November 30, 2007

Book Review: Spying on the Bomb

Book CoverThe development of nuclear weapons in the 20th century changed the world like no other scientific event. For more than 60 years, the United States has monitored friends and foes seeking to develop nuclear weapons. In the book, Spying on the Bomb: American Nuclear Intelligence from Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea, author Jeffrey T. Richelson, has written a detailed and authoritative account of the U.S. nuclear intelligence efforts. Richelson is a senior fellow at the National Security Archive and author of several books on American intelligence.

This book explores both the successes and failures--from the early days of World War II to the present day. Richelson examines the nuclear projects of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, China, France, Israel, India, South Africa, Taiwan, Libya, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea, as well as Iraq. Each chapter chronologically focuses on the nuclear activities of one or more countries, intermingling what the United States believed was happening, with accounts of what actually occurred in each country's laboratories, test sites, and decision-making leadership. He draws heavily from recently declassified documents and interviews with scientists and spies involved in nuclear espionage.

Every nation that moved to join the nuclear club presented new problems for U.S. intelligence gathering. The book examines the work of the CIA and other intelligence agencies in identifying and providing the details about those nuclear programs as well as the agencies' efforts to monitor and evaluate nuclear testing. The book also highlights the methods used to detect nuclear tests including long-range aircraft mounted with filters to catch radioactive debris, a network of stations to measure seismic waves and early satellites that would eject film capsules to be caught mid-air by planes.

Of great interest is examining the failures by the intelligence community, such as the failure to detect Indian preparations for tests in May 1998. By far, the most serious failure of all was in Iraq in 2003, because in no other case did the intelligence assessments serve as justification for the use of military force. The book also examines the double flash detected by the Vela satellite over South Africa in 1979. Since it wasn't the South Africans (they weren't ready to test), was it an Israeli device or an equipment malfunction?

The 700-page book contains new information, photographs, maps, reference notes, a good index, and is well written. Although dense, it is perfect for wonks like me.

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November 29, 2007

Book Review: Bomb Scare

Book CoverToday's headlines are filled with the real threats of nuclear proliferation. But how does the average person attempt to grasp these issues? In a new book, Bomb Scare, by Joseph Cirincione, this problem is addressed in a clear and understandable tone.

Bomb Scare offers a comprehensive review of the history and theory of nuclear weapons, as well as the options before us. Cirincione begins with the first atomic discoveries of the 1930s and covers the history of their growth all the way to the current crisis with Iran. He unravels the science, strategy, and politics that have fueled the development of nuclear stockpiles and increased the chance of a nuclear terrorist attack. He also explores why many nations choose NOT to pursue nuclear weapons.

But rather than leave the reader without hope of escaping from under the nuclear threat, Cirincione offers an outline of a solution to the world's proliferation problem: a balance of force and diplomacy, enforcement and engagement, that yields a steady decrease in these deadly arsenals.

The book is a straight forward, insightful and thought provoking work. It gives the general reader a clear understanding of this issue. For those not familiar with the author, he is the Vice President for National Security at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., and teaches at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and has served as the director for nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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November 07, 2007

Iran Running 3,000 Centrifuges, Ahmadinejad Says

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said today that his nation is operating 3,000 uranium-enriching centrifuges, a milestone in a nuclear program that Western powers suspect could be aimed at nuclear weapons development, the Associated Press reported.

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November 02, 2007

2008 Nonproliferation Challenge Essay Contest

The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and The Nonproliferation Review are pleased to announce the Doreen and Jim McElvany 2008 Nonproliferation Challenge Essay Contest, featuring a $10,000 grand prize and a $1,000 prize for the most outstanding student essay (students are eligible to win the grand prize).

We are looking for the best new ideas on how to address contemporary nonproliferation challenges from nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, including those involving both state and non-state actors.

Entries should not exceed 10,000 words (including endnotes) and must be the original, unpublished work of the author(s) and not under consideration for publication elsewhere. The submission deadline is March 31, 2008.

Complete contest rules and instructions can be found at

Why Did They Called It the Manhattan Project?

The New York Times has a wonderful article on that question. In The Manhattan Project (Black Dog & Leventhal), published last month, Dr. Norris writes about the Manhattan Project's Manhattan locations. He says the borough had at least 10 sites, all but one still standing. They include warehouses that held uranium, laboratories that split the atom, and the project's first headquarters - a skyscraper hidden in plain sight right across from City Hall.

The article has a video interview with Stan, who I had a chance to meet a few years back. In addition, they also have nice interactive map of the various sites in NYC.

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November 01, 2007

Inspectors in North Korea

A team of US atomic inspectors arrived in North Korea on Thursday after expressing confidence that the historic disablement of the isolated nation's nuclear facilities would go smoothly.

North Korea has pledged to begin taking apart its nuclear facilities, going further than it ever has before in meeting foreign pressure to scrap atomic capabilities it has been building up since the 1950s.

The nine-member US team arrived in the North Korean capital Pyongyang on a flight from Beijing, China's state-run Xinhua news agency said.

They are destined for the main Yongbyon atomic reactor where they will supervise disablement work expected to begin next week. [via Yahoo! News]

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Pilot of plane that bombed Hiroshima dies

Paul Tibbets, who piloted the B-29 bomber Enola Gay that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, died Thursday.

Tibbets died at his Columbus home, said Gerry Newhouse, a longtime friend. He suffered from a variety of health problems and had been in decline for two months.

Tibbets had requested no funeral and no headstone, fearing it would provide his detractors with a place to protest, Newhouse said. [via]

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