Friday, October 16, 2009

Post Titled:"Operation Sapphire" + long-time coming revelation provided by 'The Dead Hand': The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy by David E. Hoffman
NOTE: personally, the information described in this post is such a relief. It just brings everything full circle, and makes life make a bit more sense afterwards...

SOME vital background info here as to why I am bothering to write this post:
As a teenager in the 1990s I stopped by my dad's office to get a ride home after some afterschool activity. At the time we were stationed at a major american military hub in europe. Long story short: he went to the restroom and I sat in his office chair. There was a document opened on his computer, which I began reading. The text described some very strange midnight hand-offs of a shipment. It involved some very unusual countries, contries I recall being very surpised that they would have had any dealings with each other at all... honestly, I don't remember many of the details other than it struck me as being really really odd.
On the ride home I asked my dad about the document. He instantly turned deadly serious and extremely angry, saying: "You'd better FORGET you ever read that! Understand???" When used this tone you knew he meant business.
As I said, that was approximately 15 years ago. I've thought about that document and the following incident from time to time, but to this day I've never dared to ask my fater what it was, -it has just been tucked away way way into the recesses of my mind... later on in college when people would ask me what my dad did I would sometimes cite this incident, saying- "Yea, I'm not really too sure what he does. He used to fly, but stopped that a long time ago... One time I accidentally read a secret document and he got mad as hell and told me to forget it."
That sounded cool.
Fast forward to October 2009:
I got out of work last week and put on my headphones to listen to NPR Berlin on my bike ride home. As soon as I started listening, the subject instantly sounded eerily familiar, and thought- "WHOA, this is IT- THAT is what I READ!":

"TERRY GROSS: Describe Operation Sapphire and how that worked?

DAVID E. HOFFMAN: Operation Sapphire was one of the most dramatic moments in these years just after the Soviet collapse. An American diplomat, Andy Webber, got a tip from a man who was in charge of a metals factory in Kazakhstan. Andy was a diplomat in Kazakhstan. He got a tip on a piece of paper. And the tip was that there were hundreds of pounds of highly enriched uranium. And by that I mean uranium that could be used for making a nuclear weapon in a warehouse, in this metals factory.

So Webber told people in Washington, and they organized a tiger team, an emergency team, and they worked with the Kazakhs who didn't really want the stuff. They found that the uranium had been abandoned by the Soviets after the collapse. It had been put there because they were building a new submarine and when the Soviet Union collapsed, the submarine project was abandoned. All this uranium, 90 percent enriched, laying in big canisters that look like hotel coffee pots, on sheets of plywood, in a Kazakh warehouse.

So the United States paid millions of dollars to the Kazakhs and conducted a secret operation. It was not announced ahead of time. A group of 35 Americans flew there in secret, in big transport planes, packed up that uranium over a month, and then on a cold snowy day put it into those C5 transport planes and flew it all the way back to the United States. And the reason they did this is that the Iranians were looking all over Central Asia for this kind of uranium. And if Iran had gotten its hands on it, it certainly would have help accelerate their efforts to build a nuclear weapon.

GROSS: So the Americans paid Kazakhstan millions of dollars to take their uranium away. Were we in a way trying to outbid a potential Iranian bid for that uranium?

Mr. HOFFMAN: Absolutely. And we didn't want Iran to get to the point where they could make a bid.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. HOFFMAN: We're one step ahead of them. The Kazakhs wanted to be rid of it. Remember, their country had been the nuclear testing site for the Soviet Union. They had health problems. There was too much of these nuclear materials around for them. So - and we knew they wanted to get rid of it. They also inherited a bunch of nuclear weapons when the Soviet Union collapsed, and they gave those back to Russia. So I think it was kind of an open-bazaar time, and one of the things that really shocked the Americans when they went to do this is they found a crate of beryllium. Beryllium is an element that is used to making nuclear weapons. And the crate had an address on it: Tehran.

GROSS: And we still have a lot of that threat out there. There are still weapons out there. There are still biological and nuclear weapons out there. So there's still a lot of work to be done right, right? I mean, you know, out there from the Soviet Union days."

This is one of the times that being an NPR junkie has truly paid off.
Had I not been listening to NPR (obsessively, as usual) then this strange situation from my youth might've been a permanent loose-end in my mind.

The FULL TRANSCRIPT is HERE and you can liten to the interview on Fresh air HERE.
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Anonymous paul said...

that's crazy. supposedly we also worked with the russians during the cold war, supplying each other's militarys, but that's easily googleable.

1:06 pm  
Anonymous DLR said...

I hope you sent an NPR link to your dad after you heard about this. Must have made the bike ride home totally surreal.

4:53 am  

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