Highlights

  • USA's nuclear weapon programme secrecy in spotlight
  • FBI raided former President Donald Trump's Florida property
  • FBI reportedly looked for nuclear papers taken from White House

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USA's top-secret nuclear weapon papers taken illegally from White House; enemy leak risk? Trump raid row

USA's FBI recently conducted raids at former President Trump's Florida property, the Mar-a-Lago Club, to reportedly look for nuclear weapon-related papers.

Over 5,000 nuclear weapons, enough to destroy the world not once, but more than ten times over. This is the power of USA's nuclear arsenal. But, have closely-guarded secrets of this deadly weaponry been exposed to America's enemies? Were classified documents relating to USA's nuclear weapons programme illegally taken out of the President's residence, the White House? Could information from the documents have fallen into the hands of America's biggest enemies?

At the centre of this entire controversy, is one of USA's most mercurial Presidents - Donald Trump. USA's Federal Bureau of Investigation recently conducted raids at former President Trump's Florida property, the Mar-a-Lago Club. Among the items FBI searched for, were classified documents on nuclear weapons, according to news reports quoting sources.

This is quite worrisome for the US as nuclear weapon information is considered extra-sensitive. This is why it is usually restricted to a few senior government officials. Secret documents kept in non-government storage may be less secure, and papers not being kept according to prescribed measures increases the threat of leakage.

If any top-secret nuclear information is leaked, America may face some very difficult scenarios. Firstly, if the documents are about US weapons, then information may fall into enemy hands. America's foes may get significant intel to build systems to counter US nuclear arms. But if the papers are about some other country's nuclear programme, then it may lead to a huge diplomatic crisis. If the country is a US ally, then it may feel betrayed, while non-allies may see leakage of the information as a threatening ploy. This entire saga would also have the potential to heighten the nuclear arms race amid increasing tension between America, and Russia and China.

There are many countries which would do virtually anything to get their hands on American nuclear secrets. China is currently engaged in expanding its nuclear capabilities in the backdrop of Washington's comments that Beijing is a strategic adversary and a threat to its neighbours. Russia is a traditional nemesis of America, and the two have a long history of nuclear espionage. North Korea is another nation seen as a threat by the US, since Pyongyang has continued to develop nuclear weapons despite sanctions. Iran's nuclear programme is also a big headache for the US as tension between Tehran and Washington has risen in recent years after Trump's government pulled out of the JCPOA pact.

Trump is now under investigation over possible improper handling of documents. The former President is accused of unauthorised removal of material from the White House. The National Archives and Records Administration had sought return of the material, and later asked the Justice Department to investigate.

The raid on Trump's Mar-a-Lago club took place on 8 August 2022. FBI agents seized around a dozen boxes of materials, according to reports. A safe, and a padlocked storage bay were also searched. 11 sets of classified papers were taken, according to the Wall Street Journal. Four of the seized document sets were marked 'top secret'.
Three were labelled 'secret', and another three tagged 'confidential'. One set of papers was marked 'various classified/TS/SCI' which is a higher level of confidentiality. Trump had earlier returned 15 boxes of papers and items, which contained some 'confidential' papers as well.

If authorities choose to prosecute Trump, he could be charged under various laws. The first is the Espionage Act, a 1917 law meant to crush dissent against US support for World War I. It is now reportedly used against spies, and unauthorised leakage of information. It criminalises the unauthorised retention or disclosure of information, and covers information that could harm America or help its enemies. The second is Title 18 Section 1519 of the US Code which makes it illegal for anyone to "knowingly alter, destroy, mutilate, conceal, cover up, falsify, or make a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency." Another possible charge could be under Title 18 Section 1001 of the US Code which relates to making false statements, or plotting to defraud the United States.

In his response, Donald Trump has called the nuclear issue a "hoax". The former President accused the FBI of "planting evidence" during the raid. He compared the ongoing case to the earlier charge that he collaborated with Russia. Trump blamed the "same sleazy people" for the current case. He also criticised the FBI for not letting his lawyers be present during the search of Mar-a-Lago. Trump and his Republican Party have alleged politically motivated malice in FBI's action.

The government has reacted sharply to Trump's attack. US Attorney General Merrick Garland called FBI dedicated public servants. He said that the probe agency's integrity was being "unfairly attacked". Garland said that the FBI protects Americans from violent crime and terrorism while undertaking great personal risk and sacrifice.

The US has a formidable nuclear arsenal consisting of over 5,550 nuclear warheads. Around 1/5th of the weapons is reportedly kept on hair-trigger alert. This means that around 900 nuclear weapons are ready to launch in under 15 minutes. The most powerful nuclear bomb in USA's arsenal is reported to be the B83 with a maximum yield of 1.2 megatons. This makes it 60 times more powerful than the bomb dropped over Japan's Nagasaki. Over 600 B83 bombs are reportedly in active service.

America's nuclear weapons form the backbone of its military deterrence programme. This is all the more important in a world where Russia is openly waging war against Ukraine, and China is threatening war against Taiwan. In such a situation, even rumours of USA's nuclear weapons information being compromised is a big blow to America's military credibility.

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