Did Bush Spike Probe of Pakistan’s Dr. Strangelove?

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BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast and Tariq Ali discuss how the Bush administration stopped an investigation that might have revealed Pakistan’s top nuclear scientist helped share nuclear secrets with Iran, North Korea and Libya. [includes transcript]

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf acknowledged for the first time yesterday that he long suspected his country’s top nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan was sharing nuclear secrets with other countries. This according to an hourlong interview with the New York Times.

Khan stunned the country last week when he confessed on television to selling nuclear technology to Libya, Iran and North Korea. Khan invented Pakistan’s nuclear bomb and is considered to be a national hero. He claimed he had acted without authorization from the government and begged forgiveness. Musharraf pardoned him days later.

At one point Musharraf suggested politics might have played a part in overlooking any suspected wrongdoing on Khan’s part saying “It was extremely sensitive. One couldn’t outright start investigating as if he’s any common criminal.”

But the reasons for the delayed investigation may run deeper.

Musharraf insists that although he suspected Khan for at least three years, it was not until October of last year that U.S. officials provided specific evidence of Khan’s activities. A senior Bush administration official acknowledged that this was true. The official added that the U.S. conveyed more general warnings about Khan’s activities starting in 2001.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Welcome to Democracy Now!, Greg.

GREG PALAST: Thanks, Amy. Actually, “Newsnight” our BBC program reported in November 2001 just after the attack on the World Trade Center, and with my colleague David Palast at “The Guardian” we won a project censored award which is bad news. It means a very very important story that was blacked out in the United States but it was on page one of virtually every paper in the world. In fact, Noam Chomsky said he saw it on the page one of the papers in India, and I was wondering why it wasn’t all over the papers in the U.S. I guess maybe the answer is knowing that some news in the U.S. is manufactured.

What you have to understand, I got a chilling call at the BBC Headquarters in London from a top-level agent in the national security apparatus in the U.S. who said — who was discussing changes, radical changes in policy that occurred right after George Bush took office. In particular, he said that there has been a, quote, major shift in policy, and I was probing as to what shifts in policy were occurring. He said that certain investigations were blocked. He was very, very uncomfortable. It was a very dramatic call. We had my producers from the BBC and others on this. And he said well, I said I need specifics. He said Kahn labs. That basically the investigation which had been launched by Bill Clinton into the Pakistan’s Dr. Strangelove, who was basically a running a bizarre in nuclear secrets, that that shut down because the Bush Administration — and here’s the part ever the story that the Times has not probed into, is that the Clinton Administration was finding, their operatives, is that the funding for this program of creating a so-called Islamic bomb was coming from Saudi Arabia, and that was touching on and stepping on sensitive toes. You should also realize this is part of a much bigger investigation, that the story that we won the award for, that’s the second part of the story that I found most chilling and was not noted in the United States at all. The other part that which was actually brought to America by Michael Moore was, we had received a five-page internal secret document from the F.B.I. showing that the Bush Administration had blocked the F.B.I. from investigating American members of the Bin Laden family who were suspected of fronting a terrorist organization. That investigation was shut down until September 13 of 2001, two days after the attack. We were told by the top level operative in the U.S. Government in the agencies, and this is confirmed by other sources, that in fact — and I said it’s almost without understanding the irony or maybe just a deadpan spook, but he said that after September 11, the restrictions on investigating Kahn were lifted by the national security agency. So, this is — when George Bush Says, I’m shocked, I’m shocked that Pakistan, that some guy in Pakistan without his government’s approval has been selling nuclear secrets around the world, you have to understand, it was George Bush that killed the investigation. When I say George Bush, I don’t know if the president himself gave the order, but we do know that it went to the highest levels of our national security apparatus.

And I have to tell you that when we spoke to the F.B.I. and the — About killing the Bin Laden investigation, rather than deny it, they said there’s things that are being done which we cannot explain to the rest of the public.

AMY GOODMAN: And you called the F.B.I When?

GREG PALAST: I called the F.B.I. — it was after the attack and after we received the information, the documents from inside the F.B.I. that the Bin Laden investigation had been killed off until after the attack. In terms of the N.S.A. and its spiking of the Kahn investigation, nuclear proliferation, we still haven’t gotten —- you know, they’ve have just been completely mum on that. But one of the things that I find, like, incredibly beyond the pale is when the Bush Administration is nodding its head when they say that —well, Yes, General Musharraf, the Dictator of Pakistan, could not have known about this, this is just some guy selling secrets out of his back door, some papers out of his filing cabinet. In return for secrets, Pakistan received missiles. You didn’t notice that intercontinental missiles were being sent to his country for delivery of nuclear weapons. This is beyond incredible. So what we have here—-

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Musharraf denies this. He said they have paid for missiles.

GREG PALAST: Yeah, he’s also dictator who can throw people in jail who disagrees with his denials. So the problem— and don’t forget, when Bush killed off the investigation, Musharraf was not our friend in the war on terror. He was the guy who effectively backed and helped install the Taliban in Afghanistan. You have to understand the Bush Administration’s view was that you can’t mess with the Saudis. You can not mess with Musharraf and it was Robert Oakly, who had been the adviser of the Bush-Reagan Administration. He said, our complaint with the Clinton Administration and national security is that they have some type of fixation with this Osama Bin Laden. So, you have to understand it was a back off from the Bin Laden family, which is close to the Bushes, which was part of our story, but I think that the unreported part our story, other than the BBC “NewsNight” and “Guardian,” that I thought was most important was the spiking of The Kahn Labs investigation. Here we are, going oh, my. Again, if you read my book, you have it in there. In fact, the other edge of this is that there is some information, unfortunately it’s single sourced, that Dr. Kahn also decided it wouldn’t be a bad idea to test out the bomb on India when India which has far, far superior conventional forces to Pakistan looked like it might be headed to war with the nation.

Dr. Kahn thought it might be a good idea to attack first with nuclear weapons. This was stopped by young scientists who were horrified but then had to run for their lives and escape Pakistan to get away from the Wrath of Dr. Kahn and General Musharraf.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to investigative reporter, Greg Palast, he’s author of the book, “The Best Democracy money can buy, The Truth About Corporate Cons, Globalization, High Finance Fraudsters”. The book came out a few years ago, and in this book, he talks about what he calls “The Kahn Job”. We’re also joined by Tariq Ali he is author of many books his latest is “Bush in Babylon”, has just come from Britain. Tariq, you were born in Pakistan. In fact, wasn’t your uncle head of military intelligence?

TARIQ ALI: He was in the 1960’s, yeah. And the thing —- what amazes me is the number of people who express bewilderment about something which has been so obvious in Pakistan since the 1970’s. I mean, when did the plan to make the bomb start? Once India got the bomb, it’s the words of Tom Lehrer’s song, who is next? Once the proliferation started, it was obvious that Pakistan was going to get it. Pakistan’s prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the only and first elected prime minister in the country’s history said, we will make the bomb even if we have to eat grass. At that point, I commented that people who say that are never the people who have to eat the grass themselves. It’s the poor who eat the grass, and the rich who make the bomb. Then Henry Kissinger in a visit to Pakistan warned Bhutto, and they warned him and Bhutto from his death cell, where a military dictator had put him, General Zia—- at this point Kissinger said to me or said Prime Minister, he preferred to himself in the third person, if you do not desist on the nuclear question, we will make a horrible example out of you.

So this is going back to the 1970’s. Bhutto was removed by a military coup, executed on a rigged charge, and the General Zia carried on making the bomb. But at that time, they didn’t touch him because suddenly, the Russians had come into Afghanistan, and the war against the Russians, the jihad which brought this mess to that part of the world, including Osama Bin Laden, all working with the United States, and all opposition to Pakistan’s nuclear bomb was dropped. It’s at that period that the research began and it was during General Zia ul-Haq’s rule that Pakistan actually acquired the bomb.

Subsequently, this guy, Kahn, became an untouchable in the country. Worshipped, you talk to people in Pakistan today, and they say, well look at India, their nuclear scientist who made the bomb is the country’s president. Which is true, by the way. So this guy is not elected, but we revere him.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, that it’s true by the way.

TARIQ ALI: In India, the scientist who made the Indian bomb, the nuclear scientist, is the president of India today.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Tariq Ali, author of “Bush in Babylon,” and investigative reporter, Greg Palast. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue with Greg Palast, investigative reporter with the BBC program, “Newsnight,” and Tariq Ali. Among other books, his latest is “Bush in Babylon, The Recolonization of Iraq”. Greg Palast, “The New York Times” interview that’s published on the front page today, Pakistani leader suspected moves by atomic expert. Musharraf says he saw clues for three years, but no proof from U.S. Can you explain why it is the U.S. would have the information, and why it is they wouldn’t give him more specific information?

GREG PALAST: Well, number one —

AMY GOODMAN: And more on your charge that Bush was protecting Saudi Connections, particularly the Bin Ladens.

GREG PALAST: Well, first of all, I don’t want to disagree with an armed and dangerous dictator too strenuously, at least if I want to show up in Pakistan, but actually, Mr. Musharraf is lying. Okay. Let’s get this straight up. The other is that the Bush Administration, as I said, did not tell him the —- I mean, it’s ridiculous to say that you did not investigate us. Like I say, Khan traded secrets in return for equipment, including Missiles. So, it’s not like the General wouldn’t have known about that. This is beyond silly. This is political kobuki. The key thing is that the Bush Administration not only didn’t provide the evidence, the Bush Administration spiked the evidence. It’s important very important to understand in that period between the Bush Inauguration in January of 2001 and the September attack the Bush Administration did everything in its power to dismantle our intelligence community’s investigations which led back to any Saudi Arabian money and that included, as I said, documentation killing off investigations on the American side of the Bin Laden family. And I say, there’s reasons by the way before September 11 to have them under suspicion, the group that two members of the Bin Laden family were fronting happened to be—- their members were carrying the tapes from Osama Bin Laden to Al Jezeera running that messenger service. There reasons to watch these guys. That is what we pay the F.B.I. to do.

So, the Bush Administration didn’t give the information to Pakistan or demand the information from Pakistan, because everyone was agreeing that this ain’t such a bad idea, that the — that there’s no reason to be, you know, chasing after Osama, there’s no reason to be discomforting the Saudis, and in particular, the U.S. had decided to cuddle up to Musharraf. I think Tariq Ali could give us a little better explanation of why that is our policy, but the important thing is that the investigations were killed off, and I notice that the — you know, the “Times” simply is not asking these questions, which, you know as said, “The Guardian”, the BBC, We were asking these questions of the Bush Administration two years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: Greg Palast, thank you very much for being with us.

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