Arms Control Wonk ArmsControlWonk


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.




Whoops, somehow I initially published my notes for this piece instead of the piece itself. Here is the correct post.

Well, there are plenty of reasons to doubt Sy Hersh’s recent reporting implying that the chemical weapons attack on Ghouta was some sort of Turko-Saudi-Al Nusra false-front attack — I am rolling my eyes as I write it — and not a single one to buy any of it. Dan Kaszeta has explained all the technical problems with the scenario, while Aaron Stein provided a lot of the missing context here at ACW for things asserted about Turkey and Turkish foreign policy.

I don’t have much to add, the but the erstwhile Washingtonian in me noticed this passage:

Asked about the DIA paper, a spokesperson for the director of national intelligence said: ‘No such paper was ever requested or produced by intelligence community analysts.’

Normally, the response is to “no comment” specific reporting on intelligence matters. Does that mean it is a forgery? Because I love forgeries.

Well, I hate forgeries — but I find them fascinating.  I find it hard to explain why, other than to say I am interested in public policy as a discipline that studies national-security decisions.  Understanding who made what decision and why requires working with historical materials.  The notion that some of these materials might be forgeries — or that perhaps decisions were made on the basis of forgeries — has always struck me as interesting.  Perhaps that is also because, as someone who prefers Cold War history to other eras, the role of intelligence agencies in controlling information as part of a broader ideological struggle has always seemed like a central part of the Cold War story that seldom finds its way on to center stage.

There are always incentives to feed bum information into the analytic process.  This is sometimes called the  ”paper mill” problem.  William Hood — my favorite writer of spy fiction and nonfiction — has a lovely description of the “paper mill” problem in his nonfiction book, Mole.

The demand for intelligence was so great, and at the outset so undiscriminating, that a seller’s market sprang up.  Hundreds of agents found employment in one service or another — a few of the boldest attempted to work both sides of the street.  In Austria, and particularly Vienna, where honest work was hard to come by and scarcely paid a living wage, part-time spying became a cottage industry.

Neck and neck with the scores of agents who at least tried to do an honest job of spying — and perhaps occasionally reading over their shoulders — ran a horde of tricksters who scratched a living by compiling imaginative reports from refugee gossip and press gleanings. Emigres with intimate — if dated — knowledge of Eastern Europe, former Nazi intelligence officers, and con-men competed to peddle fabricated reports to any intelligence service gullible enough to buy them.  …

As CIA gained experience in the postwar operational climate and learned more about its targets in the east, the most egregious fabricators — some of whom were so prolific they were called “paper-mills” — were identified and put out of business.  But in 1952 espionage bunko games were still common.  Anyone volunteering information was suspect until his data and sources had been identified and tested. Recently, the station had spent hundreds of hours ferreting out the sources — nonexistent, as it turned out — of a former colonel in the prewar, Royal Yugoslav intelligence service. The information was trash, but the wily colonel had done a brilliant job of packaging it.

You probably already know about the forgeries suggesting that Iraq sought uranium in Niger. (Peter Eisner and Knut Royce wrote a book about them called The Italian Letter.) The Niger forgeries are a pretty decent example of a paper mill — although it is hard to say whether the goal was money or ideological.

And, of course, there were always the incentives of the Soviets to churn out forged documents to make its main adversary look very, very bad.  The Soviet Union churned out so many false stories to whip up anti-Americanism — disinformation like the false claim that AIDS was an escaped U.S. bio-weapon — that USIA had an entire program dedicated to responding to this stuff.

These active measures included forgeries, one of which I find especially interesting: Field Manual 30-31B (Honorable mention for PRM-46, a forged study on U.S. policy in “Black Africa” falsely attributed to the Carter NSC that is often racist in tone, evidently meant to make the United States look terrible in sub-Saharan Africa.)

FM-30-31B purports to be a supplement to FM-30-31, which apparently had a Supplement A.  The forged Supplement B, though, contains a description of what certain conspiracy types call “the strategy of tension” — the notion that CIA or conservative elements would stage terrorist acts to consolidate their control.  It’s the modern birth of the “false flag” conspiracy theory.  The original context of the forgery is the 1970s — following a number of terrorists attacks by Soviet-affiliated groups like the Red Army Faction in West Germany  and the Palestinian Black September organization.  The Soviets and their satellites were sensitive to the political blowback from their support for such groups — see how gingerly Markus Wolf treats the issue in his autobiography Man Without A Face — and found it convenient to blame the United States for those attacks — or at least to muddy the waters.

It is pretty much a straight line from thinking that NATO staged the “red terror” of the 1970s to concluding that 9/11 was an “inside job” — as illustrated by conspiracy theorists like Daniele Ganser, who started citing FM-30-31B in his book on NATO’s Secret Armies (with official beatdown) before graduating to 9/11 trutherism. There is a still a healthy belief in certain circles that the left-wing terror of the 1970s was all some plot by right-wing paramilitary organizations.  (This should not excuse the very many real instances of right-wing terror, which in the United States, for example, is quite common but underreported.)

Which brings us to the latest claims that Syria’s chemical weapons attack was some sort of false flag event.  The claim is nonsense of course, as Dan and Aaron make clear.  But what is also interesting is how neatly it fits into the pattern of previous disinformation efforts out of Moscow. Did one of the clients do a bad thing? Whether it’s the murderous glee of German Autumn or gassing the suburbs of Damascus, there are always fools willing to buy Moscow’s line that it’s one more CIA false-flag operation. Given how enthusiastically the Russians embraced the false-flag conspiracy from the moment Assad gassed Ghouta, it’s not surprising to see “sources” feeding the same line to reporters over and over.  Hell, Moscow’s now providing Sarin samples.

But it’s just a run-of-the-mill Moscow-driven disinformation campaign, like so many others. If the DIA report turns out to be forgery, rather than, say, taken egregiously out of context, then that won’t be so surprising.

Russian ICBMs
NATO RUSSIA Warheads Stages Fuel Basing Range (km) No.
SS-18 Mod 5 (SATAN) RS-20/R-36M2 (Voyevoda) 10 2 +PBV Liquid Silo


About 50

SS-19 Mod 3 (STILLETO) RS-18/UR-100NUTTH 6 2 +PBV Liquid Silo


About 50

SS-25 (SICKEL) RS-12M 1 3 +PBV Solid Road-mobile


More than 150

SS-27 Mod 1 RS-12M2 (Topol M) 1 3 +PBV Solid Silo & road mobile


About 80

SS-27 Mod 2 RS-24 (Yars) Multiple 3 +PBV Solid Silo & road mobile


About 20

New ICBM RS-26 (Rubezh) Undetermined At least 2 Solid Road mobile


Not yet deployed

(Samart) Multiple Liquid Silo

Not yet deployed

Source: NASIC, Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat, with a lot of help from Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces.

Sorry about the eye-chart, but I am trying to sort through the mess of Russian ICBMs. Having done what I think is a passable first cut, I wanted to crowdsource the rest of it.

The Russians have been modernizing their ICBM force, which means there are a mess of new designations in the past few years. Sometimes, these get confused in the press. I wanted to sort through them for something I plan to write on Russian compliance (or lack thereof) with the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Additional notes below the jump.  Comments welcome:

I’ve seen the NATO designation for the  SS-27 given as either SICKEL B or STALIN.  There are no definitive usages on .gov or .mil sites of either. I really hope it’s STALIN because that would be all sorts of mustachioed awesomeness.

There are some press reports that describe the Rs-24 Yars (SS-27 Mod 2) as the “SS-29″.  NASIC uses SS-27 Mod 2, which I believe reflects a dispute with the Russians. START prohibited increasing the number of warheads attributed to ICBMs, so the Russians claimed the RS-24 was a completely new ICBM.  (Pavel Podig explained this problem in great detail.) The US IC always believed that Yars was just a fancy Topol M in violation of the START Treaty, something that is reflected in both the Mod 2 designation and the illustrations showing the SS-27 Mod 1 and Mod 2 to be identical.

NASIC does not mention that Russia may deploy rail-mobile SS-27 Mod 2s.  Don’t want to overlook that.

If I had to guess, I would think “SS-X-29″ refers to the Rubezh, which is the missile that is causing one-half the INF troubles.  (The other missile is a ground-launched cruise missile.)  Pavel Podvig has a nice round-up on the missile and launcher, but I suspect the Rubezh is based on the first (and perhaps second) stage of the Topol-M/Yars.

The new liquid-fueled heavy ICBM is called Sarmat.  That doesn’t appear in the NASIC report, but its coming.  Another one we don’t want to forget.

Finally, there were reports of a missile called Vangaurd (or Avangard).  I wonder if that was an early name for Rubezh.  At this point, I think that one is vapor-ware.



Regular readers know I love public policy, especially perverse effects.  One of my favorite perverse effects is what I call “the cookie” problem after the plight of a beleaguered friend.  Let’s say you’ve come thisclose to cheating on a spouse or partner — but you don’t. Then you tell your spouse or partner about your heroic restraint. You’re going to catch hell, not get credit.  As I said to my friend, “What?  Did you expect a cookie?”

Drawing attention to something unwelcome often overwhelms any credit you get for taking steps to address that problem.  Even if other people are objectively better off, you will only suffer for bringing it up.

Tokyo discovered this phenomenon, when it announced it was returning more than 300 kilograms of plutonium and other fissile material.

Participants at a Nuclear Security Summit are supposed to show up with house-gifts. In 2014, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came with a good one: ”President Obama and Prime Minister Abe pledged to remove and dispose all highly-enriched uranium (HEU) and separated plutonium from the Fast Critical Assembly (FCA) at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) in Japan.”  (Announcement|Fact Sheet)

Matt Bunn has a characteristically perfect explanation of the material at the Fast Critical Assembly and why it represented a security threat. IPFM has some nice background, including a DOE document on the FCA.

The United States had apparently sought the return of the material for some time, but MEXT (the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) was reluctant.  State Department cables released by Wikileaks suggest the United States was worried about security at the Toka-mura.  In 2007, the US asked about security and got this not very reassuring answer: “Responding to U.S. concerns about physical protection of nuclear facilities, MEXT explained that an assessment of the local threat level did not justify posting armed guards at the Tokai-Mura facility, and that the GOJ is constitutionally prevented from requiring background checks of nuclear workers, due to privacy considerations.”  So, I am glad that MEXT is coughing up the plutonium.

But that doesn’t mean that Japan’s neighbors were delighted.  No one is sending Shinzo Abe any cookies.

Most of Japan’s neighbors had never thought for a moment about the material at the FCA.  In a decade of traveling to Beijing, I never once heard anyone demand that Japan return the material at the FCA.  The facility wasn’t secret — it has a website — and Japan annually publishes its plutonium stockpile.  But no one cared — until Japan agreed to give it back.

News of the impending return started to leak in February, with a story in Kyodo News. When I visited Beijing for an IISS meeting on China’s nuclear weapons and energy policies, all I heard about was that damned plutonium.  Why is it still there?  People told me straight to my face that they’d been concerned about it for years.  Maybe I just missed it, but I don’t have a single record of anyone in China complaining about the Fast Critical Assembly before now.  But they were complaining now. A cynical person might conclude that some of my Chinese colleagues were attempting to make up for nearly fifty years of ignoring the issue by issuing all their complaints in one meeting.  (Mark Fitzpatrick has written an excellent summary of the tone of these exchanges. Go ahead and click over to it — this post will still be here when you get back.)

This is a very human tendency — something I saw recently in Japan, as well.  During the early 2000s, then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi attempted to resolve the issue of Japanese citizens who had been abducted by North Korea. North Korea ultimately admitted to the abductions, providing information on their fates.  The Japanese public exploded in rage.  ”The Japanese people were driven much more by sorrow and anger over the deaths of the abductees than by happiness that some abductees were still alive,” Yoichi Funabashi wrote, explaining how public sentiment turned against North Korea once it admitted what everyone suspected.

A similar question may arise relating to Israel’s nuclear weapons program.  My colleague, Avner Cohen, has argued eloquently that refusing to acknowledge Israel’s status as a possessor of nuclear weapons is incompatible with Israeli democracy.  But I have this sneaking suspicion that were Israel to acknowledge having nuclear weapons, even while accepting disarmament obligations, Israel’s neighbors would be more, not less, angry.

Of course, Japan should have returned the plutonium — just as North Korea should make amends for the abductees and Israel should find a way to subject its nuclear weapons to democratic control.  Tokyo, Pyongyang and Jerusalem should do these things because they are the right thing to do.

But don’t expect a cookie.


Richard H. Speier, K. Scott McMahon and George Nacouzi have a new RAND monograph out entitled Penaid Nonproliferation: Hindering the Spread of Countermeasures Against Ballistic Missile Defenses.

The report is very simple, which is not to say simplistic. Speier et al believe the MTCR should be expanded to cover Penetration Aids (PENAIDS), which seems eminently reasonable to me.

PENAIDs are an important technology associated only with the sort of ballistic missiles captured under the MTCR. If one hopes that missile defense investments will deter, rather than spur, missile proliferation, the PENAID control is a must.  I have long thought that countermeasures are a serious challenge to the viability of missile defenses.  If we are serious about providing even limited defenses, we need to substantially revise current missile defense programs and start thinking about PENAID control.

The bulk of Speier et al report — and the part worth arguing about — concerns what subsystems the MTCR ought to control.  That’s a conversation worth having in the comments, I think.

In case you’d like a refresher on PENAIDS, or just like historical materials, here is a nice late-1980s USAF video.


Editor’s note:  I am holding to my commitment to make three blog posts a week, no excuses.  But my post today will be a short one.  So, to make up for that, here is the Managing the Atom’s Nick Roth answering the question …

What is the Future of Nuclear Security Cooperation between the US and Russia?

A guest post By Nick Roth, aka that guy ->

This week’s Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague was understandably overshadowed by the continuing international response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. One aspect of the Ukraine crisis that deserves more attention is how the current standoff will impact the future of nuclear security cooperation between the United States and Russia.

Although the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit achieved a great deal, the global nuclear security effort can only progress so far without Russia as an active participant. Russia was the most prominent of the handful of countries that didn’t sign on to a single “gift basket” at the summit. Did it commit to physical protection standards at least as strong as those recommended by the IAEA and to hosting a peer review of security practices?  Nope.  What about a commitment to securing Category I radioactive sources according the IAEA’s code of conduct for radiological security? Not at this time, thank you.

As my co-authors and I describe in our new report, Advancing Nuclear Security: Evaluating Progress and Setting New Goals, although Russia has made tremendous progress in securing its nuclear weapons and materials, because of the size and far-flung locations of Russia’s stockpile, Russia still presents one of the most significant challenges to reducing the global risk of nuclear terrorism. Russia has the most highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium of any country and the most HEU research reactors in the world. There is also a significant risk of insiders stealing nuclear material from its nuclear facilities. Not bringing Russia along in the nuclear security summit process is like trying to cure obesity in America, while ignoring fast food restaurants.

At the moment, Moscow does not appear to be ready to address outstanding questions about its nuclear materials and facilities. Russia’s nuclear security progress statement in The Hague ignores many major concerns. For example, it states: “There are no nuclear materials or facilities in Russia the level of physical protection of which gives ground to concerns. An effective nuclear safety and security system has been built and is maintained in Russia.”

We know, however, of numerous nuclear security shortcomings at Russian facilities. For instance, there are questions about whether security at nuclear sites is adequately funded. We also know of cases of corruption where senior managers at Russian HEU and plutonium processing facilities embezzled millions of dollars; where a government official who was responsible for conducting nuclear security inspections was taking bribes; or where even the former Minister of Atomic Energy was stealing millions of dollars. Russia’s statement does not address the potential for a threat within nuclear facilities or provide any details about allocating resources for nuclear security.

The message from Russia that there is nothing to worry about has become increasingly common over the last several years and indicates a declining interest among its leaders in working with the US to secure its nuclear stockpile. This was evident when Russia welcomed the expiration of the old Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction umbrella agreement last year. This attitude is also reflected in Russia’s statement in The Hague, which mentioned an interest in cooperating only on programs “aimed at supporting and strengthening the capacities of third countries in the field of nuclear security”—a welcome offer the United States should pursue, but only one element of nuclear security cooperation that should be much deeper and broader.

It is, perhaps, unrealistic to expect Russia to be a happy participant at an international summit when it is being isolated by much of the international community and branded a pariah. One could even argue that, despite its dispute with the United States and Europe, Russia’s participation in the summit is a positive sign that its officials understand addressing transnational threats like nuclear terrorism requires cooperation between states. The problem is determining how countries can work with Russia on this issue.

If they want to move the nuclear security ball forward, the United States and Russia need to find new and creative ways of recommitting to cooperation. The United States should move away from its paternalistic approach and engage with Russia as a true partner. We should be holding regular workshops to exchange ideas about how best to address problems that both sides face; regular visits to comparable key facilities in each country; and working together to minimize the number of locations where nuclear weapons, HEU, or separated plutonium ex­ist.

The United States must also recognize that cooperation is a two-way street, and our actions have an impact on how Russia and other countries perceive and portray US commitment on the issue–even if that portrayal is self-serving. Russia’s statement at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit noted that “the non-participation of certain States with large inventories of nuclear materials in these fundamental international legal instruments inhibits further steps on elaboration and adoption of new international legal documents and political commitments in the field of international cooperation on nuclear security and safety.”

The “certain states” here of course refers to us. When the United States does not take action on international initiatives, especially ones it spearheaded the negotiations of, it provides convenient cover for other countries to do the same. The United States has still not ratified the 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials (CPPNM) or the International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT), which require parties to criminalize acts related to nuclear terrorism. The implementing legislation for these ratifications continues to languish in the Senate because of a policy dispute between two Senators that should be resolvable with high-level engagement from the White House.  Failing to ratify these two agreements undermines US leadership on nuclear security.

Finally, there is a real risk that current tensions could further erode the already diminishing US support for working with Russia on nuclear security. We are already seeing members of Congress opposing programs that help Russia protect its nuclear facilities. The US policymakers must try to resist the temptation of placing lasting security above short-term political gain. Reducing the risk of nuclear terrorism can only be achieved by maintaining and continually improving security systems over the long haul. If the US fails to sustain its cooperation on nuclear security with Russia, there is a real risk that progress made over the past twenty years could be undone.


Prospects for international cooperation on securing nuclear material in Russia look bleak right now, but there could be a path forward. The fact is that the United States and Russia were not cooperating on nuclear security for the past twenty years because they were close allies; they were cooperating because it was in both countries’ national security interests to do so. Despite current tensions, this dynamic has not changed. What needs to change is the way both countries approach nuclear security cooperation.