Apartheid Regime's Nuclear Weapons Program Eluded Outside Investigators

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The U.S. Intelligence Community failed to penetrate the veil of secrecy surrounding the nuclear activities of South Africa's apartheid regime, particularly its nuclear weapons program, 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.

Included in the Archive posting are over thirty documents -- many originally classified Top Secret/Codeword -- produced by interagency groups, the CIA, and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR).

The documents were obtained by Archive Senior Fellow Jeffrey T. Richelson, while conducting research for his forthcoming book, Spying on the Bomb: American Nuclear Intelligence from Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea (W.W. Norton).

The documents show that years after South Africa claimed that it had developed a new technique for uranium enrichment the U.S. was uncertain as to what it entailed. In addition, the documents show that in the 1980s the U.S. did not know the status of South African bomb development. They also reveal a dispute between the Director of Central Intelligence's Nonproliferation Center and State's INR over the likelihood that South Africa's declaration to the International Atomic Energy Agency constituted an honest declaration or an act of deception. One possibility raised was whether some of the fissile material was transferred to another country. Since replacement of the apartheid regime by a majority government no evidence has emerged that South Africa's declaration to the IAEA was deceptive.

An interagency assessment does demonstrate that the Intelligence Community did, in 1977, correctly assess, based on its understanding of South Africa and the regime's leadership, that while South Africa's entrance into the nuclear weapons club could be delayed, it could not be prevented. In 1993, President F.W. DeKlerk revealed that South Africa had, during the 1980s, built six nuclear weapons and was in the process of building a seventh when his government decided to halt the program and destroy the nuclear devices.

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