Covered up Pakistan's Nuclear Black Market
Special to the South Asia Tribune
ANGELES, August 12: When news last year of Pakistan’s clandestine
nuclear program showed how the country's top nuclear scientist
was secretly selling atomic bomb blueprints to Iran and North
Korea, the so-called “Axis of Evil" (along with Iraq),
world leaders waited to see how President Bush would punish Pakistan's
President Pervez Musharraf.
has, after all, spent his entire time in office talking tough
about countries and dictators that conceal weapons of mass destruction,
and even tougher about individuals who supply rogue nations and
terrorists with the means to build WMDs. For all intents and purposes,
Pakistan and Musharraf fit that description.
Bush, Vice President Cheney and
top members of the administration reacted with shock when they
found out that Abdul Qadeer Khan, Pakistan’s top nuclear
scientist, spent the past 15 years selling outlaw nations nuclear
technology and equipment. So it was sort of a surprise when Bush,
upon finding out about Khan’s proliferation of nuclear technology,
let Pakistan off with a slap on the wrist.
But it was all an act. In fact,
it was actually a cover-up designed to shield Cheney because he
knew about the proliferation for more than a decade and did nothing
to stop it.
The International Atomic Energy
Association launched an investigation two years ago in an attempt
to uncover how Iran obtained components and parts for P-2 centrifuges,
which are used to enrich uranium into fuel for civilian power
Iran secured most of its supply
on the black market, from the network run by Khan. The network
was uncovered last year, leading to Khan's arrest in Pakistan.
An ex-Dutch prime minister, Ruud Lubbers, said the CIA had asked
the Netherlands in 1975 not to prosecute Khan because US intelligence
wanted to find out more about Khan's contacts while he was working
as an engineer at the top secret Dutch uranium enrichment plant
at Almelo, the BBC reported.
IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei
said in June that he was looking for "additional documentation
regarding offers of equipment made to Iran, as well as for information
on associated technical discussions between Iran and intermediaries
in the procurement network."
The Bush administration had mountains
of evidence on Pakistan’s sales of nuclear technology and
equipment to nations vilified by the United States -- nations
that are considered much more of a threat than Iraq -- but turned
a blind eye to the threat and allowed it to happen.
In 1989, the year Khan first
started selling nuclear secrets on the black-market, Richard Barlow,
a young intelligence analyst working for the Pentagon, prepared
a shocking report for Cheney, who was then working as Secretary
of Defense under the first Bush administration: Pakistan had built
an atomic bomb and was selling its nuclear equipment to countries
the United States said was sponsoring terrorism.
But Barlow’s findings, as reported in a January 2002 story
in the magazine Mother Jones, were “politically
finding that Pakistan possessed a nuclear bomb would have triggered
a congressionally mandated cutoff of aid to the country, a key
ally in the CIA's efforts to support Afghan rebels fighting a
pro-Soviet government. It also would have killed a $1.4-billion
sale of F-16 fighter jets to Islamabad ,” Mother Jones
Ironically, Pakistan, critics say, was let off the hook so the
United States could use its borders to hunt for al-Qaeda leader
and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.
Cheney dismissed Barlow’s
report because he wanted to sell Pakistan the F-16 fighter planes.
Several months later, Cheney told a Pentagon official to downplay
Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities when he testified on the
threat before Congress. Barlow complained to his bosses at the
Pentagon and was fired.
years later, in 1992, a high-ranking Pakistani official admitted
that the country had developed the ability to assemble a nuclear
weapon by 1987,” Mother Jones reported. “In
1998, Islamabad detonated its first bomb.”
During the time that Barlow prepared his report on Pakistan, Bryan
Siebert, an Energy Department analyst, was looking into Saddam
Hussain's nuclear program in Iraq. Siebert concluded that, "Iraq
has a major effort under way to produce nuclear weapons,"
and said the National Security Council should investigate his
findings. But the first Bush administration -- which had been
supporting Iraq as a counterweight to the Ayatollah Khomeini's
Iran -- ignored the report, the magazine reported.
was not a failure of intelligence," Barlow told Mother
Jones. "The intelligence was in the system."
Cheney went to great lengths to cover-up Pakistan’s nuclear
weaponry. In a New Yorker article published March 29,
1993, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh quoted Barlow as saying
that some high-ranking members inside the CIA and the Pentagon
lied to Congress about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal in an
effort to ensure the sale of the F-16 fighter planes to Islamabad,
which was secretly equipped to deliver nuclear weapons.
nuclear capabilities and the had become so grave by the spring
of 1990 that then CIA deputy director Richard Kerr said the Pakistani
nuclear threat was worse than the Cuban Missile crisis in the
“It was the most dangerous
nuclear situation we have ever faced since I’ve been in
the US government,” Kerr said in an interview with Hersh.
“It may be as close as we’ve come to a nuclear exchange.
It was far more frightening than the Cuban missile crisis.”
Presently, Kerr is leading the
CIA’s review of prewar intelligence into the Iraqi threat
cited by the second Bush administration.
Still, in l989, Cheney and others in the Pentagon and the CIA
continued to hide the reality of Pakistan’s nuclear threat
from members of Congress. Hersh explained in his lengthy New
Yorker article that reasons behind the cover-up “revolves
around the fact … that the Reagan Administration had dramatically
aided Pakistan in its pursuit of the bomb.”
Reagan and his national-security aides saw the generals who ran
Pakistan as loyal allies in the American proxy war against the
Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Driving the Russians out of Afghanistan
was considered far more important than nagging Pakistan about
its building of bombs. The Reagan Administration did more than
forgo nagging, however; it looked the other way throughout the
mid-nineteen-eighties as Pakistan assembled its nuclear arsenal
with the aid of many millions of dollars’ worth of restricted,
high-tech materials bought inside the United States.
purchases have always been illegal, but Congress made breaking
the law more costly in 1985, when it passed the Solarz Amendment
to the Foreign Assistance Act (the amendment was proposed by former
Representative Stephen J. Solarz, Democrat of New York), providing
for the cutoff of all military and economic aid to purportedly
non-nuclear nations that illegally export or attempt to export
nuclear-related materials from the United States.”
government’s ability to keep the Pakistani nuclear-arms
purchases in America secret is the more remarkable because (since
1989) the State Department, the CIA, and the Defense Department
(under Cheney) have been struggling with an internal account of
illegal Pakistani procurement activities, given by a former CIA
intelligence officer named Richard M. Barlow,” Hersh reported.
“Barlow … was dismayed to learn, at first hand, that
State Department and agency officials were engaged in what he
concluded was a pattern of lying to and misleading Congress about
Pakistan ’s nuclear-purchasing activities.”
The description by Hersh of what
took place in mid-1990 is eerily reminiscent of what is taking
place today in terms of the current Bush administration’s
foreign policy objectives.
Hersh interviewed scores of intelligence and administration officials
for his March 1993 New Yorker story and many of those
individuals confirmed Barlow’s claims that Pakistani nuclear
purchases were deliberately withheld from Congress by Cheney and
other officials to avoid a cutoff in military and economic aid
that would adversely affect the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan.
The writer is the author of the explosive memoir, News Junkie,
to be released in the spring of 2006 by Process/Feral House Books.
Visit Leopold's web site at www.jasonleopold.com for updates.
© 2005 Jason Leopold