Monday, March 01, 2004

Seymour Hersh (New Yorker) The spring offensive for bin Laden, and the nuclear chasm opening up ...

The New Yorker

This Hersh article may explain a few things, including why the military is more confident about getting bin Laden, and why bin Laden's rumored to have fled Pakistan for Afghanistan. Bin Laden aside, the nuclear black market story is going from big to unprecedented, with astonishingly little popular excitement. This may be one of those "I really prefer not to know" situations for most Americans. As I've noted before, the Malaysian connection is extremely interesting and very scary. They have the technology to do miniaturized bombs.

The spring offensive has been rumored for months. It sounds bigger all the time; it may be driving the hurried exit from Iraq almost as much as Bush's reelection campaign. Of course Iraq was supposed to have been such a cakewalk that our forces were to have been freed up last year and rested by now.

As with all Hersh exclusives, one wonders who in the CIA is leaking this and why ... How much is real and how much deception ...

Emphases mine. Note bin Laden's goatherds are now all dead.
THE DEAL by SEYMOUR M. HERSH - The New Yorker
Why is Washington going easy on Pakistan’s nuclear black marketers?
Issue of 2004-03-08
Posted 2004-03-01

On February 4th, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, who is revered in Pakistan as the father of the country’s nuclear bomb, appeared on a state-run television network in Islamabad and confessed that he had been solely responsible for operating an international black market in nuclear-weapons materials. His confession was accepted by a stony-faced Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s President, who is a former Army general, and who dressed for the occasion in commando fatigues. The next day, on television again, Musharraf, who claimed to be shocked by Khan’s misdeeds, nonetheless pardoned him, citing his service to Pakistan (he called Khan "my hero"). Musharraf told the Times that he had received a specific accounting of Khan’s activities in Iran, North Korea, and Malaysia from the United States only last October. If they knew earlier, they should have told us, he said. Maybe a lot of things would not have happened.

It was a make-believe performance in a make-believe capital. In interviews last month in Islamabad, a planned city built four decades ago, politicians, diplomats, and nuclear experts dismissed the Khan confession and the Musharraf pardon with expressions of scorn and disbelief. For two decades, journalists and American and European intelligence agencies have linked Khan and the Pakistani intelligence service, the I.S.I. (Inter-Service Intelligence), to nuclear-technology transfers...

A Bush Administration intelligence officer with years of experience in nonproliferation issues told me last month, One thing we do know is that this was not a rogue operation...The intelligence officer went on, We had every opportunity to put a stop to the A. Q. Khan network fifteen years ago. Some of those involved today in the smuggling are the children of those we knew about in the eighties. It’s the second generation now.

...Musharraf, who seized power in a coup d’√©tat in 1999, has been a major ally of the Bush Administration in the war on terrorism. According to past and present military and intelligence officials, however, Washington’s support for the pardon of Khan was predicated on what Musharraf has agreed to do next: look the other way as the U.S. hunts for Osama bin Laden in a tribal area of northwest Pakistan dominated by the forbidding Hindu Kush mountain range, where he is believed to be operating...

Musharraf has proffered other help as well. A former senior intelligence official said to me, Musharraf told us, ‘We’ve got guys inside. The people who provide fresh fruits and vegetables and herd the goats’ for bin Laden and his Al Qaeda followers. It’s a quid pro quo: we’re going to get our troops inside Pakistan in return for not forcing Musharraf to deal with Khan.

The spring offensive could diminish the tempo of American operations in Iraq. It’s going to be a full-court press, one Pentagon planner said. Some of the most highly skilled Special Forces units, such as Task Force 121, will be shifted from Iraq to Pakistan...

A large-scale American military presence in Pakistan could also create an uproar in the country and weaken Musharraf’s already tenuous hold on power. The operation represents a tremendous gamble for him personally (he narrowly survived two assassination attempts in December) and, by extension, for the Bush Administration -- if he fell, his successor might be far less friendly to the United States. One of Musharraf’s most vocal critics inside Pakistan is retired Army Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, a fundamentalist Muslim who directed the I.S.I. from 1987 to 1989, at the height of the Afghan war with the Soviets. If American troops start operating from Pakistan, there will be a rupture in the relationship, Gul told me. Americans think others are slaves to them. Referring to the furor over A. Q. Khan, he added, We may be in a jam, but we are a very honorable nation. We will not allow the American troops to come here. This will be the breaking point. If Musharraf has made an agreement about letting American troops operate in Pakistan, Gul said, he’s lying to you.

The greatest risk may be not to Musharraf, or to the stability of South Asia, but to the ability of the international nuclear monitoring institutions to do their work. Many experts fear that, with Khan’s help, the world has moved closer to a nuclear tipping point. Husain Haqqani, who was a special assistant to three prime ministers before Musharraf came to power and is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, noted, with some pride, that his nation had managed to make the bomb despite American sanctions. But now, he told me, Khan and his colleagues have gone wholesale: Once they had the bomb, they had a shopping list of what to buy and where. A. Q. Khan can bring a plain piece of paper and show me how to get it done -- the countries, people, and telephone numbers. ‘This is the guy in Russia who can get you small quantities of enriched uranium. You in Malaysia will manufacture the stuff. Here’s who will miniaturize the warhead. And then go to North Korea and get the damn missile.’ He added, This is not a few scientists pocketing money and getting rich. It’s a state policy.

... Last October, the Iranian government, after nine months of denials and obfuscation, and increasingly productive inspections, formally acknowledged to the I.A.E.A. that it had secretly been producing small quantities of enriched uranium and plutonium, and had been operating a pilot heavy-water reactor program, all potentially in violation of its obligations under the nuclear-nonproliferation treaty. Some of the secret programs, Iran admitted, dated back eighteen years...

... On a trip to the Middle East last month, I was told that a number of years ago the Israeli signals-intelligence agency, known as Unit 8200, broke a sophisticated Iranian code and began monitoring communications that included talk between Iran and Pakistan about Iran’s burgeoning nuclear-weapons program. The Israeli intelligence community has many covert contacts inside Iran, stemming from the strong ties it had there before the overthrow of the Shah, in 1979; some of these ties still exist...

The Israeli intercepts have been shared, in some form, with the United States intelligence community, according to the former senior intelligence official, and they show that high-level officials in Islamabad and Tehran had frequent conversations about the I.A.E.A. investigation and its implications. The interpretation is the issue here, the former official said. If you set the buzzwords aside, the substance is that the Iranians were saying, ‘We’ve got to play with the I.A.E.A. We don’t want to blow our cover, but we have to show some movement. There’s no way we’re going against world public opinion, no way. We’ve got to show that we’re co√∂perating and get the Europeans on our side.’ (At the time, Iran was engaged in negotiations with the European Union on trade and other issues.) It’s clear from the intercepts, however, the former intelligence official said, that Iran did not want to give up its nuclear potential. The Pakistani response, he added, was Don’t give away the whole ballgame and we’ll look out for you. There was a further message from Pakistan, the former official said: Look out for your own interests.

.. analysts throughout the American intelligence community, he said, are asking, How could it be that Pakistan’s done all these things,-- developed a second generation of miniaturized and boosted weapons -- and yet the investigation has been shorted to ground?

... Libya had been able to purchase hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of nuclear parts, including advanced centrifuges designed in Pakistan, from a firm in Malaysia, with a free-trade zone in Dubai serving as the main shipping point. It was a new development in an old arms race: Malaysia, a high-tech nation with no indigenous nuclear ambitions, was retailing sophisticated nuclear gear, based on designs made available by Khan.

... I.A.E.A. inspectors, to their dismay, even found in Libya precise blueprints for the design and construction of a half-ton nuclear weapon. It’s a sweet little bomb, put together by engineers who know how to assemble a weapon, an official in Vienna told me. No question it’ll work. Just dig a hole and test it. It’s too big and too heavy for a Scud, but it’ll go into a family car. It’s a terrorist’s dream.

... One Arab intelligence operative told me that Libyan intelligence, with Qaddafi’s approval, then quickly offered to give American and British intelligence details about a centrifuge deal that was already under way. The parts were due to be shipped aboard a German freighter, the B.B.C. China. In October, the freighter was seized, and the incident was proclaimed a major intelligence success. But, the operative said, it was the Libyans who blew up the Pakistanis, and who made the role of Khan’s black market known. The Americans, he said, asked questions about those orders and Libya said it had them. It was, in essence, a sting, and was perceived that way by Musharraf. He was enraged by what he called, in a nationally televised speech last month, delivered in Urdu, and not officially translated by the Pakistani government, the betrayal of Pakistan by his Muslim brothers in both Libya and Iran. There was little loyalty between seller and buyer. The Pakistanis took a lot of Libya’s money and gave second-grade plans, the Arab intelligence operative said. It was halfhearted.

... There is a nuclear network of black-market centrifuges and weapons design that the world has yet to discover, a diplomat in Vienna told me. In the past, he said, the I.A.E.A. had worked under the assumption that nations would cheat on the nonproliferation treaty to produce and sell their own nuclear material. He said, What we have instead is a black-market network capable of producing usable nuclear materials and nuclear devices that is not limited to any one nation. We have nuclear dealers operating outside our front door, and we have no control over them...

This is a question of survival, the diplomat said, with a caustic smile. He added, Iraq is laughable in comparison with this issue. The Bush Administration was hunting the shadows instead of the prey.

Nonetheless, a senior Pentagon adviser told me in mid-February, the spring offensive is on...

The operation, American officials said, is scheduled to involve the redeployment to South Asia of thousands of American soldiers, including members of Task Force 121. The logistical buildup began in mid-February, as more than a dozen American C-17 cargo planes began daily flights, hauling helicopters, vehicles, and other equipment to military bases in Pakistan. Small teams of American Special Forces units have been stationed at the Shahbaz airbase, in northwestern Pakistan, since the beginning of the Afghanistan war, in the fall of 2001.

The senior Pentagon adviser, like other military and intelligence officials I talked to, was cautious about the chances of getting what the White House wants: Osama bin Laden. It’s anybody’s guess, he said, adding that Ops Sec (operational security) for the planned offensive was poor. The former senior intelligence official similarly noted that there was concern inside the Joint Special Operations Command, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, over the reliability of intercepted Al Qaeda telephone calls. What about deception? he said. These guys are not dumb...

We’ve got to get Osama bin Laden, and we know where he is, the former senior intelligence official said. Osama bin Laden is communicating through sigint -- talking on satellite telephones and the like -- and his wings have been clipped. He’s in his own Alamo in northern Pakistan. It’s a natural progress -- whittling down alternative locations and then targeting him. This is not, in theory, a ‘Let’s go and hope’ kind of thing. They’ve seen what they think is him. But the former official added that there were reasons to be cautious about such reports, especially given that bin Laden hasn’t been seen for so long. Bin Laden would stand out because of his height; he is six feet five. But the target area is adjacent to Swat Valley, which is populated by a tribe of exceptionally tall people.

Two former C.I.A. operatives with firsthand knowledge of the Pakistan Afghanistan border areas said that the American assault, if it did take place, would confront enormous logistical problems. It’s impenetrable, said Robert Baer, who visited the Hindu Kush area in the early nineties, before he was assigned to lead the C.I.A.’s anti-Saddam operations in northern Iraq. There are no roads, and you can’t get armor up there. This is where Alexander the Great lost an entire division. The Russians didn’t even bother to go up there. Everybody’s got a gun. That area is worse than Iraq. Milton Bearden, who ran the C.I.A.’s operations in Afghanistan during the war with the Soviet Union, recounted, I’ve been all through there. The Pashtun population in that belt has lived there longer than almost any other ethnic group has lived anywhere on earth. He said, Our intelligence has got to be better than it’s been. Anytime we go into something driven entirely by electoral politics, it doesn’t work out.

One American intelligence consultant noted that American forces in Afghanistan have crossed into Pakistan in hot pursuit of Al Qaeda suspects in previous operations, with no complaints from the Pakistani leadership. If the American forces strike quickly and decisively against bin Laden from within Pakistan, he added, Musharraf could say he gave no advance authorization. We can move in with so much force and firepower -- with so much shock and awe -- that we will be too fast for him. The consultant said, The question is, how deep into Pakistan can we pursue him? He added, Musharraf is in a very tough position...

... Robert Gallucci, a former United Nations weapons inspector who is now dean of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, calls A. Q. Khan the Johnny Appleseed of the nuclear-arms race. Gallucci, who is a consultant to the C.I.A. on proliferation issues, told me, Bad as it is with Iran, North Korea, and Libya having nuclear-weapons material, the worst part is that they could transfer it to a non-state group. That’s the biggest concern, and the scariest thing about all this -- that Pakistan could work with the worst terrorist groups on earth to build nuclear weapons. There’s nothing more important than stopping terrorist groups from getting nuclear weapons. The most dangerous country for the United States now is Pakistan, and second is Iran. Gallucci went on, We haven’t been this vulnerable since the British burned Washington in 1814.

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