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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Vela Incident - The thorn in Jimmy Carter's side

After waking up yesterday to read about Dhimmy Carter telling The Times of London that Israel has 150 nuclear devices (see my post from yesterday), I decided to read up on some of the public domain information on Israel's alleged nuclear arsenal.

I now think I understand why ol' Jimmy has such a bee in his bonnet over Israel's nuclear program.

While reading through the various revelations made by Mordechai Vanunu (an Israeli worker at Israel's Dimona nuclear facility who went to the British media with a lot of damaging inside information), I came across a reference to an event I had never heard of before; The Vela Incident.

Vela was the name of the satellites the U.S. launched during the 1960s to detect nuclear detonations anywhere in the world.  The U.S. was  the driving force behind non-proliferation, and as president, Jimmy was the non-proliferation sheriff!  Vela was his array of deputies that told him if anyone was making trouble... and one day, trouble there was. 

During his watch as president (on September 22nd 1979, to be exact), one of the older Vela satellites detected a signature double flash of a nuclear detonation from a remote area of the southern Indian or Atlantic Ocean.  This double flash - one very fast and bright and a second longer and less bright - is almost always an indication of an atmospheric nuclear detonation.

Since only one of the Vela satellites detected the flashes and there was much debate over whether it was, in fact, a detonation, President Carter set up a panel to look into the matter.  Jimmy was not happy about the possibility of someone conducting a nuclear test without the US's knowledge and approval... and by gum, he was going to get to the bottom of it.

The only problem was that the more information came to light, the less clear it was to Jimmy what, if anything, had happened.  The satellite was past it's life expectancy and no other satellite had spotted the event. Not only that, 25 planes sent by the U.S. to the area to check for radioactivity found nothing. 

Yet U.S. Navy hydrophones picked up a signal which was consistent with a small nuclear explosion on or slightly under the surface of the water in the area where the flash had been detected, and a radio telescope in Puerto Rico detected "an anomalous traveling ionospheric disturbance" at the same time. Another test in Western Australia conducted a few months later found increased radiation levels in the area and Australian sheep down range of the prevailing winds tested positive for an extremely short-lived iodine isotope associated with nuclear blasts.

As time has gone on, no conclusive evidence has ever come out to confirm or debunk the detonation supposedly detected by Vela in September of 1979.  The panel Carter set in motion in '79 concluded less than a year later that the event was probably not a nuclear detonation but couldn't rule it out.  But that seems odd considering that the assessment of the intelligence community immediately following the event was that it was 90% sure a detonation had occurred. 

It is worth noting that there has never been a false report  of a detonation from a Vela before or since.

Over the years some evidence has emerged that points to a possible South African nuclear test (it was, after all in their back yard) with a delivery vehicle allegedly provided by Israel.

In 2006, a retired CIA officer named Tyler Drumheller wrote the following about his 1983-1988 tour of duty in South Africa (in his book 'On the Brink'):

"We had operational successes, most importantly regarding Pretoria's nuclear capability. My sources collectively provided incontrovertible evidence that the apartheid government had in fact tested a nuclear bomb in the south Atlantic in 1979, and that they had developed a delivery system with assistance from the Israelis."

This would be just the sort of thing that would stick in Jimmy Carter's arrogant craw.  The idea that South Africa (a pariah state at the time) and Israel (considered by Carter to be a trouble-maker) could pull off a secret nuclear test and conspire to conceal it from the omniscient United States of America must have been quite a blow to his already damaged self-esteem once he'd left office in disgrace.

So it's no wonder (to me, anyway) that all these years later Carter would still be sore, and would absolutely delight in trying to take away Israel's nuclear opacity.

Note:  Much of the information for this post came (and/or was paraphrased) from here, here and here.  If you have some time they make excellent reading.

Posted by David Bogner on May 27, 2008 | Permalink

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I'm curious if there criminal charges that can be filed against Carter in the United States for revealing privileged information?

Posted by: Jameel @ The Muqata | May 27, 2008 1:48:28 PM

Naw, I think ol' Dhummy* is just an old-fashioned anti-Semitic dirtbag. He doesn't need an excuse to dump on the Israelis, but he'll take one wherever he can get it.

*I meant to write "Dhimmy", but my finger slipped. Upon reflection, I decided to keep it the way it was.

Posted by: psachya | May 27, 2008 4:11:33 PM

I agree with psachya. I think he just hates Jews. Plus, in 1979, he was screwing up about 74 other things, so I doubt this even made the radar much.

Posted by: dfb1968 | May 27, 2008 8:37:20 PM

Carter is held in greater esteem in Europe and Berkeley than in America. His movie played to an unpacked house here in San Francisco. At an art theatre, yet. For only a few weeks. Lack of interest.

His book probably sold better because of the ruckus over the title than anything inside. It is a superficial book, with objectionable content on nearly every page. Precisely that made it hard to read, and I doubt that all who bought it, read it.

Mention Carter, however, and everybody thinks 'a saint, what about habitat for humanity?' They know of his charity work, but only the committed anti-Israel side actually values his biased statements. In that regard he is dangerous - like any well-respected anti-Semite, his stuff will be quoted for years to come, and borrowed to bolster other writers' points of view.

I do not hope he dies soon. A state funeral would bring him and his ideas fully into the lime-light, with effusive praise from everyone.
I hope instead that he has a long, slow, and humiliating decline. I want the last thing anyone remembers of that man to be dribbling, drooling, and befouled pants.

Posted by: The Back of the Hill | May 28, 2008 1:29:55 AM

That's very interesting history, but I think you've gone the long way 'round in trying to explain how a son of the South ends up hating Israel. My vote's with psachya's explanation -- Dhimmy's just the anti-Semite he's always been.

Posted by: Bob | May 28, 2008 5:29:00 AM

a- nuclear weapons are evil
b- Israel was in bed with Sarth Efrika and Persia

Posted by: asher | May 28, 2008 10:20:05 AM

I'm sure many countries did things to offend Carter during his presidency, and Israel offended many other presidents when they were in office. Yet only Carter has been so anti-Israel, and only Israel has consistently been Carter's target. That indicates that the problem is deeper than any particular policy incident.

Because Christianity is so closely related to and heavily based on Judaism, it is impossible for a religious Christian to simply be indifferent towards Jews. One can either be enthusiastically pro-Jewish like George Bush and the evangelicals, or else rabidly anti-Jewish like Christian anti-Semites of the past... and like Jimmy Carter.

Posted by: Shlomo | May 28, 2008 11:09:48 AM

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