Nuclear Secrets: How America Helped Pakistan Get the Bomb

05/22/20131 Comment

by James Corbett
BoilingFrogsPost.com
May 21, 2013

In this series of Eyeopener reports, we have been exploring the whistleblowers in the national intelligence establishment of the United States that have put their careers (and in some cases even their lives) on the line to shine a spotlight on the fraud, corruption and treason in the highest positions of power in the land. From the abuses of the NSA in its war against the American citizenry to the shocking details of Homeland Security informants participating in murders in Mexico with the full complicity of their government handlers, there is sadly no shortage of stories to explore. Perhaps one of the most unsettling stories, however, concerns what has been for the past half century regarded as one of the primary security threats not just to the United States but to the entire planet: nuclear proliferation.

Abdul Qadeer Khan, a Pakistani national, was working at a centrifuge production facility in the Netherlands in 1974 when he first offered his services to the Pakistani government to offer them help with their nuclear program. After convincing them to develop a uranium-based bomb, he began stealing nuclear designs from the Dutch company he was working for. What followed was a three decade affair in which Khan and the nuclear network he developed not only successfully helped Pakistan acquire the knowledge, equipment and materials to build their own bomb, but allegedly helped to proliferate that technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea as well.

As we explored in a previous edition of the Eyeopener, however, the Khan network was known about and actively protected from its very inception by the CIA.

Amongst the many pieces of evidence that come together to paint this picture of American involvement in helping to protect and even foster Khan’s proliferation network is the extraordinary story of former CIA analyst Richard Barlow, who, as a specialist in counter-proliferation in the 1980s, had a chance to discover and expose the shocking truth: that elements in the highest levels of the intelligence community, the state department, and even the White House knew about Pakistan’s procurement activities but actively turned a blind eye to them.

Shortly after joining the CIA in the mid-1980s, Barlow began amassing reams of evidence related to Pakistan’s nuclear activities. He quickly discovered, however, that senior government officials were actively working to suppress this information in direct violation of national and international proliferation protocols.

In the most egregious incident, Barlow and US Customs carefully developed a sting operation to catch Arshad Pervez, a Pakistani businessman, and Inam ul-Haq, a retired brigadier from the Pakistani army, attempting to purchase materials for a uranium centrifuge from a Pennsylvania company. Pervez was arrested, but ul-Haq, the main target, never arrived. Later, Barlow discovered cables proving that ul-Haq had been tipped off about the sting by high-ranking officials extremely close to the White House. Although the State Department did their best to cover up the incident, Congressman Stephen Solarz secured a closed congressional hearing on the issue at which Barlow was meant to testify about what had happened.

As Barlow told the Boiling Frogs podcast back in 2009, however, no one was interested in him actually telling the truth about what had happened.

Barlow bravely stuck to his guns and refused to mislead Congress on the details of what he had uncovered. As his reward, those offices in charge of America’s covert war in Afghanistan lined up to try and have him fired. Ultimately, he was vindicated: the Pakistani agents from Barlow’s sting operation were convicted and the Solarz Amendment was triggered. Immediately, however, Reagan issued a national security waiver and, in the words of Seymour Hersh, told Pakistan “that it could have its money and its bomb.”

Realizing he was now a marked man, Barlow left the CIA and took a position at the Pentagon, beginning work in the Pentagon’s Office of Non-Proliferation Policy on January 1, 1989 under incoming Defense Secretary Dick Cheney. Despite the fact that the Afghan war was over and the Cold War was all but finished, however, it wasn’t long before he encountered the exact same pressures as before with regards to Pakistan’s nuclear program. This time, the attempts to cover for Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities centered around a $1.6 billion General Dynamics contract for F-16s.

Barlow’s story is chilling because it exposes the grim truth that all of the platitudes and rhetoric about the dangers of proliferation spouted by Washington year after year is precisely that: platitudes and rhetoric. Despite the condescending lectures that are delivered at nuclear security summits about the reckless nature of the Iranian and North Koreans in their nuclear programs, the sober truth is that the world’s largest nuclear superpower has also been responsible for protecting the network that enabled the very proliferation that they now hypocritically seek to condemn.

In most cases, even most national security cases, corruption, hypocrisy and double dealing is dangerous and lamentable. But when it comes to nuclear security, it is the very fate of the planet that hangs in the balance. And what has come of the brave individual who stood up to some of the most powerful political figures in the world to speak the truth on this issue? After an intense smear campaign designed to destroy his personal and professional life, his marriage fell apart and he was unable to find employment in his field of work due to the revocation of his security clearance. In 2005, the authors of an A.Q. Khan biography were shocked to find Barlow living in motor home in Montana with his two dogs.

This is the plight of the whistleblower in the face of the American political establishment. And until the story of Barlow and others like him is exposed and examined with the same vigour that the media now reserves for celebrity scandals and political minutiae, absolutely nothing will change.

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