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February 2, 2008

Safeguarding 'New-cue-lur' Secrets


by Gordon Prather

According to the Sunday Times, Sibel Edmonds has revealed to them details – in defiance of several government gag orders – of how this and several previous administrations "monitored", but did little or nothing to interfere with, the "infiltration" of Western states by "foreign states" seeking "nuclear secrets."

Edmonds, a fluent speaker of Turkish and Farsi, was recruited by the FBI in the aftermath of 9/11 to help translate a backlog of recordings – thousands of hours of conversations dating back to 1997 – obtained during an FBI investigation into links between Turks, Pakistanis, Israelis and various Americans, in and out of government.

According to the Times, the Turks and Israelis had planted "moles" in practically every agency or institution involved in nuclear technology. The Turks and their American Turkish Council, Edmonds claimed, often acted as a "conduit," passing nuclear secrets to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, and receiving cash payments in return.

Way back in 1976, metallurgist AQ Khan, had stolen industrial – not "state" – secrets from Urenco, the world’s leading producer of enriched uranium, and returned to Pakistan. According to the Times, Khan then established a clandestine international network to obtain both materials and technology required for enriching uranium in Pakistan.

Why clandestine?

Well, Pakistan, India and Israel were not signatories to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, not wishing to subject all their activities involving "special nuclear materials" to a Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Furthermore, as a direct result of India's underground testing of what it claimed was a "peaceful" nuclear explosive in 1974, the Nuclear Suppliers Group was established.

Comprised of 44 nuclear-supplier states – including China, Russia, and the United States – NSG members voluntarily agreed to coordinate their export controls governing transfers of civilian nuclear material and nuclear-related equipment and technology to non-nuclear-weapon states.

The NSG has two sets of guidelines.

Part I comprises materials and technology intended specifically for peaceful nuclear use, including fissile materials, nuclear reactors and associated equipment, and nuclear material reprocessing and enrichment equipment.

Part II comprises dual-use equipment that could have nuclear applications, peaceful and otherwise. IAEA safeguards are only required on the specific nuclear activity or facility where the NSG Part II imports will be employed.

But, since 1992, to be eligible for importing Part I items from an NSG member – irrespective of whether they are NPT signatories or not – importing states must have in place a comprehensive IAEA safeguards agreement covering all their nuclear activities and facilities.

Hence, the IAEA-NSG nuke proliferation-prevention regime effectively overreaches the NPT. The NSG "verifies" the intended peaceful use of nuclear exports, and the IAEA "verifies" the peaceful use of nuclear imports.

So, by the time U.S.-Brit intelligence agencies initiated the monitoring program for which Edmonds was translating the backload of intercepts, neither the Pakistanis nor the Israelis were "eligible" to import NSG Part I items.

Furthermore, even though Iran and Libya were "eligible," the U.S. had effectively prohibited any NSG supplier from selling Iran or Libya Part I or Part II items.

So what were Pakistan, Israel, India, Iran and Libya to do?

Well, establish a clandestine suppliers/users group.

AQ Khan had returned to Pakistan in 1978 and established a uranium-enrichment program at Kahuta, based upon his Pak-1 gas-centrifuge, a modification of Urenco's first generation design.

But Khan had trouble producing aluminum rotors which would pass the "spin" test.

So, in the 1990s, Khan developed the Pak-2, his modifcation of Urenco's second-generation design, which had maraging steel rotors.

Khan then sold off (clandestinely, if the buyer preferred) the Pak-1 equipment.

When Pakistan held its first international arms bazaar in 2000, there was even available at the booth of Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) a Pak-2 brochure, as well as an associated 10-page catalog of specialty vacuum pumps, gauges, high-voltage switches, power supplies, and other equipment.

According to KRL representatives, all the listed items were available for sale and had been approved for export by the Pakistan government.

Now, in the first Edmonds story by the Sunday Times, they provide a "timeline" entitled "How Pakistan Got the Bomb, Then Sold it to the Highest Bidders."

The Times charges that in 1989-91 "Khan’s network sells Iran nuclear weapons information and technology."

But since 2003, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei has had total access to Iranian activities, both safeguarded and not required to be safeguarded, and he has, as of this writing, found "no indication" that any such sales took place.

The Times claims that in 2001 "CIA chief George Tenet gathers officials for crisis summit on the proliferation of nuclear technology from Pakistan to other countries."

Notice the Times says "proliferation of nuclear technology," not proliferation of nuclear weapons.

And here’s what Tenet – who had presided over two of the worst intelligence failures in out history – had to say in a pre-retirement attempt to salvage something of his reputation –

"First, we discovered the extent of Khan's hidden network. We tagged the proliferators. We detected the network stretching from Pakistan to Europe to the Middle East to Asia offering its wares to countries like North Korea and Iran.

"Working with our British colleagues, we pieced together the picture of the network, revealing its subsidiaries, scientists, front companies, agents, finances, and manufacturing plants on three continents.

"Our spies penetrated the network through a series of daring operations over several years. Through this unrelenting effort, we confirmed the network was delivering such things as illicit uranium enrichment centrifuges."

Notice Tenet didn't claim that Khan was a nuclear-weapons proliferator. Or that Khan had done anything that had resulted in nuclear-weapons proliferation.

For good reason.

Nevertheless, the Times claims that in 2004, "Khan [was] placed under house arrest and confesse[d] to supplying Iran, Libya, and North Korea with weapons technology."

But AQ Khan’s "confession" was made on Pakistani TV, in English, and is a matter of record. He did not confess to supplying Iran or Libya or North Korea anything, much less "weapons technology."

Musharraf promptly pardoned him.

So what?

Well, it is important in this and all other matters pertaining to Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, DPRK, Turkey, et al that the differences between [a] plain-vanilla nuclear materials/technologies and [b] nuclear weapons materials/technologies be kept foremost in mind. 

There are entirely too many groups – not just the neocrazies – who deliberately obfuscate those differences for their own purposes.

Why? So they can bomb, bomb, bomb – bomb-bomb Iran.


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Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

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