On Fox News Sunday, correspondent Bret Baier cited reports in The New Yorker magazine and The Washington Post regarding plans for possible U.S. air strikes on Iran to neutralize that country's purported nuclear weapons program. But Baier failed to mention the revelation in both articles that military strategists and members of the Bush administration are reportedly considering the use of tactical nuclear weapons against Iran.
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On the April 9 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Fox News national security correspondent Bret Baier cited reports in The New Yorker magazine and The Washington Post regarding plans for possible U.S. airstrikes on Iran to neutralize that country's purported nuclear weapons program. But Baier failed to mention the revelation in both articles that military strategists and members of the Bush administration are reportedly considering the use of tactical nuclear weapons against Iran.
In reporting on the planning for possible airstrikes on Iran, Baier cited investigative reporter Seymour M. Hersh's April 10 New Yorker article, in which Hersh described the planning for a nuclear attack. But Baier failed to inform viewers of the plans, noting only that Hersh "report[ed] that the Bush administration's goal in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change," and that "U.S. combat troops have already been ordered to enter Iran to collect targeting data." In fact, Hersh spent a substantial portion of the article -- eight paragraphs -- detailing what he reported to be planning and internal deliberations relating to a possible nuclear strike.
Among the revelations in Hersh's article:
"One of the military's initial option plans ... calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites." Hersh reported that a lack of "reliable intelligence" on certain underground sites "leaves military planners, given the goal of totally destroying the sites, little choice but to consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons."
According to a "former senior intelligence official," the "attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings inside the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ... and some officers have talked about resigning." The official also said that the Joint Chiefs "sought to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans for Iran," but were unsuccessful.
According to a "senior Pentagon adviser on the war on terror," even though the Joint Chiefs "had agreed to give President Bush a formal recommendation stating that they are strongly opposed to considering the nuclear option for Iran," the "idea of using tactical nuclear weapons ... has gained support from the Defense Science Board, an advisory panel whose members are selected by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld."
Similarly, an April 9 Washington Post article by staff writers Peter Baker, Dafna Linzer, and Thomas E. Ricks noted that "Pentagon planners are studying how to penetrate eight-foot-deep targets and are contemplating tactical nuclear devices." The Post article quoted Kenneth M. Pollack, a former CIA analyst, who said that "[t]he targeteers ... keep coming back and saying it will require nuclear penetrator munitions to take out those tunnels," and added that it would be "very difficult" to do so using conventional weapons.
Baier, however, reported only that the Post article "cites current and former defense officials saying that the U.S. military planners are drawing up detailed plans for air strikes against Iran." He did not mention the plans for a possible nuclear strike.
From the April 9 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
BAIER: There are differing accounts out today about the status of planning against possible military strikes against Iran -- the Bush administration's planning.
Senior officials tell Fox that in recent months U.S. military planners have been drawing up several scenarios for air strikes to take out Iranian nuclear sites but that the diplomatic approach is far from exhausted regarding Iran.
Now, in The New Yorker magazine, there's a report that the Bush administration's goal in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change. Writer Seymour Hersh reports that U.S. combat troops have already been ordered to enter Iran to collect targeting data, something sources have not confirmed to Fox.
A senior administration official responded today privately saying that this story is over-reported and hyped without knowledge of the president's thinking.
Now, today's Washington Post cites current and former defense officials saying that the U.S. military planners are drawing up detailed plans for air strikes against Iran, but most of the sources cited in the article said the plans were likely to be used as a tool in diplomatic discussions, not to launch war against Iran.
From Hersh's April 10 New Yorker article:
One of the military's initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites. One target is Iran's main centrifuge plant, at Natanz, nearly two hundred miles south of Tehran. Natanz, which is no longer under I.A.E.A. [International Atomic Energy Agency] safeguards, reportedly has underground floor space to hold fifty thousand centrifuges, and laboratories and workspaces buried approximately seventy-five feet beneath the surface. That number of centrifuges could provide enough enriched uranium for about twenty nuclear warheads a year. (Iran has acknowledged that it initially kept the existence of its enrichment program hidden from I.A.E.A. inspectors, but claims that none of its current activity is barred by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.) The elimination of Natanz would be a major setback for Iran's nuclear ambitions, but the conventional weapons in the American arsenal could not insure the destruction of facilities under seventy-five feet of earth and rock, especially if they are reinforced with concrete.
There is a Cold War precedent for targeting deep underground bunkers with nuclear weapons. In the early nineteen-eighties, the American intelligence community watched as the Soviet government began digging a huge underground complex outside Moscow. Analysts concluded that the underground facility was designed for "continuity of government" -- for the political and military leadership to survive a nuclear war. (There are similar facilities, in Virginia and Pennsylvania, for the American leadership.) The Soviet facility still exists, and much of what the U.S. knows about it remains classified. "The 'tell' " -- the giveaway -- "was the ventilator shafts, some of which were disguised," the former senior intelligence official told me. At the time, he said, it was determined that "only nukes" could destroy the bunker. He added that some American intelligence analysts believe that the Russians helped the Iranians design their underground facility. "We see a similarity of design," specifically in the ventilator shafts, he said.
But those who are familiar with the Soviet bunker, according to the former senior intelligence official, "say 'No way.' You've got to know what's underneath -- to know which ventilator feeds people, or diesel generators, or which are false. And there's a lot that we don't know." The lack of reliable intelligence leaves military planners, given the goal of totally destroying the sites, little choice but to consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons. "Every other option, in the view of the nuclear weaponeers, would leave a gap," the former senior intelligence official said. " 'Decisive' is the key word of the Air Force's planning. It's a tough decision. But we made it in Japan."
He went on, "Nuclear planners go through extensive training and learn the technical details of damage and fallout -- we're talking about mushroom clouds, radiation, mass casualties, and contamination over years. This is not an underground nuclear test, where all you see is the earth raised a little bit. These politicians don't have a clue, and whenever anybody tries to get it out" -- remove the nuclear option -- "they're shouted down."
The attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings inside the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he added, and some officers have talked about resigning. Late this winter, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sought to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans for Iran -- without success, the former intelligence official said. "The White House said, 'Why are you challenging this? The option came from you.' "
The Pentagon adviser on the war on terror confirmed that some in the Administration were looking seriously at this option, which he linked to a resurgence of interest in tactical nuclear weapons among Pentagon civilians and in policy circles. He called it "a juggernaut that has to be stopped." He also confirmed that some senior officers and officials were considering resigning over the issue. "There are very strong sentiments within the military against brandishing nuclear weapons against other countries," the adviser told me. "This goes to high levels." The matter may soon reach a decisive point, he said, because the Joint Chiefs had agreed to give President Bush a formal recommendation stating that they are strongly opposed to considering the nuclear option for Iran. "The internal debate on this has hardened in recent weeks," the adviser said. "And, if senior Pentagon officers express their opposition to the use of offensive nuclear weapons, then it will never happen."
The adviser added, however, that the idea of using tactical nuclear weapons in such situations has gained support from the Defense Science Board, an advisory panel whose members are selected by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. "They're telling the Pentagon that we can build the B61 with more blast and less radiation," he said.
The chairman of the Defense Science Board is William Schneider, Jr., an Under-Secretary of State in the Reagan Administration. In January, 2001, as President Bush prepared to take office, Schneider served on an ad-hoc panel on nuclear forces sponsored by the National Institute for Public Policy, a conservative think tank. The panel's report recommended treating tactical nuclear weapons as an essential part of the U.S. arsenal and noted their suitability "for those occasions when the certain and prompt destruction of high priority targets is essential and beyond the promise of conventional weapons." Several signers of the report are now prominent members of the Bush Administration, including Stephen Hadley, the national-security adviser; Stephen Cambone, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence; and Robert Joseph, the Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.