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«Intelligence and nuclear proliferation: an introduction to the special issue This item was submitted to Loughborough University's Institutional ...»

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While physical manifestations of weapons programmes such as buildings can often be located, intelligence efforts can also be confounded through active deception efforts on the part of the target state, such as using dual-use facilities, building plants underground or using front companies and fake end-use declarations as part of strategic procurement efforts. While a certain amount of information can be inferred from the size, layout and history of facilities, it is still vital to discover what is actually taking place within them in order to keep pace with progress. Moreover, because it is extremely unlikely that everything required for a weapons programme can be produced domestically, monitoring financial transactions and procurement patterns becomes crucial and can be very productive avenues of inquiry for intelligence collection and analysis.17 Capability can, of course, be split into two because a theoretical capability is a very different prospect to a practical capability, yet the two do not necessarily follow on sequentially. In other words, a state may have the theoretical knowledge to construct a nuclear weapon, but lack the practical means to do so. Alternatively, of course, a state may have the practical means to build a weapon but lack the scientific know-how because of an inability to interpret theoretical plans, for example. But knowledge of capability alone, whether theoretical or practical, cannot reveal everything. Indeed, perhaps the first signal that a state may be contemplating a nuclear weapons programme will involve an assessment of intentions. However, intentions are far more difficult to discern than capabilities. As former CIA chief weapons hunter David Kay testified to the US Senate: ‘the real challenge for intelligence is going to be getting to our political leadership not just judgments about capabilities, but judgements about real intentions. And that is tough’.18 Indeed, when it comes to preventing proliferation the focus of intelligence efforts will be on gauging strategic intention; the desire to acquire a nuclear weapon in the first place. Yet, it may also be important to distinguish between other types of intention such as latent intention characterized by a desire to draw together the infrastructure and knowledge required to build a nuclear weapon, but without actually taking a political decision to do so. A tactical intention might include, for example, the desire to actually use a weapon once acquired or to retain it as a last resort capability. While the different types of intention may be related one does not necessarily imply another. Thus, the delineation between capabilities and intentions is not always a neat and tidy one. The close relationship between the two and the blurring of their use can, and has, led to poor quality intelligence estimates.19 Expanding the Literature Although in recent years proliferation-related intelligence has become a topic frequently mentioned in media reports, and has been central to recent crises and conflicts in Iran and Iraq, there is a remarkably small literature dedicated to this topic.20 Given the historic, current and future importance of the subject, and the need for policy makers to firmly grasp both the utility and limitations of intelligence in this context when formulating policy options, the limited nature of the literature is a cause of concern. It is for this reason that the Centre for Science and Security Studies, King's College London, organized a conference in June 2010 to examine the nature, role, utility and limitations of intelligence collection, analysis and assessment vis-à-vis the scientific, technical and motivational dimensions of nuclear proliferation. Funded as part of a grant from the MacArthur Foundation, the aim was to generate original knowledge and understanding of how nuclear intelligence has been and could potentially be applied to uncover and understand historical and contemporary cases of proliferation. An important underlying rationale was to understand the factors that have contributed to misjudgements on the part of intelligence organizations with regard to both under-estimating and over-estimating specific challenges and problems in the nuclear proliferation field. The importance of examining and learning from ‘misjudgements in both directions’ was highlighted in the UK context as a key lesson in Lord Butler's Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction following the Iraq invasion.21 Originally drafted for the conference in June 2010, the six articles in this special issue of Intelligence and National Security each address a specific issue under the broad header of intelligence and nuclear proliferation. The three contributions by Montgomery and Mount, Desouza and Lau, and Ryan all focus on the issue of intelligence success and failure. The papers collectively consider a range of case-studies – A. Q. Khan, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel and North Korea – and evaluate the performance of the US intelligence community. The results do not make for happy reading. Although there is clearly a recognition that nuclear weapons programmes represent some of the most difficult intelligence targets, and that active denial and deception techniques are the norm, the historical analyses in these studies suggest that the US has more often got it wrong than right in predicting when a nation might develop a nuclear capability. The authors have found, variously, challenges and problems at all stages of the intelligence cycle, from the identification of sources, to analysis, to politicization of the intelligence process. In many ways this should come as no surprise; indeed, it is somewhat reassuring to read that no one factor has consistently led to the failures. What these articles do highlight is that there is no quick fix to the problems and that the inherent difficulties of the intelligence challenge are such that success will be the rarity. This raises a further point, namely a reconsideration of what could or should be expected from the intelligence community in this arena?

The three other articles by Ogilvie-White, Acton and Schulte consider intelligence and nuclear proliferation in the context of international efforts to verify the compliance of states with formal non-proliferation commitments. As each of the authors illustrates, the use of intelligence by international verification organizations, notably the IAEA, has been fraught with controversy and contention primarily due to concerns, right or wrong, over the impartiality and questionable motives of some governments that provide information to assist the verification process. At the same time, however, it is also recognized that organizations like the IAEA need to enhance their collection and use of intelligence whether this is provided by member states, derived from open sources such as scientific and technical literature or accessed via commercial satellite imagery. The authors give due consideration to ideas to enhance the use of intelligence by international verification organizations and to reduce political opposition on the part of some states. Among other things, ideas are proposed for establishing a General Accountability Obligation on the part of states that sign up to international non-proliferation/disarmament commitments (Schulte); building wider support for cooperative intelligence initiatives among developing countries (Ogilvie-White);

and developing greater trust between the international verification organizations and national intelligence agencies (Acton). Ultimately, it becomes clear from the latter three articles that the barriers to moving forward in these respects are pretty formidable, and significant progress is unlikely to occur any time soon, if at all.

Notes 1 Reginald V. Jones, ‘Scientific Intelligence’, CIA Studies in Intelligence 6/3 (1962) p.76.

See: Wyn Q. Bowen, ‘Intelligence, Interdiction and Dissuasion: Lessons from the Campaign 2 against Libyan Proliferation’, in James R. Wirtz and Peter R. Lavoy (eds.) Over the Horizon Proliferation Threats (Stanford: Stanford University Press 2012) pp.221–39.

The Rt Hon The Lord Butler of Brockwell, Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction 3 Report of a Committee of Privy Counsellors, HC898, 14 July 2004, p.19.

For more see Wyn Q. Bowen, Libya and Nuclear Proliferation: Stepping Back from the 4 Brink. (Adelphi Paper 380: London 2006).

See Wyn Bowen and Michael Goodman, ‘Nuclear Reaction: The Intelligence on Iran's 5 Capabilities’, Jane's Intelligence Review, March 2008, pp.3–5.

David Albright and Paul Brannan, The New National Intelligence Estimate on Iran: A Step in the 6 Right Direction, Institute for Science and International Security, 22 March 2012 http://isisonline.org/isis-reports/detail/the-new-national-intelligence-estimate-on-iran-a-step-in-theright-directio/.

David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, ‘US and Allies Warn Iran Over Nuclear 7 “Deception”’, New York Times, 25 September 2009.

‘MI6 Chief Sir John Sawers: ‘We Foiled Iranian Nuclear Weapons Bud’, Daily Telegraph, July 8 2012 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/9396360/MI6chief-Sir-John-Sawers-We-foiled-Iranian-nuclear-weapons-bid.html.

Alexander G. Higgins, ‘Report: Iranian Defector Tipped Syrian Nuke Plans’, The Associated 9

–  –  –

Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, Spies against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars (Sea Cliff, 10 NY: Levant Books 2012) pp.314–15.

‘Background Briefing with Senior US Officials on Syria's Covert Nuclear Reactor and North 11 Korea's Involvement’, Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) Press Briefing, 24 April 2008 http://www.fas.org/irp/news/2008/04/odni042408.pdf.

Raviv and Melman, Spies against Armageddon, p.317.

12 Jason D. Ellis and Geoffrey D. Kiefer, Combating Proliferation: Strategic Intelligence and 13 Security Policy (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press 2004) p.196.

–  –  –

Butler. Review of Intelligence, p.38.

15 The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons 16 of Mass Destruction, Washington, DC, USGPO, 2005, p.502.

See Robert D. Blackwill and Ashton Carter, ‘Role of Intelligence’, ‘The Role of 17 Intelligence’, New Nuclear Nations: Consequences for U.S. Policy (New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press 1993), ch.9, pp.219–29.

Cited in Jacques E. C. Hymans, The Psychology of Nuclear Proliferation: Identity, Emotions, and 18 Foreign Policy (Cambridge: CUP 2006) p.216.

Michael S. Goodman, ‘Jones’ Paradigm: The How, Why, and Wherefore of Scientific 19 Intelligence’, Intelligence and National Security 24/2 (2009) pp.236–56.

There is some work on the subject. For example, Jeffrey Richelson, Spying on the Bomb:

20 American Nuclear Intelligence from Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea (NY: W. W. Norton 2006); Ellis and Kiefer, Combating Proliferation; Torrey C. Froscher, ‘Anticipating Nuclear Proliferation: Insights from the Past’, The Nonproliferation Review 13/3 (2006) pp.467–77;

Richard L. Russell, ‘A Weak Pillar for American National Security: The CIA's Dismal Performance against WMD Threats’, Intelligence and National Security 20/3 (2005) pp.466–85;

Maria Ryan, ‘Filling in the “Unknowns”: Hypothesis-Based Intelligence and the Rumsfeld Commission’, Intelligence and National Security 21/2 (2006) pp.286–315.

Butler, Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction, p.146.


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