There are satellites orbiting the Earth with one main objective, to detect nuclear explosions. Besides defence, they are there to detect any unauthorised nuclear tests as they were mostly banned by a treaty signed in 1963.
One such satellite as Vela 6911 and on the morning of the 22nd September 1979, it detected a double-flash of light, one short followed by a larger one, indicating a nuclear explosion had occurred. It was located in the southern Indian Ocean between the Crozet Islands and Prince Edward Island.
The United States were in control of the satellite and immediately it sent the government and the military on to a high state of alert. This was, at the time when the Cold War was at its height and everyone was apprehensive on whose finger might be about to press the button. Two questions came to mind; did a nuclear explosion actually take place and if so, who was responsible? At the time, there were only a handful of countries known to have this capability. But was there now another which was not known? They all came back and denied it was them. If that was true, then who was it?
The US attempted to answer the first question by setting up an investigation led by three leading scientists. They came back with a mixed message. There was a likelihood that an atomic blast had taken place but that they were not one hundred per cent happy that the satellite’s sensors could be relied on in this instance.
In the meantime, the CIA and other intelligence agencies investigated the area in order to find any evidence. Armed with their results, a larger science team was assembled and given the task of answering the mystery. Their conclusion stated that it was possible an explosion had taken place, but they also theorised that the satellite might have been impacted by a tiny meteor which could have delivered wrong data at that point.
So, their final analysis to the government was that it was likely there had been a nuclear blast. That might appear to be the end of the mystery. But such things are never that simple. Before we reach a conclusion, we have to take into account the hand of politics in this event. President Jimmy Carter was in office at the time. The news that there was a new nuclear power on the world stage and that they had exploded an atomic bomb without anyone knowing about it until it activated, would not look good and even embarrass the administration. So, was there a cover-up?
In 1980, a high-ranking US government official stated the report was a “white-wash, due to political considerations.” A more telling account comes from an entry in the president’s private diary where he states that a nuclear test had taken place and that the instigator was Israel with the possible co-operation of South Africa. Both of these countries were not officially a nuclear one at this time.
However, the intelligence community secretly suspected that Israel had developed a nuclear bomb as early as 1974. It is now generally believed that a test explosion did take place on that day and the satellite’s data was correct. So, why didn’t the US openly accuse the Israelis? It’s an old story. If they had, the US would have been forced to impose sanctions and that was not politically acceptable.
The truth, as they say, is out there. Unfortunately, we will have to wait until the secret reports and papers are released sometime in the future to know for sure.