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Rediff.com  » News » US Senate's N-Bill facilitates spy operations

US Senate's N-Bill facilitates spy operations

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Last updated on: November 20, 2006 16:49 IST
On November 16, 2006, the United States Senate discussed and modified their bill No. S-3709 on the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, which was forwarded to them by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. After debating the Senate Foreign Relations Committee bill, making some amendments and adding a few new clauses, this revised text was inserted as replacement text in the House bill No. HR-5682.PCS, received earlier from the House of Representatives, and gave it a new number, HR-5682.EAS.

It is this new version which has now been forwarded by the Senate to the Conference Committee for preparing a unified text, after reconciling it with HR-5682.PCS. The reconciled version in the form of a single bill will then be debated sometime in December for approval in a joint sitting of the Senate and House. If approved there, this unified bill will go to President George W Bush for his signature for transforming it into law.

During the debate on November 16, amendments were approved in Section 105 and Section 108 of the original bill, and also two new sections (Section 114 and Section 115) were freshly inserted. What else was introduced and defeated is of little consequence to us, since we need to only concentrate on the acceptability of what is eventually put into HR-5682.EAS, instead of wasting time to rejoice on the false victories over 'killer' amendments!

Of the changes that were made, what is most appalling is the inclusion of Section 115, which the Senate approved without any vote-counting or voice vote. After reading out the text of this Section, Senator Lugar just said one sentence, 'I urge adoption of the amendment', and without objection or discussion it was directly 'agreed to.'

This entirely new Section was neither a subject in any of the several open discussions between the US Congressional Committees and the various representatives of the US administration over the last year, nor was it part of any previous versions of the two bills, till it was abruptly introduced and approved quietly by the Senate on November 16.

The fact that 100 US senators belonging to both parties did not even raise a question or a murmur about this new Section put in front of them is rare in Senate history. If you read the rest of the Senate proceedings on that day, one strangely notices the lengthy debates and differences of opinion which characterised every other amendment which had come to the floor. It is clear that this subject, therefore, had received sufficient in camera attention of and provision of explanations to the senators, before it was briefly read on the floor and swept away with a nod from all.

Why did the US Congress use such secrecy and dubious procedures to rush particularly this specific Section through the session? What exactly does Section 115 state? I think the reader must understand this Section in toto and, therefore, I have totally reproduced it below:

SEC. 115. UNITED STATES-INDIA SCIENTIFIC COOPERATIVE THREAT REDUCTION PROGRAM

a. Establishment: The Secretary of Energy, acting through the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, shall establish a cooperative threat reduction program to pursue jointly with scientists from the United States and India a program to further common nonproliferation goals, including scientific research and development efforts related to nuclear nonproliferation, with an emphasis on nuclear safeguards (in this section referred to as the "program").
b. Consultation: The program shall be carried out in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense.
c. National Academies Recommendations:
(1) In general -- The Secretary of Energy shall enter into an agreement with the National Academies to develop recommendations for the implementation of the program.
(2) Recommendations -- The agreement entered into under paragraph (1) shall provide for the preparation by qualified individuals with relevant expertise and knowledge and the communication to the Secretary of Energy each fiscal year of (A) recommendations for research and related programs designed to overcome existing technological barriers to nuclear nonproliferation; and (B) an assessment of whether activities and programs funded under this section are achieving the goals of the activities and programs.
(3) Public Availability: The recommendations and assessments prepared under this subsection shall be made publicly available.
d. Consistency With Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: All United States activities related to the program shall be consistent with United States obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
e. Authorization of Appropriations: There are authorized to be appropriated such sums as may be necessary to carry out this section for each of fiscal years 2007 through 2011.

The Indo-US nuclear deal is supposed to be for civilian nuclear cooperation in the hope that it will enhance the energy security of the country. Section 115 of the bill deals totally with matters of nuclear proliferation control. In the guise of conducting joint R&D in nuclear non-proliferation, with emphasis on nuclear safeguards, the US attempt appears to be in using the Indo-US nuclear deal as a vehicle to facilitate a formal entry for the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) into India.

The US' NNSA is widely suspected to be involved in a variety of covert nuclear interventions and clandestine operations in many countries around the world, on behalf of the US government, and they work in close cooperation with intelligence agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency, the US National Security Agency and the US Defence Intelligence Agency. The US State Department, US Defence Department and the Department of Energy are also closely involved with the NNSA. Section 115 states that the Secretaries of DoD and DoE will be consulted in carrying out the envisaged R&D program.

While the intention is that the program will be pursued jointly by scientists from the United States and India, no Indian organisation is mentioned as an Indian partner for this seemingly one-sided effort. However, what should be of grave and urgent concern to the government, the parliamentarians and the general public in India is the fact that our Department of Atomic Energy, which has the final overall responsibility for all civilian and military nuclear programmes, including R&D, is as much in the dark as anyone else about the above-mentioned Section 115!

I reliably understand that, as of November 18, 2006, neither Dr Anil Kakodkar, Chairman, AEC nor the DAE establishment was aware of Section 115 in the bill. They have also never expressed the need for an R&D programme like the one envisaged in Section 115 of the Senate bill nor has the DAE ever discussed it with US officials or our senior officials in Delhi in the context of the nuclear deal.

During the last four decades, the DAE has steadfastly and strictly refrained from any communication about the weapons programme with even Indian nationals who do not have an absolute need to know. They have all along kept all foreign nationals miles away from the weapon scientists and their facilities.

Besides, the DAE is quite competent to develop and use present and future nuclear non-proliferation and safeguards technologies, without any external R&D help. As such, the sudden introduction of Section 115 has come as a lightning bolt from the sky for the DAE as well, and I only hope that no one in the high-powered negotiating team that the PM had put together in Delhi has been taken into confidence by the US administration on this subject, without the DAE's knowledge.

I presume it is not the case, and if so, it is most urgent that the prime minister publicly expresses his resentment on this high-handed, one-sided action by the US Senate. Anything short of a clear and open protest from the PMO and the ministry of external affairs will definitely leave a lingering suspicion that the government in Delhi is deliberately ignoring this blatant US attempt to facilitate the NNSA to conduct covert activities on the Indian nuclear programme.

It is worth noting that the NNSA was established by the US Congress in 2000, as a semi-autonomous agency within the US Department of Energy, which has responsibility for all US nuclear weapon programs. The NNSA's missions include its role to maintain and enhance the safety, reliability, and performance of the US nuclear weapon stockpile, including the ability to design, produce, and test weapon systems, in order to meet national security requirements.

The NNSA's cooperative threat reduction programmes are already active in Russia and the former Soviet states, and their operations are becoming increasingly global and intrusive. It implements part of its mission through securing nuclear weapons and nuclear and radiological materials at vulnerable sites around the world. Functioning with an annual budget of about $9.5 billion, the NNSA has close operational and programmatic linkages with covert agencies like the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Defence Intelligence Agency and others in the US. It is also ultimately responsible for the management of all major US nuclear weapons labs situated at Los Alamos, Sandia, Livermore, Nevada test site and other locations.

Given these facts, what is the US interest in unilaterally dictating a linkage between India and an agency like the NNSA, especially when our own weapons programmes and facilities are totally outside the scope of the Indo-US nuclear deal? Agreeing to the NNSA's presence in India and any interaction between them and our weapon scientists will be a most dangerous move, with the potential for leading to much more than the CIA-inspired covert operations in India and the defence leaks which have recently surfaced here, some of which took place with the direct involvement of US embassy personnel.

We cannot take any such risks with our most strategic nuclear sector. The Government of India must, therefore, outright and publicly reject Section 115 of the revised Senate bill immediately, without waiting for the final reconciliation of the two bills.

Dr A Gopalakrishnan is a former chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, Government of India. He can be reached at: agk37@hotmail.com

Dr A Gopalakrishnan
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