Outlook: Another Haven in Pakistan
Monday, November 12, 2007; 2:00 PM
"The scariest legacy of Bush's failed bargain with Musharraf isn't the rise of another U.S.-backed dictatorship in a strategic Muslim nation, or even the establishment of a new al-Qaeda haven along Pakistan's lawless border. It's the leniency we've shown toward the most dangerous nuclear-trafficking operation in history - an operation masterminded by one man, Abdul Qadeer Khan. ... The Bush administration has treated Musharraf with kid gloves here, insisting that the general is simply too critical to the fight against Islamic extremism to jeopardize his tenuous hold on power by forcing him to hand over such a national icon."
Conde Nast Portfolio writer Douglas Frantz and D.C.-based writer Catherine Collins, authors of "The Nuclear Jihadist: The True Story of the Man Who Sold the World's Most Dangerous Secrets ... and How We Could Have Stopped Him," were online Monday, Nov. 12 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss their Outlook article about A.Q. Khan and the Bush administration's refusal to force Pakistan to give him up.
The transcript follows.
Washington: Has anyone in the Dutch government backed up Ruud Lubbers claims of CIA involvement?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: Yes, private sources we quoted in our book, "The Nuclear Jihadist," have confirmed and supported Lubbers' claims. Portions of this have also been published in European and American papers ... including the New York Times
Washington: Your article places most of the blame on U.S. authorities, but didn't Washington pressure German and Dutch authorities to clamp down on nuclear proliferators in their borders (e.g. Gotthard Lerch & Ernst Piffl in Germany, Henk Slebos in the Netherlands)? If I remember correctly, we sent more than a hundred comminiques to Bonn about this issue during the '80s.
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: That's true, the U.S. did pressure many European countries to halt the sale of nuclear technology to Pakistan and other countries. But at the same time, successive administrations in Washington declined to take definitive steps to shut down the Pakistani procurement network. In one chapter of our book, we recount what happened when a CIA analyst, named Rich Barlow, tried to blow the whistle on Pakistan's purchases of American and Canadian technology for its nuclear program.
Washington: Dr. Qadeer Khan, his movements and day-to-day activities within and abroad were guarded heavily and protected by the Pakistan army, including Musharraf; why is only Dr. Khan held responsible for any nuclear proliferation, and not Pakistani army generals, including Musharraf?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: There is no conclusive evidence that any Pakistani military or political leaders knew of Khan's nuclear trafficking. That said, there is substantial circumstantial evidence that at least some of them knew at least the broad outlines of what he was up to at least as far back as 1987, when he first started dealing with the Iranians. The most compelling case for Pakistani leaders knowing what Khan did involves North Korea.
New York: What is the current state of relations between India and Pakistan? What are the odds that the two nations will be unable to resolve their differences and will go to war over them again?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: Musharraf's legacy could have been to resolve the differences between the two. But his declaration of emergency rules seems likely to undercut his credibility and damage his chances. The ultimate danger here is that if India and Pakistan go to war again, there is always the possibility of a nuclear exchange.
Grand Rapids, Mich.: What are the chances of infiltration of the Strategic Plans Division of the Pakistan Army -- which controls the nuclear weapons -- by radical Islamists? What could be the reason that the Lt. General Kidwai, who is in charge of the nuclear weapons, has been retained to head this wing even after his retirement from the Army? Is it because no one else can be trusted by Musharraf, and could this be because of the increasing radicalization of the Pakistan Army and especially its officers? Can we trust that such a semi-Talibanized Army will not sell/misuse its nuclear weapons and missiles? Is the Bush administration doing anything in this regard?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: From the time that we've spent in Pakistan, there always seems to be the possibility of Islamic extremists gaining more control of the government, which would put the nuclear arsenal in potentially unstable hands. David Sanger had a very interesting piece in the New York Times Week in Review section about the quality of controls over Pakistan's nuclear arsenal on Sunday and, at the risk of sending you to the competition, it's worth a read. This is an important issue and one that the U.S. has been unable to address sufficiently with Musharraf, despite efforts dating back to the days immediately after Sept. 11.
Lahore, Pakistan: Under what authority does U.S. expect Pakistan to hand over our national hero and asset, Dr. A.Q. Khan? He is the architect of Pakistan's nuclear development, and has secured Pakistan from external threat from close neighbors. Would the United States ever accede to any request from any external agency for those who have given their sweat and blood taking the American nation to the heights it occupies today!? Don't expect others to do that you would not do.
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: You raise some great issues. If the U.S. should not be allowed to question Dr. Khan, perhaps you would agree that the IAEA has the authority to do so...
Washington: Why do you think the sentences of European nuclear proliferators have not been harsher? Henk Slebos only got four months for more than twenty years of assistance to Khan, for instance.
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: These are very difficult crimes to prosecute because often they involve dual-use technology and proving intent to assist in a nuclear weapons program is often beyond the reach of law enforcement. This makes the case for stricter regulations in every country, a higher level of international cooperation and uniform applications of the restrictions to friends and adversaries alike. Stopping the spread of nuclear weapons requires that every country be treated equally.
New York: What makes Khan a national icon to Pakistanis? How well-known is he to the Pakistani public, and is there any strong sentiment against what he has been doing?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: Dr. Khan has long been the public face of Pakistan's secret nuclear program, a role that cast him as the protector against the Indians and the person showed that even a poor country like Pakistan could join the nuclear elite. There is strong support for him on the street, among both nationalists and Islamic factions. There has also been opposition from the intellectual elite, but it was ineffectual in stopping him. One of the obstacles to stopping Khan was always his popularity, which still exceeds that of Musharraf.
Vienna, Va.: Did you get any help from official government spokesmen for your book, or did you have to rely entirely on secret sources?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: We had extensive cooperation from the IAEA, and American and European government and law enforcement officials. But most of the time it was back channel and private. We have tried to address the sourcing issues and explain who we named, or didn't name, and why in our "footnotes" to the book. Still, much of our information came from confidential documents and secret sources that we developed in the four years of research. We made every effort to confirm, at least once, all these assertions.
Washington: Is Iran using Khan's old network to acquire dual-use equipment for Bushehr or their uranium enrichment facilities? If so, do you think they're improved on his model?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: Khan provided Iran with the sophisticated uranium enrichment technology as early as 1987. All of the experts with whom we spoke agreed that assistance from Khan and his network played a critical role in helping Iran reach the point where it is today. The enrichment equipment is being installed, not at Bushehr, but at an enrichment facility in Natanz, which will produce the enriched uranium to fuel the reactor under construction at Bushehr ... or to fuel a nuclear arsenal, if you don't believe Iran's claims that its program is strictly civilian.
New York: Why is it assumed that Khan acted alone in his criminal ventures? The trade relationship between Pakistan and North Korea (missiles for centrifuges) is well-documented and accepted. Are we to believe this man could commandeer official Pakistan Air Force C-130 aircraft, without attracting attention? Why is this assumption not disputed anywhere? How would it look at a later date if this flimsy assumption were disproved and the Pakistani official apparatus did approve of his calumny? The Pakistani military then acting in support of this man -- now sits in government in Pakistan. Must they then, be supported by the U.S.?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: We don't think Khan operated alone. He had accomplices from other countries -- Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sri Lanka, South Africa and elsewhere. He did in fact commandeer Pakistani military planes to transport some of his equipment to his customers, equipment that he often siphoned off from the stockpiles at the government lab he ran in Kahuta. What we have not found is conclusive evidence that he was aided and abetted by particular Pakistani military or political leaders, but it is counter-intuitive to think that he was not assisted by higher ups. In the book, we described how Benazir Bhutto, as prime minister, obtained some missile plans for Khan from the North Koreans, perhaps the start of his deal to supply them with enrichment equipment, and we discuss at some length how certain Pakistani generals might have turned a blind eye to his deals with Iran.
Boston: The army without question is the most powerful institution in Pakistan. Besides military power, they are deeply entrenched in the Pakistani economy. In many ways it is in the army's self-interest to have a adversary, i.e. India on west, Afghanistan north. What can we do to get the Army back to the barracks, have them normalize the relationship without maintaining a "militant" stance toward India/Afghanistan when changing is not in their self-interest?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: This has proven to be an almost intractable problem. Pakistan has had a series of military governments since its founding in 1947. One of the points we tried to make in the article, and our book, was that the U.S. has a responsibility to support democratic elections and processes in Pakistan, not simply the most convenient leader for our purposes at the time. Even Pakistan's most recent civilian leaders, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, served primarily at the pleasure of the military.
Peshawar, Pakistan: Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan is a national hero in Pakistan because he helped bring peace to the subcontinent. He also did not break any international laws. On what legal grounds do you ask for his "interrogation" or even arrest?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: We are not advocating his arrest, simply that he be made available for questioning. That said, we can understand the Pakistani objection to that, and in that case we would suggest that he be made available to the IAEA for questioning. As far as laws being broken, the laws of several countries were broken by the proliferation antics of the network that was masterminded by A.Q. Khan. Even Musharraf needed to pardon him for his "crimes" in February 2004.
Vienna, Va.: Would you please give the date of the Review New York Times issue you refer to? Also, considering the catastrophe in sight, why doesn't U.S. move in to disable the nuclear facility?
washingtonpost.com: So, What About Those Nukes? (New York Times Week in Review, Nov. 11)
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: It ran in Week in Review on Sunday, Nov. 11. It was the lead article, by David Sanger.
As far as dismantling Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, it is not the way to deal with this problem and the U.S. has no legal right to go in and take over another country's military facilities. This is a disaster that must be averted through diplomacy, not force, and hopefully it is not too late for that.
Pakistani in the U.S.: The United States helped Israel get a nuclear device and sold chemical weapons to Iraq. These actions caused immense harm to Palestinians, Iranians and Kurds. I don't believe Dr. Qadeer Khan or his actions have hurt a single person. Do you realize your utter hypocrisy in targeting him?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: Would you prefer that we wait until some rogue country, a terrorist organization, or Pakistan and India trigger a nuclear device, before raising our concerns?
We are not defending the use of chemical weapons against anyone. Though we are trying to help show the way to avoiding the catastrophe of a nuclear attack anywhere in the world. Read the book, we don't support the backroom/illegal sale of nuclear technology to any country. As a point of fact, the U.S. did not assist Israel in its nuclear program -- that was France.
Denver: In your article, you fault U.S. authorities for looking the other way when Pakistan was clearly on its way to making the bomb. By that time it was inevitable that they were going to succeed in their endeavor. Khan had the know-how, they were determined, and had great incentive with their enemy India already obtaining nuclear weapons. How then do you find that this was a "second chance to stop Khan"?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: The first chance to stop him came, as we wrote, in Amsterdam. The second chance came in 1979 when Carter's sanctions could have slowed Pakistan's progress toward the bomb. Had the U.S. succeeded in slowing that progress, there would have been time to use diplomacy, security guarantees and sales of conventional weapons to Islamabad in order to head off the fear of a nuclear-armed India. You are right to make the point that it would have been difficult to stop Khan and Pakistan, but it could have been done. Though Khan had ample enrichment technology, he and other Pakistani scientists still needed to buy sophisticated equipment and material that was not available in Pakistan. A consistent, hard-nose approach by the U.S. government, working in collaboration with other governments, could have shut off the supply, or at the very least slowed it to a trickle and provided the time to head off the bomb.
Washington: To what extent do you think the discussion of the "Khan network" unfairly and inaccurately locates blame and initiative with one man? If Khan had been apprehended in 1975, would the network have been shut down?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: Good point. It's easy to demonize Khan. The fact is that he played a central role in Pakistan's nuclear program, but he was not the only person involved by any means. However, we do believe that had he been stopped, the country's progress would have been slowed dramatically. Pakistan was a very technologically backward country in the late 1970s and 1980s and the effort to develop a plutonium-based nuclear weapon was going nowhere when Khan came to the rescue and provided an alternative route to the bomb through enriched uranium. Then of course there is the larger role he played in spreading the technology to other countries...
Washington: To my knowledge, Khan was apprehended in the Netherlands in the '80s. Why was he released? He traveled to Holland on several occasions after this. Was the U.S. pressuring The Hague throughout?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: You are correct. The Americans asked the Dutch not to arrest Khan in 1975 and they again asked that they look the other way when he was detained in the mid-1980s. At the time of the second incident, the U.S. was allied with Pakistan in funneling aide to the Afghan resistance and it is another example of how the U.S. turned a blind eye to Pakistan's nuclear program to keep that assistance flowing into the Afghanistan.
Leipers Fork, Tenn.: I find it somewhat ironic that for years, the U.S. government has imposed export controls not just on items multilaterally controlled by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, but unilaterally on items that may have some use in nuclear activities but are freely available from other countries; yet, the prime proliferator was based in Pakistan and gathered technology and equipment from various sources. Is there any evidence that U.S. export controls have had any effect on controlling or even slowing proliferation?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: We think that U.S. export controls have had some effect, but they have been applied unevenly and sporadically over the years. Sometimes commercial interests outweigh proliferation concerns. Balancing economic and security interests is a tough job in many industrialized countries, not just the U.S.
Minneapolis: Did you uncover any new information about whether Khan was pursuing uranium in Africa, and specifically in Niger? And secondly, did you, as enterprising reporters, uncover any concrete information (that the U.S. government has failed to obtain) to justify the rather extreme tone you adopt about not gaining access to Khan himself? Or is it simply a matter of "unanswered questions"?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: Khan made many trips to Africa and we're not sure what he was doing outside of Libya, with the exception of building a hotel in Timbuktu.
As enterprising reporters, we interviewed many experts at the IAEA and in various intelligence agencies who are concerned that remnants of Khan's nuclear network still exist, that missing nuclear equipment could have been sold to a still unknown customer. And then there is the issue of Iran -- Khan could tell questioners whether he sold Tehran the same nuclear warhead plans that he provided to Libya. That is a vital question and he is one of the few people who could answer it.
Denver: Could you gauge the intelligence and law enforcement agencies' confidence that they have, in fact, shut down the entire network?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: There are plenty of reasons to assume that the network has not been shut down. It is one of the primary reasons that we believe outside authorities should be permitted to question Khan. Olli Heinonen, the head of the safeguards division at the IAEA, told us that as long as the demand exists, there will be suppliers. Even dismantling the entire Khan network is not the final solution to solving the problem of proliferation. That requires diplomacy and security guarantees and strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This is, we believe, the central issue confronting the world today, more serious than Islamic extremism, but it is easily ignored until the unthinkable happens and someone sets off a nuclear device.
Washington: Don't you think that even if the U.S. successfully had blocked every effort by Khan the Pakistanis would have gotten what they needed from their patron -- Communist China?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: China did not have much of the advanced technology that Pakistan needed. In fact, our evidence shows that Khan may have provided some of his centrifuge technology to China. That said, you are right that the flow of knowledge and equipment needs to be cut off from all countries, including China, which did provide assistance to Pakistan on many military fronts.
Peshawar, Pakistan: What gives some Americans the idea that they can just land in Pakistan one fine morning and confiscate its strategic assets? Do they expect Pakistanis to be mere spectators?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: No, we don't believe that the U.S. has the right to seize Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. We never said that in the article and we do not advocate it in the book. It would be good if the U.S. shared some of its advanced technology for securing nuclear devices with the Pakistanis, but there is no justification for seizing the arsenal. You are right.
Washington: Did the U.S. ratchet up pressure on the Khan network immediately after the end of the Soviet War in Afghanistan? If so, why didn't it seem to affect the network? If not, why not?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: When the U.S. no longer needed Pakistan's help in Afghanistan, President George H.W. Bush signed a measure that recognized Pakistan had been developing nuclear weapons and stopped assistance for some time. But as always seems to happen with Pakistan, other issues caused the Americans to ease the sanctions and restart the flow of aid to Islamabad. This is a vicious and unfortunate cycle. You can also argue that by then it was too late -- Khan had enriched uranium, much of the technology needed for the weapon had already gotten to Pakistan and it was well on the way toward the bomb.
Virginia: According to a new article by Shaun Gregory in Defense & Security Analysis, civilians from the president to down are not involved in the Pakistan nuclear command and control system. The president doesn't even have the final authority.
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: If you don't believe that civilians leaders have total authority in Pakistan, you haven't seen the photos of President Musharraf in his general's uniform.
Munich, Germany: You mention that Khan has remained under house arrest in Islamabad since 2004 and outside the reach of the CIA and investigators from the IAEA. The Pakistani Secret Service, the ISI, may have state secrets to hide and perhaps agents may have been involved in his activities, but assuming that the ISI has questioned A.Q. Khan thoroughly, has there been any indication that the ISI has cooperated with the two agencies regarding Khan's nuclear smuggling operation?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: Yes, the ISI has cooperated in some ways. But the central point is that the U.S. and the rest of the world cannot afford to rely on Pakistani intelligence to provide the only answers to questions this important. There are many reasons why the ISI and other Pakistani authorities want to downplay Khan's actions. In fact, the Defence Journal, a publication run by the Pakistani military, eliminated early laudatory articles about A.Q. Khan after his downfall. And then they published new articles downplaying his importance. Basically, they re-wrote history, which raises the question about whether they can be trusted to provide truthful and complete answers...
Boston: What is the chance that A.Q. Khan would be put back in charge of Pakistan's nuclear program, with control over fissile material again? Who are his power backers in the military and civilian power circles, with or without ties to Musharraf?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: Resurrecting A.Q. Khan in a role of authority would occur only if Pakistan were placed in a complete pariah condition and had nothing left to lose. We don't believe they actually even would do that then. Khan is in bad health, but he does retain supporters, primarily among nationalists and militant factions in Pakistan.
Pakistani in the U.S.: The U.S. needed Pakistan in the 1980s, sanctioned and cut off the country in the 1990s, and needed Pakistan again the 2000s. How then do you expect the U.S. would have stopped Pakistan from its top goal of acquiring nukes?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: The central point of our article in The Post was that stopping Pakistan from acquiring a nuclear arsenal was sacrificed repeatedly for more short-term goals. In the same way, President Bush now is ignoring the need to question Khan, in order to avoid further weakening Musharraf's regime. No one knows what could come next, and that is a scary thought.
Washington: Did the Dutch/English/German nuclear concern Urenco increase its security after Khan stole centrifuge blueprints?
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: They belatedly took steps after public pressure to increase security.
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins: Back to work. We want to thank everyone for the smart and insightful conversation. Catherine and Doug
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