How India's Blasts Blindsided Washington

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WASHINGTON: What shall it profit America if it spends $28 billion a year on intelligence and can't even spot a simple subcontinental nuclear test? Admitting that India's atomic blasts caught his administration off guard, President Clinton ordered CIA chief George Tenet Wednesday to "thoroughly review" why the agency didn't see this coming. Tenet himself has been trying to answer that question, with the help of external investigators, since Monday. "India was giving out an awful lot of signals that weren't deep dark secrets," says TIME intelligence correspondent Doug Waller. "It was just something we didn't believe."

There are red faces amongst the top brass, too. TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson reports that India may have used sandstorms, bad weather and nighttime action to "deceive and decoy" American military satellites -- and cover up the test sites until the last minute.

But the 24-year-old Indian nuclear program itself can hardly be called a covert operation. In fact, it seems the long-running debate over New Delhi's nuclear capability is precisely what lulled Washington to sleep this time. "A lot of folks at the State Department are saying, 'Gee, we really liked the ambiguity,'" says Thompson. Of course, India had to come out of the closet sometime. Too bad no one was watching.