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US denies ‘foreknowledge’ of Asian tsunami

Pakistan Daily Times | Jan 09 2005

The State Department denied on Friday that it had “foreknowledge” of the tsunami, but withheld it from South Asian countries, while warning the US base at Diego Garcia, thereby preventing damage to it.

It also denied that the tsunami was caused by underground nuclear tests, saying these allegations were utterly false and fell in the category of “misinformation.”

Todd Leventhal, State Department-designated Chief, Counter Misinformation/Disinformation Team told Daily Times that after the South Asian tsunami, two false misinformation allegations have arisen, first that Washington had foreknowledge of the impending disaster but held back the information and, secondly, that the giant wave was caused by a subterranean nuclear explosion.

Regarding the “foreknowledge” allegation, Leventhal said the facts are that scientists at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) in Hawaii, which tracks earthquakes and the danger of tsunamis in the Pacific, detected the earthquake immediately. Their initial calculations were that it was an 8.0 quake, which is 10 times less powerful than the 9.0 quake it was eventually determined to be. Based on these calculations, their initial bulletin, sent 15 minutes after the quake occurred, judged that “no destructive tsunami threat exists,” referring to the Pacific Ocean region.

The PTWC scientists then used slower but more precise methods to measure the earthquake. These calculations yielded an 8.5 quake (which is about one-third as powerful as a 9.0 quake). Based on this, the PTWC sent a revised bulletin, 1.5 hours after the earthquake struck, warning of “the possibility of a tsunami near the epicenter,” which was off the coast of Sumatra. The PTWC had no way no detect whether a tsunami had occurred in the Indian Ocean because there are no tsunami detection buoys in the Indian Ocean, as there are in the Pacific Ocean.

According to Leventhal, “Scientists at the PTWC only learned that there had been a massive tsunami from Internet news accounts, specifically an early Reuter account of 150 killed in Sri Lanka, which was issued three hours and 43 minutes after the quake. About a half-hour later, the Harvard University Seismology Department reported that its further calculations had estimated the earthquake’s magnitude at 8.9. Following the realisation that there had been a massive tsunami, the PTWC did the best job it could of contacting authorities in the Indian Ocean region, but there was no system set up to accomplish this because the PTWC serves Pacific Ocean countries. In any event, by this time, the tsunami had already hit Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India.”

The State Department official explained that as far as the allegation that the US base at Diego Garcia escaped damage because it was forewarned was concerned, the facts are that the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command Detachment on Diego Garcia received the bulletin sent by the PTWC because, as part of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet command structure, the Naval Support Facility at Diego Garcia routinely receives these warnings, even though it is located in the Indian Ocean. There was no significant damage to the facilities at Diego Garcia, not because of the PTWC bulletin, but because of favourable ocean topography and the location of military facilities on the atoll.

He pointed out that Diego Garcia is located west of the Chagos Trench, which plunges to depths of more than 5,000 metres – one of the deepest areas of the Indian Ocean. The depth of the trench and the grade to the shores of the atoll does not allow tsunamis to build up to great height in that area. As a result, the tsunami manifest itself on Diego Garcia as a tidal surge estimated at less than two metres. Most US military facilities are situated on the northwest portion of the horseshoe-shaped atoll. The tsunami, approaching from the east, hit the uninhabited eastern arm of the horseshoe, causing some beach erosion and minor debris build-up, but no significant damage to military facilities.

Leventhal told this newspaper that the main proponent of the “foreknowledge” allegation, Canadian professor Michael Chossudovsky, has a long history of “spinning conspiracy theories.” For example, one of his allegations is that al Qaeda “is supported by the Bush administration.”

Regarding the allegation that the tsunami was caused by underground nuclear testing, the facts that according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “no tsunami of any significance has ever resulted from the testing of nuclear weapons in the past.” The United States has not conducted any nuclear tests since 1992. The earthquake stemmed from natural causes, as earthquakes have for millions of years, he added.









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