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May 1990: US Embassies Underestimate Risk of Nuclear War Due to Suppressed Intelligence

Staff at the US embassies in India and Pakistan underestimate the seriousness of a crisis between the two countries (see January-May 1990), because they have been given manipulated intelligence about Pakistan’s nuclear capability. As they think Pakistan does not have nuclear weapons, they assume the crisis will not escalate into war. The US has been aware that Pakistan does have a nuclear weapons program and a nuclear weapon for some time (see 1987-1989 and May 1990), but has been suppressing this knowledge so that it could continue to support anti-Soviet mujaheddin and sell fighters to Pakistan (see August-September 1989). An example of the way the seriousness of the crisis is not appreciated is that US ambassador to India William Clark learns that the Pakistani air force is practicing dropping nuclear bombs, but is wrongly told that this is not important because the intelligence suggests Pakistan does not have nuclear weapons. The CIA, State Department, Pentagon, and White House are actually aware that this is a serious warning sign (see May 1990), but the intelligence has been altered to indicate Pakistan does not have nuclear weapons. For example, a report to Defense Secretary Dick Cheney by Pentagon analyst Richard Barlow was completely rewritten and Barlow’s conclusions were reversed to say Pakistan did not have nuclear weapons (see Mid-1989). Barlow was later fired from his job due to his opposition to an arms deal (see August 4, 1989). [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 209-210]

Entity Tags: William Clark, Richard Barlow, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of State, US Department of Defense, Bush administration (41), Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

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