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US caught by surprise by India’s 1974 nuke test

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington: India’s “peaceful nuclear explosion” on May 18, 1974, caught the US by surprise in part because the intelligence community had not been looking for signs that a test was in the works, according to recently declassified documents.

The Nixon administration policymakers had given a relatively low priority to the Indian programme and there was “no sense of urgency” to determine whether New Delhi was preparing to test a nuclear device, says a declassified Intelligence Community Staff post-mortem posted Tuesday by the National Security Archive.

Intelligence “production” (analysis and reporting) on the topic “fell off” during the 20 months before the test, the analysis concluded, it said.

In early 1972, however, two years before the test, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) had predicted that India could make preparations for an underground test without detection by US intelligence.

Published for the first time Tuesday, the INR report warned that the US government had given a “relatively modest priority to … relevant intelligence collection activities” which meant that a “concerted effort by India to conceal such preparations … may well succeed.”

INR prepared its India report at a time when secret sources were telling US intelligence that New Delhi was about to test a nuclear device, the report said.

The “small spate” of reports about a test had such “congruity, apparent reliability, and seeming credibility” that they prompted a review of India’s nuclear intentions by INR and other government offices, it said.

In the end, government officials could not decide whether India had made a decision to test although a subsequent lead suggested otherwise, the post-mortem concluded.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])