Jeffrey LewisTender Mercies: ISIS on India

ISIS has released a report, India’s Gas Centrifuge Program: Stopping Illicit Procurement and the Leakage of Technical Centrifuge Know-How, arguing that the Indian system of using tenders to acquire export controlled technology raises concerns about proliferation.

Since at least 1984, IRE has regularly placed inconspicuous lists of items in Indian newspapers, such as the Times of India, to invite bids from potential suppliers to RMP. This procurement process is commonly referred to as “tendering,” where the tenderer is the company that bids to provide the item. Before submitting a bid, called a tender, a prospective supplier or trading agent can purchase, for a small fee, the detailed blueprints, manufacturing instructions, and specifications of a particular item.

An undesirable side effect of this process is the leakage of sensitive nuclear information. To prepare a bid, interested parties can obtain tender documents from IRE that list technical specifications of centrifuge components and centrifuge-related equipment. Although the detailed information may be stamped “proprietary” or similarly marked, this level of classification is relatively low. Company officials who possess this information could sell the item or underlying technology to other customers with the expectation that few legal consequences would result from Indian prosecutors.

A month or so ago, I noted a website that allows one to search various tenders.

Paul Adds:

Jeffrey raised this issue before in a post about India’s less-then-perfect non-proliferation record.


  1. Akash (History)

    Sorry, but you guys are really clutching at straws here and rather ridiculous ones at that.
    India’s tenders are a countrywide process running across all possible departments- from the ministry of finance if it wants printer ink, to the public works department if it wants concrete to even the DAE ..
    There is a difference between a stated public policy implemented for transparency’s sake as compared to intentional proliferation the likes of which China and Pak have engaged in.

    As regards picking up “secret” or useful information from tenders- heck, till recently US public libraries had more relevant information than trawling through dozens of tenders scattered across half a dozen Indian languages or even more, to get an “insight”.

    At any rate- if this was such an issue- the US would have asked India and those tenders would have been removed..unfortunately, you guys are clutching at straws here to imply some less than perfect non proliferation those standards, many European nations, signatories to treaties to boot, have done far worse. And what of AQ Khan and his still existent network?

  2. Akash (History)

    To detail the tender process- by law, the GOI has to have an open bidding process for Govt projects, which are then monitored by agencies like the Comptroller General (Auditor). So the process is that you publish the requirements in the weekly, biweekly, fortnightly whatever Govt gazette, which then becomes an official “advertisement”. Then the usual follows- the bidders send a proposal, there is a price comparison and so on and so forth. Typical procurement procedures which have been followed worldwide.

  3. Nitin (History)

    I wrote about Albright’s report on my blog yesterday. See

    As Akash puts it, it’s clutching straws. Let’s face it—- the risk of countries deliberately transferring nuclear weapons technology is far greater, and so far the only route by which such technology has ended up in the hands of states with an grudge.

    Moreover, when prospective buyers have access to nuke-in-a-box packages available off the shelf from China/Pakistan/Khan, it is unlikely that they’d want to contact a number of suppliers, get drawings of bits and pieces from them, with the hope of putting it together until it works. It’s a stretch.

    It’s still a risk, you may argue. In that case, the best way to eliminate that risk is to bring India completely and unambiguously within the international nuclear mainstream.

  4. Kumar (History)

    Mr. Lewis:

    Mr. Albright’s report may induce parxosyms of joy in your camp but it is a poorly argued piece. Without argument, Mr. Albright consistently conflates the dangers of ‘horizontal’ proliferation (in general) with so-called ‘vertical’ proliferation (by India). Moreover, Mr. Albright does not present a single case where alleged Indian laxity aided or abetted proliferation efforts by others. All he can wave around is ‘may’, ‘might’, ‘can’ etc.

    As I wrote elsewhere (on The Acorn blog), India is under no obligation to follow treaties (e.g., the NPT) and laws (e.g., Western export control laws) to which it is not a party. Far more relevant to this debate is India’s record of adherence to laws and treaties it signs: That record is superior to many other states that are held in greater esteem (compared to India) by the adherents of the Church of Non-Proliferation (e.g., China in proliferating nuke tech. to Pakistan, or America in looking the other way when Pakistan was assembling it Chinese gifts).

    Unless, and until, Mr. Albright addresses the flaws in his report people would be well-advised to shy away from the wares he is peddling.


  5. RT (History)

    I’d like to add to this. I already contacted Dr.Lewis to note that Albright’s research will have value if he correlates the perceived laxity in Indian procurement processes with any actual incidents of proliferation.

    Albright says Germany has a “good” legal system in this context but that system also allowed AQ Khan to buy whatever he wanted for several years.

    Actions speak louder than dead letter laws.

  6. Akash (History)

    The funniest thing about Mr Albrights report is the way it begins- that ISIS uncovered a “secret Indian procurement” program or initiative. This sounds ridiculous to anyone with a basic idea of tenders. I mean tenders are ubiquitous in India! Everyone knows about them and there is nothing James Bondesque about a typical Indian bureaucratic procedure. Furthermore, he accuses Indian authorities of not divulging the name of the facility, but using acronyms- I mean on the one hand you wave around the possibility of “terrorists” and then on the other you want open details in daily newspapers? Acronyms are used because of filing procedures (and boy can I go on about those) and the fact that if somebody does respond to a tender it is one who is in the business, who is crosschecked ie vetted by the GOI authority and a response is given- then you have the usual RFP, Proposal and so on and so forth. This also ensures that only after DAE vets the concerned supplier bidding for the project, are details given.

    Mr Albright cites one tender as showing the layout of the Rare Earth Facility – with Google Earth, its even easier. Why bother with a tender!

    I can go to Global Security. org and potter around half a dozen Indian sites.

    With actual plans given by AQ Khan and co, the Iranians were unable to discern much. But a sparse details in Bureaucratese from a tender will enable a proliferator to weaponise & that too about individual components, construction of buildings etc.

    Like I noted previously- if the US wants- the tenders will stop appearing even in the press- its hardly a big deal.

    Mr Albright suggests that the end user is hidden! Anything but- you respond to a DAE tender and you will get a reply with the DAE letterhead- what could be more obvious?

    Furthermore, he accuses India of using the AQ Khan network without any proof whatsoever. If anything- as any google of the topic shows, it is India which has been hollering about AQ Khan and co for well nigh over a decade and a half.

    I must say that this piece by ISIS certainly qualifies as a rather petty attempt to scuttle the Indo- US deal, and that too it plays very fast and loose as far as facts are concerned.


  7. Manne (History)

    There are too many “could”s in there with very very little (no?) substance. The word strawmen is very accurate. The authors almost don’t want India to use even the internal resources for its mil programme – which is not surprising really.

    Since you are familiar with Bharat Rakshak, check my detailed reply there if you are interested. Too nauseated to repeat it here.