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
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 Resources Defense
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. Two years ago,
the Archive posted an unredacted
version of page one of the "Summary," as found
in the Joseph Sisco files at the National Archives.
When it reviewed the 1974 SNIE for the most recent release,
the CIA heavily excised the discussion of the Indian nuclear
program, but the release includes discussion of the nuclear
prospects and potential of a number of countries, which, as
Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus has
noted, included correct and incorrect judgments, such as:
believe that Israel already has produced and stockpiled a
small number of fission weapons."
of China (Taiwan):"We believe facilities
are being developed with conscious intent to keep a nuclear
weapon option open."
Africa: "In the short run, South Africa
is of more concern in the proliferation context as a potential
supplier of nuclear materials and technology than as a potential
nuclear weapons power."
Japan: "Technologically speaking,
[Japan] is in a position to produce and test a nuclear device
within two or three years," but "the Japanese are
unlikely to make a decision to produce nuclear weapons unless
there is a major adverse shift in relationships among the
Argentina: "if Buenos Aires dedicated
itself to the earliest possible development of a nuclear weapon
and received … foreign assistance in building the necessary
facilities, Argentina could have an initial device in the
This SNIE was the latest in a series of estimates on the nuclear
proliferation issues that the intelligence community had been
preparing since the late 1950s. In an earlier posting the National
Security Archive published all of the available estimates, from
1958 to 1967. While some of the estimates were more heavily
excised than others that the CIA had begun to release them in
response to declassification requests has been a change for
the better, in contrast to the earlier policy of blanket denials.
The 1974 SNIE is the subject of a pending appeal by the National
Security Archive, which may lead to the release of more details
from the estimate.
National Intelligence Estimate 4-1-74, "Prospects for Further
Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,"23 August 1974, Top Secret,
1. For discussion of the estimates, see Joseph Cirincione, "Lessons
Lost: During the Last 60 Years, We Missed Several Opportunities
to Contain the Nuclear Threat. It's Not Too Late to Learn From
Our Mistakes," The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists,
November-December 2005, 43-53.