Indian Nuclear Tests

May 1998

Materials presented chronologically.

Gertz, Bill. "India Blasts Take U.S. Intelligence by Surprise." Washington Times, 12 May 1998. [http://www.washtimes.com]

"U.S. intelligence agencies failed to detect any signs that India was preparing for the underground nuclear weapons blasts carried out [on 11 May 1998] and were embarrassed by New Delhi's extensive efforts to hide the tests.... The intelligence failure has heightened concerns among U.S. officials about the ability to monitor cheating on a proposed international nuclear testing ban being considered for ratification by the Senate."

Windrem, Robert (prod.). "India Took Steps to Avoid Detection." MSNBC News, 12 May 1998. [http://www.msnbc.com]

"Senior intelligence and military officials tell NBC News that India put its nuclear testing equipment underground in 1996 following a leak to The New York Times that U.S. spy satellites were monitoring that nation's nuclear test site.... The Times report ran Dec. 14, 1995, and quoted unnamed government officials as saying satellites had recorded activity in western India that suggested a test might be imminent.... India was able to very 'quickly and subtly' make preparations for the test of three nuclear devices Monday.... India calculated the orbits of spy satellites and then moved equipment at times when they believed nothing was overhead."

Smith, R. Jeffrey. "CIA Missed Signs of India's Tests, U.S. Officials Say." Washington Post, 13 May 1998, A1. "The CIA Was Asleep at the Switch." Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 18 May 1998, 15.

"[W]hen 'clear-cut' evidence of the nuclear test preparations was recorded by a satellite at midnight in Washington on Sunday, six hours before the tests, no CIA warning was issued because the U.S. analysts responsible for tracking the Indian nuclear program had not expected the tests and were not on alert.... The intelligence community's failure to predict the three nuclear blasts ignited fierce criticism from U.S. policymakers [on 12 May 1998], and prompted two congressional oversight committees and the CIA itself to launch probes of the agency's conduct during the preceding weeks and months....

"Several officials credited India's new government, which was elected less than two months ago, with a shrewd campaign of disinformation designed to put Washington off the scent of a nuclear test.... 'It's just not fair to look at this at the narrow perspective of why someone was not awake looking at pictures of the Pokharan site. They would have been more vigilant if the policy community believed this was likely,' an official said."

Weiner, Tim. "U.S. Intelligence Under Fire in Wake of India's Nuclear Test." New York Times, 13 May 1998. [http://nytimes.com]

DCI George Tenet has named retired Adm. David Jeremiah "to lead a 10-day investigation into the intelligence community's failure to detect preparations at the test site in the Indian desert. The site has been under periodic surveillance by photoreconnaissance and electronic eavesdropping satellites, which recorded increasing activity. But the images and activities they recorded in recent days were not interpreted clearly or quickly by the CIA [Clark comment: Note needs to be made that since 1996, the CIA has not been in the photographic interpretation business; that responsibility rests with NIMA], officials said."

McCutcheon, Chuck. "India's Nuclear Detonations Rattle Clinton's Arms Control Strategy." Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, 16 May 1998, 1317.

"Lawmakers applaud swift imposition of sanctions, but rule out action on test ban treaty this year and question intelligence agencies' vigilance."

Goodman, Melvin A. "India Fallout: Embarrassingly Missed Signals. U.S. Intelligence Failure Shows Need for Reform." Christian Science Monitor, 18 May 1998. [http://www.csmonitor. com]

"The Indian fiasco has exposed the three major deficiencies evident at the CIA for the past several years: politicization, bureaucratization, and a fundamental misunderstanding of the proper interaction between intelligence and policymaking....

"The CIA has ... been victimized by its efforts to be 'relevant' to the policy community in Washington. The Aspin-Brown Commission on Intelligence in 1996 encouraged the CIA to identify 'relevant customers ... by position' and to consult them 'with respect to the type of intelligence support they prefer.' As a result, intelligence analysis has lost much of its objectivity and, in the case of India, CIA analysts missed numerous political and scientific signals that pointed to the likelihood of nuclear tests....

"Another recommendation of the Aspin-Brown commission, the consolidation of all analysis of satellite imagery in the newly-created National Imagery and Mapping Agency, also contributed to the intelligence failure.... If the Pentagon continues to dominate the analysis of satellite photography..., we can expect additional intelligence failures that will adversely affect US national security....

"CIA Director George Tenet ... himself has set the wrong tone at the CIA.... Tenet and his immediate predecessors have severely limited research and the production of national intelligence estimates, transferred military intelligence to the Pentagon, and returned economic intelligence to the Commerce Department and the Department of Energy....

"It is time to create a separate analytical agency outside the policy process in order to return to Harry Truman's raison d'être for the CIA: producing objective and incisive intelligence reports."

Pincus, Walter. "CIA Chief Cited Loss of Agency's Capabilities; Remarks Preceded Indian Bomb Tests." Washington Post, 25 May 1998, A4. "The CIA Did Espy Its Own Problems: Even Before the India Fiasco, Director Tenet Was Flagging the Agency's Shortcomings." Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 1 Jun. 1998, 26.

"One week before the Indian nuclear test caught the U.S. intelligence community by surprise, CIA Director George J. Tenet told his employees [in a speech at CIA Headquarters in which he laid out his 5 to 10-year strategic plan for the nation's intelligence agencies] he believed the agency's espionage capabilities had eroded since the Cold War and its analysts were depending too much on Pentagon spy satellites."

Thomas, Evan, John Barry, and Melinda Liu. "Ground Zero: India's Blasts Dramatize the New Nuclear Age. How Did the CIA Miss Them? And What's to Do Now?" Newsweek, 25 May 1998, 29-32A.

This report includes the story that India's preparations to test in 1995 were halted after the U.S. Ambassador confronted the Indian government with satellite photographs of the work going on at the Pokharan site.

Waller, Douglas. "Why the Sky Spies Missed the Desert Blasts." Time, 25 May 1998, 40.

"With the Administration convinced that India had no plans to explode a nuclear device, the satellites were snapping photos of Pokhran only one every six to 24 hours," rather than the potential 24-hour coverage

Forward to Indian Nukes June 1998

Return to CIA 1998 Table of Contents