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CIA caught off guard on India nuclear test

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Hearings, inquiry planned

In this story:

From World Affairs Correspondent Ralph Begleiter

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Republican chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence alleged Tuesday that U.S. intelligence gathering suffered a "colossal failure" in not detecting India's intention to set off three nuclear blasts this week.

Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama said the U.S. intelligence community was caught completely off guard.

"This colossal failure of our nation's intelligence gathering could set off a nuclear arms race in Southeast Asia," Shelby said in a statement.

"Our failure to detect this shows that India did a good job of concealing their intentions, while we did a dreadfully inadequate job of detecting those intentions," Shelby said.

CIA Headquarters
CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia  

Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana agreed. "When we have had notice of preparation, we could talk to the Indians and persuade them not to do it. Here we didn't have notice and we lost the chance."

CIA announces assessment effort

Within hours of Shelby's statement, the CIA announced it was launching a blue-ribbon assessment of U.S. intelligence performance on the India nuclear issue, to report to CIA Director George Tenet within 10 days.

The assessment team will be headed by retired Navy Adm. David Jeremiah, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Tenet said he will share the results of the assessment with the White House and Congress.

After India announced Monday it had conducted the nuclear tests, recent satellite and other intelligence observations of India's nuclear testing site were checked, U.S. government sources told CNN.

It was determined that nothing unusual had been picked up, the sources said.

Shelby and Hamilton
Shelby, left, with Hamilton says the CIA did a "dreadfully inadequate job"  

But the sources also said the intelligence community is reviewing its data to see if anything was missed.

Sources: CIA stepping up focus on region

U.S. intelligence sources said the CIA and other agencies are also stepping up observation of India and Pakistan in the wake of the nuclear tests.

"We're focusing on the region intently," said one official, who acknowledged that additional satellite overpasses and other information-gathering devices are being adjusted to "tweak up our capabilities."

"The potential for possible Indian nuclear tests has been known for many years," the CIA said in announcing its assessment effort.

The CIA said the issue was given "close scrutiny" in 1995 and again in recent weeks after the firing of a Pakistani medium-range missile.

"It is apparent that the Indians went to some lengths to conceal their activities and intentions," the CIA said in an attempt to explain the intelligence community's apparent failure to forecast the Indian nuclear tests.

Indian potential was well known

U.S. officials have told CNN that although they picked up no concrete signs of an imminent underground nuclear test, the United States was well aware of the Indian government's repeated warnings of its intentions to proceed with nuclear testing.

Several high-ranking U.S. officials have visited India in recent months to attempt to persuade India not to conduct further tests and to sign a global ban on nuclear testing.

Shelby said he plans to schedule closed-door Senate hearings on the intelligence issue as early as Thursday. "We simply cannot and must not tolerate such failure on the part of the intelligence community," he said.

 

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