By Maurits Elen
For the past three years a crack group of devoted students from Georgetown University have been brewing up a homework project for the ages, drawing attention from Congress and top officials in the Pentagon. Their assignment has turned heads due to its provocative conclusion that China’s nuclear arsenal could be many times bigger than previous well-established estimates of arms-control experts.
The report incorporates the largest body of public knowledge about China’s storage of ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads.
The students claim that China has more than 400 warheads. Statistics from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) report that the world’s combined stockpile of nuclear warheads currently is roughly 20,500, with China contributing a total of 240 warheads, although that is simply an estimate since China has maintained strict secrecy about its nuclear arsenal.
Currently, Russia, the US and France possess the most warheads (respectively 11,000, 8,500 and 300).
According to a Defense Department strategist the information is currently being checked against classified information.
Surprisingly, the students based their research not only on traditional documentation, but also on more unconventional sources such as Google Earth, spotty Chinese television specials (think History Channel post-2008, not when it was good), and military websites and blogs.
The students machine translated hundreds of documents, combed through satellite imagery, somehow obtained restricted Chinese military documents, and waded through hundreds of gigabytes of online data to map out brick by brick what the Chinese call ”The Great Underground Wall,” the vast pipeline of tunnels that harbor China’s nuclear arsenal.
The team was led by their professor, Phillip A. Karber, a former top Pentagon official known for leading an elite research team to help Henry Kissinger probe the weaknesses of Soviet forces.
Since 2009, hackers have attempted, but never succeeded, to hack into China’s military website, which was set up to provide more transparency regarding its military aspirations.
Unfortunately for China, this transparency allowed the Georgetown students access to all the information they wanted, without a single malicious key-stroke.
Though the information has yet to be corroborated, the length of time invested into this project combined with the Georgetown stamp of approval leaves us with one question: With China investing so many resources into infiltrating US intelligence systems, how is it their safeguards were schooled by some college kids armed only with spare time and Google Translate?