National Security Archive Update, January 14, 2008
In 1974 Estimate, CIA Found that Israel Already Had a Nuclear
Stockpile and that
"Many Countries" Would Soon Have Nuclear Capabilities
Washington DC, January 14, 2008 - In the wake of the Indian "peaceful nuclear
explosion" on May 17, 1974 and growing concern about the spread of nuclear
weapons capabilities, the U.S. intelligence community prepared a Special National
Intelligence Assessment, "Prospects for Further Proliferation of Nuclear
Weapons," published today by the National Security Archive.
The 1974 Indian test created shock waves in the U.S. government, not only because
of its broader implications, but because the intelligence community had failed to
detect that it was imminent (This failure led to an intelligence post-mortem.)
The possibility that the Indian test might lead to a nuclear arms race in South Asia
and create new pressures for nuclear proliferation elsewhere induced the U.S.
government, which under Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had treated this problem
as a lower-level issue, to begin viewing developing policies to curb proliferation
as a higher priority.
That the SNIE estimated that "many countries" would have the economic and
technological capability to produce nuclear weapons by the 1980s underlined
the seriousness of the problem, as did another statement:
"Terrorists might attempt theft of either weapons or fissionable materials."
Noting that there were over 50,000 nuclear weapons in the world, the report
observed that"absolute assurance about future security is impossible."
The CIA released the 1974 SNIE in response to a FOIA request by National Security
Archive senior fellow Jeffrey Richelson, author of Spying on the Bomb: American
Nuclear Intelligence from Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea
(New York: W.W. Norton,2006). Quicker than usual, the CIA posted the SNIE on
its Web site before the National Security Archive published the document.
In response to the CIA posting, the estimate has already received some play
in the U.S. and Israeli press, as well as on www.armscontrolwonk.com. Interestingly,
twenty years ago, the CIA released an excised version of the "Summary and
Conclusions" of this document in response to a FOIA request by the Natural
Council. It became the subject of a front-page story in The New York Times on
26 January 1978, under the headline, "C.I.A. Said in 1974 Israel had A-Bombs."
In response to press queries, the CIA stated that the release was a mistake
because it included some classified details.
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