Posts Tagged ‘weapons’

PM Fogh Rasmussen told US Denmark ‘would undoubtedly give its support’ to an invasion of Iraq a year before the war

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

By Michael de Laine, Copenhagen, 3rd July 2015

According to the daily newspaper Politiken, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense in George W Bush’s administration, that Denmark ‘would undoubtedly give its support’ to a US-led invasion of Iraq a year before that war started.

Politiken says this information is contained in a classified note that it has accessed in the archives of the Prime Minister’s Office. The note minutes a meeting at the Pentagon between Fogh Rasmussen and Wolfowitz on 27th March 2002, when they reportedly discussed Iraq.

At the time, Fogh Rasmussen’s public line was that no decision had been made about possible participation in military action against Iraq.

Fogh Rasmussen apparently told Wolfowitz that going to war would require proof that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein possessed and was developing weapons of mass destruction.

When it tabled a parliamentary motion – B118 – to participate in the invasion in Iraq, however, the Liberal-led coalition government with the Conservatives (and backed by the Danish People’s Party) cited Saddam Hussein’s failure to collaborate satisfactorily with the UN’s weapons inspectors as the reason for going to war.

The motion was adopted by a narrow majority in Folketinget, the Danish parliament, on 21st January 2003.

Whether Anders Fogh Rasmussen discussed his comments at the meeting with Paul Wolfowitz, and his possible role as an early member of the US alliance against Saddam Hussein, with Per Stig Møller, the then Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the other members of the government is unclear: Fogh Rasmussen told Politiken that he did not wish to make any comments, while Møller ‘could not recall’ the meeting.

The report in the Danish daily Politiken comes the day after the commission charged with investigating the decision-making process behind Denmark’s participation in the war against Iraq (and later Afghanistan) – and its legitimacy under Danish and international law – was formally closed.

The commission was disbanded by the new Liberal minority government as one of its first acts after it took office on 29th June – according to Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen because ‘sufficient light has already been thrown’ on the decision-making process.

Due to internal disagreements and for other reasons, the commission, set up in 2012 by the coalition government of the Social Democrats, the Social Liberals and the Socialist People’s Party, had done little more than collect and read classified documents and prepare a time-line; the first interviews with leading politicians, civil servants and others would have been held later this year.

Click here to read Politiken‘s news story in Danish

US wasn’t looking for a hydrogen bomb in the sea off Greenland in 1968, but for the marshal’s baton

Friday, August 14th, 2009

By Michael de Laine, Copenhagen, 14th August 2009

American military personnel were not looking for a hydrogen bomb in the sea off Greenland in 1968, for there was no bomb, a study carried out by the Danish Institute for International Studies shows. What the Americans were looking for was the marshal’s baton – a closed pipe containing uranium 235, the fissile core of the bomb. It may have been destroyed in the explosion or disintegrated in the sea water, but it was apparently not recovered in one piece.

What happened on 21 January 1968, when a US Air Force B-52 bomber carrying four hydrogen bombs crashed on a 70-cm thick layer of ice covering the sea in the Bylot Sound near the Thule Air Force Base in north-western Greenland?

Did the four hydrogen bombs explode, were they destroyed in other ways, or did one of them fall through the ice and water to land on the bottom?

As well as recovering aircraft and bomb debris on the ice, the US military conducted submarine and other searches in the Bylot Sound until the end of August 1968, but without recovering a bomb from the water.

For more than four decades, the official American and Danish explanations have consistently stated that all four nuclear weapons were destroyed in the accident. News reports over the years have nevertheless centred on the fate of this fourth bomb, and on the potential environmental effects resulting from its disintegration by the water.

Last November, the BBC published programmes and articles based on 348 documents on the incident that its security correspondent, Gordon Corera, received from the US Department of Energy’s archives in Las Vegas seven years earlier.

Corera’s main assertions were that only three of the four nuclear weapons on board the B-52 could be accounted for, thus leaving open the possibility that there was still a nuclear weapon on the bottom of the sea in the bay outside Thule, and that the Americans had withheld information about the real purpose of a bottom survey done by a submersible in the summer of 1968, namely that it was looking for the parts of a nuclear weapon.

In The Marshal’s Baton‘, a new report on the incident, the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) notes that the assertions concerning the bomb in the BBC articles and programmes are identical with claims made by the Thule Workers’ Association in August 2000, which were widely circulated in the Danish and international media at the time.

Allegations about a ‘missing bomb’ have a long history,” DIIS says, adding that Danish media reports raised the question ‘once again’ in December 1987.

The Danish foreign minister explained that the US Air Force had never rejected the possibility that parts of one or several bombs could have fallen through the ice, but that it was beyond doubt that the four bombs had been destroyed in the crash,” DIIS states. “He added that the sea bottom surveys performed in August 1968 by the submersible Star III had produced aircraft debris but no bombs.

Closely interwoven with that topic has been the plutonium balance sheet – the balance between the amounts of plutonium in the bombs and the plutonium that was dispersed as a result of the accident, the institute adds. In September 1988, the Danish prime minister answered questions in Parliament on this issue.

The BBC report last year and a subsequent debate in the Danish parliament led Danish foreign minister Per Stig Møller to ask the Danish Institute for International Studies to draw up a report based on the documentary evidence concerning the 1968 crash.

The DIIS report, published earlier this month, concludes that the American military personnel were not looking for a hydrogen bomb, for there was no bomb. What the Americans were looking for was the marshal’s baton – a closed pipe containing uranium 235, the fissile core of the bomb. It may have been destroyed in the explosion or disintegrated in the sea water, but it was apparently not recovered in one piece.

The foreign minister’s specific question to DIIS was whether the 348 documents (or approximately 2,000 pages) obtained by Corera in 2001 contained decisive new information compared with 317 documents declassified by the US Department of Energy (DOE) from 1986 onwards and released on 15th September 1994. The Thule Radiation Victims Association had requested access to the documents, which were also handed over to the Danish government at its request.

Although the 348 collection does contain a few important documents not found in the 317 collection, none of them have been used in Corera’s reports or articles.

The DIIS report is primarily based on the 348 collection, the same US documents that in many cases have been declassified for nearly two decades, but additionally it takes in a few documents from Danish and other archives.

There is no evidence that Corera has been working in the Danish archives or that he has tried to verify or nuance his assertion that Denmark was kept in the dark about the purpose of the underwater operation,” the institute notes. What is new in the DIIS report is “not so much the sources as the analysis and interpretation of mostly familiar documents.”

The institute hopes “that a thorough examination of the American documents will provide a better understanding of the complexities met with by the historian, whose task it is to decipher the excised documents, where information that may be of importance for the full understanding of the events is often deleted. We will do our best to establish the nature of the excised parts of the documents in order to try and provide a coherent picture of the reason the deletions were made.”

On the basis of the BBC reports and its review of the documentation, DIIS says, “No new assertions about a missing bomb were made in 2008, and the documentary evidence was much the same as that released by DOE in 1994, which has been available in Copenhagen since then… On this basis, one could argue that there would be nothing to add to the answers provided by the Danish and American authorities in 1995 and 2000.”

But, DIIS adds, perhaps surprisingly, “an impartial professional analysis of the documents has never been undertaken,” probably because “that the focus on matters related to Thule and the US presence there has changed over the years.”

The institute says that, on several counts, the released documents seem to support the official explanation at first glance.

For instance,” DIIS says, “in an early report of 27th January 1968 – only six days after the crash – the SAC Disaster Control Team reported that ‘based on the serially numbered components found to date, there is convincing evidence that at least three separate WH [warhead] H.E. [high explosives] detonated high order on or above the surface of the ice. This conclusion is based on the location of the four weapon parapacks [packs with parachutes for the weapons], three tritium bottles, and portions of three separate weapon secondaries’ (doc. 107132). This document was declassified as early as 1988.”

[The primary stage of a nuclear bomb contains the fission bomb, the ‘trigger’. The ‘secondary’ stage contains the fissile spark plug (or marshal’s baton in the DIIS report), fusion fuel and uranium tamper; this is the thermo-nuclear stage. A third section, the reservoir or T bottle, contains deuterium tritium gases, which are fed to the primary stage, where the gases fuse into helium and release free neutrons soon after fission begins. The explosion in the first stage triggers the second stage.]

Some of the sources for an historical reconstruction of the events surrounding the recovery of the nuclear weapons after the Thule accident have been excised or made exempt from declassification. Consequently, DIIS says, its conclusions “can not supply irrefutable evidence of past events. This is not unusual for historians, who must be content to establish the likely and the plausible.”

Nevertheless, the institute says, “We have shown beyond any reasonable doubt that all four weapons broke up in the crash and became non-operational: they did not exist as weapons after the crash. This is an indisputable fact already because the deuterium/tritium reservoirs in the tail sections of the four weapons broke off on impact and were recovered close to the impact point.”

Thus, it adds, “there is no bomb, there was no bomb, and the Americans were not looking for a bomb.”

DIIS found strong indications that all four primaries were destroyed in conventional explosions on impact. The plutonium in the primaries of all four weapons was dispersed in particulate form in the explosions and the ensuing fire.

We have argued that all four secondaries were destroyed as well, but not in all cases with the same devastating consequences for these sections as for the primaries,” DIIS says.

There has been some public disbelief that all four primaries actually exploded, the institute notes. “This disbelief was caused by the idea of a discrepancy between the 24 kg of plutonium thought to be needed to reach criticality in the four primaries taken together, and the approximately 6 kg that the authorities claimed to have been involved in the accident.”

After weeks of consulting the literature and the experts in various fields without result, DIIS finally turned to the disarmament literature and found the answer.

As a reference value, this gave a figure of roughly 2 kg of plutonium 239 per weapon,” DIIS states. “After that, several other pieces of information pointing in the same direction began to surface. The jewel in the crown in this respect was two lines with three figures in the hand-written minutes of a meeting in Washington held on 5 February 1968. On the basis of these two lines, we arrived at a figure of roughly 7.5 kg plutonium for the four weapons.”

According to DIIS, the amount of plutonium 239 dispersed as very small particles in the conventional explosions of the weapons corresponded roughly to the amount of plutonium 239 actually contained in the weapons to begin with.

The institute says no nuclear weapons have been left on the bottom of the sea in Thule, nor was any secondary left in the sea. The weight of nearly three secondaries (94%) was recovered and shipped to the US. Many of the secondary pieces were small and unnumbered and were found widely scattered on the ice.

Reaching a figure of 94% by weight for three secondaries seems improbable under the circumstances if pieces from only three weapons had been collected,” DIIS says. “It is much more likely that this figure was reached by recovering pieces from all four secondaries.

We believe that by April 1968 the US authorities already had a very good idea of what had happened to all four secondaries. If not, it would be incomprehensible how they could ask Sandia Corporation to establish trajectories in the water of Bylot Sound for one special, extremely well-defined weapon component − only one, and certainly from a secondary. This is the second jewel in the crown of the investigation.

We believe that what the Americans were looking for was the marshal’s baton, the fissile core of a secondary, often referred to as the spark plug,” the institute says in the report. “The object was cylinder-shaped with rounded ends. Its drag coefficient was calculated by Sandia Corporation to be 0.6 head on and 1.0 side on. It could have been a massive rod, but it is far more likely that it was a pipe with sealed ends.”

DIIS says the sources provide ample evidence that such pieces were recovered on the ice in February and March 1968, and that the hunt for the remaining pieces continued to the end of the operation in August 1968.

If we suppose that the marshal’s baton contained 8 kg of uranium 235, it would have had a volume of roughly four decilitres,” DIIS says. “A cylinder with such a volume could, for instance, be 50 centimetres long with a diameter of 3.3 centimetres, or somewhat thicker if it were a pipe, for instance, 5.4 centimetres with a wall thickness of 5.5 mm.

This is a rather small object to find on the sea bottom, especially when we remember that it could have broken to pieces and might be located among thousands of other pieces of debris. Yet, it is bigger than a spark plug in a car. We have chosen to call it the marshal’s baton instead. The size fits this description better.

That an object of this size was indeed what the American Star III submersible was looking for is demonstrated in the video footage from the dives where the claw can be seen recovering an object fitting this description. On closer inspection, the object apparently turned out not to be the sought-after prize.

Finally,” says DIIS, “we must not forget that the decision-makers and search teams could not be sure that the sought-after component had survived the crash. One would assume that they kept an open mind for the possibility that it had been blown to pieces or completely destroyed in some other fashion.”

The institute reiterates its basic conclusion as, “There is no bomb, there was no bomb, and the Americans were not looking for a bomb. They were looking for the marshal’s baton. Nor were there any whole pieces of any of the primary stages, nor any whole ones of any secondary stage, nor any tail section left behind.

The Americans were not looking for a bomb but for a weapons component, almost certainly a uranium 235 fissile core from the secondary stage of a weapon,” DIIS says in its report on the B-52 crash in Greenland in January 1968. “They were probably not at all sure if it had actually fallen to the bottom and in what state, nor whether it still existed. Crumbling of uranium metal in water has been observed in many studies. If there were something to be found, they did not find it in the last days of August 1968.”

Click here to read DIIS report 2009:18, ‘The Marshal’s Baton‘.