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Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005
July/August 2008
Edition Date: 
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
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Air Force Leaders Fired Over Nuke Handling

Stephen Bunnell

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates fired Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley and Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne on June 5 after a report by Navy Adm. Kirkland Donald highlighted significant oversights in the Air Force’s nuclear security practices.

The ousting of Moseley and Wynne followed several incidents in the past year that have heightened concerns over the Air Force’s ability to properly maintain and secure its arsenal of land-based ICBMs and nuclear-armed bombers.

Last August, a B-52 bomber flew from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barskdale Air Force Base in Louisiana wrongly and unknowingly armed with nuclear cruise missiles. (See ACT, October 2007.) In March of this year, it was reported that the Air Force had accidentally shipped four nosecone fuses for nuclear missiles to Taiwan in 2006, drawing complaints from China. (See ACT, May 2008.)

Gates’ action came after another such incident in late May when the 5th Bomb Wing, which is stationed at Minot, received a grade of “unsatisfactory” in nuclear security during a weeklong, highly anticipated inspection by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).

According to Air Force Times, the DTRA report, which is not publicly available, catalogs a number of startling failures in the security process. In one case, an airman was caught on tape playing video games on a cell phone. In another incident, inspectors managed to “kill” three security forces members who had failed to clear a building upon entering it. “Security forces’ level of knowledge, understanding of assigned duties, and response to unusual situations reflected a lack of adequate supervision,” said the DTRA team chief.

Gates acknowledged that this chain of events may represent a deeper problem within the Air Force in general and the nuclear forces for which it is responsible in particular. In a June 5 press conference, he characterized the Minot cruise missile incident and the Taiwan nosecone fuses incident as sharing a “common origin” and said both are symptomatic of “a degradation of the authority, standards of excellence, and technical competence within the nation’s ICBM force.” Citing a “lack of a critical self-assessment culture in the Air Force nuclear program,” Gates appointed a task force headed by former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger to review nuclear security and stewardship. The task force will offer two rounds of recommendations, one in 60 days, the other in 90 days.

Similarly, a February 2008 Defense Science Board task force reported a widespread perception throughout the Air Force that “the nuclear forces and the nuclear deterrent mission are increasingly devalued.” The task force report catalogs a noticeable decline in attention paid to the nuclear mission by senior-level commanders by citing older Department of Defense reports. For example, a Joint Advisory Committee report from 1995 warns, “There is reason for concern about the long-term quality and quantity of nuclear weapons expertise within the [Defense Department] as the size of the [Defense Department] nuclear community shrinks and the interest level declines.”

Despite Gates’ actions, other reports pointed to ongoing problems. On June 19, a partially declassified internal “blue ribbon” investigation, triggered by the earlier Minot incident, revealed that “most sites” for the deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe have failed to meet U.S. security requirements.

In addition to the erroneous shipment of fuses to Taiwan, a June 19 article in the Financial Times reports that hundreds of missile components have apparently gone missing from U.S. stockpiles. According to the article, anonymous government officials have claimed that the number of components unaccounted for is “more than 1,000.”

This has prompted renewed criticism of the Bush administration from lawmakers who had supported Gates’ firings of Moseley and Wynne. In a June 20 letter to Gates, Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.), both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, demanded an explanation for how 1,000 sensitive nuclear missile components could have simply vanished from U.S. stockpiles. “While George Bush and John McCain were preoccupied with the misguided war in Iraq, they lost sight of the real danger—terrorists getting their hands on the world’s most dangerous weapons,” said Kerry in a press release.

 

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates fired Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley and Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne on June 5 after a report by Navy Adm. Kirkland Donald highlighted significant oversights in the Air Force’s nuclear security practices. (Continue)

Corrections

  • On page 34 of Arms Control Today’s June 2008 issue, the news article “Bush Sends Russia Nuclear Energy Pact to Hill” identified the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee as Rep. Harold Berman, it should read “Rep. Howard Berman.”


  • On page 32 of Arms Control Today’s March 2006 issue, the news article “Questions Surround Iran’s Nuclear Program” includes a line reading “The former State Department official said that a re-entry vehicle built according to the design that Libya obtained from the Khan network would be too small to hold a nuclear weapon.” That line should read “The former State Department official said that a nuclear warhead built according to a design that Libya obtained from the Khan network would be too large to fit in the re-entry vehicle that Iran may have designed.”

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Russian Plutonium-Producing Reactors Closed

Stephen Bunnell

On June 5, Rosatom closed the sole remaining reactor at the Siberian Chemical Combine, located in Seversk, ending the city’s 43 years of weapons-grade plutonium production and bringing Russia one step closer to ending production of weapons-grade plutonium.

Production at the reactor, known as ADE-5, was terminated under a joint program between the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Rosatom, the Russian state-owned nuclear agency. The program was initiated to shutter the three remaining Russian plutonium-producing reactors and replace them with non-nuclear fuel sources. The first of these reactors, ADE-4, also located in Seversk, was closed under the same program in April. (See ACT, May 2008.)

The joint program that facilitated these closures, known as Elimination of Weapons Grade Plutonium Production (EWGPP), aims to halt Russian production of plutonium, which can be used to construct a nuclear weapon, in order to prevent it from being stolen and sold on the black market. In a press release, William Tobey, NNSA deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation, hailed the closure of ADE-5 as “another step closer to eliminating the production of nuclear weapons-grade plutonium in Russia.” Together, the three reactors were able to produce more than one metric ton of plutonium annually, enough to make 250 nuclear weapons, according to Department of Energy estimates.

Besides proliferation concerns, the reactors also caused worries about safety. All three of them are of the RBMK type, a light-water-cooled, graphite-moderated model that gained infamy through the Chernobyl accident in 1986. These concerns were briefly realized in Seversk in 1993, when a tank containing an industrial solution used to decontaminate decommissioned nuclear reactors exploded, contaminating the surrounding countryside.

The only plutonium-producing reactor that now remains, located near the Siberian city of Zheleznogorsk, is slated to be shut down by 2010. Both Seversk and Zheleznogorsk are former “closed cities,” once-secret settlements that produced plutonium for the Soviet nuclear weapons program during the Cold War.

The United States has been calling for the closure of these plants since the early 1990s. The 1994 “Agreement Concerning the Shutdown of Plutonium Production Reactors and the Cessation of Use of Newly Produced Plutonium for Nuclear Weapons” originally called for ADE-4 and ADE-5 to be shut down in 2000. However, because they provided electricity and heat to Seversk and the nearby city of Tomsk, the deadline was moved back to the end of 2008. ADE-4 and ADE-5 closed eight and seven months ahead of schedule, respectively.

In the meantime, the United States has donated $926 million in order to help refurbish nearby fossil fuel and wind plants to compensate for the loss of energy. According to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which oversees threat reduction projects in the former Soviet Union, these repairs are nearing completion.

U.S. Presses Poland on Anti-Missile Site

Wade Boese

Frustrated by Polish negotiating demands on a plan to install U.S. anti-missile interceptors in Poland, the United States recently said it had other basing options. Despite vigorous Russian opposition to the potential interceptor deployment in a former Soviet ally, the Bush administration is considering a former Soviet republic, Lithuania, as an alternative.

U.S. government spokespersons June 17 denied that the United States had initiated any formal talks with states other than Poland to see if they would host the interceptors, which are supposedly to defend against Iran’s possible acquisition of intermediate-range or intercontinental ballistic missiles. But the spokespersons acknowledged that the United States had identified substitute basing locations to Poland and that there had been general conversations with Lithuania about U.S. missile defense efforts. Lithuanian officials have been quoted denying that there are any negotiations, while saying they would hear the United States out if it came to Lithuania with a specific request.

Tom Casey, a Department of State spokesperson, said that Lithuania had been a recent stop for Acting Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Rood, a top advocate of the proposed U.S. plan. He also is a key interlocutor trying to blunt Russia’s hostility to the system, which the Kremlin sees as a threat to its nuclear missiles and security.

Casey said Rood’s visit to Lithuania was not to establish a separate “negotiating track,” asserting that the United States thinks it is “very close to an agreement” with Poland. Many analysts see the recently leaked news about Lithuania as a U.S. gambit to gain greater leverage in the negotiations with Poland. A Polish diplomatic source June 19 declined to comment to Arms Control Today, claiming that the Polish-U.S. negotiations were at a crucial stage.

The U.S. negotiations with Poland started in early 2007 at approximately the same time the United States initiated talks with the Czech Republic on hosting a U.S. missile-tracking radar. The U.S. and Czech governments April 3 announced the conclusion of negotiations but have yet to sign an agreement despite reports that the step would occur in May and then June. It is now suggested that a signing ceremony might happen in July, after which the agreement would need to be approved by the Czech parliament to take effect.

Despite the recent delays in the U.S.-Czech process, it has been smoother than the U.S.-Polish talks, which were interrupted by the election of a new Polish government last October. Led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk, that government has indicated it is predisposed to hosting the interceptors to bolster relations with the United States. On the other hand, the Tusk government also has demanded that the United States help improve Polish air defense capabilities to offset what it projects will be a greater threat from an angry Russia. Some Polish analysts note that the more bellicose Russian threats grow, the more likely Russia is to drive Poland into an agreement with the United States.

So far, however, the United States has found the Polish price too high, reportedly amounting to billions in military assistance and weaponry, including shorter-range missile defense systems. Polish officials also reportedly are seeking some say in the system’s operation, such as when it will be fired.

Although stating that the United States was not setting a deadline for a deal with Poland, Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon spokesperson, warned that “time is of the essence.” He attributed the rush to growing Iranian missile capabilities, but most observers see the impetus as the Bush administration’s desire to get an agreement in place before it exits office.

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency has indicated that the earliest construction could start would be next year. Actual work would depend on final agreements with the host countries, parliamentary approval of those agreements, and U.S. congressional funding.

Lawmakers in the Czech Republic, Poland, and the United States have expressed various reservations with the proposed plan. Czech and Polish legislators’ concerns reflect generally negative public opinion about the U.S.-proposed project, which has sparked some hunger strikes in the Czech Republic. U.S. lawmakers have cited concerns about whether the proposed ground-based interceptors are technically the best choice, whether the system can actually work, and its projected costs, which are estimated at approximately $3.5 billion.

Neither presumptive presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) or Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), has said he would, if elected, discontinue the proposed European deployment. Indeed, McCain has fully endorsed it, and his campaign has more generally stated that he sees “effective missile defenses” as critical not only to deal with states such as Iran but also to “hedge against potential threats from possible strategic competitors like Russia and China.”

Frustrated by Polish negotiating demands on a plan to install U.S. anti-missile interceptors in Poland, the United States recently said it had other basing options. Despite vigorous Russian opposition to the potential interceptor deployment in a former Soviet ally, the Bush administration is considering a former Soviet republic, Lithuania, as an alternative. (Continue)

IAEA South Korean Concerns Resolved

Kyle Fishman

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said June 3 that its concerns about the peaceful nature of South Korea’s nuclear program had been resolved after concluding an investigation that began four years ago. The announcement came as South Korea is looking to increase nuclear power production and as U.S. and South Korean negotiators are set to discuss a new nuclear cooperation agreement under which Seoul would like U.S. support for proceeding with proliferation-sensitive technology.

The IAEA’s Safeguards Summary for 2007, released at the agency’s June Board of Governors meeting, declared South Korea’s nuclear program to be completely peaceful, with “no indication of undeclared nuclear material or activities.”

The investigation was launched in 2004 following Seoul’s disclosure of previously undeclared experiments in which scientists separated and enriched minute amounts of plutonium and uranium. The revelations came after South Korea signed an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with the agency, permitting IAEA inspectors to visit undeclared nuclear facilities and possibly uncover the experiments. (See ACT, December 2004. ) At the time, the government maintained that it was unaware that such research had been conducted. Seoul has since cooperated with IAEA investigators.

South Korea started a nuclear weapons program in the 1970s, purchasing a heavy-water research reactor and a reprocessing plant. The efforts were discontinued because of pressure from the United States.

With limited natural resources, South Korea has pinned much of its energy future on nuclear power. Its Ministry of Science and Technology projects that, between 2007 and 2011, the country’s nuclear industry will become one of the top five in the world, meeting 60 percent of electricity needs by 2035; nuclear energy currently supplies about 40 percent of South Korea’s electrical power. However, the country must import all nuclear fuel, which it currently obtains from Canada, France, the United States, and other countries.

Seoul would like to employ a procedure called pyroprocessing to ease this dependence on imports and find a means of coping with growing piles of spent nuclear fuel. Pyroprocessing extracts plutonium and other transuranic elements from spent nuclear fuel to create new fuel that can be used in next-generation fast reactors. South Korea and some members of the Bush administration say this technology is more proliferation resistant than traditional spent fuel reprocessing technologies, which yield pure separated plutonium. Plutonium can be used as fuel for nuclear reactors but can also serve as fissile material in nuclear weapons. Critics say that pyroprocessing is not safe enough, arguing that anything short of locking spent fuel in storage poses proliferation risks. (See ACT, April 2008 .)

Under its current nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States, which remains in force until 2014, South Korea has been effectively blocked from reprocessing any of its spent fuel without first obtaining permission from the United States. That prohibition was loosely extended from U.S.-supplied fuel to all fuel because early research and development used U.S. fuel exclusively. Moreover, North and South Korea agreed in the 1992 Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula that neither would acquire reprocessing or enrichment capabilities. The North has already violated this agreement, but Seoul has vowed to adhere to it in hopes of encouraging Pyongyang to return to compliance.

Whether or not South Korea can move forward with its pyroprocessing plans may depend on whether the procedure is considered reprocessing, a question that assumed particular salience after South Korea joined the Bush administration’s controversial Global Nuclear Energy Partnership in December 2007. (See ACT, January/February 2008 .)

Previously, administration officials have offered different answers to that question and have noted that U.S.-South Korean research cooperation has only involved some of the initial steps that would be needed in a pyroprocessing program. But at a May 22 discussion at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Carter Savage, director for fuel cycle research and development at the U.S. Department of Energy, acknowledged that pyroprocessing would be reprocessing if the South Koreans follow through with all of the necessary procedures.

According to the May 5 issue of Platts NuclearFuel, negotiations on a new nuclear cooperation agreement between South Korea and the United States are expected to begin in the coming months, as Seoul hopes to make its case for pyroprocessing before its current cooperation agreement expires.

North Korea Delivers Nuclear Declaration

Peter Crail

Pyongyang June 26 delivered its long-awaited declaration on its nuclear programs to China, the chair of the six-party talks aimed at denuclearizing North Korea. The six countries, which also include Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, are expected to meet in the following weeks to discuss the declaration and the process to verify it. Washington responded the same day by taking steps to remove certain sanctions against North Korea.

If judged to be satisfactory by the other five parties, North Korea’s declaration would satisfy one of the two key commitments made by Pyongyang in an October 2007 six-party agreement, which outlined steps Pyongyang would take toward denuclearization and the benefits it would receive in return. (See ACT, November 2007. ) The other key obligation, disabling three primary facilities associated with North Korea’s plutonium program, has been proceeding since November 2007 and is scheduled to be completed this fall.

According to the October 2007 agreement, North Korea agreed to provide a “complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear programs.” Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, stated during a June 24 press conference that “there will be a package for the declaration, which has to cover all of the nuclear programs.”

Hill appears to be referring to an understanding reached in April on the scope of the declaration. Reportedly, it will involve a formal declaration by North Korea on its plutonium program and secret side documents addressing U.S. concerns about any work on uranium enrichment that North Korea may have performed, as well as any nuclear proliferation actions Pyongyang may have taken involving other countries, particularly Syria. (See ACT, May 2008. )

Hill added that the declaration would not address any actual weapons that North Korea produced, stating June 24 that “the weapons are to be determined at a subsequent phase.”

United States Lifts Certain Sanctions

President George W. Bush took action June 26 to ease certain sanctions against North Korea in return for North Korea’s submission of its declaration. He issued a proclamation rescinding the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act toward Pyongyang, and notified Congress of his intention to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism in 45 days. The Bush administration pledged to take these steps once Pyongyang carried out its commitments under the October 2007 agreement.

U.S. law requires that the president notify Congress 45 days before such a removal from the list would take effect. During that time, Congress can pass legislation to block it, but this may be vetoed by the president.

In a June 18 speech to the Heritage Foundation, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice indicated that, during and after those 45 days, the administration will “hold North Korea accountable” for any violations of its six-party agreements, including by reimposing any sanctions waived and levying new ones.

In addition, Rice asserted that lifting application of the Trading with the Enemy Act against North Korea will have little impact on U.S. sanctions against the country. She noted that even though the act would no longer apply to North Korea, “just about every restriction that might be lifted will be, in fact, kept in place because of different U.S. laws.” Moreover, Bush issued an executive order June 26 that continued particular sanctions against North Korea which would have been otherwise lifted. Such measures included maintaining assets freezes against North Korea and North Korean nationals and prohibiting U.S. nationals from registering vessels in North Korea or operating North Korean-flagged vessels.

North Korea might benefit from the lifting of sanctions associated with the terrorism list. U.S. law requires that the administration attempt to block international financial institutions, such as the World Bank, from providing loans to states designated as sponsors of terrorism. The United States can still try to block such assistance, but would not be able to use the terrorism list as a justification once North Korea is removed from the list.

Congress has also taken steps to lift certain sanctions against North Korea for the purpose of permitting U.S. agencies to fund particular activities in North Korea. The House of Representatives June 19 passed legislation allowing the president to waive specific U.S. sanctions imposed on North Korea in 2006 in response to Pyongyang’s test of a nuclear device in October of that year. Those sanctions have hampered the ability of U.S. agencies to carry out work to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear facilities. (See ACT, June 2008. )

The Senate adopted similar legislation May 22. Both provisions were attached to the fiscal year 2008 supplemental spending bill. As of the end of June, the Senate was reviewing the version of the supplemental passed by the House, which was a modified version of the Senate bill passed in May.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated June 13 that dismantling North Korea’s nuclear facilities would cost about $575 million and take about four years to complete.

Pyongyang Prepares for Terrorism List Removal

In likely preparation for its removal from the U.S. terrorism list, North Korea began taking steps in June to distance itself from concerns about its links to terrorism.

On June 10, the North Korean Foreign Ministry issued a statement declaring that Pyongyang has consistently opposed “all forms of terrorism and any support of it.” The foreign ministry indicated that the statement was “authorized by its government,” indicating that the statement comes from the most senior levels of the regime.

Although North Korea has made similar pronouncements in the past, Pyongyang expanded on this position in the recent statement by citing its adherence to several bilateral and international counterterrorism accords.

U.S. officials welcomed the statement. Alexander Arvizu, deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told an Institute for Corean-American Studies audience June 10 that the North Korean statement was “just one of the steps” that North Korea would need to take to meet the requirements for removal from the terrorism list.

North Korea has also reversed its long-held position that the issue of its past abduction of Japanese citizens has been “completely resolved.” The official Korean Central News Agency indicated June 13 that, during bilateral discussions with Japan in June, North Korea agreed to “reinvestigate the abduction issue.”

Relations between Japan and North Korea are also being addressed as part of the six-party talks. The key bilateral issue between Tokyo and Pyongyang is Japan’s demand that North Korea account for its abduction of more than a dozen Japanese citizens during the 1970s and 1980s.

Tokyo has frequently expressed concern that the United States would remove Pyongyang from its terrorism list before the abduction issue was resolved. U.S. officials have maintained that although the issue must still be addressed in the course of the talks, it does not have bearing on the U.S. decision regarding the terrorism list. During a Nov. 13 Department of State press briefing, Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey stated that North Korea must be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism “in accordance” with U.S. law, adding that the terrorism list and abductees issues “are not necessarily specifically linked.” (See ACT, December 2007. )

In a Patterns of Global Terrorism report released in April 2004, however, the State Department described North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens as part of the basis for its designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Tokyo officially characterized the impending U.S. removal of Pyongyang from its terrorism list in positive terms, with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda stating June 25 that Japan “will welcome a move that leads North Korea toward the direction of resolving its nuclear issue.” However, the move also sparked political controversy within the Japanese government and threatens to harm relations between Washington and Tokyo. Regretting the U.S. decision, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters June 25 that the de-listing “could affect the Japan-U.S. alliance and the relationship of trust.”

Bush’s Nuclear Reprocessing Plan Under Fire

Miles A. Pomper

The Bush administration’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) program, already under siege, has been further imperiled after recent action by several congressional panels and an April report from the congressional watchdog agency.

Administration officials have claimed that GNEP, which seeks to develop new nuclear technologies and new international nuclear fuel arrangements, will cut nuclear waste and decrease the risk that an anticipated growth in the use of nuclear energy worldwide could spur nuclear proliferation. Critics assert that the administration’s course would exacerbate the proliferation risks posed by the spread of spent fuel reprocessing technology, be prohibitively expensive, and fail to significantly ease waste disposal challenges without any certainty that the claimed technologies will ever be developed.

Current reprocessing technologies yield pure or nearly pure plutonium that can be used in fuel for nuclear reactors or as fissile material for nuclear weapons. GNEP proposes to build facilities that would retain other elements in the spent fuel along with the plutonium, making it less attractive for weapons production than pure plutonium. Critics note that this fuel would still not be as proliferation resistant as when the spent fuel is left intact.

Congress has largely sided with the critics and last year sharply cut the administration’s proposed budget for the program and restricted it to research. (See ACT, January/February 2008.) Capitol Hill appears to be on a similar course this year.

In marking up annual spending legislation for fiscal year 2009, which begins Oct. 1, the House Appropriations Committee June 25 approved only $120 million for the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative (AFCI), technology research related to GNEP. In February, the administration had requested $302 million. (See ACT, March 2008.) In its accompanying report, the committee called for these funds to be spent only for research into the reduction of waste streams related to reprocessing, the design of safeguard measures for reprocessing facilities, and research on reducing the proliferation risk of reprocessing. As it did last year, it prohibited any funds from being spent on the design or construction of proposed facilities.

In addition, the House panel blocked the administration’s request for tens of millions in funding directly linked to the partnership including those for smaller or “grid appropriate reactors” and those needed to manage the partnership, particularly efforts to recruit developing countries without nuclear capabilities (such as Ghana, Jordan, and Senegal) to join the partnership. The House panel made a similar cut last year, and ultimately a final House-Senate compromise led to a major cut in proposed funding for the program, although less severe than the House had proposed.

Moreover, the Senate Armed Services Committee May 12 approved a provision in the fiscal year 2009 defense authorization bill that would bar U.S. funds intended for nonproliferation programs from being used for GNEP. A House version of the defense authorization bill passed May 22 likewise would not support the administration’s request for $6.9 million in fiscal 2009 nonproliferation funds to go to GNEP under the auspices of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous agency under the Department of Energy.

In marking up its bill, the House Armed Services Committee wrote in its accompanying report that “the committee finds NNSA’s proposed nonproliferation arguments for GNEP unpersuasive and is not convinced that GNEP will achieve its stated nonproliferation objectives. Rather, the committee is concerned about proliferation risks associated with GNEP. For these reasons, the committee does not support any funding for GNEP activities from within any NNSA Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation program line.” In particular, lawmakers have recently accused the Energy Department of previously and wrongly using nonproliferation funds to support GNEP research in Russia.

GAO Report Challenges GNEP Technology Plans

The committees’ actions came after the watchdog Government Accountability Office (GAO) challenged the administration’s preferred “technology path forward” for the initiative. Energy Department officials said in April that Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman, who had been expected to pick such a path by now, would wait to clearly lay out such a path for the transition to the next administration. Nonetheless, administration officials have been far from shy about indicating their preferences.

An April GAO report, released May 22, took issue with the technology plans for GNEP said to be currently favored by the Energy Department. These plans represented industry proposals that the department had solicited. They call for moving forward in the near future with slight variations of current technology in order to build more economical and commercial-scale facilities. By comparison, the initiative’s original plans called first for building smaller, engineering-scale facilities to research and develop more advanced technologies, then building larger-scale facilities.

The Energy Department’s “accelerated approach of building commercial-scale facilities would likely require using unproven evolutions of existing technologies that would reduce radioactive waste and mitigate proliferation risks to a much lesser degree than anticipated from more advanced technologies,” the report said. It added that the Energy Department “is unlikely to attract enough industry investment to avoid the need for a large amount of government funding for full-scale facilities.”

Therefore, the report recommends that the Energy Department “reassess its preference for an accelerated approach to implementing GNEP.”

The report also found that the engineering approach had its drawbacks. Like the current approach, the engineering-scale approach called for the construction of three types of facilities: a reprocessing plant to separate plutonium and other materials from spent reactor fuel and convert them into a new fuel, an advanced reactor to use the new fuel, and a research and development facility.

The GAO concluded that the Energy Department had erred in planning to build an engineering-scale reprocessing plant before developing the necessary reprocessed-fuel and other technologies that would be needed to know the design specifications for such a plant. The report recommended that the department defer building such a plan until “conducting sufficient testing and development of recycled fuel to ensure that the output of such a plant is suitable for recycling.” In many ways, therefore, the report echoes criticisms made by an influential National Research Council report released last fall. (See ACT, December 2007.)

The Bush administration’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) program, already under siege, has been further imperiled after recent action by several congressional panels and an April report from the congressional watchdog agency. (Continue)

Pentagon Calls for More DTRA Support

Stephen Bunnell

A recently declassified report from a Department of Defense review panel calls on the government to provide more political and financial support to a Pentagon agency that is tasked with defending the United States from weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The report, which was originally authored in March, was produced by a review panel headed by Robert Joseph, who served as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security under President George W. Bush, and Ashton Carter, assistant secretary of defense for international security policy during the Clinton administration.

The report finds that the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), established a decade ago, “has not been given the means required to meet all of its current responsibilities, let alone to realize its full potential for the U.S. Government in combating” weapons of mass destruction. It lists two overarching recommendations: “strong advocacy and commitment by senior [Defense Department] leadership” and “a detailed strategic plan for combating” weapons of mass destruction. The report calls on the Pentagon to treat preparations for WMD threats by adversaries as a top priority.

The report recommends a restructuring of the top levels of DTRA leadership in order to provide the senior-level advocacy needed for the agency. The panel calls for creating a new assistant secretary of defense for WMD issues reporting directly to the secretary or deputy secretary. They further recommend that the DTRA director be a three-star military officer if the new assistant secretary for WMD issues position is created. These recommendations aim to give the DTRA strong advocates within the Pentagon, in order to win the agency greater funding and budget flexibility.

In addition, the report recommends a closer relationship between the DTRA and regional combatant commands and a much more active and involved role for Strategic Command (STRATCOM) within the military in such areas as planning and exercises. The report characterizes the current mandate for STRATCOM as “overly ambiguous and appears to allow [combatant commands] to choose when, how, and whether to involve STRATCOM…in their planning processes, exercises, theater security cooperation programs, and the like.”

Moreover, the report calls for a closer interagency relationship between the DTRA and the rest of the government, describing the DTRA as “a national asset.” It recommends that representatives of the agency participate in meetings of interagency initiatives on counterproliferation and homeland security as well as in international negotiations, such as those seeking nuclear disarmament of North Korea.

Senate Committee Completes Iraq Intel Probe

Peter Crail

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence June 5 completed its long-delayed investigation into U.S. intelligence on Iraq prior to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of that country. The final portions of the investigation entailed a comparison of prewar intelligence with speeches made by senior administration officials and an examination of the work carried out by two Pentagon offices, which compiled their own intelligence related to Iraq. (See ACT, March 2008. ) The committee began its examination of the prewar intelligence on Iraq in June 2003.

The report concluded that several specific administration claims related to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs were not supported by intelligence available at the time. The Bush administration had cited WMD possession as a key justification for the 2003 invasion and attributed their statements to faulty intelligence, in particular the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). The committee report indicates, however, that some of the inaccuracies in the statements by the administration were not based on the judgments of the intelligence community.

This investigation differed from the first committee report issued in July 2004 as well as several previous U.S. government reports, which had focused on the inaccuracy of prewar intelligence reporting about Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. The committee’s 2004 report concluded that many of the key judgments contained in a critical October 2002 NIE on Iraq were overstated. (See ACT, September 2004. ) Likewise, the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction stated in its March 2005 report that the intelligence community was “dead wrong in almost all of its prewar judgments” concerning Iraq’s suspected chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs. (See ACT, May 2005. )

The committee announced in February 2004 that it would conduct a second phase of investigations that would include an examination of prewar statements, not simply the accuracy of prewar intelligence information. (See ACT, March 2004. ) Democrats in particular wished to examine whether the prewar statements by the administration were supported by the intelligence community’s findings, while Republican lawmakers wished to limit focus to the quality of the intelligence itself. (See ACT, November 2003. )

Following the announcement of the phase two investigations, committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) stated during a July 9, 2004, press conference that the completion of the second phase “is one of my top priorities.” Yet, the process languished for several more years due to disagreements over the scope of the investigations and ground rules for requesting documents from the executive branch and interviewing administration officials. (See ACT, December 2005. )

In an effort on November 1, 2005, to bypass the lengthy deliberations, then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) invoked a rarely used rule to halt Senate operations and bring the body into a closed session. The two parties then formed a six-member task force to develop a plan for the investigation. The committee later issued reports on segments of its phase two investigation in September 2006 and May 2007.

The June report was subject to considerable partisan disagreement, in particular regarding the consideration of prewar statements by administration officials. Although approved by a bipartisan majority of 10 to 5, some Republican committee members sharply criticized the investigation as politically motivated.

Committee Vice Chairman Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-Mo.) and Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) issued a minority view with the report. In it, they claim that the Democratic majority refused to review statements made by the Clinton administration that were submitted by Republican members and did not allow individuals whose statements were reviewed by the committee to respond to the committee’s judgments. Their addendum includes a number of statements made by Democratic lawmakers and former Vice President Al Gore regarding Iraq’s WMD programs and ties to terrorist organizations.

Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller’s (D-W.Va.) additional views, submitted along with the report, stated that the committee decided not to review public statements made prior to the summer of 2002 or those made by “lower level” administration officials because “there were not deemed to be as central to the lead-up to the war in Iraq.”

Prewar Statements

The report and investigation focused on five major policy speeches made by senior administration officials. The speeches included President George W. Bush’s Sept. 12, 2002, address to the UN General Assembly; his 2003 State of the Union address; his October 2002 speech in Cincinnati; an August 2002 speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention by Vice President Dick Cheney; and Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech to the UN Security Council outlining Iraq’s violations of the council’s resolutions prohibiting the maintenance of WMD capabilities. In addition to these speeches, the committee reviewed a number of statements by senior administration officials between the summer of 2002 and March 2003.

The committee compared these statements with “hundreds” of finished analytical intelligence documents produced prior to March 19, 2003. The report also describes postwar findings regarding the intelligence, which proved much of the available intelligence to be incorrect, but did not use the postwar judgments as a basis for the committee’s conclusions.

Based on these comparisons, the committee arrived at 16 conclusions related to different facets of the administration’s case against Iraq, including Baghdad’s suspected nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs; its missile programs; and its links to terrorism, in particular its association with al Qaeda.

The committee concluded that many of the administration’s general statements related to Iraq’s unconventional weapons capabilities were substantiated by the available intelligence. In some of these cases, however, such as statements regarding Iraq’s WMD production capabilities and its development of unmanned aerial vehicles, the report states that the administration characterized their assessments with a greater degree of certainty than the intelligence judgments themselves did.

According to the report, the administration’s statements were not supported by the available intelligence in areas related to specific claims regarding Iraq’s proscribed weapons programs and its relationship with terrorist groups. For example, although the committee determined that statements about Iraq’s WMD possession were supported by the available intelligence, it judged that specific claims that Iraq “operated underground WMD facilities that were not vulnerable to conventional airstrikes” were unsubstantiated by the intelligence information.

Only one conclusion, related to statements suggesting that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was prepared to give weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups for attacks against the United States, was determined to have been “contradicted by available intelligence information.”

Although the bulk of the report draws conclusions from the comparison of statements by administration officials and available intelligence, it briefly raised a more endemic concern regarding the ability of the executive branch to “unilaterally declassify and divulge information” at its own convenience. The report suggests that such prerogative allows administration officials to selectively declassify and use intelligence that supports a policy position while ignoring intelligence that may undermine that position. The report does not expand on this concern.

The report did not compare administration statements on Iraq’s proscribed weapons programs against the information and assessments of the UN weapons inspectors, who conducted more than 760 inspections covering about 500 sites from November 2002 through February 2003. As early as Feb. 13, 2003, the chief UN inspector, Hans Blix, reported to the UN Security Council that there was no evidence either of active chemical or biological weapons programs or stockpiles. International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei reported that there was no evidence of a reconstituted nuclear weapons program. (See ACT, March 2003. )

According to sources familiar with the Senate Intelligence Committee report, neither the U.S. intelligence community nor the Bush administration apparently took action to reassess the October 2002 NIE findings on Iraq, which were based entirely on information gathered before the return of the UN inspectors in November 2002. (See ACT, October 2004. )

Pentagon Offices

In addition to its investigation into prewar statements on Iraq, the committee examined the intelligence activities carried out by two Department of Defense offices: the Office of Special Plans and the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group.

Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld established the Office of Special Plans, which was tasked with examining raw intelligence related to Iraq’s WMD programs, under the control of then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith. Feith also created the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group after the September 2001 attacks to examine links between terrorist organizations and host countries.

The committee’s review followed on the Defense Department’s own review of the intelligence production and dissemination of intelligence related to Iraq by Feith’s office. This report, issued in February 2007, stated that the office of the undersecretary of defense for policy produced “alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and al Qaeda relationship, which included some conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus” of the intelligence community. The report further stated that, although these activities were not illegal or unauthorized, they were “inappropriate.”

Congressional sources told Arms Control Today Feb. 15 that Roberts used the Pentagon investigation as an excuse to delay the committee’s investigation into Feith’s offices. (See ACT, March 2008. )

The committee’s investigation focused specifically on a series of meetings between Pentagon officials and a number of Iranians that were primarily focused on potential efforts for overturning the regime in Tehran.

The report concludes that the decision by deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to withhold pertinent information from the intelligence community and the Department of State before and after the meetings was “ill-advised.” The committee also criticized the Defense Department leadership for failing to conduct an interagency counterintelligence analysis of the potential influence of the Iranian nationals on U.S. officials.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence June 5 completed its long-delayed investigation into U.S. intelligence on Iraq prior to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of that country. The final portions of the investigation entailed a comparison of prewar intelligence with speeches made by senior administration officials and an examination of the work carried out by two Pentagon offices, which compiled their own intelligence related to Iraq. (See ACT, March 2008. ) The committee began its examination of the prewar intelligence on Iraq in June 2003. (Continue)

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