David Petraeus is in da house

And is making the Pakistani military establishment squirm

Abdul Qadeer Khan wrote a 11-page confession in 2004. He also wrote and spirited out of Pakistan copies of another letter in 2003 to buy him protection from the Pakistani military-jihadi complex.

Simon Henderson, a former British journalist, acquired a copy of the letter in 2007, by his own admission. He wrote about its contents in the London Times in September 2009. Then almost half-a-year later, in March 2010, the Washington Post published an article, covering similar ground, pitched as if it were revealing Iran’s attempts to purchase “atomic bombs” from Pakistan in the late-1980s.

Today, the Washington Post has another report, based on the same source material (which it obtained in March 2010, if not earlier), alleging two top Pakistani generals, General Jehangir Karamat and Lt Gen Zulfiqar Khan, received $3 million and three diamond and ruby sets from the North Korean regime in return for nuclear technology. It also suggests that the money which might have gone into ‘secret funds’, which might have been used to fund militants fighting in Kashmir.

Other than fingering Generals Karamat and Khan, today’s report doesn’t tell us anything substantially new—Mr Henderson’s 2009 report mentions $3 million being paid to Pakistani generals.

So why is the Washington Post publishing reports based on information it is likely to have received more than a year ago, if not even earlier? If news is something to be broken as soon as it is reliably verified, why take six months to do it? And why do it again 15 months later?

One reason to explain the Post’s curious behaviour is that its editors had been persuaded not to publish certain details by the US government. Going by this explanation, the US government must have withdrawn parts of that request in March 2010 and now.

Earlier this week, the New York Times, citing newly classified information, alleged that the ISI ordered the killing of Syed Saleem Shehzad. No, not ‘rogue elements’ or other fig leaves, but senior officials of the ISI were held responsible.

And today, the Washington Post released a letter naming Pakistan’s army chief and another senior general, both of who were in service when the North Korean deal took place.

The United States is threatening to push the Pakistani military establishment into the doghouse. It looks like General Petraeus (“Mr” Petraeus in Rawalpindi), now in charge of the CIA, is signaling how he intends to play the game.

China, nuclear shenanigans and face

Wal-Mart provides shelf-space. The goods come from China

Gordon C Chang puts it really well:

The significance of Khan’s assertions is that they undermine the stout Chinese defense of Iran. First, they highlight long-held Iranian ambitions to build an atomic arsenal.

Second, by detailing how the Pakistani government was involved in nuclear transfers to Iran, Khan raises new questions about Beijing’s role. Why? The Pakistani nuclear weapons program is essentially an extension of the Chinese one. China, beginning around 1974, transferred bomb technology to Pakistan. Beijing’s assistance was crucial, extensive, and continuous. As Gary Milhollin of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control has noted, “If you subtract China’s help from Pakistan’s nuclear program, there is no nuclear program.” Moreover, Beijing has remained involved in Islamabad’s nuclear efforts, long after the events Khan so meticulously describes in Sunday’s statements.

The continuation of Chinese involvement in the Pakistani program was revealed when Islamabad ended the Khan ring. Due to Chinese pressure, Pervez Musharraf, then the country’s strongman leader, conducted a hurried probe, forced Khan’s confession, and then immediately pardoned him in 2004 to cut off any disclosures embarrassing to Beijing, which supported the controversial decision to end the inquiry prematurely. Given China’s role in the Pakistani nuclear program and its influence in Islamabad, it was not possible for Khan, with official blessing, to transfer Chinese technology to Iran without Beijing’s knowledge and consent.

Dr. Khan apparently did not mention China’s involvement in the statements disclosed Sunday, but the revelation of official Pakistani links to proliferant activities puts Beijing on the spot nonetheless. As time goes on, we are finding more facts linking China to Iran’s efforts to build the most destructive weaponry in history, including direct transfers of equipment and technology to Iran. Much, if not most, of this information about Chinese involvement remains classified in Washington, however.

Why are we helping China keep its secrets? Perhaps the Obama administration should start disclosing—or start threatening to disclose—what else we know about Beijing’s support for the mullahs. [Fox News]

Weekday Squib: From centrifugist to columnist

It’s about spinning anyway

Okay, your extra strong dose of irony supplements comes from Pakistan’s The News daily. Their new columnist, a certain Abdul Qadeer Khan, delivers Urdu couplets, self-justification, Musharraf-vilification, Bhutto-sycophancy and a couple of nuggets about Pakistan’s nuclear and missile deals with China and North Korea. But the what touches the heart is advice about “Yes-men who dare not say anything against their views may be good for their egos, but not for the country. Sycophants go out of their way to praise their beneficiary…This often results in destruction of national institutions and unimaginable damage to the country concerned”.

And for the record he “never asked for any favours from the government and never received any.”

Update:It looks like The News carried a sanitised translation of Khan’s original Urdu column in Jang. The erudite Sepoy, over at Chapati Mystery, has an authentic—and even more colourful—translation.

Nuclear test outsourcing

A Q Khan, China and the truth (2)

On May 28th 1998, Pakistan ‘responded’ to India’s Pokharan-II nuclear tests with tests of its own. There are reports that suggest that at least one of the six devices it tested was a North Korean one.

Almost exactly ten years prior to that, on May 26th 1990, China tested a nuclear device at its Lop Nor test site. That test, it is now revealed, was conducted on behalf of Pakistan, its nuclear protege. Thomas Reed, a former top US defence department official, also writes that:

In 1982 China’s premier Deng Xiaoping began the transfer of nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan and, in time, to other third world countries. Those transfers included blueprints for the ultrasimple CHIC-4 design using highly enriched uranium, first tested by China in 1966. [Physics Today emphasis added]

Among the things China got in return was Pakistani centrifuge technology which it needed for its nuclear power programme.

Mr Reed’s account destroys the pretence—by the Reagan and the Bush Sr administrations in the late 1980s—that the United States was unaware of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme. Now, that the Reagan and Bush administrations were deliberately untruthful in their testimonies to the US Congress and the public is well-known. But this is the first time that a senior US government official is making a direct admission that the US government knew exactly what was cooking between Pakistan and China.

As Steve Coll writes on his new blog (linkthanks BOK), the US authorities are reluctant to allow such news to get out.

Reed’s article draws upon the work of Danny Stillman, a nuclear scientist who worked during the Cold War in the national-security division of Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he monitored the Soviet and Chinese nuclear-weapons programs. Later, Stillman travelled frequently to China as part of a series of exchanges between American and Chinese weapons scientists. The exchanges were designed in part to encourage China to sign on to the test-ban treaty by assuring its scientists that they could maintain their nuclear-weapons stockpile without testing, as the United States planned to do. Along the way, Stillman gathered a great deal of information about the history of the Chinese program, but he has had difficulty winning clearance for publication of this material from the US intelligence community. He and Reed are preparing to publish a book entitled “The Nuclear Express.” [Think Tank/The New Yorker]

Mr Reed also mentions that “During the 1990s, China conducted underground hydronuclear experiments—though not full-scale device tests—for France at Lop Nur”. And his account suggests that there is a lot that he knows but is not telling. For instance, which were the other “third-world” countries that Premier Deng transferred nuclear technology to?

Related Link: China, Pakistan and the Bomb (1977-97)—declassified US government records.

A Q Khan, China and the truth

Bidirectional proliferation

Please don’t yawn. Savour the details. The Centrifugist revealed his side of the story to Simon Henderson. The latter’s article in The Sunday Times should put paid to the “Khan’s was a rogue operation” farce. It also tells the story of how China and Pakistan helped each other in nuclear technology.

(Khan’s) team was also the recipient of a gift from China of a design for an atomic bomb and enough highly enriched uranium for two devices, after Beijing decided to back Khan to jump-start Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. I remember being told about China’s nuclear generosity by an outraged British official in the 1980s. I later asked what Beijing had received in return. It was an enrichment plant.

The plant is at Hanzhong in central China. C-130 Hercules transports of the Pakistan air force made more than 100 flights to China carrying centrifuge equipment. Beijing needed the plant, not for bombs but to fuel its nuclear power plants. Centrifuge technology is good for both levels of enrichment, hence the current concern that Iran’s nascent plant at Natanz has a military purpose. China could not make the Pakistan-supplied centrifuges work properly, so replaced them with Russian centrifuges. What happened to the Pakistani centrifuges? A good question. They were not returned to Pakistan. Could they have ended up in Iran?

…Musharraf said Khan had shipped examples of centrifuges to North Korea. Correct, but with the connivance and at the instruction of the Pakistan military. [Times]

(linkthanks: the indefatigable Swami Iyer)

Pragati August 2008: Should India send troops to Afghanistan?

Issue 17 - Aug 2008
Issue Contents

PERSPECTIVE

Making a leader
Excerpts from a lecture on leadership and discipline
Sam HFJ Manekshaw

Our voice in our history
Academic freedom, private funding and historical research
Jayakrishnan Nair

Letters
On whether or not India has a coherent foreign policy

FILTER
A survey of think-tanks
On China policy; Fixing the FATA; An Indo-Israeli alliance?
Vijay Vikram

IN DEPTH
Hold steady in Afghanistan
India is on the right track and it should stay that way
Shanthie Mariet D’Souza

A bigger military presence is essential
…if India is to shape Afghanistan’s future
Sushant K Singh

The myth of Taliban tribalism
The folly of trying to set tribes against each other
Joshua Foust

IN PARLIAMENT
Monsoon Session 2008—What’s in store
Legislative brief
Sarita Vanka

ROUNDUP
When it’s good to slow down
The why and what next about rising inflation
V Anantha Nageswaran

The historical roots of the services sector
…calls for a strategy that plays to India’s strengths
Stephen Broadberry and Bishnupriya Gupta

Profiting from education
Resistance against commercialisation is fruitless
Atanu Dey

BOOKS
Four books about Pakistan
On nuclear proliferation, military politics and society
Nitin Pai

The not-so-real ayatollah

David Albright’s credentials called into question

This blog has on several occasions called out David Albright’s high-profile reports on nuclear proliferation as being not alright. That they use facts to insinuate pre-determined conclusions, that they don’t have much by way of real analysis and that the timing of their release raises serious questions as to Mr Albright’s (and his principals’) real intentions. [See links to related posts below]

Now Mr Albright’s credentials have been questioned by Scott Ritter, a member of the international nuclear expert community, in a damning article on Truthdig (via Arms Control Wonk). Mr Albright, it turns out, is not much of a Non Proliferation Ayatollah at all

…David Albright has a track record of making half-baked analyses derived from questionable sources seem mainstream. He breathes false legitimacy into these factually challenged stories by cloaking himself in a résumé which is disingenuous in the extreme. Eventually, one must begin to question the motives of Albright and ISIS. No self-respecting think tank would allow itself to be used in such an egregious manner. The fact that ISIS is a creation of Albright himself, and as such operates as a mirror image of its founder and president, only underscores the concerns raised when an individual lacking in any demonstrable foundation of expertise has installed himself into the mainstream media in a manner that corrupts the public discourse and debate by propagating factually incorrect, illogical and misleading information.

David Albright has a history of being used by those who seek to gain media attention for their respective claims. In addition to the Hamza and Obeidi fiascos, Albright and his organization, ISIS, have served as the conduit for other agencies gaining publicity about the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program, the alleged Syrian nuclear reactor, and most recently the alleged Swiss computer containing sensitive nuclear design information. On each occasion, Albright is fed sensitive information from a third party, and then packages it in a manner that is consumable by the media. The media, engrossed with Albright’s misleading résumé (“former U.N. weapons inspector,” “Doctor,” “physicist” and “nuclear expert”), give Albright a full hearing, during which time the particulars the third-party source wanted made public are broadcast or printed for all the world to see. More often than not, it turns out that the core of the story pushed by Albright is, in fact, wrong. [Truthdig]

Mr Ritter points out that far from being a UN weapons inspector, he was “an outsider with questions”, “an informed tourist”, a “bag-boy” and a “dilettante”. He goes on to say:

It is not a sin to merely be informed, or to possess a specialty. But informed specialists are a dime a dozen. There is a reason mainstream media do not turn to bloggers when seeking out expert opinion. And yet, when they turn to “Dr. Albright, former U.N. weapons inspector,” they are getting little more than a well-funded, well-connected blogger.

Related Posts: Albright’s attempts cast doubts on India’s record on non-proliferation; and coming up with ‘revelations’ about Pakistan’s activities at convenient times.

Putting an uppity Centrifugist in his place

He was involved in nuclear proliferation, apparently

You will be forgiven for yawning. David Albright is going to release a report—he’s already leaked it to the media, ensuring that the report makes a splash—that points out that A Q Khan might have sold advanced nuclear warhead designs, in addition to those old Chinese designs that go wrapped in Islamabad tailor’s shopping bags. Now it would have been exciting if Dr Albright actually had evidence of someone actually having bought the new design, because it is not news to most people that North Korean Nodongs and Iranian Shahab-IIIs can be modified to carry the advanced warhead. But Dr Albright does not have such evidence.

Dr Albright’s report is based on digital blueprints found on the Tinners’ computers in Switzerland in 2006. It is being suggested that it was the hard copies of these blueprints that the Swiss government destroyed recently, allegedly at the behest of the United States (specifically, the CIA). The Swiss government destroyed 30,000 pages of evidence—lest it fall into the wrong hands—but, as it turns out, after the horse had bolted: there are other copies of the blueprint. But of course.

Other than explaining the Swiss government’s action, why release such a report now, two years after the blueprints came to light? Well, it should put the squeeze back on Pakistan, which has not only rehabilitated Dr Khan, but whose ruling politicians are even toying with the idea of making him president. Dr Khan recanted his 2004 televised confession recently. He also availed the opportunity to insure himself by stating that he did everything with authorisation, thereby blowing the canard that his was a rogue operation. Dr Albright’s report should dampen the Pakistani government’s enthusiasm to lionise Dr Khan all over again.

There is also the Iranian angle. But it is difficult to see how these revelations will help in the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme.

All said, Dr Albright’s report adds to the edifice of cynicism that surrounds how the United States has handled the business of Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation, right from the very start. If it looked the other way when Pakistan was buying and selling materials in the black market, it is now using that knowledge for coercive diplomacy.

Update: The Arms Control Wonk has a technical analysis; Albright’s paper is now out

Dear Sir, Would you like to purchase a Bomb?

What would you do if A Q Khan wrote to you?

Bashar Assad, Syria’s president, told a German newspaper that he rebuffed a Pakistani offer to sell him nuclear technology in 2001. Like Saddam Hussein before him, he too suspected a ‘sting’ operation.

Q:Does Syria have contacts to atomic engineers of Pakistan?

Assad: Actual was it like that: At the beginning of of 2001 brought someone a letter of a certain Khan (the father of the atom bomb of Pakistan; Note). We did not know whether the letter was genuine or a falsification of the Israelis, who into a trap wanted to lure us. We rejected anyhow. We were not interested to have nuclear weapons or a nuclear reactor. We never met Khan.[Die Presse/Translation by Babelfish]

A Q Khan’s offer, then, lacked credibility. That begs the question: how credible, in turn, is Assad’s denial of an interest in nuclear weapons?

From the archives: If it’s Monday, it must be Tripoli. If it’s Tuesday, it must be Cairo.