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CounterPunch Diary

Lost Nuclear Warheads from a B-52 Now in Iran?

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

Iran may have the weapons-grade uranium out of three nuclear warheads dumped out of a B-52 back in 1991. Or so at least the US government might have some reason to believe, according to a seemingly well-informed person talking to CounterPunch last week.

On February 3, 1991, this particular B-52G had been deployed to circle around Baghdad. It was armed with 3 SRAM missiles armed with nuclear warheads and fitted with rocket drives to push them 100 miles to the rear of the B-52 before detonating.

The B-52 was heading off to refuel when it developed very serious electrical problems, including the loss of navigational equipment.

Hoping to limp back to base on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, the crew were heading the plane south just off the coast of Somalia when fires in five of the engines threatened to detonate the heat sensitive fuse mechanisms of the SRAMS. Thinking they would plummet into deep water the crew dumped the nuclear bombs, and the B-52 crashed not long thereafter. Some members of the crew died, others survived and were picked up.

But, our informant tells us, the warheads in fact landed in shallow water, on Somalia’s continental shelf. Three months later, in mid-May of 1991, they were allegedly retrieved and passed into the hands of an arms dealer involved in other covert transactions in Somalia at the time.

The dimension of each warhead was 30" x 18" x 18", weighing 560 pounds. Because of sea-water contamination only the weapons grade uranium would be usable, either in a "dirty" bomb, or as the warhead for a new missile.

As the three warheads entered international arms-smuggling loops, the Bush-One and subsequently Clinton administrations dispatched various covert units to recover them, with no success.

As possible substantiation that the warheads may have ended up in Iran, CounterPunch’s informant cites a hour-long BBC-TV Channel-2 documentary, broadcast on May 3, 2005,titled "Iran’s Nuclear Secrets" in which they showed their TV-cameraman with UN weapons inspectors in Iran.

During those searches the inspectors found radiation traces in rooms left by the previous presence of weapons-grade uranium, with an enrichment of 40% to 60%.

The BBC program suggested that as local enrichment had not started then the Iranians must have held non-local black-Market material. The BBC concluded that with this material Iran was already perceived as a threat by Israel and the Scott Ritter’s forecasted raids were a likely possibility.

If the US or Israel does launch an aerial attack on the suspected depository of the three warheads, or of uranium from them, the consequences could be lethal in more ways than one, if a "bunker busting " raid simply dispersed the nuclear materials into the atmosphere, with unpleasant consequences for all in the wind path.

Vice President Cheney, recently linked to speculation that he is eager to use any future 9/11 type attack in the US as a pretext to attack Iran, was Secretary of Defense back in 1991.

At the Pentagon lost nukes are called Broken Arrows. A few years ago, my coeditor Jeffrey St. Clair wrote a riveting account of how another B-52 lost an H-bomb in the swamps near Savannah, Georgia. It still hasn’t been recovered. You can find the story in his book Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me.

The Plame Affair and the Function of Scandals

Given the enormous disaster of the US onslaught on Iraq, the monstrous suffering engendered by the occupation, the violence around the world that this same occupation has spawned, how strange it is that the counter-attack on the Bush administration should have come in the form of the Plame scandal.

Millions of words have now been written about the outing of Valerie Plame, CIA-tasked wife of Joe Wilson, who undercut the claims of the Bush administration that Saddam’s Iraq was on the edge of having nuclear capability. A special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, has now labored for months. Judy Miller sits in jail for not answering Fitzgerald’s questions. Bush’s senior political adviser, Karl Rove, stands in danger of indictment for lying to Fitzgerald. He already has been exposed as a liar.

These are all big events, yet after all these months I find it hard to understand what the fuss is all about, and to take the Plame scandal seriously.

Supposedly Valerie Plame was exposed as a CIA employee as a reprisal by the White House against her husband. But I’ve never fully understood how this exposure was meant to damage Wilson.

In left-wing circles, at least when there was a serious left, it was supposed to be damaging to one’s political credibility to be called "a CIA agent".

But we’re not dealing here with left-wing circles. We’re dealing with right-wing circles where employment by the CIA is deemed honorable and a badge of pride. Wilson, for all his popularity among liberals these days, is a right-winger who endorsed the attack on Iraq. Why wouldn’t the disclosure of his wife Valerie’s employer have enhanced his standing?

Again, why was it supposed to be shamefully discrediting to Wilson that his wife put him up as a suitable person to go to Niger to investigate charges that that country was exporting yellowcake uranium to Iraq?

The answer to such questions is in. Wilson wasn’t damaged. The White House maimed only itself. The scandal has satisfactorily demonstrated how truly stupid big-time operators like Rove and his colleagues in the White House can be.

The outing of Plame was no big deal, and maybe wasn’t even technically a crime under the terms of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982. Ironically it was former CIA director Bush Sr who pushed for it as a reprisal against lefties who truly sought to damage the CIA by exposing its undercover operatives.

At the level of substance the Bush administration should be reeling in the face of savage attack for the ghastly failure of its mission in Iraq. Yet in the American media that scale of that failure is muffled by prudent reporters and editors.

The fact that America faces as big a national humiliation as it endured in Vietnam is not one much discussed. The antiwar movement is limping along, and the Democratic Party is desperate to be seen as a "loyal" opposition. Many of its leaders call not for an end to the war, but a war fought with more troops, with greater efficiency.

So the Plame scandal becomes the focus of attack, because the real reasons are deemed too contentious to be raised in public. In the same way, thirty years ago, Nixon was never impeached for a secret, illegal war on Cambodia, but because it turned out he had not been truthful about a cover-up of political mischief at home.

This is often the way with scandals. There is much in conventional political life that cannot be said, because to say anything substantive would be to undermine those unstated non-aggression pacts that buttress the ruling elites.

In the United States, among the elites, there is a non-aggression pact about Israel and the consequences of US sponsorship of that nation in all its enterprises, many of them shameful. The topic simply cannot be raised. The same is true of many other vital aspects of the nation’s affairs: trade, nuclear policy, the supervision of the Federal Reserve and so forth.

By contrast, the Plame scandal is something the elites can happily chew upon, even though I’m sure that most ordinary citizens long ceased to take an interest in the intricacies of the scandal. What will be the outcome? Rove may have to resign, may even be indicted. She may languish in prison now, but Judy Miller has been made a martyr to freedom of the press, an ironic consequence, given that with her stories fomenting the attack on Iraq she disgraced the name of journalism.

Jason the Argonaut

Lloyd Grove carried this item in his column in the New York Daily News.

A WELL-DESERVED BREATHER: I was pleased to hear from sources that New York Times reporter Judith Miller, still behind bars for refusing to reveal confidential sources, is delighted that her husband, Jason Epstein, was able to take a Mediterranean cruise and escape, if briefly, the emotional strain of their predicament. Miller is telling pals that Epstein soon will return to help her fight the good fight.

Another story going the rounds is that Epstein was overheard saying, "It could have been worse. It could have been house arrest."

Come Norman, be a Man, Say You’re Sorry for Boosting Kerry

I described last week how both the "anarchist" Peter Werbe and the Trotskyist Tariq Ali united last year to form a common front in favor of Democrat John Kerry, the man a wider, longer war in Iraq. He still does, as does the Democrat running in a special election in Ohio scheduled for next Tuesday. On this point I draw your attention to the piece by John Walsh on our site this weekend.

But my reminiscence whetted the appetite of more than one CounterPuncher eager to pillory our contributor Norman Solomon for his past crimes against political common sense.

Dear Mr. Cockburn,

You say,

"Tariq, who draws inspiration from Trotsky, took the same stance as Werbe towards John Kerry last year. Oh, they may be on different sides on Kronstadt, but when it came to Kerry they marched shoulder to shoulder under the banner of the Democratic Party."

Don’t forget St. Norman’s stance with regard to Kerry last year ­ yet another pair of shoulders under the banner of the Democratic Party.

Whenever I read Solomon (frequently on CounterPunch) dissing the Iraq War, I can’t get the ugly image of his support for überBush-war-monger Kerry out of my head…

Perhaps this cognitive dissonance is a problem you have solved for yourself? If so, please tell me where I can partake of the healing waters. This is a serious matter — I was seriously damaged by the Vietnam War, and now it’s deja vu all over again, and I’m not as young and resilient as I used to be…

Now, I understand that the canonization process can be prolonged and involve many arcane rituals. In the meantime, Solomon could do two things. First, he could publicly apologize and admit that his support for the vile war-mongering Kerry was extraordinarily wrong-headed — he could just chalk it up to the temporary psychosis which seems to afflict many candidates for sainthood. Second, he could provide an email address at the end of his pieces published on CounterPunch (like virtually all others do). Surely anyone in the canonization process wouldn’t deny access by acolytes.

Daniel P. Wirt, M.D.
Houston, Texas

("Confutatis maledictis, flammis acribus addictis…")

Reader Asks, Does Chomsky Mind Those Google Ads?

This just in from Dennis Price in Tacoma:

Hey there, CounterPunch,

Each day I try to do my duty in bringing much needed money into CounterPunch’s treasury by clicking on a half dozen of those Google ads. I try! But couldn’t you at least edit these ads in line with your alleged politics? I mean, do I really have to read an ad urging me to "Become an Official, Card Carrying Member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy! Click Here For Your Lifetime Membership. Only $19.95! Add a bumper sticker for only $2! Click Here!"

And this is usually right under a Chomsky ad. Hasn’t Professor Chomsky complained at the pairing?

I love CounterPunch all the same.

Dennis Price

Thanks for your fine work Dennis. Just don’t get carpal tunnel. We don’t do any pairing ourselves. The ads drop in because of Google’s software. Maybe there’s some putative ad that could raise our hackles, but one selling t-shirts billing Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy? It doesn’t bother us. Chomsky? We don’t think it would bother him either.