Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Who helped Pakistan get the bomb?
While Ron is away lamenting life without a laptop, I thought I'd follow-up on his great recent work on Pakistan. I recently interviewed Mathieu Verboud, co-director of a new film about Sibel Edmonds and her case called Kill The Messenger (you can see the trailer etc at that link)
This is Part Two of the interview (see Part One) where we discuss Pakistan's friends and supporters during the time they were building their nuclear program.
Mathieu Verboud: …. There is a great book by George Crile called "Charlie Wilson's War" which describes the situation at the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The story takes place in the early 1980’s, the time of the first dealings between a whole generation of right-wingers in power in Washington and the Islamic world. Dick Cheney was then Secretary of Defense with people like Steven Hadley and Perle under him, among others. Back then, U.S policy was clear: Pakistan was a vital ally in the war against the Soviet in Afghanistan. An ally that needed to be ‘preserved’ at all costs – have you read the book ?
Luke Ryland: No I haven't read the book - but I know a little about Charlie Wilson. He is now Pakistan's Number One lobbyist.
MV: At the time of 9/11, at least, he was. I guess he is retired now.
The book describes in great details the saga of this Texan congressman, an eccentric who decided to make a crusade out of helping the Afghan jihad against the Soviets. The first modern jihad. And Congressman Wilson had the means to his end. Since 1976, he was a key member of the House Appropriations Committee, a very select committee busy managing federal funds for Defense worth hundreds of billions of dollars! Because of his position, Wilson could start his own ‘parallel diplomacy’. He became personal friend to the Pakistani strong man : general Zia ul Haq. Wilson had also been a long-time supporter of Israel (he once described himself as an ‘Israeli commando’ in the U.S Congress) and soon became a personal friend of Zvi Rafiah, an Israeli embassy official Wilson himself thought was a Mossad agent.
An otherwise well-known pattern (back-door diplomacy) arises here and this is where the story start to connect to what we witness today in the backdrop of Sibel’s case.
Wilson probed the Israelis about his plans in Afghanistan, asking them if they would agree to devise anti-aircraft weapons for the Mujahideens. The Israelis agreed but what impressed the CIA the most at the time was that the Pakistanis quietly accepted the Israeli offer, saying: "OK. Allah sure has his own peculiar ways of helping us".
At the time, Pakistan was, as I said, a U.S ally but it was also a very strict Islamic country with nuclear ambitions. In the 80’s, Pakistan was flooded with U.S weapons for the jihad but it also organized the biggest nuclear proliferation network ever: the now famous AQ Khan network. The Saudis funded both programs : weapons for the jihad, and money for the nuclear buildup.
At the time, the idea of an 'Islamic Bomb' was a red flag in the U.S but not a big one. The hot-spot then was Nicaragua, and the Reagan administration was busy countering the devastating impact of the Iran Contra Gate, a scandal in many ways bigger than Watergate. All this helped ‘sanctuarize’ the Pakistan issue, meaning Pakistan was ‘untouchable’, if not a ‘holy’ cause.
Among other things, the book documents the fact that Israel was once willing to give military support to an Islamic country openly in quest of the ultimate weapon. And Israel played the Pakistani card early on. Again, this isn't just‘informal talk’ between enemies here, this is policy! A major policy decision! The Israelis were helping the Pakistanis!
Of course, the public is never informed nor aware of how dice roll behind the scene. At the end of the day, the U.S did fund the first modern jihad and did turn a blind eye to the Islamic Bomb, cajoling people who were later to attack them, in September 2001.
Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is a good example of that. Pakistan’s darling, this uncompromising fundamentalist was also a ruthless killer described by the Red Army as a depraved fanatic who used to skin captured Russians alive. According to the Afghans themsleves, Hekmatyar and his radical fundamentalist organization, Hezb-i-Islami, were also busy assassinating moderate Afghans. Jihad through terror. Jihad for power! In 1990, Hekmatyar, the largest recipient of CIA weapons during the Afghan war, turned his back on the U.S and publicly condoned Iraq’s invasion of Kuwaitt. In the aftermath of 9/11, the CIA even launched a satellite-guided missile in a attempt to kill him as part of the war on terror. In this case, and many others, the lesson is clear: the CIA had backed (and equipped) the wrong horse!
This U.S-Pakistan alliance in the 1980s was just a disaster waiting to happen. Throughout the 80’s, Pakistan feared that the minute the Soviets left Kabul, the U.S would abandon Pakistan in their confrontation with India. From their own perspective, this was not just a paranoid assumption. They knew all too well history and the natural arrogance of a superpower towards ‘client states’, particularly where they are not useful any more. And their prophecy proved correct…
With the Russians gone, sanctions were soon imposed by the U.S on Pakistan and all military and economic assistance was cut off. In 1990, a nuclear war was avoided at the very last minute between Pakistan and India (CIA itself said this was far bigger a crisis than the missile crisis in Cuba back in the 60’s). During this crisis, the U.S took a neutral stance, which was a wise decision by the way, but for the Pakistanis, it was all too obvious, Washington was not a reliable ally anymore. Later on, the Clinton administration placed Pakistan on the list of state sponsors of terrorism for its support of Kashmiri freedom fighters. In the Pakistani military, resentment towards the U.S went over the top. Afghan warlords went along with them. The ‘American friends’ had become the enemy.
Ungrateful? In a way! The CIA secret war in Afghanistan has been the biggest covert operation ever mounted by the agency. They started in 1980 with 5 miserable million dollars and ended up with 1,2 billions dollars (Saudi Arabia paying half of it) some six, seven years later! The CIA had never witnessed anything like this. The irony is that because the CIA operations with Pakistan wereclandestine, the Afghans never knew the weapons they used were shipped from the U.S. To the Afghans, as George Crile writes, "the miracle victory against the Soviets was all the work of Allah." Crile adds: "Having brought down one superpower, they could just as easily take on another."
LR: But there were still links between Americans and Pakistan, right?
MV: You’re right. Experts on terrorism would agree that yes, there was indeed a shift in U.S policy regarding Pakistan in the 90’s because of its support of jihad… but, and this is a major ‘but’ here… the shift was at least 'ambiguous'. Because of its oil interests in Central Asia, the U.S still had to cajole Pakistan in a way. So again, Washington turned a blind eye this time to the rise of the Taliban (a Pakistani creation) and its alliance with the emerging jihadist network, Al-Qaeda, a group which enjoyed support from some good friends of the U.S: Saudi Arabia.
In other words, the U.S could (and should!) have done more against the Islamic threat in the 90’s but for the fundamentalists in Pakistan, the little they did was already too much to bear. The U.S fell into the classic double bind: whatever they did, Pakistan would feel betrayed. The road to 9/11 was opened…
Let’s never forget that many of the 9/11 conspirators spent time in Pakistan and Afghanistan… Let's not forget either that Pakistan has helped Iran’s nuclear program since 1987!
OK now that we’ve found the smoking gun that lead to the attacks on the U.S, what’s the connection to Sibel ? Well, there’s one and it is big…
MV: Well first, without 9/11, Sibel would not have been hired by the FBI. She would not have found out about ‘certain’ things. Things that we more or less understand now, because of her fight. And what we understand is that these ‘certain’ things have some connections with the smoking gun I just mentioned. In the dangerous games that led to 9/11, you don’t only find bearded jihadists confronting the U.S, you also find many ‘other players’ : allied countries, foreign military establishments or institutions like NATO, business interests, and all of this produces its fair share of unexpected alliances and criminal activities. This is the legacy of the Sibel Edmonds case for the historians who try to understand the ‘why and how’ of the biggest ever terrorist operation that was 9/11.
And obviously, the first ‘other player’ we found while investigating Sibel’s case was Turkey. What we bring in the film is the ‘Turkish side’ to the story. To be very clear, the ‘Turkish side’ is Turkey’s involvement in nuclear black market, as one of many factors that led to 9/11. And Turkey’s involvement in nuclear black market, as a reason for these FBI investigations to which Sibel was associated as a language specialist for the FBI.
LR: OK, how much do we know about Turkey’s involvement in nuclear black market?
MV: Well… Turkey helped the Pakistani nuclear program since the very beginning. That’s not very well known. AQ Khan’s efforts were made possible because of the U.S but also because of Turkey, a NATO ally. Nuclear proliferation experts like David Albright, Joe Trento and Dave Armstrong testify to that in the film.
A 1997 report by the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (www.ccnr.org) indicates that the first allegation of a Turkey/Pakistan nuclear connection was in 1981. At first, it started small. The US administration protested a $30,000 shipment of "inverters" from a Turkish textiles firm to Pakistan, allegedly for use in the Pakistani uranium enrichment program. Relations between Turkey and Pakistan became increasingly close after the military coup in Turkey in 1980. Turkish President/General Kenan Evren, and Pakistani President/General Zia ul-Haq exchanged a series of official visits that only ended with Zia's 1988 death in a plane crash.
Concerns about Turkey's potential involvement in nuclear weapons proliferation continued in the 1990’s. In 1992, Senator John Glenn and other US congressmen accused Turkey of supplying sensitive technology to Pakistan in order to aid in that country's acquisition of uranium enrichment technology. In 1995, the Greek government repeated concerns about "nuclear cooperation between Ankara and Islamabad... and reports that Turkey might try to acquire nuclear weapons material and technology and recruit nuclear scientists from the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union."
Of course, others players helped Pakistan : China, Saudi Arabia, Libya, but these are not NATO allies. European go-betweens played a major role too in the Pakistani procurement program. Firms in South East Asia contributed high-tech equipment to the enterprise, in some cases without knowing it. As the outgoing network grew, Dubaï became a hub for the network’s operations. Throughout that period, Turkey and South Africa served as intermediate trans-shipping points for items acquired from the United States. Turkey has its share of crooked intermediaries too. In 2004, after the first international police raid on the AQ Khan network, several Turkish businessmen were arrested for aiding Pakistan and selling dual-use goods to Libya. They manufactured components needed in the gas centrifuge uranium enrichment process, in particular electronic components for him. These people were old acquaintances of AQ Khan. Their illegal business had been going on for years.
LR: OK, now that we know that two NATO members (the U.S and Turkey) helped Pakistan in this critical period (the 80’s and, in the case of Turkey, the 90’s), were Turkey and the US working together here? Is that where Sibel comes in?
MV: Well, it happens that, back in the 80’s, some of the Reaganites mentioned earlier had strong connections in Turkey, most notably Richard Perle and Douglas Feith. At the time, Perle was Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy, a job that dealt with nuclear weapons issues worldwide, and the monitoring of U.S. defense technology exports. Perle hired a ‘newcomer’ - Doug Feith, a guy just six years out of law school with only two years of experience in defense issues. Both men left the Pentagon at the end of the 80’s but returned in office after George W. Bush got elected.
OK, now what kind of 'Turkish connections' did these individuals have in the 80s? Well, we know almost nothing but the little we knew sounds odd. Let me quote a March 2003 article by Jeff Koopersmith in the American Politics Journal called "Dead Man Walking": "After his stretch with President Reagan, Perle became a highly paid lobbyist for Turkey and, working alongside Israel, purportedly killed a Senate resolution in 1989 blaming Turkey for the Armenian Genocide." Exactly the same kind of situation we had in 2000, when the Turkish lobby in the U.S managed to get a similar resolution killed again, thanks to Bill Clinton and House Speaker Dennis Hastert. In Hastert's case, the FBI has wiretaps pointing to bribery - What happened in 1989? Did we have the same situation? I don’t know.
This is a big picture. But what’s the connection to Sibel? Is there any overlap?
Well, (laughs)… what do you find when investigating Sibel’s case? Nuclear black market, Turkish officials connected to high U.S officials, some at the Pentagon, others at the State Department or up on Capitol Hill.
LR: It does sound familiar!
MV: Of course. And what does it tell us ? Well it does tell us something : Sibel’s case fits in a bigger picture and this picture is ghastly ! And the more we learnt about her case, the more it ‘synchronised’ with the bigger picture. It is terrifying! We are not facing a smoking gun but a smoking ‘bomb’, if such an expression exists! And Sibel is the detonator.
But she has enemies. Enemies she can’t name, or only by saying "U.S officials"
NEXT UP: Perle’s world…