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U.S. INTELLIGENCE ON RUSSIAN AND CHINESE NUCLEAR TESTING ACTIVITIES, 1990-2000

Prospects of Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Led China to Accelerate Testing Schedule

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 200

Edited by Jeffrey Richelson

Posted - September 22, 2006

For more information contact:
Jeffrey Richelson
202/994-7000

This October 1997 memo from DCI George Tenet attached the findings of a special panel of scientific experts established after a suspected Russian nuclear test at Novaya Zemlya.

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Washington, DC, September 22, 2006 - The prospects of a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in the early 1990's led China to accelerate its testing schedule and discuss differences within the Russian government over testing, according to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and archival research and posted on the Web today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University. The documents illustrate the efforts of the U.S. Intelligence Community to understand developments at Russian and Chinese nuclear test sites--Novaya Zemlya and Lop Nur--from 1990 to 2000.

Today's posting includes 33 documents--many originally classified Top Secret--produced under the auspices of the Director of Central Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency. The records were obtained by Archive Senior Fellow Jeffrey T. Richelson while conducting research for his recently-published book, Spying on the Bomb: American Nuclear Intelligence from Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea. (W.W. Norton).

The documents include assessments of the link between nuclear and sub-critical tests and weapons modernization programs in Russia and China--both strategic and tactical nuclear weapons programs.

Of particular interest is the report of an outside review panel appointed by Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet after detection of a seismic event in the vicinity of Novaya Zemlya on August 16, 1997. That detection, combined with satellite reconnaissance showing unusual activity at the test site, led to concerns within the Intelligence Community that Russia had conducted a nuclear test despite its pledge to abide by the terms of the CTBT.


Electronic Briefing Book
U.S. Intelligence on Russian and Chinese Nuclear Testing Activities, 1990-2000
By Jeffrey Richelson

On September 24, 1996 seventy-one nations, including the five acknowledged nuclear powers - the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and the People's Republic of China - signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The signatories pledged not to conduct any nuclear weapon or other nuclear test explosion and to prohibit such explosion on their territory. In addition, they agreed to refrain from "causing, encouraging, or in any way participating in the carrying out of any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion." (Note 1) The treaty did not ban testing of warhead components that did not result in a nuclear yield--known as zero-yield, sub-critical, or hydrodynamic tests.

Russia had declared a moratorium on nuclear testing in 1990, and the United States followed after tests in September 1992. The United Kingdom ceased testing after 1991. French and Chinese testing continued for several years, both conducting their last tests in 1996--in time to sign and comply with the the CTBT. (Note 2)

While French testing had become far less of concern to the United States Intelligence Community by 1990 than it had been in the 1960s and 1970s, Chinese nuclear activities, particularly the activities at the Lop Nur test site, remained a significant target of U.S. intelligence collection efforts--which employed open sources, clandestine human sources, overhead imagery, signals intelligence and measurement and signature intelligence. (Note 3)

Despite the Russian moratorium that began before the collapse of the Soviet Union and continued under President Boris Yeltsin and Russia's signature of the CTBT, the U.S. continued to closely monitor Soviet-Russian test sites at Semipalatinsk and Novaya Zemlya. With the breakup of the Soviet Union, only Novaya Zemlya would remain inside Russian territory and become the sole Soviet test site. The activities at that site during the decade--often related to sub-critical tests, as well as occasional seismic events in the vicinity of the test site, along with the continued U.S. interest in Russian nuclear weapon developments, guaranteed that U.S. spy satellites and other technical collection systems would continue to be instructed to gather data on activities at Novaya Zemlya. (Note 4)

Indeed, there would be suspicions and charges--first in 1996 and even more seriously in 1997--that Russia had, despite its commitments, conducted a test at Novaya Zemlya. Thus, on August 16, 1997 a seismic signal from the vicinity of Novaya Zemlya registered at 3.2 on the Richter scale--consistent with a very small blast of between 0.1 and 1.0 kiloton, which might indicate scaled-down tests of a warhead primary. Since satellite imagery had been showing unusual levels of activity at the test site, there were fears that Russia had tested a nuclear device. While those fears would eventually be laid to rest by further analysis of the data, including by an outside review group, the initial suspicions generated considerable press reporting and intelligence analysis. (Note 5)

The product of the collection efforts against the Russian and Chinese test sites and related activities throughout the 1990-2000 period informed a variety of intelligence products - including items in national intelligence products such as the National Intelligence Daily and Senior Executive Intelligence Brief, articles in CIA periodicals such as Science and Weapons Review and Proliferation Digest, and stand-alone analytical studies. The ones presented below were obtained as the result of Freedom of Information Act requests filed as part of the author's research for Spying on the Bomb: American Nuclear Intelligence from Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea (W.W. Norton).

Besides the report of review panel established to consider the possibility that Russia had conducted a nuclear test in August 1997 (Document 25), the briefing book includes documents related to possible Chinese attempts to develop a nuclear artillery shell (Document 20, Document 21), the impact of the impending Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on Chinese testing (Document 9), Russia's recovery of a nuclear device that had been left in a tunnel in the Semipalatinsk test site (Document 13, Document 17), and Russian interests in developing low-yield nuclear weapons for its Ground Forces (Document 31, Document 32, Document 33).


Documents
Note: The documents cited in this Electronic Briefing Book are in PDF format.
You will need to download and install the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.

Document 1: Office of Scientific & Weapons Research, CIA, "CHINA: New Nuclear Test [Deleted]," Science and Weapons Review, July 31, 1990. Top Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

This item from a weekly CIA publication speculates about the possible purpose of an upcoming Chinese nuclear test.

Document 2: Director of Central Intelligence, "Russia: [Deleted]: Nuclear Test Planned," National Intelligence Daily, February 12, 1993. Top Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

This article informed the recipients of the National Intelligence Daily, distribution of which was restricted to about two hundred government officials, that Russia had notified Washington that it was planning to conduct a nuclear test in August, unless it chose to extend its moratorium on nuclear testing (which it eventually did). The commentary section notes the preference of the Russian nuclear and military community to test in response to a planned United States test in July 1993.

Document 3: Director of Central Intelligence, "China: Accelerated Nuclear Testing Schedule," National Intelligence Daily, February 19, 1993. Top Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

This NID article reports that China is planning to accelerate its nuclear testing schedule and links the decision to increasing international pressure for a comprehensive nuclear test ban in 1996. It also comments on the relationship between the planned tests and the types of systems being developed.

Document 4: Director of Central Intelligence, "Russia Nuclear Test Moratorium Likely to Continue," National Intelligence Daily, April 14, 1993. Top Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act

This item reports an announcement by Yeltsin ecology adviser Aleksey Yablokov that Russia would continue its nuclear moratorium--at least until another country conducted a nuclear test. This redacted version concludes that Yablokov's comments may have been partly the result of his own opposition to testing; other factors remain secret. It also offers a prediction of how Russia would respond if the U.S. resumed nuclear testing.

Document 5: Director of Central Intelligence, "China: Prospects for Joining Test Ban Treaty," National Intelligence Daily, May 22, 1993. Top Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

This article examines China's prospects for joining the Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB) regime, the issue of Chinese stockpile confidence under a CTB, and the types of experiments that China would be able to conduct under a test ban.

Document 6: Director of Central Intelligence, "China: [Deleted]: Response on Moratorium Noncommittal," National Intelligence Daily, July 8, 1993
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

This item notes China's reaction to the U.S. announcement of a nuclear testing moratorium and discusses what it labels as the "consensus" Chinese view on future testing, as well as China's objectives in conducting future tests.

Document 7: Director of Central Intelligence, "Reaction to Chinese Nuclear Test" and "China: More Nuclear Tests Likely," National Intelligence Daily, October 7, 1993. Top Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act

The first article discusses international reactions to China's test in early October--particularly the reactions of British, French, Japanese, and South Korean officials. The other discusses the prospect of China's joining of the comprehensive test ban regime and the factors involved in China's decision.

Document 8: Office of Eurasian Analysis, Central Intelligence Agency. Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Talks: Off to a Turbulent Start, January 18, 1994. Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act

The released portions of this heavily redacted analysis by an office in the Directorate of Intelligence focuses, inter alia, on Russia's opening position with regard to a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the country's past support for such a treaty, and the prospect of Russian testing during negotiations.

Document 9: Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency, Chinese Nuclear Testing: Racing Against a Comprehensive Test Ban, September 30, 1994. Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

The introduction to this joint CIA-DIA memorandum discusses the linkage between accelerated Chinese nuclear testing, weapons modernization, and the looming Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Sections in the heavily-redacted remainder of the essay discuss nuclear test activity, modernization of the nuclear force, and the outlook.

Document 10: Director of Central Intelligence, "China: 40th Nuclear Warhead Test at Lop Nur," National Intelligence Daily, October 8, 1994. Top Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act

In addition to reporting on the most recent Chinese nuclear testing, this article estimates the number of tests China could conduct in the upcoming year.

Document 11: Central Intelligence Agency, "China's Nuclear Test Program Facing Delays," Proliferation Digest, October 30, 1994. Top Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act

This item, in a continuing CIA Directorate of Intelligence publication, notes the delays facing the Chinese testing program and the possible impact of those delays on China's adherence to a CTBT regime.

Document 12: Director of Central Intelligence, "China: Nuclear Test [Deleted]," National Intelligence Daily, March 7, 1995. Top Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

This NID piece notes China's need to conduct a nuclear test to keep its testing program on schedule and the possible objectives of the test.

Document 13: Director of Central Intelligence, "Kazakhstan: Russians Making Progress in Recovering Nuclear Device," Selected Items from the National Intelligence Daily, March 29, 1995. Top Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

This item reports on the "unprecedented" attempt by Russia to recover a nuclear device several years after it failed to detonate during an underground test--an effort estimated to cost 1.5 billion rubles.

Document 14: Central Intelligence Agency, "Japan Threatens to Reduce Grant Aid to China," Economic Intelligence Weekly, May 25, 1995. Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

This section of the Weekly notes that China's recent nuclear test may result in a cut in Japanese aid below the previous year's amount. It cites pressure from both the Japanese prime minister's coalition partners and the public as significant factors in the Japanese government's consideration of an aid cut.

Document 15: Office of Slavic and Eurasian Analysis, Central Intelligence Agency. "Bearly Testing?," The Eurasia Intelligence Weekly, June 23, 1995. Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

One item in this weekly publication reports on the apparent Russian reaction to France's decision to resume nuclear testing, and the likely impact on Russia of a U.S. resumption of testing.

Document 16: Central Intelligence Agency, "Russian Nuclear Device in Kazakhstan Destroyed," Proliferation Digest, June 30, 1995. Top Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

This item mixes information derived from the Russian and Kazakhstani media, along with classified data (redacted from the released version), to report on the destruction of the nuclear device that had been emplaced in a tunnel in Degelen Mountain area of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site.

Document 17: Director of Central Intelligence, "China: More Activity at Lop Nur," National Intelligence Daily, July 29, 1995. Top Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

This article discusses the prospect of China's completing its ambitious test schedule for 1995. In addition, the article reports on concerns of officials at the testing base--information most likely to have been obtained from either signals or human intelligence or both.

Document 18: Central Intelligence Agency, "China's Requirements for Continued Nuclear Testing," Proliferation Digest, July 31, 1995. Top Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

This article returns to the issue of China's testing schedule, its purpose, and the impact of any delays on China's willingness to join a CTBT regime.

Document 19: Director of Central Intelligence, "Russia: Ministry to Support Nuclear Test Ban," National Intelligence Daily, September 12, 1995. Top Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

This article notes the acknowledgment of the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy of the likelihood that Russia would agree to a comprehensive test ban and reports of conflict between the Russian Foreign and Atomic Energy ministries.

Document 20: "China: Possible Nuclear Artillery Test," Proliferation Digest, September 14, 1995. Top Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

This heavily redacted item reports on the nature of a test that had been scheduled for early September and speculates on its objectives.

Document 21: Central Intelligence Agency, "Chinese Nuclear Event in September," Proliferation Digest, November 30, 1995. Top Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

This article reports on a likely Chinese nuclear test in early September and addresses the three probable explanations as to its purpose. The document illustrates the uncertainties involved in the analysis of foreign nuclear testing.

Document 22: Director of Central Intelligence, "INTERNATIONAL: Nuclear Testing Ambiguities Arise," National Intelligence Daily, January 5, 1996. Top Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

U.S. monitoring of various foreign nuclear tests is evident in this item, which notes that "Several countries recently have been active at nuclear test sites ..." The article also comments on the ambiguities that might arise from observations of test site activity under a CTB regime.

Document 23: Office of Slavic and Eurasian Analysis, Central Intelligence Agency. "Russians Deny Nuclear Test Took Place," The Eurasia Intelligence Weekly, March 15, 1996. Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

In reaction to press accounts claiming that Russia might have conducted a nuclear test at Novaya Zemlya, Russian officials issued a denial but noted that Russia's adherence to the testing moratorium was the prerogative of the Russian president.

Document 24: Office of Weapons, Technology and Proliferation, Central Intelligence Agency. Russia: New Warheads Without Additional Nuclear Testing, October 24, 1996. Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

Only a single paragraph remains in this heavily redacted version of a CIA study. The released paragraph considers the possibility that Russian nuclear engineers could be working on new designs and whether such plans would be incorporated into new warheads without testing.

Document 25: George J. Tenet, Memorandum for: [Deleted], Subject: [Deleted] Results of Special Panel Meeting on Novaya Zemlya Test Site, October 28, 1997. Secret. w/att: Review of Activity and Events Related to the Russian Nuclear Test Site on Novaya Zemlya, October 24, 1997. Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

On August 16, 1997, U.S. and other nations' seismic systems detected a seismic event in the vicinity of Russia's Novaya Zemlya test site. Combined with satellite reconnaissance, which indicated a high level of activity at the test site, the detection led to suspicions, both within the U.S. Intelligence Community and in press reports, that Russia might have conducted a nuclear test.
DCI George Tenet appointed a panel of scientific experts from outside the Intelligence Community to review the data. The attachment to Tenet's letter reports their judgments.

Document 26: Jonathan Medalia, Congressional Research Service, Chinese Nuclear Testing and Warhead Development, November 14, 1997. Unclassified
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

Based on unclassified sources, a specialist from the Congressional Research Service produced this assessment of Chinese nuclear testing and warhead development. The author examines the rationales for Chinese nuclear weapons development and nuclear force structure, the nuclear warhead development and testing program, prospective advances in warhead development, missile and bomber programs, and production.

Document 27: Director of Central Intelligence, "Russia: [Deleted] Nuclear Test Site [Deleted]," Senior Executive Intelligence Brief, December 30, 1998. Top Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

This short item in the SEIB, which replaced the NID in the late 1990s, reports that Russian officials had informed the media that they had conducted non-nuclear tests at Novaya Zemlya and why they had done so. The commentary has been deleted in its entirety.

Document 28: Director of Central Intelligence, "Russia: Trying to Keep Nuclear Options Open [Deleted]," Senior Executive Intelligence Brief, January 11, 1999. Top Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

This article discusses the motives behind Russia's efforts to modernize its nuclear weapons and strategic forces, and what some of the modernization efforts involve. It also reviews the impact of limited resources on submarine patrols, flight training, and mobile missile deployments.

Document 29: Director of Central Intelligence, "Russia: Mikhaylov Pressing for Hydronuclear Experiments," "Security Council Adopts Nuclear Weapons Plans," and "Concern About Ability to Test," Senior Executive Intelligence Brief, May 4, 1999. Top Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

These articles focus, respectively, on the push by Russia's First Deputy Minister for Atomic Energy for zero-yield nuclear tests, the adoption by the Russian Security Council of new decrees concerning the use of tactical nuclear weapons, and Russian concerns about problems in the area of nuclear testing.

Document 30: Director of Central Intelligence, "Russia: Results of Nuclear Test Program Last Year," and "Russia: Ambitious Nuclear Test Program This Year, Senior Executive Intelligence Brief, June 4, 1999. Top Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act

The heavily redacted version of the first article reports the comments of a senior atomic energy ministry official concerning the zero-yield tests conducted at Novaya Zemlya in the last quarter of 1998, while the second focuses on the planned tests for 1999.

Document 31: Office of Russian and European Analysis, Central Intelligence Agency. Russia: Developing New Nuclear Warheads at Novaya Zemlya?, July 2, 1999. Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act

In addition to examining whether Russian activities at their test site are directed toward developing new warheads, this report evaluates the previous year's testing activities and the planned testing program for 1999.

Document 32: Office of Russian and European Analysis, Central Intelligence Agency, Russia: [Deleted], June 22, 2000. Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

This item observes that "Recent press commentary ... suggests that Moscow has rekindled plans to develop new warheads for the Ground Forces." One article, it reports, claimed that some Russian officials were advocating the creation of up to 10,000 new low-yield and super-low-yield tactical nuclear warheads as a counter to NATO expansion.

Document 33: Office of Transnational Issues, Central Intelligence Agency. Evidence of Russian Development of New Subkiloton Nuclear Warheads, August 30, 2000. Secret
Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

This study, substantial portions of which remain after redaction, examines the perceived need by Russian officials for "clean" very-low-yield nuclear weapons, Soviet-era development of tailored-output nuclear devices, the effects of high-energy X-rays, and Russian nuclear doctrine.


Notes

1. "Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty," p. 4. accessed September 10, 2006. Available at http://pws.ctbo.org

2. "The Nuclear Testing Tally," accessed September 10, 2006. Available at www.armscontrol.org

3. Jeffrey T. Richelson, Spying on the Bomb: American Nuclear Intelligence from Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006), pp. 404- 418.

4. Ibid., pp. 421- 426.

5. Ibid., pp. 422- 426.

 

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