Myanmar Has a Clandestine Nuclear Weapons Program. And Nobody Cares.

This just came to my attention today. Read this story at Pro Publica, about some very important and alarming work that friend of ACL, and real life former weapons inspector Robert Kelley, has done on what he has concluded is a clandestine nuclear weapons program in Myanmar. Now, I am not in any way a technical guy. But I’ve gotten to know Bob, and he’s both the most qualified person to evaluate a nuclear weapons program, and the most independent, objective, and reserved technical person, that I know. So hearing Bob say this about Myanmar:

“I state this very clearly and strongly, this is a clandestine nuclear program”

makes me say, it’s time to listen up, people.  

I’m also confident that people like David Albright and Olli Heinonen, who have been so very concerned about possible nuclear weapons related activity in Iran, will be all over this situation too. After all, there is clearly enough evidence to convince Bob Kelley, and there are strong links to North Korea and therefore to regional proliferation implications. So on this case, the technical people can actually agree, and the international community can focus on effectively dealing with the problem, right?


Read what Heinonen and Albright have to say about Kelley’s conclusions in the Pro Publica piece.  When I read them, I was genuinely incredulous. Reading their critique of Bob’s analysis was just like reading someone else’s critique, word for word, about their analysis of Iran!  Listen to this: 

Other experts, including Olli Heinonen, the former deputy director of the IAEA, viewed the evidence as inconclusive. They said the equipment in the photos had other possible uses and that such serious charges should not rest on the testimony of a single defector . . .

“There is no smoking gun,” Heinonen said in an interview. “There is no one single piece which puts your mind at rest telling that this is solely for nuclear purposes and for nothing else.” . . .

Heinonen questioned this conclusion, saying both the glove box and bomb reactor could have other uses. He noted that the box appeared too small to easily accommodate the mixer typically used to combine magnesium and UF4. There were ways to overcome this deficiency, but they would be “cumbersome,” he said, suggesting that perhaps the box was made for another purpose.

“These pieces of equipment,” he said in an e-mail, “cannot be said with a high certainty to be for uranium metal production.” . . .

Albright said in an interview that he did not agree with Kelley’s findings. A close reading of the report, he said, suggests that Kelley assumed that Burma is attempting to make nuclear weapons and then looked at Win’s pictures “in a biased way ascribing nuclear purposes to them.” Albright said he believed each piece of equipment in the photos had alternate uses, some of which were non-nuclear. He noted that Win had no background in nuclear science or engineering.

“We learn the hard way,” said Albright. “This is what the whole thing was about with Iraqi WMD.”

“If you’re going to make accusations that a country has nuclear weapons program, you have to have credible evidence that that is true,” he said.

I swear these quotes literally make me laugh out loud. I’m not going to get into the technical aspects of the Myanmar case, or a comparison with the technical issues involved with the Iran case. I’ll let others do that. What I’m talking about is the overall attitude and approach of Heinonen and Albright in the Myanmar case, compared to the Iran case.  These are guys who think that every time there’s a wing added on to a building in Iran, it means there absolutely must be some nefarious new attempt to build a nuclear weapon going on in there. But in Myanmar’s case, their approach is: “Well, you know, all of this stuff could have other uses. We really can’t be sure. There’s no smoking gun here. It would be wrong of us to speculate. You need real, clear evidence to make such a very serious accusation. I’m sure everything’s fine.”

Albright even went so far as to write a letter to Senator Jim Webb, assuring him that there was “nothing to see here” in Myanmar, and saying Bob’s analysis is faulty. Read the letter here.   

There’s a Janus-like, two-facedness here that is just astounding to me, i.e. taking one approach to the Iran situation (incredibly hawkish), and then taking a completely different approach to the Myanmar situation (incredibly dovish), for no apparent reason. And an incredible complete lack of self-awareness of this fact as well.

So what’s the takeaway here? First, Bob’s assessment of Myanmar’s clandestine nuclear weapons program is serious business that deserves attention. I don’t know what should be done about it, but so far I’ve heard ear-splitting silence about it from the U.S. and E.U. and the U.N. Security Council.  That’s hard to reconcile in light of all the attention being paid to Iran.

Second, what explains Heinonen’s and Albright’s schizophrenia here? I am genuinely puzzled. Is it because Myanmar is not on the USG’s list of “places we want to demonize,” and Albright and Heinonen are dutifully following the prime directive (i.e. always follow Uncle Sam’s lead)? Or is it something else? Thoughts welcome.  


8 Comments on “Myanmar Has a Clandestine Nuclear Weapons Program. And Nobody Cares.”

  1. yousaf says:

    “There is no smoking gun,” Heinonen said in an interview. “There is no one single piece which puts your mind at rest telling that this is solely for nuclear purposes and for nothing else.”

    Wow — I wonder which other nation such an assessment would apply to?

    See my deconstruction of Heinonen’s hype on Iran here — which uses very similar criteria to what Olli himself used on Myanmar:

  2. yousaf says:

    From Bob’s paper:

    “The authenticity of the photographs and reports will no doubt be questioned. That is fair and professional. The purpose of this report is to inform and generate thoughtful analysis. The source and chain of custody of this information is clearer than the recent “laptop documents” about Iran’s alleged nuclear weapon program, for example, and that has generated considerable analysis and speculation. Undated and unsourced photos of a reactor under construction in Syria are largely unchallenged. It would seem reasonable to question the authorities in Burma and to hear their explanations.”


    But, evidently, Burma is not seen as a threat by powerful lobbies who influence congress, and to lesser extent, Admin:

  3. Cyrus says:

    Well this is disappointing. I haven’t even started on my nuclear weapons program yet.

  4. thepatentguynet says:

    I am so glad you put this up, Dan.

    I was just days from publishing the inaugural .pdf report (with satellite photos) from my new think tank: The Institute of Tactical and Strategic Bullshit – or, ITSBS.

    In that ITSBS report I reveal for the first time extremely suspicious buildings with pink roofs in Myanmar. Even more suspicious is that they are clustered around what is obviously a cyclotron. We have confirmation from an anonymous ex-diplomat named John Bolton that the large building on the west end of the complex contains a tank. George Jahn will be going into more detail in his AP article: Parchin Pink Plague Pesters Burma

    You can view this obvious causus belli on GE. 21°55’56.83″ N 95°58’39.97″ E

    If you look very closely from about 10 feet out, you can actually see suspicious Parchin-like water on the pavement right at the SW corner of the building, right were that dog is standing on three legs.

  5. I’m sorry to have missed this post. It’s amazing that experts draw different conclusions about nuclear programs based on technical analysis and available evidence. Not everyone has an agenda.

  6. Dawn says:

    Dear Dr Joyner, thank you for the most enlightening post.

    I don’t doubt Robert Kelley’s assessment that Myanmar has a clandestine nuclear weapons programme, but do think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that no one cares, particularly with the apparent renewed concern with regards to nuclear weapons. Last year, Myanmar declared that it had no illicit dealings with North Korea, and has further pledged to comply with Security Council resolutions 1718 and 1874. One would naturally assume compliance, due to the binding nature of Security Council Resolutions. I am, however, more curious about the extent of the threat of Myanmar’s nuclear programme towards the wider international community. Given what we know/ I am aware of, Myanmar is receiving most of its nuclear development aid and assistance from North Korea. Quite frankly, with regard to North Korea’s nuclear programme, there appears to be a “general consensus among experts and officials is that it is some time from perfecting the technology.” ( That does not mean to say that we should not be concerned about the North Korean nuclear programme; but given the relative weakness of the North Korean programme in comparison to the other nuclear weapons states in conjunction Myanmar’s own economic difficulties, I do wonder whether Myanmar will be able to successfully pursue its own nuclear programme. As per the leader of the Myanmar Delegation H.E. U Tin Win to the Annual IAEA General Conference in 2011, “Myanmar is in no position to consider the production and use of nuclear weapons and does not have enough economic strength to do so.” (

    Hope you have a wonderful day today.

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