Cable thickness, personnel activity 'gave away' India's 1995 n-test plan to US


Seventeen years after Washington claimed it had managed to stop the P V Narasimha Rao government in its tracks from conducting a nuclear test, it has now emerged that the changing thickness of cables and their layout at a drilling site in Pokharan was one of the key giveaways.

Also, heightened "personnel" activity at another drilling site helped the Americans arrive at the conclusion that New Delhi was planning a test. In fact, US image analysts admit in their emails that nothing more was visible in the satellite pictures, terming the images to otherwise be "as clear as mud".

The sensitive information was contained in three emails that sought to interpret the satellite imagery on December 12, December 13 and December 15, 1995 — just days before the US officially showed the images to India, killing its surprise and forcing the Rao government to hold back.

Washington had sought the all-important meeting for its ambassador, Frank Wisner, with the then principal secretary to PM, A N Varma, on December 16. Details of these exchanges have now been revealed through a set of declassified documents made available by the National Security Archive, George Washington University.

The following are excerpts of emails from the analysts:

* December 12, 1995: "Day 2 of our exciting desert watch. No significant activity occurred over the weekend.

The cable at drill site 2 was rearranged into shorter lengths (similar to how the US, Russkies and China do/did it). Two parallel lengths of cable were seen and appear to be connected by a thin strand of cable. Oddly, while the activity with the cable is at site 2, all the personnel activity appears to be at site 3."

* December 13: "No significant activity has occurred at Thar Desert since yesterday. The cable has not been lowered the hole (by all appearances) but has changed shape once again. Where it once appeared to be one thick cable, it then became two smaller cables connected by a thin cable. It now appears to be FIVE small cables. There have been no changes to the stemming pile" (a reference for a mound of dirt meant to cover up a test device after it has been placed in the hole).

... contd.

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