The List: Five Real Missions for 007
James Bond is out for revenge in the new film, Quantum of Solace. But here in the real world, the intelligence community is badly in need of a superspy to solve some of its biggest conundrums. Here are five missions we’d love Agent 007 to tackle.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
Whos Got the H-Bomb?
The mission: Infiltrate the nuclear weapons programs of India, Pakistan, and North Korea to determine which ones possess the hydrogen bomb.
Briefing: Its long been assumed that these smaller nuclear powers possess inferior nuclear weapons. During the Cold War, only superpowers had the ability to make advancements in nuclear weaponry, such as developing the hydrogen bomb. But the barriers are no longer so high. The idea is out, says John Pike, director of the defense and intelligence news Web site GlobalSecurity.org. He adds that the computational power available to design a device and conduct tests is leaps and bounds above what was available to Cold War-era scientists. And required materials such as plutonium, uranium, and tritium are available to any country with a nuclear reactor. Israel, which has a relatively small nuclear weapons program, is widely thought to already possess the H-bomb. Such weapons are roughly a thousand times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Nagasaki during World War II.
Do the newer members of the nuclear club possess weapons only as potent as the Nagasaki bomb? Take North Korea, whose detonation of a small nuclear device in 2006 was deemed a failure by many because of its low yield. Pike doubts the North Koreans are ignorant peons and wonders if the smaller bomb could be used to trigger a larger, more dangerous hydrogen device. Possession of the H-bomb could also complicate certain conflicts, such as the long-simmering dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.
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Could China Rule the Waves?
The mission: Spy on the top-ranking officers of Chinas Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). Determine its current strength and plans for future expansion.
Briefing: In the past 10 to 15 years, China has dramatically upgraded its military capabilities and, at the beginning of the new century, embarked on one of the largest military buildups in the world. The military budget has ballooned from $14.6 billion in 2000 to $57.2 billion this year, much of it going toward pay increases. But most analysts think the focus on landing craft and amphibious assault ships designed to carry tanks, armored vehicles, and troops indicate that China is arming itself for a potential invasion of Taiwan. Although this possibility is alarming in itself, it does not yet show that China intends to challenge the United States on the high seas.
For many experts, the acquisition or construction of an aircraft carrier would signal a major increase in Chinas power-projection capabilities. Analysts say a carrier development program is probably underway, with an operational vessel expected in the next 10 years, but China has so far kept the specifics of the program under wraps. Pike thinks there are other indicators we should be keeping an eye on. Chinas new hospital ships, for instance, may suggest that China is preparing for naval battles far from home. We have seen them start to acquire capabilities to go the next layer out, not simply Taiwan but now the South China Sea, he says.
NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images
Who Supplies Russias Energy Wealth?
The mission: Gain the trust of the leaders of Russias natural gas industry. Determine their intentions in Central Asia.
Briefing: Russia currently has a stranglehold on the rich natural gas fields of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. Although it supplies a fifth of Europes gas, state-controlled energy monopoly Gazprom has only enough supplies to meet Russias domestic demand. The company procures the rest from Central Asian countries, whose gas exports must currently travel through Russian-controlled pipelines before being sold to the European Union. This setup makes Europes energy supply vulnerable to disruption from Russia.
Various groups have been jockeying to build pipelines that bypass Russia. So far, China seems to have been the most successful, striking a deal with Kazakhstan to import a portion of that countrys massive gas supplies along pipelines that steer clear of Russia. European energy developers failure to catch up is partly the result of several intelligence gaps. Charles Esser, an analyst at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, says that accurate information on Gazproms actual gas reserves, the extent of Russian investment in Central Asia, and the quality of that investment is still not widely available, making it difficult for Europe to gain access to Central Asian supplies. Until this information is known, Europes energy security continues to be uncertain.
ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images
Which Tribes to Bribe?
The mission: Travel to the mountainous Pashtun regions of Afghanistan and gather information on tribal leaders. Determine which ones are connected to the Taliban and if they can be lured away with money and other incentives.
Briefing: As Taliban militants have retreated into the Pashtun regions of Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan, they have become increasingly difficult to fight. Coalition forces often cannot distinguish between local tribes and Taliban members, resulting in unintended casualties that only play into the hands of the Taliban insurgency.
Pike thinks it is essential to identify the potential cleavages between Pashtun tribal leaders and the Taliban. In what was known as the Sunni Awakening in Iraq, Sunni tribes in Anbar and other provinces revolted against al Qaeda with U.S. support, creating an effective counterinsurgency. Convincing Pashtun leaders to do the same against the Taliban could help turn the tide in Afghanistan, but the military first needs to know which ones can be convinced. What coalition forces need most, Pike says, is a comprehensive social network analysis of the tribesjust as was done in Iraq with great success.
Who Will Follow Kim?
The mission: Enter North Korean ruler Kim Jong Ils inner circle and determine who is in line to be his successor.
Briefing: Unconfirmed reports say that the 66-year-old Kim probably suffered a stroke in August and has been recovering since. Leaked intelligence indicates that he is still in control, but its unclear who will take the reins of the nuclear-armed country if his health takes a turn for the worse. Ken Gause of CNA, a think tank that does work for the Pentagon, thinks there are three main possibilities for the passing of the baton: dynastic succession, the emergence of a military strongman, or collective leadership. Kim seems unlikely to select one of his own sons as successor. His two younger sons are seen as inexperienced, and the eldest one, Kim Jong Nam, may have fallen out of favor after he was caught trying to sneak into Japan to visit Disneyland. The emergence of a military strongman also seems unlikely, since Kim has been careful to eliminate any potential rivals within the regime.
There is some consensus among experts that a form of collective leadership centered on the countrys National Defense Commission (NDC) would emerge if Kim dies or is incapacitated. The commission controls North Koreas military and is currently chaired by the Dear Leader. Gause says that candidates the NDC might select for the leadership spot may include Kims brother-in-law Chang Song-taek, thought to oversee the states internal security organs, and Yi Che-kang, a senior figure in the party apparatus. If a succession plan is already in place, Gause concedes, a well-orchestrated handoff might eventually lead to reform, though no one is going to stick their neck out until they feel sufficiently secure from blowback from the rest of the collective leadership. On the flip side, a scramble for power might lead to an even more isolationist North Korea until power is consolidated.
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