Pentagon Checking Concern of CIA about Russia's Nuclear-Arms Control

Article excerpt

The Pentagon is looking closely at problems with Russia's nuclear command and control, including fresh warnings in a CIA report that equipment malfunctions have caused missiles to spontaneously go on higher alert, the U.S. general in charge of NATO said yesterday.

"Because of that report, we're looking at it very closely," said Army Gen. George Joulwan. "But I would say that the reports that [we] have received up to this date have been that the nuclear warheads have been properly cared for."

Gen. Joulwan, who retires as NATO commander later this year, commented on an article yesterday in The Washington Times on a 13-page CIA report concluding the system and equipment used to control and launch Russia's nuclear missiles are "deteriorating."

The report, labeled "secret," was written in March after Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, who arrived in Washington yesterday, warned a lack of defense funds could lead to the loss of control over nuclear weapons.

A senior Pentagon official said the United States is not likely to allow taxpayer dollars to be used by Moscow to repair the command-and-control system.

The official said it is possible for U.S. aid to help Russia upgrade its old and poorly maintained nuclear structure.

But he said Moscow probably would not seek that kind of help, fearing the United States would sabotage the system with computer viruses.

The official said Mr. Rodionov also has been complaining that "there is no money to buy spare parts" for the nuclear system, and noted that several nuclear warning systems had been reduced.

The CIA report said malfunctions of nuclear equipment caused missiles "on more than one occasion" to switch "spontaneously to combat mode."

It said the higher-alert status "would not necessarily result in an unauthorized missile launch" because of other safeguards.

The official declined to comment directly on the report in The Times, citing a policy of not discussing intelligence. He briefed reporters in advance of meetings today at the Pentagon between Mr. Rodionov and Defense Secretary William S. Cohen. They are expected to discuss NATO expansion, U.S. aid to assist denuclearization in Russia and a 1993 U.S.-Russian agreement on defense cooperation, the official said.

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin investigated his country's nuclear forces after warnings from his Defense Ministry and "is satisfied that Russia does have control of its nuclear forces. …