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Extensive Camouflage Dupes Experts

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I thought this was an interesting story in today's Washington Post. It speaks to the extreme skepticism early on with reports that the Syrians were building an illicit nuke plant that the Israelis blew up a few months ago.

I remember attending a roundtable lunch a few days after the attack where nuclear "experts" cast serious doubt on the contention that the Syrian facility that was bombed actually was used for nuke fuel processing or anything else weapons related.

But the Washington Post story today speaks to the camouflaging capabilities governments are now employing to conceal their intentions. It's an interesting look at the lengths to which governments will and can conceal their secret efforts from overhead surveillance and also it shows some of the laborious techniques they'll employ to send out red herrings.

Experience With Syria Exemplifies Challenge That Detection Presents

Syria went to extraordinary lengths to conceal its undeclared construction of a plutonium-producing nuclear reactor from spies in the sky and on the ground in recent years, according to a draft report by independent nuclear experts briefed by Bush administration officials.

The effectiveness of the camouflage effort raises new doubts about the prospects for certain detection of future clandestine nuclear weapons-related activities, the Institute for Science and International Security concluded in its report on the Syrian facility. "This case serves as a sobering reminder of the difficulty of identifying secret nuclear activities," the report said.

According to the ISIS report to be released this week, the fake roof was just the start. Syrian engineers went to "astonishing lengths" to hide cooling and ventilation systems, power lines and other features that normally are telltale signs of a nuclear reactor, authors David Albright and Paul Brannan wrote.

For example, the main building appears small and shallow from the air, but it was evidently built over large underground chambers -- tens of meters in depth -- that were large enough to house the nuclear reactor, as well as a reserve water-storage tank and pools for spent fuel rods, the report said.

An extensive network of electrical lines appears to have been buried in trenches. Traditional water-cooling towers were replaced with an elaborate underground system that discharged into the Euphrates River. And, instead of using smokestack-like ventilation towers prominent at many reactor sites, the ventilation system appears to have been built along the walls of the building, with louver openings not visible from the air, the authors contended.

The ISIS report noted that early skepticism that Syria was building a reactor there was based partly on the observable absence of revealing features. "The current domestic and international capabilities to detect nuclear facilities and activities are not adequate to prevent more surprises in the future," the report warned.

And here's the ISIS report to pick over for yourself...

-- Christian

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