"A stray camera at a meeting of top Russian military leaders has allegedly captured a glimpse of the Kremlin's possible plan for a bewildering and frightening new weapon—a radiation-scattering "dirty bomb." One delivered by a drone submarine, which itself rides piggyback on another submarine," David Axe wrote in his article "Putin TV: Russia's Got a Dirty Bomb," published by the Daily Beast on November 11.
"The problem is: We have no way of knowing for sure if this is in fact an existing weapon or simply a media provocation designed to make us think that Russian President Vladimir Putin has got a dangerous new toy in his arsenal. If it's real, then Russia is the first country we know about to come into possession of a weapon that, while not nearly as destructive as an atomic bomb, could spread lethal radiation over a wide area, rendering it uninhabitable. If the segment is a fake, it's the latest in a long list of Kremlin media hoaxes," Axe wrote.
"It's true some secret data got into the shot, and it was subsequently deleted," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday about the mysterious footage. "We hope that this won't repeat."
This week Putin was in the Black Sea city of Sochi for a meeting with senior military officers and officials from Russia's arms industry. A camera from government-owned Channel One news was in the room and, apparently by accident, looked over the shoulder of an officer as he flipped open a page on a briefing book.
Channel One broadcast the footage at least once before editing the shots to remove the briefing, perhaps at the urging of government censors. But attentive viewers had already posted the original clip to YouTube—and got busy circulating screenshots on social media.
The fleeting glance at the book, visible at the 1:46 mark in the video, features twin headers. "Ocean Multipurpose System Status-6" and "Developer—Rubin Design Bureau." And, below that, some explanatory text and illustrations.
"Purpose—the defeat of the important economic facilities in the area of the enemy coast," the text reads, "and causing unacceptable damage to… the country through the establishment of extensive zones of radioactive contamination, unsuitable for implementation in these areas of military, economic, business or other activity for a long time."
The illustrations on the Sochi brief depict a torpedo-like robotic vehicle as well as two larger subs—the nuclear-powered "Project 09852" and "Project 09851" vessels that are under construction for the Russian navy, and which are both reportedly optimized for rescue, reconnaissance and other undersea special operations.
"Today in Sochi Putin is shown proposal for Status-6—a massive 'dirty bomb' weapon system developed by Rubin," tweeted Pavel Podvig, an independent military analyst based in Geneva. "Appears to be an underwater drone launched from a mini-submarine," Podvig added.
Today in Sochi Putin is shown proposal for Status-6 - a massive "dirty bomb" weapon system developed by Rubin pic.twitter.com/3KwvOPfQ0j— Pavel Podvig (@russianforces) November 10, 2015
"All of which sounds very scary and Cold War 2.0. But might that not be the point? For one thing, there's nothing on these slides that says "Top Secret" or "Confidential," which one would expect of Russian Defense Ministry documents outlining a new nuclear capability. Second, there's always a chance that this "accidental" giveaway of state secrets was anything but," Axe wrote.