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Deception: British Reporter Adrian Levy on How the United States Secretly Helped Pakistan Build Its Nuclear Arsenal

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Adrian Levy examines how five consecutive U.S. administrations, from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush, have been complicit in building and protecting Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Levy is co-author of the new book Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: In Pakistan, up to a hundred people have been killed in clashes between Sunni and Shia Muslims in the country’s northwestern border region with Afghanistan. While Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf continues to defend his imposition of martial law as a necessary defense against Islamic militants from the same region, U.S. military officials are reportedly considering a classified proposal to arm tribes from this area against al-Qaeda. Analysts suggest the U.S. is concerned over the rising threat of instability in nuclear-armed Pakistan and worried about the safety and security of the country’s nuclear weapons. The New York Times revealed Sunday that the U.S. has been using a $100 million program to secretly helped Pakistan guard its nuclear arsenal.

Adrian Levy is senior staff correspondent with The Guardian newspaper in Britain. He’s a the co-author of a new book on how Pakistan became a nuclear power. It’s called Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Global Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy. It discusses how five consecutive U.S. administrations, from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush, have been complicit in building and protecting Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Adrian Levy joins us now from London.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

ADRIAN LEVY: It’s nice to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s talk about the latest New York Times revelation about the hundreds of millions of dollars that are going to the issue of nuclear weapons, they say protecting them.

ADRIAN LEVY: Well, I think this, in itself, is quite difficult to pinpoint inasmuch as the Pakistanis have insisted on keeping a great opaqueness and opacity over the nuclear program, its command and control structures. And the access that’s allowed is absolutely minimal, fearing that that access, at some time, may be turned around as targeting information either for the U.S. or the Israelis. And so, I really don’t hold too much — I wouldn’t really place too much on this information, you know, the great relation between the Pakistan military and the Pentagon, for example. I would suggest that there’s much that’s being concealed.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about Pakistan as a source of nuclear weapons not only for Pakistan, but for, well, what President Bush has called countries that are part of the Axis of Evil. Give us a history of the nuclear weapons industry in Pakistan and how it relates to the rest of the world.

ADRIAN LEVY: Right. I guess the obvious starting point, in essence, is over the border with Pakistan’s long-term nemesis, India. And when India detonated a bomb in 1974, something it did in response to threats from China, Pakistan redoubled all of its efforts to obtain a nuclear weapons program. And a whole series of things came together. They were running a very, very dilapidated plutonium program, which was really going nowhere, tremendously costly, and had been hampered by opposition from the United States, the UK and other powers. But come 1974, 1975, a man who would become identified as the father of the Pakistan bomb program, an entrepreneur, metallurgist and linguist called A.Q. Khan happened to be at the right place at the right time, and he was working as a technical translator in Holland, got hold of some — very simply, in fact, through dire security — some critical blueprints on a revolutionary method of using uranium to arm a nuclear device, took them back to Pakistan, and Benazir Bhutto’s father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto puts him in place, and thus begins the struggle to obtain nuclear weapons.

Now, up until 1979, the whole of the world, the Western world, was against Pakistan’s program and did everything it could to inderdict that program, fearing the instability of Pakistan, fearing a nuclear arms race between Pakistan and India. And in fact, at one point, the CIA and the Pentagon looked at sending over a team to destroy the program in a covert operation that was discussed in a meeting with General Brent Scowcroft. But come 1979, things changed, and really, this will completely alter the West’s attitude to the Pakistan program.

In ’79, of course, the Soviets invade Afghanistan, and prior to that, the U.S. ally, the Shah in Iran, flees, enabling Khomenei, the Ayatollah, to come back, and the CIA loses its listening stations, it loses a great ally. And suggestions are made to Carter from Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser, that America reconsider for the first time the gold standard of nonproliferation and shove it down the agenda in order to begin a new relationship with Pakistan, that was struggling to obtain nuclear weapons. So the suggestion from Brzezinski was the beginning of turning a blind eye, let’s say.

But Carter runs out of steam. And it will be only Reagan, when Reagan comes in in ’81, that effectively can lead to this policy being implemented. And then we will see ten years of what State Department people describe as U.S. permissiveness, but I think what the rest of us would describe as collaboration, covertly, between the Reagan administration and the Pakistan military, to cement security relationship, enabling their nuclear program. And really — I suppose we can go back into some detail on this at a later point, but over that ten years, the whole program would be facilitated. They would cold test a bomb, which means computer simulate one in ’82. ’83 they’d repeat that process. In 1984, the Chinese would take that bomb and hot test it, actually let it off in a Lop Nor test site, their Lop Nor test site. By ’87, that bomb, the Pakistani bomb, had been fixed under a U.S.-supplied F-16 fighter jet and was ready to deploy, a jet sold on the precondition that it could never be used by Pakistan for the nuclear program.

And one thing to remember here is that, year in, year out, throughout that chronology that I’ve given you, Reagan was telling the American people and Congress Pakistan has no bomb, Pakistan cannot deploy a bomb, and it’s not seeking a bomb. And so, you know, the ground was created for the Pakistan weapons program. But it’s more overt than that even, in that there was actual direct U.S. covert aid to that program supplied through the Pentagon and the disruption of CIA operations to inderdict the weapons program by Reagan official appointees who were working with the Pakistanis, collaborating. The results in the ’90s were that Pakistan did proliferate, because U.S. aid was cut off and the U.S. turned its back on Pakistan. And the Pakistanis milked their nuclear program for hard cash, selling to Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, the Axis of Evil powers. And we also know there is intelligence to show that they began negotiations very much with Saudi Arabia, with Syria, and of course there are tentative contacts with al-Qaeda elements, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: When we come back from break, Adrian Levy, I want to talk with you about what happened in 2003, when all of the blame for the proliferation, to countries like Libya and North Korea and Iran and others, is laid at the feet of one man, of A.Q. Khan. We’re talking to Adrian Levy. He is co-author of a new book called Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons. We’ll be back with him in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guest, we continue with Adrian Levy, the co-author of a brand new book called Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons.

Adrian Levy, talk about A.Q. Khan and how, in 2003, the story unfolds.

ADRIAN LEVY: Well, a remarkable thing has happened. And just to take you back just a tiny bit before that actual date, of course, post-2001, it became blatantly obvious to everybody that there was only one military government repressing human rights, connected tentatively to 9/11, a state sponsor of terrorism, with radical connections to al-Qaeda, that was proliferating WMD. And, of course, that wasn’t Iraq. It was Pakistan. And the problem facing the Bush administration was that their policy post-9/11 was very much to embrace Pakistan as an essential ally in the war on terror, in order to allow the narrative over Iraq and the WMD, so-called WMD, in Iraq to rise. So 2003, as bits of news begin to leak out, news that the U.S. has known about for years, about Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation, a leak of information that happens really quite accidentally through a fairly unknown Iranian dissident group called the MEK, that holds a press conference in Washington, in which it reveals that the Iranians have been developing a nuclear program, a uranium program, and it’s one that’s been largely constructed due to the largesse of the Pakistan military.

Now, Washington is forced to react to this, and the Bush administration begins a series of fevered talks with Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, in Pakistan, and a deal is constructed. And the deal very much is to indemnify the Pakistan military, the number one ally in the war on terror, and instead of portraying these gross acts of nuclear proliferation — I mean, the most serious acts of nuclear proliferation in any of our lifetimes — instead of portraying them as the foreign policy of the Pakistan military, to reconfigure it as the crime of one rogue scientist and a band of merry men who were working with him. This deal has a quid pro quo. A.Q. Khan will be sacrificed along with the scientists, and in return, Pervez Musharraf will give to America intelligence on the procurements and proliferation network; will end proliferation, one should add; will be a honest and faithful security partner in the war on terror, passing back intelligence, helping with military operations in the border areas — Waziristan, South Waziristan, North-West Frontier Province — aiding the crackdown on the Taliban and al-Qaeda. And these are the terms of the deal.

So, 2003 merges into January 2004, and we have A.Q. Khan appearing in January, or February, I think, on the 4th, appearing on live TV, Pakistan television, a great mea culpa, taking personal responsibility for these acts of proliferation and apologizing to his people, speaking in English, you know, a speech very much aimed at the West and America. The next day he’s pardoned by Pervez Musharraf, the president. And the day after that, Bush, speaking from the National Defense University in D.C., congratulates Musharraf on having effectively stamped out nuclear proliferation. An extraordinary series of events leading to a deal, which essentially conceals the nature of Pakistan proliferation.

AMY GOODMAN: And what evidence do you have that George W. Bush, that his administration, and the Pakistani military concocted this cover-up?

ADRIAN LEVY: Well, we know that, first of all, from 2001, from all the people who were helping to assemble that information in foreign governments and also within the CIA and the State Department, that a massive dossier of evidence had been gathered, very precisely linking Pakistan and the military, more broadly, to these acts of proliferation. The CIA itself had infiltrated elements of the Khan network, turning a European supplier, a Swiss man who had been reporting back information on the nature of these deals, how they were put together. And, of course, remember that by 2003 — you may well remember — that the Libyans had given up their WMD program with the son of Gaddafi coming to London, Saif Gaddafi, and discussing some kind of a deal basically to save his father, to prevent a strike against him, which is what they feared. The turning over of that program, as well as information gained by the IAEA in Vienna on the Iranian program, showed the way in which those deals had been put together.

Now, we also got to talk to many of the European traders and the Pakistani scientists who had been involved in those deals. And even if you followed briefly the flow of the money, it came from official government bank accounts controlled effectively by the military. These were country-to-country deals. The transports used were military transports. Some of them were done actually on Pakistan International Airways. Others were done on military transporters. And some were done on Shaheen Airways, which is a military-owned transport company. And the CIA itself had followed the movement of certain raw materials, for example, to North Korea. And in the following of those movements, the operations were vast, and they often involved very often military logistics.

But a final thing I think you should consider in the nature of Pakistan and the configuration of these deals is that the Khan project, the nuclear labs outside Islamabad, in a place called Kahuta, they were controlled by about 20 tiers of security. You have the labs itself, the scientists working in them, and then, surrounding that, you have so many different intelligence organizations, military intelligence, the Inter-Services Intelligence, which is the most notorious and pervasive in Pakistan. Then you have lines of plainclothes intelligence agencies from something called IB, Intelligence Bureau, and then you have the military lines. And everything that moves in and out has to go through a process of reporting back to the military. This is described to us by people who had run the security at Kahuta over many years. So the idea that, you know, vast amounts of equipment or know-how, the movements of key scientists, could not be known in a country dominated and controlled by the Pakistan military is laughable.

AMY GOODMAN: Adrian Levy, what about the United States firing intelligence agents who were uncovering Washington’s complicity, purging government departments charged with tracking nuclear proliferation and tipping off the Pakistani government about probes into its illicit program?

ADRIAN LEVY: Now, this is absolutely critical, because I think that this thing that you’ve picked up on resonates very much in methodology to what went on pre-Iraq and during Iraq: the politicization of intelligence, the sidelining, bullying and monstering of intelligence officials who attempted to do their jobs. And in the case of Pakistan, it was a fierce operation. One arm of government was contradicting what the other arm of government was doing. Publicly, the administrations were saying nonproliferation is a gold standard in government, and privately, they were undermining this, collaborating. Now, the CIA, elements of it, still believe that nonproliferation was the gold standard of government, and within the bureau, looking at Pakistan, they still believed that their remit was to interdict the Pakistan nuclear program.

And so we have the case of Richard Barlow, a young officer drafted in from the arms control and disarmament agency in the State Department. And by the mid-'80s, mid- to late ’80s, he's working on the Pakistan desk within the CIA, becoming, through many citations and awards and certificates, the preeminent researcher into WMD in Pakistan. And Barlow, through his diligent research, begins to uncover considerable evidence in no-distribution cables, cables submitted by officials in the State Department to their opposition cohorts in Pakistan. He begins to undercover a level of complicity, something that the State Department would called “clientitis” but that the broader public would understand as collaboration, whereby information appeared to be leaked on sensitive operations. He began to dig some more, and what he discovered was that CIA operations to capture Pakistan military agents operating, buying, for their WMD program, in America, those operations were being blown at the last minute to the Pakistan government. One operation in particular, a sensational one, also involving U.S. Customs Service, was completely blown. And he actually came up with the names of two presidential appointees in the State Department, both at the assistant secretary of state level, who were passing information to the Pakistani government to compromise these operations. He reported this. He reported also the manipulation and the politicization of intelligence that portrayed Pakistan as much further back in the development of its program. And his reward for this was to be cold-shouldered and very much to be forced out of the CIA. But Barlow didn’t give up, and he went to the Pentagon —

AMY GOODMAN: Who were the top officials he reported on, Adrian? Who did this? Who tipped Pakistan off?

ADRIAN LEVY: There’s only one name that I can tell you officially: Bob Peck, who’s now, sadly, no longer with us and was assistant secretary of state, was one of the two. The second one, I can tell you, is one of America’s leading — continues to be one of America’s leading diplomats. But for legal reasons, we are not allowed to name him, although there is substantial evidence to point to him, but we’ve been asked by our legal team not to do that today.

Now, I should just add one other thing before I move onto the second phase of the monstering of Barlow, the undermining of Barlow. I should say that there are other figures and characters who recur throughout this, and the other one being General Einsel, who became, under Reagan, the national intelligence officer for WMD. And Einsel actually, in a closed session of Congress, was openly distorting and lying about information with Pakistan in order to support the security relationship. And he would be supported by officials slightly below him, within State and political appointees in the CIA, in a move that one long-, long-term State Department official described to me as making many people in the State Department deeply, deeply cynical about governments.

But if we pick up with Barlow, when Barlow goes to the Pentagon to go to work for Dick Cheney, then Defense Secretary, he is tasked almost immediately with writing an intelligence estimate for Cheney to go to the President in '88, ’89, looking at the state of play with Pakistan. And in his report to go to Cheney, he tells Cheney what I've told you: the entire chronology of events vis-à-vis the rise of the Pakistan program and U.S. collaboration in it. He also makes a specific point that Pakistan is still procuring for the program, and it has adapted its American-supplied F-16 fighter jets as its platform to drop a nuclear bomb. Next thing you know, literally pretty much overnight, Barlow’s security clearances evaporate. A vicious whispering campaign begins in the Pentagon, accusing Barlow of being potentially a spy, a traitor, an adulterer, a drunkard, and his wife Cindy, who’s also in the CIA, is very much set against him. Now, this may sound to you remarkably like another case: the Plame-Wilson case. And it’s the same cast of characters who are very much involved, in the periphery and centrally, with Barlow’s smear. It involves, once again, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Stephen Hadley, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, Eric Adelman, still in the Pentagon negotiating with Pakistan — all of these people revolving around the Barlow case, helping to spread the smear.

And it really would take years until there’s a triple inquiry by inspector-generals for the CIA, for the State Department and for the Pentagon that rules pretty much unanimously that Barlow was monstrously smeared, was never working against his country. And his lawyers discover that his report to Cheney had been completely rewritten, rewritten to say the exact opposite of what he had written: that Pakistan had no bomb, was not advancing its program, could not use American F-16 jets to deploy its bomb. And the reason for that was that the Pentagon was considering, in ’89, ’90, selling another several billions worth of F-16s to its client, Pakistan.

AMY GOODMAN: Adrian Levy, you have written about how President Bush and General Musharraf have been very close, and I want to wrap up with your revelation about how Pakistan has been encouraging the resurgent Taliban and al-Qaeda and continues the nuclear black market.

ADRIAN LEVY: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think there’s a very false configuration coming out of the Pentagon, which is that if Musharraf falls, you know, the Islamists will take over and have their fingers on the nuclear trigger. This is simply a false argument put out in order to continue the client status of the Pakistan military with the U.S. military. And in fact, if you analyze Musharraf’s military record and you look of his deeds rather than, you know, at the dogma, what you discover is that the Pakistan military and Musharraf, in particular, have been manipulating the Islamist faction. I mean, the military as a whole had done that since 1988, when Benazir Bhutto first came to power, setting up an Islamist coalition to attack her viciously. They repeated the same in 1990 with a slush fund of $16 million. And Musharraf himself, by ’95, reignited the Kashmir war by taking 10,000 Sunni extremists, who then set fire to the divided state of Kashmir, in order to make India bleed. And that element of Islamists would join forces very much with al-Qaeda factions, with the Taliban, by 2006, 2007. You know, the national intelligence estimates for this and the published intelligence for this shows, both in the UK and Europe, that these factions, these Sunni militia, gave new life blood to the al-Qaeda remnants and to the Taliban in the Waziristan area. And the meddling would continue. You know, there were 17 banned Sunni organizations, which the U.S. State Department proscribed, as did the Pakistan president. They were all resurgent under new names post-2005. You know, he said that he would deradicalize society, he would help control these religious schools which tend to prey on the poor and impoverished in the tribal areas. You know, they increased to 13,000.

I mean, what we’ve seen is Musharraf and the military very much backing their own agenda. The agenda is to destabilize Afghanistan, to create a government there which is favorable to Islamabad. And these are goals which are actually contrary to the goals of — very largely contrary to the goals of the West. And yet, this slowly moving car crash of the U.S. pumping billions of untraceable cash into the Pakistan military has continued since 2001, and we’re left with a position where Pakistan is devoid of democracy, democracy is weakened and feebled, and we have just increased instability, quite honestly, in that country.

AMY GOODMAN: Adrian Levy, I want to thank you very much for being with us. He is co-author of a new book. It’s called Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons. He is a senior staff correspondent with The Guardian, joining us from the Reuters studio in London. Thank you so much.

ADRIAN LEVY: Thank you.

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