardous material. We need to find what idiot decided to dangle the most closely held element of nuclear weapons, and what the ‘logic’ was in taking this risk.
To be precise, he was carrying technical designs for a TBA 480 high-voltage block, otherwise known as a “firing set”, for a Russian-designed nuclear weapon. He held in his hands the knowledge needed to create a perfect implosion that could trigger a nuclear chain reaction inside a small spherical core. It was one of the greatest engineering secrets in the world, providing the solution to one of a handful of problems that separated nuclear powers such as the United States and Russia from rogue countries such as Iran that were desperate to join the nuclear club but had so far fallen short.
The Russian, who had defected to the US years earlier, still couldn’t believe the orders he had received from CIA headquarters. The CIA had given him the nuclear blueprints and then sent him to Vienna to sell them – or simply give them – to the Iranian representatives to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). With the Russian doing its bidding, the CIA appeared to be about to help Iran leapfrog one of the last remaining engineering hurdles blocking its path to a nuclear weapon. The dangerous irony was not lost on the Russian – the IAEA was an international organisation created to restrict the spread of nuclear technology.
The Russian was a nuclear engineer in the pay of the CIA, which had arranged for him to become an American citizen and funded him to the tune of $5,000 a month. It seemed like easy money, with few strings attached.
Easy money. No scruples, just greed. BTW, it might be worth pointing out which CIA group could have been handling this disaster. It could be the nuclear proliferation group Valerie Plame worked for, who also had the Niger forgeries stuck in their safe for three months while the nation debated going into Iraq. Seems all our problems keep pointing back to this one group.
Update: As I suspected, no one in their right mind would play this gamble with any true stakes. From the last source linked above:
Several former CIA officials say that the theory behind Merlin – handing over tainted weapon designs to confound one of America’s adversaries – is a trick that has been used many times in past operations, stretching back to the cold war. But in previous cases, such Trojan horse operations involved conventional weapons; none of the former officials had ever heard of the CIA attempting to conduct this kind of high-risk operation with designs for a nuclear bomb. The former officials also said these kind of programmes must be closely monitored by senior CIA managers in order to control the flow of information to the adversary. If mishandled, they could easily help an enemy accelerate its weapons development. That may be what happened with Merlin.
Well, Clinton was reckless enough to do so.