Arms Control Wonk ArmsControlWonk


Well, I am off to Paris.  But before I go, I want to mention something that is puzzling me.

You undoubtedly noticed that Rodong Sinum (Korean|English) carried a story about Kim Jong Un attending test launches of ”newly developed ultra-precision tactical guided missiles.” The story contained three not very helpful images.

According to Yonhap, a South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff official said something that doesn’t make any sense to me:

“Their range is some 190 kilometers, and we are now looking into exactly what type of rockets North Korea fired,” a JCS official said, noting that the North’s 300-millimeter multiple rocket launcher KN-09 has a similar range.

Another news site quotes  Yonhap quoting an official saying “Our analysis of its trajectory and other details led us to believe that what North Korea fired off yesterday was the 300-millimeter multiple-rocket launchers. North Korea appears to test-fire them to extend its range further.” US officials were more circumspect, stating in public that they were “still evaluating the available information to identify the exact type of projectile” and privately telling Barbara Starr the rocket was not new.

If the rocket really traveled 190 km, it is not a 300 mm artillery rocket.  The natural comparisons for such a rocket, which North Korea is developing are the Russian BM-30 Smerch, a Chinese knock-off, or Pakistani Hatf IX/Nasr.  All three of these systems have a range more like 60 km.

On the other hand, a 600 mm missile like the US ATACMs or Russian SS-21 Tochka might reach that range. (The SS-21C tops out at 120 km, but it could be range-extended.)  North Korea started testing and deploying an indigenous SS-21 in 2006 and 2007.  Two leaked cables (NSFW!) contain the text of papers that the US circulated about MTCR members describing the missile as “a new solid propellant SRBM based on the SS-21 SRBM. This new missile – called the Toksa by the United States — has a range of 120 km with a payload as large as 500 kg.”  (I think we are teasing them with Toksa/Tochka.) North Korea paraded the Toksa in 2012. The provenance of the Toksa is unclear.  Dan Pinkston notes there are both reports suggesting either Russia or Syria is the source of North Korea’s SS-21s.

Based on the images released by North Korea, we can tell the test involved a solid-fueled rocket– solid-fuels produce bright and smoky plumes like the one you see — but that’s all.

Unfortunately, the image of the rocket is too blurry to determine whether it is a BM-30 or an SS-21.  Also, one image contains what may be tarp-covered launchers in the background, but again they are too blurry to identify.

At some level, it doesn’t matter.  North Korea is developing both BM-30 and SS-21 clones, to say nothing of anti-ship cruise missiles like the Kh-35.  It’s possible the range is “90-100″ kilometers not 190 kilometers.  Then it’s a Smerch.  If its 190 km, then I think its more likely a Toksa.

A related note.  South Korean media reports continue to describe the new 300 mm MLRS rocket as the KN-09.  The US has released exactly one slide that suggested the KN-09 was a coastal defense cruise missile, not an artillery rocket. It would be very nice if someone in Dayton or Huntsville could let us know the proper designations for these missiles. (Of course, people make mistakes.  One of the leaked cables describes the Toksa as a “modified Silkworm” which is bizarre.)

For now, I am just going to use the Russian designations like BM-30 Smerch, SS-21 Tochka/Toksa, and Kh-35 preceded by “North Korean.”


One of the nice things about the silliness that ensued following my pair of articles for 38North on the North Korean Kh-35 is that I discovered a bunch of new people doing open source work.  We’ve known about the Arkenstone, Open Source IMINT, RAJ47, Michael Madden and others forever, but I am happy to come across Scott LaFoy, Andrew Haggard and the Oryx Blog among others.  (Oh, the perils of a list.  I’ve surely ommitted someone worthy of inclusion.)

Having just finished a talk at Wilton Park on the promise of open source analysis, I am delighted that the field is thriving so well.  Along those lines, I’ve asked  Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans from the Oryx Blog to contribute a guest post.

They wondered if anyone was interested in North Korean anti-tank missile showing up in the Middle East. Me me me!  Although I am nuclear guy, it is important to remember that AQ Khan forged a lot of early business ties selling conventional armaments, including anti-tank weapons, around the world.  North Korea’s arms trade is pretty interesting, even the conventional bits.

So, you should totally read this post.  Then check out  Oryx Blog. And marvel, for a moment, at the information feast this modern world provides the open source analyst.

North Korean anti-tank missiles in the Middle East

Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

North Korea, well known for its ballistic missile programme, depends on its foreign relations to provide currency that allows the regime to maintain control over the country. Exports of ballistic missile and even nuclear technology to countries such as Egypt, Syria, Iran and Myanmar have been much reported and draw a lot of attention from international observers. However, aside from delivering both conventional and strategic weaponry to sovereign states around the world, it appears North Korean anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) are now also showing up in the hands of what have been branded as terrorist organizations by the USA, a development which shows a broadening involvement of the DPRK in the arms trafficking market.

Imagery of a fighter loyal to the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, shows him operating an indigenous variant of the 9K111 Fagot, designated the Bulsae-2 in North Korean service. The al-Qassam Brigades is likely to have received the missiles from North Korea via Iran through an elaborate network of smugglers and backdoor channels ranging from Sudan to the Gaza Strip. This likely happens in a similar fashion to how this is done with other transports: after delivery to Port Sudan, the weaponry is transported overland to the Gaza Strip via Egypt, as was supposed to be done with the the delivery onboard the Klos C, which was intercepted by the Israeli navy near the coast of Sudan in the Red Sea.

More launchers and missiles have popped up in the inventory of the Al-Nasser Salah al-Deen Brigades, which seceded from Hamas because of political differences. It is unknown whether other conventional armament was delivered alongside the ATGMs, but North Korea is also known as a major producer of MANPADS and rocket-propelled grenades, making it plausible some of these were exported as well.

To further support this theory: in December 2009, a North Korean arms shipment aboard an Ilyushin Il-76 cargo plane was discovered and seized by the Thai authorities immediately after landing in Bangkok. The cargo, which was marked as consisting of oil-drilling equipment, contained thirty-five tons worth of rockets, surface-to-air missiles (MANPADS), explosives, rocket-propelled grenades and other weaponry. Another similar shipment was impounded in the United Arab Emirates a few months earlier (July 2009). A large quantity of shipments to both Hamas and Hizbullah is believed to have been transferred unnoticed. With North Korea being a lead player in the arms trafficking business, ways of transport and smuggle routes are always evolving.

North Korea’s role is thus limited to being the manufacturer of the systems. Yet, even though both Iran and North Korea maintain the ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy, it can be assumed North Korea has full knowledge of the destination of the Bulsae-2s. But with North Korea’s sole interest in this deal being the money, that shouldn’t be a problem.

The 9M111 wire-guided missile uses semi-automatic command to line of sight (SACLOS) to make its way to the target and can penetrate up to 460mm of armour, depending on the variant and target. Upgraded variants, including the 9M113 missile used by the 9K111-1 Konkurs system, can also be fired by the same launcher (with the exception of the earliest variant), providing cross-platform compatibility for both the 9M111 and 9M113 missile series. The DPRK is known to have received the 9K111 system from the Soviet Union first in 1988, a deal which supposedly continued with the Russian Federation until 2010 and entailed the delivery of some 4500 systems. Due to the interchangeable nature of the missiles, it can’t be said for certain whether or not only the 9K111 Fagot or also the 9K111-1 Konkurs was delivered. However, there is no known Korean designation for the 9K111-1 Konkurs, and the Bulsae-3 is most likely an unrelated system.

The North Korean launchers differ in a few key areas. Most notably, the optics have been extensively modified. While the operator’s scope of the 9P135 (the lower scope in above picture) is similar to the operator’s scope on the Bulsae-2, the scope auto-tracking the missile (the upper scope in above picture) has been swapped for two separate smaller optics. The way this works is unknown, as is whether or not it constitutes an up- or downgrade over the original design. Lastely North Korea appears to manufacture their own distinctly shaped batteries, which likely does not affect the quality of the system.

Special thanks to @PFC_Joker




Princeton has a proposal that would allow Iran to transition, over time, to more capable centrifuges operated in a multilateral framework.  There have been responses by ISIS (David Albright, not the terrorist group!) and Mark Fitzpatrick at IISS. My colleague at Monterey Institute, Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, has decided to add his two cents in a guest post.

Comments on the Princeton Group Proposal for the Two-Stage Strategy for Iran

Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress

The Current Dead-Lock

It is important to remember the historic progress that made since January under the JPOA between the P5+1 and Iran and the Frameworks for Cooperation that followed between the IAEA and Iran.

Iran has suspended its enrichment of near-20% UF6, has blended down or converted to uranium oxide most of the near-20% UF6. The IAEA has daily access to centrifuge plants and regular access to other nuclear sites, and finally has an updated DIQ on the IR-40 heavy water reactor at Arak. On the other hand, Iran has escalated its enrichment of near-5% enriched UF6 (although, this is allowed under the JPOA) and outstanding questions related to Iran’s possible military aspect of the Iranian nuclear program remain. However, the JPOA in all its success has left the most difficult problem until right at the end, that is, defining the extent of the enrichment capacity mutually acceptable to all parties.

Iran has stated in the past that it requires enough enrichment capacity to be able to fuel the Bushehr reactor, a 915 MWe reactor requiring at least 100,000 SWU/year to provide the required 27 t 3.5% enriched fuel. This is at least an order of magnitude more than Iran currently has installed. The P5+1 wants to limit the possibility of a breakout scenario where either Iran expels inspectors or Iran develops clandestine facilities to further enrich existing UF6 to weapons grade, convert to a metal and manufacture into a warhead. The P5+1 express the risk of Iran to develop a bomb in terms of a “breakout time,” the time that it takes to accomplish the task. Arguably, the most difficult step in the process is enriching the UF6 to weapons grade. The United States has argued that a 2-month breakout time corresponds to the current capacity, which the P5+1 is negotiating to extend to 6-12 months significantly curtailing the current capability.

The effort of a centrifuge plant to separate a certain quantity of uranium to a certain enrichment is expressed in terms a unit called the Separative Work Unit (SWU). Milestones to reach a certain goal such as developing enough weapons grade uranium to produce a bomb is quantified as 1500-1600 SWU depending on the enrichment of the waste UF6. Each centrifuge contributes a certain quantity of SWU/year toward the milestone and adding up all the centrifuges operational is a measure of how long it will take to get to a certain milestone. Think of a centrifuge program like a vehicle moving along a road to get to a certain destination. The more centrifuges, the faster the vehicle will go and the sooner it will get to the destination. The problem is that the enrichment requirement for a bomb is far smaller than the enrichment that Iran says they need which is the principle reason for the current deadlock. Iran sees enrichment as their right as a non-nuclear weapon state subject to the NPT, while the P5+1 considers that Iran’s past violations of UN security resolutions preclude that right. Because of this disagreement, the negotiations are now at a standstill and the risk is high that the July 20th deadline for reaching a comprehensive agreement will not be met.

Princeton Proposal to Resolve Crisis

The group from Princeton University’s Science and Global Security has come up with a potentially face-saving solution to the crisis. They propose a two-stage solution, where in the first stage Iran has the opportunity to demonstrate the peaceful nature of their program under stringent safeguards in preparations for the second stage. The first stage has the following features:

  • Phase out IR-1’s which are very low efficiency machines compared to IR-2m’s currently installed for testing at Iran’s centrifuge plants. The advantage of this is that the number of centrifuges necessary would decrease by about the same as the ratio of the separative capability of the centrifuge machines. The true capability of the various centrifuges is not precisely know and this makes it difficult to determine with certainty the size of these centrifuge plants for different scenarios.  The fact that the number of centrifuges would be less for higher capability centrifuges also means that this potentially makes these centrifuge plants easier to hide. However, destroying the IR-1’s (as suggested by ISIS June 12th response to the Princeton proposal) in favor of a smaller number of IR-2m’s would make safeguarding the facility easier to manage. If this proposal were to work it would be important to synchronize bringing IR-2m’s into production with the destruction of a number of IR-1’s that equates to the same number of total SWU.
  • The second aspect of this first stage is to let Iran continue to develop advanced centrifuges (IR-4, IR-5 or IR-6) in a safeguarded facility. Then once, sufficient testing and development has been done, produce them for commercial scale operation, but rather than installing them store the centrifuges in parts, perhaps even in a third country. Swiftly detected if taken out of storage, these components would be under strict safeguards. The authors point out that to assemble these parts into centrifuges and balancing them would then take at least another 6 months in a breakout scenario. This may be a long enough time to organize an appropriate response to the violation if it occurs. The centrifuges would be installed once the legitimate need arises.
  • Iran should ratify the Additional Protocol as well as follow all the safeguards and transparency measures in the JPOA.

The second stage of the Princeton proposal would be to setup a multilateral enrichment facility at which point more centrifuges stored in components under safeguards could be installed. This facility could provide fuel for the Bushehr reactor as well as other reactors planned to be built in Iran. The time when such a facility would be implemented would need to be decided through negotiation and should be subjected to conditions.

A Promise is Not Enough

A treaty between the P5+1 and Iran could establish a consortium where Iran promises not to enrich or reprocess outside of the consortium, an agreement that the countries that makeup URENCO have already committed to. The advantage is that this further compartmentalizes enrichment where activities can take place and any activity outside of these locations would be an immediate violation. The facilities would be operated as a perimeter portal site which would be continuously monitored. The other advantage of this proposal is that this approach from the point of view of Iran still justifies the large funds expended on the Iranian enrichment program making it easier for Iran to sell domestically. A multilateral enrichment plant probably does not make much sense economically for low capability machines such as the IR-2m or even higher generation machines, but it does allow Iran to save-face, which may to them be more significant than economic gains. Others have suggested that a multilateral enrichment agreement is the wrong approach stating that:

“winning the right to enrichment and international support for a nuclear programme after successfully defying the demands of the Security Council and the IAEA Board, however, is hardly a model one would wish to see emulated.”

In the past, Geoffrey Forden and John Thompson, formerly of MIT, proposed a similar option for a multilateral enrichment facility to solve the Iranian crisis. They recognized that a multilateral enrichment facility would only work if there were a way not only to detect cheating but also, crucially, to respond to it immediately. For example, they proposed a self-destruct mechanism for centrifuges, an extra circuit to cause an additional torque on the rotor causing the centrifuge “to crash catastrophically.” Ironically, at the time they proposed this idea, Stuxnet, the malware that destroyed 1/5th of Iran’s centrifuges was in its infancy. For additional safeguards, one could imagine coupling this self-destruct mechanism to an automatic trigger. The trigger could be in-line enrichment sensors such as CEM  (continuous  enrichment monitoring) and CHEMO (cascade header enrichment monitor) on UF6 piping to and from the centrifuge cascade hall. Currently, these systems are tuned to 20% enrichment as a threshold, but they could be set to less than 5% enrichment. The advantage of an automatic self-destruct mechanism of such a system is that the blame lies with the plant operator if the centrifuges self-destruct. These systems would be protected, not by tamper-indicating devices, but by tamper-triggering seals that trigger a set of actions that damage equipment. So that tampering with the seal to access the device would risk severe damage to the system. It is a different concept from tamper-indicating devices and admittedly does allow for the possibility of very costly mistakes, so safeguards would need to be in place to warn the unintentional operator that a mistake has been made.

Other ideas might be to co-locate the centrifuge facility with a conversion facility to UO2 or U3O8 so the the material is immediately converted after enrichment. In this way, the UF6 is never stored in the form of UF6  for a long period, and the conversion plant is tuned to the throughput of the enrichment plant. Of course, the UF6 could be converted back to UF6 but this adds an extra step and requires not only transporting the material outside of the facility but requires a clandestine facility that would convert the material back into UF6.  If the entire facility is operated as a portal monitoring system then transportation of UF6 out of the facility would be difficult to accomplish.

Another idea from the Fordon-Thompson Proposal learned from experience on inspecting Iraqi WMD sites is to track Iranian experts in centrifuge design. The authors point out:

“Through  their  frequent inspections  in Iraq,  weapons  inspectors got  to  know who  was  important  and  capable  so  that  when  those people moved to other facilities red flags were raised, especially  when  several  with  complementary weapons production skills were present… Iranian technicians and scientists working at the joint facility would, almost by definition, become the local experts on enrichment. Western technicians would be working side-by-side with the Iranian technicians and scientists  and  would  come  to  know  their  skills  and capabilities.”

Tracking known experts could be done in more overt ways as an agreed component of the proposal where devices continually monitor the location of these experts. This would however be very intrusive for the scientists and engineers and will probably be unacceptable. The point of this is to isolate and compartmentalize the activities to just the areas where the enrichment sites are and where the centrifuges are being built. As the authors point out:

“Thus, any new covert facility  would  have  to  start  from  scratch  and without much of the information and skills they have so painfully and expensively—both in money and in political baggage—learned since February 2006.”

Don’t Expect 100% Verification

One of the challenges of the Princeton proposal and other similar proposals is to verify that enrichment is not performed clandestinely elsewhere in the country. This is a difficult task because the concern would be that upgrades to better centrifuges would mean that it would be easier to hide a centrifuge plant, which would be modest in size, but would be large enough to produce a bomb.

However, this is a fundamental problem with the concept of verification, that is, 100% verification is simply unattainable, just as it is impossible to have a detector with no uncertainty. Furthermore, a cost-benefit analysis is always done on what is financially feasible for a verification protocol and what is not. Often this fact is not understood placing unreasonable demands on detecting cheating in verification regimes. Recognizing that 100% verifiability is not possible, former U.S. Ambassador Paul Nitze coined the term “Effective Verification” as the measure by which an inspection regime should be judged, which can be summarized as:

“If the other side moves beyond the limits of the treaty in any militarily significant way, we would be able to detect such violation in time to respond effectively and thereby deny the other side the benefit of the violation”

The positions on both sides are becoming more and more entrenched, face-saving solutions, such as Princeton’s proposal are ways of getting to a compromise, but the agreement must have teeth beyond the safeguards in the JPOA. A promise to not enrich is not enough. The safeguards arrangements need not be 100%, but the program must be effectively verifiable. This means that violations should be detected before any militarily significant advantage is attained or breakout time is reached.

Finally, just because 100% verification is not feasible, that does not mean that the agreement is not effectively verifiable, besides national technical means there are other ways of detecting violations. If one thinks somebody is lying, one looks for any sign, any inconsistency, that indicates evidence of a lie. This is why indicators like the past possible military dimensions of Iran’s program, careful scrutiny of bookkeeping records, and analysis of the status of its missile program become important to understand Iran’s intent. This will be important for understanding developments in the past, now, and for decades into the future. Of course, the devil is in the details with all of these proposals, and details will need to be wrung out in careful negotiations.

A note from the founding publisher: Jeffrey here. I wonder about the time we spend on such proposals.  Don’t get me wrong — the ideas are completely sensible.  But I sometimes think they are efforts to find technical solutions to an ultimately political problem.

Readers know that I am skeptical of emphasizing breakout as a measure of any agreement. The real danger is that Iran will build covert facilities.  For my part, I suspect that any deal will ultimately leave Iran with a lot of capability to breakout at declared sites or, more likely, to deploy centrifuges at covert sites. I support technical efforts to resolve such problems, but there is always some irreducible risk that arises from the hostility between Iran and many other countries. In Iran’s case, it’s likely to be a large, irreducible risk.

The best we can hope for, I suspect is a political solution that offers Iran compelling benefits to remain inside the nonproliferation regime, monitored in such a way that the Supreme Leader concludes a covert site will probably be detected. Even such an agreement might have a no better than 50/50 chance of working over the course of, say, a decade. But that might be the limit of our power.  We can shape the Supreme Leader’s preferences, but that’s about it.  If he ultimately wants a bomb, he’s going to get one, whether we bomb the heck out of Iran or not.

The important thing is not to let the best be the enemy of the good.  The final deal with Iran will be far from perfect. But if it offers a reasonably verifiable gap between the Supreme Leader and the bomb, along with real benefits that entice Tehran to comply, the Obama Administration will have done a competent job.  Others will argue, in that charmless Washington way, that they would have gotten a better deal.  Don’t believe them!  And, even if you do, don’t get suckered by the promise of a deal that is not on offer. You know what they say about your grandmother’s testicles. Our choices will be limited — the deal, an Iranian bomb, or a war.  Like it or not, it won’t be much of a choice. JGL


Greetings from Wilton Park.

I am sitting here next to the Big Swede himself, very occasional contributor Andreas Persbo. He says tjenare.

Did you know the UK nearly let the Soviets see inside a Blue Danube nuclear warhead in 1961?  Talk about transparency!

The context was test ban negotiations between the United States, United KIngdom and Soviet Union in 1960. It’s an interesting little story.

Black Boxed Bombs

The United States wanted to negotiate a test ban that permitted both “peaceful nuclear explosions,” as well as a limited number of additional nuclear explosions to better understand the seismicity of underground nuclear explosions under the “seismic improvement program”.

Not surprisingly, the Soviets believed this would allow the United States to develop and stockpile new nuclear weapons.

True to the American character, Washington earnestly proposed a totally unworkable pool of US, UK, and Soviet nuclear weapons that would be “black boxed” — set aside in advance of the treaty under some impartial authority that would make them available for limited purposes. The US contribution would most likely have been some number of Mark VII warheads.  The Soviets said they weren’t interested in contributing to such a pool, but would insist on the blueprints for any US or UK warheads in the pool and the right to look inside to confirm the warheads matched the designs.

The United States balked at that idea, although the Eisenhower Administration appears to have briefly considered letting the Soviets look inside a gun-type device.  If you are interested in more detail, I recommend William E. Ogle, An Account of the Return to Nuclear Weapons Testing by the United States After the Test Moratorium 1958-1961 pp.170-177 and The Making of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, 1958-1963,William Burr and Hector L. Montford, editors, August 8, 2003.

Blue Danube

The Washington had a better idea: Maybe the Soviets would be satisfied with seeing a British nuclear weapon?

US officials were not willing to give up on additional explosions to calibrate seismic monitoring capabilities, but believed Congress would never allow the Soviets to peek inside a US nuclear weapon. Some US officials thought Congress might be persuaded if the US had reciprocal access to a Soviet weapon, but Moscow wasn’t interested in contributing to the pool.

Hence, the idea of using British weapons. The UK was prepared to make available a British weapon for the pool, allowing the Soviets to inspect the warheads. Is it too soon to make a Klaus Fuchs joke?

The story is recounted in some detail in British Nuclear Weapons and the Test Ban 1954–1973 by John Walker.  (See especially pp 145-157.)  Since we’re operating under the Chatham House Rule, I couldn’t possibly confirm that it was John Walker who mentioned it in the meeting. Walker writes:

The MOD told the Foreign Office on 22 February 1961, shortly before the Foreign Office Minister of State went to Washington to discuss testing issues, that in the last resort, after the US had proved itself quite unable to overcome its present difficulties over the safeguards issue, and if as a result the Geneva talks were threatened with collapse, it would favour offering a UK device as a means of breaking this impasse.  However, this offer would be limited to the UK’s first generation nuclear weapon, Blue Danube, while safeguarding the security of ancillary equipment.

Although Blue Danube was still in service, it was a simple and extremely large device that would soon be retired.

As it turns out, the Soviet Union broke the moratorium in August 1961. With that, there was no longer to any requirement to let the Soviets peek inside a US or UK nuclear weapon. The three parties eventually negotiated a limited test ban that prohibited nuclear explosions in the atmosphere, outer space and under water — but not underground.  That would have to wait until the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which has yet to enter-into-force.

What is interesting to me, though, is that the UK almost let the Soviets do it — and at the height of the Cold War, no less.  That is worth remembering when people get the vapors about the UK-Norway Initiative or other efforts to verify warhead dismantlement.


Gessner “Gave Them All of It” Anyway

Speaking of Klaus Fuchs — at the same time the United States was reluctant to disclose design information on the Mark VII to the Soviet Union, a US army nuclear weapons technician was doing quite a bit to, er, enhance the transparency of US nuclear weapons designs including the Mark VII.

George John Gessner, an Army private, completed an 18 week course in the Army Ordnance Nuclear Weapons School at Sandia in September 1960 to qualify as a nuclear weapons maintenance specialist. “As part of the Sandia course [Gessner] was instructed on the internal construction and firing system of the Mark VII nuclear weapon, and the design and operation of the 280-millimeter and 8-inch gun-type nuclear weapons,” the 10th Court of Appeals wrote, “the information he eventually transmitted to the Russians.”

It seems Gessner became underwent a religious conversion and became quite worried about nuclear war.  He related a plan to his fellow soldiers to plant a nuclear weapon at the United Nations to hold world leaders hostage until they agreed to some sort of international peace treaty.  He eventually went  AWOL in December 1960, traveling to Mexico City where he visited the Soviet Embassy and disclosed design information about three US nuclear weapons.  He eventually made his way to Panama, where he was arrested.

Gessner confessed after an Army Chaplain urged him to “come clean with the Lord.”  Gessner blurted out “I gave them all. I gave them all of it.”  Apparently, Gessner forgot that while he might have given his soul to the lord, his ass still belonged to the US Army. Gessner was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, but was released in 1968 after a court concluded his confession had been coerced.   As best I can tell he died in Texas in 1974.

Strangely, no one in any of the US or UK documents mentions that many designs they wanted to keep secret had been, at least in part, compromised by espionage.


Hey, look, the Government of Burma has officially responded to a pair of articles by Catherine Dill and I describing  a suspect defense facility near Pauk:

Speaking on May 15, U Ye Htut said he strongly objected to report.

“But I do not think we need to pay attention to such a small organisation,” said U Ye Htut, who is also the Deputy Minister of Information. 

“Every country is improving their national defences and the United States and United Nations have had nothing to say about our weapons factory at Pauk,” he said.

I think we’ve got their attention.  Wait until they read our coming rundown on the North Korean missile facility near Minbu, followed by the revelation of several new facilities.

The short version is this:  One of Burma’s ruling Generals, Thein Htay, controls something called the Directorate of Defense Industries.  The US Treasury Department has sanctioned Thein Htay and DDI for its ties to North Korea.

DDI seized a bunch of farmland and razed a village near Pauk to build a giant defense factory.  When reporters published a story based on interviews with locals, the government arrested the journalists and seized all copies of the magazine.  Burma refused to say what the facility is — other than to say it is none of anyone’s business — and the reporters are still in jail.

Burma signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993.  Despite repeated promises to do so, Burma has still not ratified the CWC.

And despite repeated promises to the Obama Administration to cut off cooperation with North Korea, DDI’s facilities have dramatically expanded since 2009.

I don’t know whether the facility near Pauk is a chemical weapons plant as locals allege, but I can’t imagine a country acting more suspicious than Burma in the past few months.

You can read our articles – an CNS analysis of satellite images of the site and a Foreign Policy essay on why we ought to care – or listen to Aaron Stein and I discuss the matter in a podcast.


Catherine Dill and I have published a pair of articles concerning allegations that Burma’s generals are building a chemical weapons facility near a place called Pauk.  The article published on the CNS website analyzes satellite images of the site, while the other in Foreign Policy explains why we ought to care.

The short version is that the facility at Pauk is one of a number of sites being built by the Directorate of Defense Industries (DDI), which is believed to be responsible for the arms trade with North Korea.  The Obama Administration has largely neglected nonproliferation concerns, understandably calculating that democratization in Burma would take care of the relationship with North Korea, as well as any illicit weapons programs.  That argument is lot harder to make now, especially given the Burmese government’s detention of the journalists who original reported the story.  Burma’s North Korea and nonproliferation problems show that some Burmese generals remain a law unto themselves, which is really a democratization problem.

In the coming weeks, we’re going to write more about Burma — revisiting some known DDI facilities, revealing some new ones.   The take-away, though, is simple:  Since the Obama Administration began to engage Burma to encourage a transition to democratic , the Directorate of Defense Industries has expanded.    If the Obama Administration wants to sustain its engagement with Burma, it has to make nonproliferation concerns a real priority.

That starts with insisting that Myanmar ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention (instead of making repeated promises to do so).

I always enjoy the comments here at ACW, so I wanted to share the information and see what folks had to say.


My friend and colleague at Monterey, Philipp Bleek, has been growing weary of the frequent mischaracterization of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, particularly as its relates to Ukraine’s renunciation of nuclear weapons.

He was kind enough to share his weary reflections based on a new article he’s published, the work of our mutual colleague Jeffrey Knopf, and the very strange notion of actually reading the text of the Memorandum.

Reading the (not so) fine print


Why Ukraine wasn’t a nuclear power in the early 1990s and the West has no legal obligation to come to its aid now

Philipp Bleek

Following Putin’s Crimean land grab and ongoing mischief in eastern Ukraine, Kiev’s mid-1990s decision to give up the nuclear weapons on its soil after the collapse of the Soviet Union has suddenly gotten a lot more attention. But armchair pundits have been mischaracterizing both Ukraine’s early-1990s nuclear capabilities and the commitments it received in exchange for giving them up.

The fact that Ukraine never had operational control over the weapons in its possession is often ignored. While it had physical control, it’s not clear former Soviet military personnel would have executed Ukrainian launch orders, and regardless Kiev lacked the codes to overcome the permissive action links, electronically encrypted locks to prevent unauthorized use. (Conversely, Ukraine might have been capable of impeding a Russian attempt to launch nuclear weapons on its soil.) As negotiations over the weapons’ status dragged on into the mid-1990s, Western intelligence agencies were reportedly concerned that Ukraine was making efforts to gain operational control over the weapons, but no reports have emerged that it was successful in doing so. And when Ukraine publicly suggested it might seek operational control, Russia made clear this would constitute an act of war.

It’s possible Ukraine might eventually have managed to obtain control over the weapons. But at a minimum the frequent characterization of Ukraine (as well as Belarus and Kazakhstan) as nuclear-armed states that chose to disarm misses some key nuances. (Relatedly, a fellow policy wonk in Kiev reports that rumors are circulating that Ukraine covertly retained some tactical nuclear weapons that might come into play now. That seems highly implausible, if admittedly difficult to conclusively rule out.) And even if Ukraine had somehow managed to hold onto nuclear weapons, it’s far from clear they would have helped rather than hurt in the current situation. During the political instability after President Yanukovych fled to Russia in February, command and control of those weapons would presumably have been uncertain—much as it was in the Soviet Union during the 1991 coup against Gorbachev—and Moscow would have had substantial motivation to intervene aggressively to ensure the weapons were secure. (Founding publisher Jeffrey Lewis has a lengthier discussion here.)

As for the purported treaty commitment to come to Ukraine’s aid, that appears to be based on a misreading (or non-reading) of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum that extended guarantees to Ukraine in exchange for its joining the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapons state. Signed by Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom (with France and China, the other two NPT nuclear weapons states, separately making similar commitments), the document was part of the price Ukraine demanded in order to join Belarus and Kazakhstan in transferring nuclear weapons on their soil after the collapse of the Soviet Union to Russia, a diplomatic coup for the Clinton administration, eager to prevent the emergence of new nuclear-armed states.

A lot of folks, including apparently a former British ambassador to Moscow, now seem convinced that NATO’s failure to respond more robustly to Russia’s crass annexation of Crimea, and perhaps more of Ukraine in the coming weeks, violates commitments the United States and United Kingdom made under the agreement. One gets the impression that many of those opining about the Budapest Memorandum haven’t read it, despite the fact that it’s readily accessible online, only a few hundred words long, and written in what passes as exceptionally clear language in the often arcane world of international law. At the risk of being snarky (and what fun is an Arms Control Wonk blog post without a little snark?), it’s tempting to cite Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous query after the Clinton administration failed to foresee the 1998 nuclear tests India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) conducted shortly after winning election and consistent with their published election manifesto: “Why don’t we learn to read?”

In that spirit, let’s review the key points of the Budapest Memorandum (there are only six, condensed a little here, available in their full glory at the various links above). Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom all committed to:

1) Respect the independence, sovereignty, and existing borders of Ukraine;

2) Refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and pledged that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defense or otherwise in accordance with the UN Charter;

3) Refrain from economic coercion;

4) Seek immediate United Nations Security Council action to assist Ukraine, should it be threatened or attacked with nuclear weapons;

5) Not use nuclear weapons against Ukraine unless attacked by Ukraine in association or alliance with a nuclear-armed state;

6) Consult if a situation arises that raises a question concerning these commitments.

That’s it. Russia is pretty clearly in violation of its end of the bargain (though Moscow argues the West is the violator for having “indulged a coup d’etat” that ousted President Victor Yanukovich). Washington and London have obligations to consult with Moscow—of which they’ve been doing plenty—but it’s hard to read any further obligations into the agreement.

Russia’s cavalier disregard for Ukraine’s sovereignty is doubly troubling because it sets a rather unhelpful nonproliferation precedent. There is something close to consensus among scholars and policymakers that security guarantees—the more robust sort, anyway—do play a key role in dissuading countries from pursuing their own nuclear arsenals (shameless plug, I have a just-published article that seeks to bolster that consensus). Whether and to what degree lesser guarantees, of the sort Ukraine received and the nuclear weapons states have extended to non-nuclear weapons states in the context of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, aid nonproliferation efforts is more contentious.

To the extent that such lesser assurances matter, the precedent of Russia’s seizure of Crimea, and perhaps more of Ukraine in the coming weeks, in blatant violation of its commitments in Budapest, seems unlikely to encourage future countries mulling giving up nuclear or other potential deterrent capabilities. But arguably neither did NATO’s military support to the effort to topple Gaddhafi not long after he agreed to renounce his nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs (though it’s worth emphasizing that in Gaddhafi’s case those capabilities weren’t very robust).

Ukraine’s leaders in the mid-1990s, and for that matter Gaddhafi’s regime more recently, were presumably under no illusions about how binding commitments they received were. But leaders in Kiev, and perhaps also Tripoli, appear to have calculated that even less-binding commitments would have some political effect. As my colleague Jeffrey Knopf, who has published some of the most thoughtful scholarship on security assurances, pointed out in response to an earlier draft, future nonproliferators may not be willing to settle for so little.





Over the weekend, Foreign Policy posted a column of mine on Russia’s compliance, or lack thereof, with the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).  The short version is that, while the the treaty is loosely worded, the Russians appear to be deploying two systems that are inconsistent with its viability — what I like to call the RS-26 “intermediate-range ICBM” and the R-500 cruise missile..  These systems pose  a political problem, since they appear design to deter Western European states from meeting their NATO obligations to new NATO members like Poland and the Baltics.  Since the challenge is a political one to the cohesion of NATO, my recommendations are largely political in nature.  We don’t need new intermediate range nuclear forces, which would probably divide the alliance.  But we should make Russian noncompliance a public issue, in both the next State Department Compliance Report and in a public speech by the Secretary of Defense. I would also propose a study of conventionally-armed intermediate range forces, an amendment of a suggestion by Bridge Colby, to remind Moscow why it agreed to the INF Treaty in the first place.  I wouldn’t deploy such systems, of course, if we could resolve the issues relating to the RS-26 and R-500.

There are always little odds and ends that I can’t work into the piece, but this week there are more than usual.

Also, the comments at Foreign Policy can be a little … well … um … I have the greatest readers in the world here at ACW!

1. I have a pretty grim view of the situation in Moscow.  The short version is that I take Putin at his word when says the collapse of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century.  I take that to mean that he believes Gorbachev should have used force to prevent the loss of the Warsaw Pact and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. If I am right about that, this view explains why he is willing to murder dissidents, journalists and bankers, send the riots police into club protestors and now dismember neighboring states.  This isn’t a bad time to re-read either Kennan’s long telegram, or his “Mr. X” article in Foreign Affairs.  Here’s a pretty fair sample:

Now it lies in the nature of the mental world of the Soviet leaders, as well as in the character of their ideology, that no opposition to them can be officially recognized as having any merit or justification whatsoever. Such opposition can flow, in theory, only from the hostile and incorrigible forces of dying capitalism. As long as remnants of capitalism were officially recognized as existing in Russia, it was possible to place on them, as an internal element, part of the blame for the maintenance of a dictatorial form of society. But as these remnants were liquidated, little by little, this justification fell away, and when it was indicated officially that they had been finally destroyed, it disappeared altogether. And this fact created one of the most basic of the compulsions which came to act upon the Soviet regime: since capitalism no longer existed in Russia and since it could not be admitted that there could be serious or widespread opposition to the Kremlin springing spontaneously from the liberated masses under its authority, it became necessary to justify the retention of the dictatorship by stressing the menace of capitalism abroad.

This began at an early date. In 1924 Stalin specifically defended the retention of the “organs of suppression,” meaning, among others, the army and the secret police, on the ground that “as long as there is a capitalistic encirclement there will be danger of intervention with all the consequences that flow from that danger.” In accordance with that theory, and from that time on, all internal opposition forces in Russia have consistently been portrayed as the agents of foreign forces of reaction antagonistic to Soviet power.

By the same token, tremendous emphasis has been placed on the original Communist thesis of a basic antagonism between the capitalist and Socialist worlds. It is clear, from many indications, that this emphasis is not founded in reality. The real facts concerning it have been confused by the existence abroad of genuine resentment provoked by Soviet philosophy and tactics and occasionally by the existence of great centers of military power, notably the Nazi regime in Germany and the Japanese Government of the late 1930s, which indeed have aggressive designs against the Soviet Union. But there is ample evidence that the stress laid in Moscow on the menace confronting Soviet society from the world outside its borders is founded not in the realities of foreign antagonism but in the necessity of explaining away the maintenance of dictatorial authority at home.

Now the maintenance of this pattern of Soviet power, namely, the pursuit of unlimited authority domestically, accompanied by the cultivation of the semi-myth of implacable foreign hostility, has gone far to shape the actual machinery of Soviet power as we know it today. Internal organs of administration which did not serve this purpose withered on the vine. Organs which did serve this purpose became vastly swollen. The security of Soviet power came to rest on the iron discipline of the Party, on the severity and ubiquity of the secret police, and on the uncompromising economic monopolism of the state. The “organs of suppression,” in which the Soviet leaders had sought security from rival forces, became in large measures the masters of those whom they were designed to serve. Today the major part of the structure of Soviet power is committed to the perfection of the dictatorship and to the maintenance of the concept of Russia as in a state of siege, with the enemy lowering beyond the walls. And the millions of human beings who form that part of the structure of power must defend at all costs this concept of Russia’s position, for without it they are themselves superfluous.

As things stand today, the rulers can no longer dream of parting with these organs of suppression. The quest for absolute power, pursued now for nearly three decades with a ruthlessness unparalleled (in scope at least) in modern times, has again produced internally, as it did externally, its own reaction. The excesses of the police apparatus have fanned the potential opposition to the regime into something far greater and more dangerous than it could have been before those excesses began.

But least of all can the rulers dispense with the fiction by which the maintenance of dictatorial power has been defended. For this fiction has been canonized in Soviet philosophy by the excesses already committed in its name; and it is now anchored in the Soviet structure of thought by bonds far greater than those of mere ideology.

That’s Putin’s mental world – one he inherited as a loyal KGB man and the reason he laments the loss of the Soviet Union. He really thinks we’re out to get him and there is no reassuring him.

2. In my piece, I speculate that the RS-26 is a two-stage SS-27 Mod 2.   Others have suggested that the RS-26 may be a land-based Bulava. I lean against that hypothesis few  reasons.  First, a Russian official has said it was developed on the basis of the RS-24.  That is a vague comment, but it is hard not to interpret in light of the fact that the SS-20 was simply a two-stage SS-16.  The RS-26 appears to be a two-stage missile that just barely makes ICBM-range depending on the payload; the Bulava is a three-stage ICBM with an 8,000 km range.  Moreover, Bulava has had a number of developmental problems.  It is possible that the RS-26 is a two-stage Bulava, but the simplest answer is still a two-stage SS-27.  All the more reason for State to raise the issue in the compliance report.

3.  Some of the problem arising from the range of the R-500 cruise missile, which may be as much as  2,000 km, is really a problem of Kaliningrad.  The geography of Eastern and Central Europe is such that there isn’t really much Russia can do with a 2,000 km-range cruise missile that it can’t do better with a 500 km range cruise missile — unless you put the R-500s in Kaliningrad.  That suggests that Kaliningrad’s status as isolated Russian encalve amidst NATO nations is probably an important challenge for NATO and Russia to work out.  But those are long, complicated questions to which I don’t have any answers.

4. Also, the Iskander is probably conventionally armed, which raises the question of  whether we should care if  Russia cheats on the INF treaty — the N is for nuclear — with conventional missiles.  The treaty text makes no distinction among nuclear or conventional missiles — its formal title is The Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Elimination of Their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles –  but let’s not kid ourselves.  If the SS-20 delivered GOЯBY dolls, it would have been a short walk in the woods for Paul Nitze.

5.  Finally, a colleague noted something about the name of the RS-26 Rubezh. Rubezh is usually translated as Frontier. Since the SS-20 was, in Russian, the Pioneer, I figured it was a cowboy thing.  Nope.  It’s more like “border” or “demarcation” as in “this missile is right on the border between INF and New START” or “Ric James is a habitual line stepper“.  The Russian MoD is trolling NATO.

6. The first draft contained an extended discussion of the debate over INF within the Reagan Administration between Richard Burt and Richard Perle — the “two Richards.” (Although I am certain no one called them the two Richards.)  That discussion draws on two excellent books by Strobe Talbott about arms control during the period, Deadly Gambits and Master of the Game. (My younger colleagues might not realize what a great journalist Talbott was before becoming a principal in his own right.) The important point is that the Reagan Administration pursued a “zero option” of banning all intermediate-range nuclear forces in a treaty with the Soviets largely because Richard Perle thought zero was a poison pill that the Russians would never swallow.  But Gorbachev, who was plenty worried about the Pershing-2 and sensible in general, ultimately agreed to Perl’s surprise.  Richard Perle, far from being happy, resigned in March 1987, telling a colleague “It’s getting to be springtime for arms control around here.”  I love that story.

7.  Finally, my colleague Nikolai Sokov has a different view that he has outlined here and elsewhere.  I enjoy roping Nikolai into these discussions and couldn’t figure out how to link to his pieces.  I managed to include a lot of links to Pavel Podvig’s excellent site, but I can’t say enough nice things about his work.


If you follow me on Twitter or happen to be friends with me on Facebook, then you know I don’t think very much of Mr. Edward Snowden. From the beginning of this story, I have said that Snowden is more like Phillip Agee, than Daniel Ellsberg.  I do not consider him a whistleblower, but rather an agent of a hostile power, in this case Moscow.

It occurred to me the other day, however, that I’ve never set down in writing the precise nature of my concerns about Snowden and his actions. Now that Snowden is doing propaganda shorts for the Russians and the Guardian has joined Walter Duranty as a Pulitzer Prize winner, I figured I should say a few words about why I don’t think Snowden is on the level.

I have long been interested in intelligence for personal and professional reasons.  On a personal basis, I am a lapsed philosopher concerned largely with questions of epistemology — how we know things.  Intelligence is a fascinating area of applied epistemology.  Since one is primarily concerned with secrets — things you are not supposed to know — determining whether something in the intelligence realm is true or not is pretty interesting.  One labors under all kinds of arbitrary constraints on knowing, from official secrecy, unreliable first person accounts, inferences based on imagery and other data, and finally the possibility that the other side is feeding disinformation into the system.  The “wilderness of mirrors” that drove James Jesus Angleton insane is precisely what I find most interesting.

On a professional basis, most of what we know about foreign nuclear weapons programs comes from intelligence. Understanding national security decision making requires understanding the intelligence process that informs (or fails to inform) those decisions.  The fiasco in Iraq is the obvious example, but there are others.  Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrohkin’s The Sword and Shield offers a pretty damning picture of how the Soviet intelligence service controlled the Politbureau by controlling the flow of information to its members.

So, I think a lot about spies, and spying.

Before I start on Ed Snowden, I should say a few things about Soviet, and now Russian, intelligence services.

First, Moscow and its friendly intelligence services run spies, as does the United States. Intelligence agencies also collect defectors.  This may seem obvious, but it is worth remembering that Rick Ames and Robert Hansen really were on Moscow’s payroll.  (To say nothing of the illegals then and now.) The Cubans ran Anna Montes, and happily supported Phillip Agee.  Although calling someone a spy or traitor is a distressingly common political tactic, that does not mean that there are not spies and traitors. Joe McCarthy was a demagogue who made many false accusations.  That doesn’t mean that the Rosenbergs, or Alger Hiss, were innocent.

Second, Moscow has an irritating tendency to try and weasel its way into Western groups that favor peace and disarmament. The most famous instance is the Generals for Peace in the 1980s — none of whom realized the East Germans were funding their activities.  Despite what the extreme right-wing will tell you, the vast majority of civil society groups, including peace and disarmament groups, are impervious to Russian efforts — but those of us interested in a better world have all been approached by the odd Russian “diplomat” who wants to discuss friendship between our two countries. Once in a while, the Russians find a fool who doesn’t give the so-called diplomat’s business card straight to the FBI.

Third, Moscow and its friendly intelligence services would often encourage individuals to seek specific positions to gather intelligence. The Cubans, for instance, encouraged Anna Montes to leave the Department of Justice for other jobs with greater access to classified information.  She ended up at the Defense Intelligence Agency. The Soviets did the same with Christopher Boyce (aka The Falcon), encouraging him to learn Russian or Chinese, then get a job in intelligence. (FYI: Boyce thinks Snowden is a kindred spirit. No kidding.)

Fourth, the Russians tend to launder intelligence to hide sources of information. So, for example, Robert Hansen apparently betrayed in 1980 a GRU officer named Dmitri Polyakov who was working for the United States.  Moscow did not act against Polyakov until he was compromised a second time by Aldrich Ames in 1985.  When Ames was arrested, the question of who gave up Polyakov to the Soviets seemed clear — even though it wasn’t.

Now, about Mr. Snowden.  I find his story curious.  It goes something like this:

- In 2007, Snowden worked for the CIA in Geneva, where he soured on the methods of the United States intelligence community. He considered leaking some information but holds off.

- In 2009, Snowden took a job working for an NSA contractor in Japan. His disappointment with Obama hardened his resolve to leak information.

- In 2013, he took a job with Booz Allen in Hawaii for the express purpose of collecting US secrets that he will leak.

- After three months, in May 2013, he fled to Hong Kong because it has a strong commitment to free speech.

- After Hong Kong made it clear he must leave, Wikileaks arranged asylum and travel documents to Ecuador.  But the United States canceled his passport, which meant Moscow was legally bound to prevent his transit to safe harbor in Ecuador.

- After being stranded in the transit zone by the United States cancellation of his passport, he has no choice but to ask the Russians for asylum.

- His travel companion, Sarah Harrison, who does have valid travel documents, is allowed to remain in Russia through at least October 2013. (She goes to Germany in November 2013.)

This story makes no sense if you stop to think about it.

In 2007, Snowden is ready to leak — about what exactly?  He hasn’t worked for NSA yet. He admits that he has only information about ”people, not machines and systems.”

The claim about Obama is also ridiculous.  By the time Obama was the most likely Democratic nominee in mid-2008, he publicly supported the very FISA deal that was the subject of Snowden’s first leak.  (Greenwald will remember this as he launched a shameful campaign against Mort Halperin for supporting the same compromise, falsely accusing Halperin of trading his principles for a job in the Obama Administration.)  The “Obama has feet of clay” line is just hand-waving to distract those of us on the left who were disappointed by the balance struck by the Obama Administration on national security and civil liberties. Oh, Ed, we understand where you are coming from.  Barack Obama is just so disappointing, that I want to flee to Russia … oh, wait, that is insane.

The fact that Snowden sought jobs for the express purpose of collecting secrets ought to be a major red flag — why not just leak what he had from Japan that caused his attitude to “harden”?  Snowden’s behavior after Geneva seems awfully similar to how the Cubans handled Anna Montes, going from one job to another, taking requests for information.

And the flight to Hong Kong?  He said he fled to Hong Kong because it “has a strong tradition of free speech.”  Oh, for f*ck’s sake. Does he know anything about Hong Kong?  Does he know its not a British colony any more?

And transiting Moscow? The US canceled his passport, true.  But the Russians could have let him go to Ecuador. They stopped him because he is an amazing intelligence prize.

By the way, Snowden had other options: Hong Kong has direct flights to Jakarta — Indonesia is a democratic, non-aligned country which has no extradition treaty with the United States and a population that was genuinely upset by US intelligence efforts in that country.  But no — Ecuador, via Moscow and Havana, seemed like a much better idea to him.

Then we are supposed to believe the Russians, having detained him in transit, left him in the Sheremetyevo transit zone without debriefing him.  Right, and his Russian lawyer doesn’t run pro-Kremlin astroturf NGOs.

The same officious Russians, suddenly all Swiss about paperwork, do however allow Sarah Harrison — the Wikileaks representative who accompanied him to Moscow — to remain in Russia with no visa.  I’ve been asking on Twitter and Facebook for months how and why she was still in Russia, but no reporters seem interested in that little wrinkle. Harrison finally announced that she can’t return to the UK, but why?  What crime did she commit by meeting with Snowden or taking a flight from Hong Kong to Ecuador? Liz Gold comes to mind, though perhaps that gives her too much credit.

The suspension of disbelief necessary to swallow this story is impressive.

Let me offer a completely speculative scenario based on no evidence at all, just past behavior of Soviet and Russian intelligence.  My only question is whether this is more, or less, plausible than Snowden’s story.

A young CIA employee in Geneva becomes disillusioned and, one way or another, finds himself taking money from the Russians. Maybe he saw some bad things.  Maybe he’s just the sort of disgruntled employee who starts spying because it gratifies his sense that he’s smarter than the people around and above him.

The Russians encourage him to get a job at an NSA contractor in Japan, then a contractor in Hawaii — just as the Cubans and Soviets encourages Montes and Boyce to seek certain jobs.

He collects a lot of information, much of which is very harmful to the United States, if published.  This information is most harmful if, like Phillip Agee’s memoir, the author is seen as a “whistleblower” not a defector. Snowden goes to Hong Kong, where the Russians can handle him from the consulate.  After giving information to the Chinese, he heads to Moscow. The whole story with Ecuador and Wikileaks simply allows Snowden to keep up the pretense of being a whistleblower “stuck” in Russia, where he’s useful propaganda tool.

In this version of events, some of what Snowden reveals, he collected.  But Moscow can also safely launder information collected from other sources through Snowden.  They might even make up a few things.

I have no way of knowing whether Snowden’s version or this very generic spy story is true.  But Snowden’s version is a hell of lot harder to believe.  There are other possibilities — maybe Snowden did find himself in Hong Kong, way over his head, only to have Wikileaks deliver him to the Russians.  (Notice who had serious money problems, but now is flush after someone got a television show on RT and his political party took Moscow’s line on Ukraine?)  In this version, Wikileaks is just the Communist Party USA, funded from Moscow and Snowden is a dupe.

As best I can tell, the United States intelligence community does not think Snowden was a Russian asset, but I am with Edward Lucas on this.

Whatever his motives, Snowden had another option: If Snowden had limited his disclosures to the truly newsworthy — such as revealing abuses conducted under the 2008 FISA reauthorization — instead of targeting legitimate intelligence activities and if Snowden, like Ellsberg, had given the information to a member of Congress like Ron Wyden and remained in the United States to face the music, he’d be a whistleblower and hero.

But, instead, each thing he has done since fleeing the United States, from the scope of his disclosures to his softball questions to Vladimir Putin, persuade me that he is not acting in the best interests of our democracy.


Ever seen a picture of the Taiwan Research Reactor?  Me neither!

Readers may know that I am very interested in the history of Taiwan’s nuclear weapons efforts, as well as the death of IAEA Inspector Pierre Noir (although I do not suspect foul play).  If you are interested in the history of Taiwan’s bomb program, I can’t highly enough recommend David Albright and Corey Hinderstein’s “Nuclear Nightmare Averted” in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, along with the two document troves released by the National Security Archive (1|2).  And, if Pierre Noir interests you, there is  my research with Catherine Dill on the death of the IAEA inspector in 1978: 1|2|3.

A couple of years ago, I found the TRR in satellite images but never put it online.  I recently gave the assignment to a student who got close, but couldn’t quite find it.  So, here it is, just for the record.

The only image of the TRR I have ever seen is this pretty sad little AutoCAD-like illustration showing the relocation of the reactor core, along with some internal shots showing the decommissioning.

It’s not much but, when combined with the information that the TRR is located at the Institute for Nuclear Energy Research (INER) and probably looks like the NRX Reactor at Chalk River, in Canada, it’s enough.  Here is a (pretty terrible) map to the INER site:

The main gate to INER is located at: 24°51’27″N, 121°15’5″E. Once you have the location of INER (as well as the co-located Chung Shan Institute for Science and Technology), the rest is pretty easy.  Just take a look around.

The TRR is located at:  24°51’20″N, 121°15’19″E  Here is a satellite image you can match to the lousy illustration, as well as the pictures of the NRX. If you fool around with the historical imagery, you can even see external signs of the decommissioning work.