Monday, December 27, 2004

Clear and Present Danger, Part II

In a recent post, I discussed the extent of the nuclear risk posed by the loose fissile material residing in various poorly guarded facilities in the former Soviet republics - and how the Bush administration is not paying as much attention as they should considering the magnitude of the threat. An article in yesterday's New York Times (via Laura Rozen) highlights another potential source of nuclear material and technology that is getting short shrifted by the Bush team - Pakistan.

Despite the much ballyhooed dismantling of the network of supply and distribution headed by Pakistan's nuclear champion Dr. A. Q. Khan, evidence is beginning to surface which indicates that there is still some level of operation and activity amongst the various channels of nuclear trade.

Privately, investigators say that with so many mysteries unsolved, they have little confidence that the illicit atomic marketplace has actually been shut down. "It may be more like Al Qaeda," said one I.A.E.A. official, "where you cut off the leadership but new elements emerge."
Part of the problem is that US intelligence agencies, and their international counterparts, have had difficulty ascertaining the details and intricacies of the operation itself, and to what extent it exists today. Reminiscent of the internecine turf wars played out in the US intelligence community, pre-9/11 and continuing today, there is very little intelligence being shared between the parties involved.

Given the urgency of the Libyan and Khan disclosures, many private and governmental experts expected that the Bush administration and the I.A.E.A. would work together. But European diplomats said the administration never turned over valuable information to back up its wider suspicions about other countries. "It doesn't like to share," a senior European diplomat involved in nuclear intelligence said of the United States. "That makes life more difficult. So we're on the learning curve"...

The chill from the White House has blown through Vienna. "I can't remember the last time we saw anything of a classified nature from Washington," one of the agency's senior officials said. Experts see it as a missed opportunity because the two sides have complementary strengths - the United States with spy satellites and covert capabilities to intercept or disable nuclear equipment, and the I.A.E.A. with inspectors who have access to some of the world's most secretive atomic facilities that the United States cannot legally enter.
What is perhaps more troubling, however, is the extent to which the Bush administration has deferred to Pakistan and its president, General Pervez Musharraf. Rather than demanding the extradition of Dr. Khan so that he could be interrogated by US officials intent on unlocking the valuable secrets he possesses, the Bush administration allowed Pakistan to handle the situation as an internal matter. Musharraf proceeded to arrest Khan, then pardon him after a limited confession. To this day, Musharraf steadfastly refuses to allow US officials access to the arms trafficking scientist who still resides in Pakistan.

In the 11 months since Dr. Khan's partial confession, Pakistan has denied American investigators access to him. They have passed questions through the Pakistanis, but report that there is virtually no new information on critical questions like who else obtained the bomb design. Nor have American investigators been given access to Dr. Khan's chief operating officer, Buhari Sayed Abu Tahir, who is in a Malaysian jail.

This disjunction has helped to keep many questions about the network unanswered, including whether the Pakistani military was involved in the black market and what other countries, or nonstate groups, beyond Libya, Iran and North Korea, received what one Bush administration official called Dr. Khan's "nuclear starter kit" - everything from centrifuge designs to raw uranium fuel to the blueprints for the bomb.
To some degree, the Bush administration's nuanced approach is necessary. Since Khan is such a revered figure in Pakistan, seen as the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb which is a celebrated response to rival India's own nuclear capacity, the US must tread lightly lest we undermine the current leadership and tip the balance of power away from the relatively moderate Musharraf and in favor of Pakistan's more extremist elements. Similarly, there may be some legitimate reasons for withholding classified material from the IAEA, such as a fear that leaks from the international body could harm ongoing investigative efforts.

Still, it appears that the Bush administration, as well as its predecessors, were too complacent and forgiving in their treatment of Khan, and Pakistan in general. Intelligence officials now concede that Khan had dealings with many nations and with many contacts unbeknownst to US officials despite the fact that he has been under scrutiny and surveillance for almost three decades. Because of this, there is no accurate gauge of the extent to which Khan's science has been disseminated. Furthermore, the Bush team was slow to clamp down on the network immediately after 9/11 despite obvious warning signs.

Stephen J. Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, went to Pakistan soon after the Sept. 11 attacks and raised concerns about Dr. Khan, some of whose scientists were said to have met with Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda's leader. But Mr. Hadley did not ask General Musharraf to take action, according to a senior administration official. He returned to Washington complaining that it was unclear whether the Khan Laboratories were operating with the complicity of the Pakistani military, or were controlled by freelancers, motivated by visions of profit or of spreading the bomb to Islamic nations. The Pakistanis insisted they had no evidence of any proliferation at all, a claim American officials said they found laughable.

"It is an unbelievable story, how this administration has given Pakistan a pass on the single worst case of proliferation in the past half century," said Jack Pritchard, who worked for President Clinton and served as the State Department's special envoy to North Korea until he quit last year, partly in protest over Mr. Bush's Korea policy. "We've given them a pass because of Musharraf's agreement to fight terrorism, and now there is some suggestion that the hunt for Osama is waning. And what have we learned from Khan? Nothing."
Because the stakes are so high, nuclear ordinance makes all other weapons of mass destruction look pale in comparative destructive capability, it is alarming that the Bush administration is willing to continue its non-proliferation activities without vital information about the market and supply network for Pakistani nuclear material and technology that could be gleaned from interrogations of Khan and his associates. Consider the fact that in addition to the confirmed cases of Khan's dealings with Iran, North Korea, and Libya:

Federal and private experts said the suspected list of customers included Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Algeria, Kuwait, Myanmar and Abu Dhabi.
Bush administration officials even acknowledged the parameters of the distribution and demand:

John R. Bolton, the under secretary of state for arms control and international security, echoed those suspicions, saying the network still had a number of undisclosed customers. "There's more out there than we can discuss publicly," he said in April.
Despite this evidence, we continue to pursue this problem with one armed tied behind our back, sending written questions through Pakistani government channels and refusing to cooperate and coordinate with the IAEA. Like the loose nuclear material issues in the former Soviet republics, this important dilemma is languishing for lack of attention and priority from the people that supposedly understand the post-9/11 world. The Bush administration needs to find a way to gain access to Khan even if it means doing so clandestinely. Although Musharraf might bristle at the possible revelation of the Pakistani government's involvement in the schemes, pressure must be brought to bear on him because failure to act could have enormous consequences. President Bush holds himself out to be the no-nonsense, non-compromising, leader who is tough on terror. With his track record in Pakistan and the former Soviet Union in mind, I remain incredulous.

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