A recent Gallup poll declared in bold print “In US, 83% say North Korean Nukes are a Critical Threat”. This poll, which was publicized in the Times of Israel, also revealed that “99%” of Americans found the Iranian nuclear program threatening (either an “important” or “critical threat”). 1% saw Iran’s nuclear program as “not an important threat”. Conspicuously absent from this poll was another category, namely Americans who found Iran non-threatening, a ommission that can be attributed to years of corporate propaganda. The historical context in which this propaganda took root and its frightening contours can be traced with stunning clarity in Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark’s exhaustive study of the US-Pakistan nuclear relationship Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons. Remarkably vast in scope and rich with insight Levy and Clark detail how consecutive US administrations, from Carter to Bush Jr., ignored, sheilded, and actively participated in the development of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb and proliferation network.
At the center of Pakistan’s nuclear program was Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan, a man who Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif would come to call “the father of the bomb”. In the early 1960s Khan was a metallurgist working for a European nuclear consortium called URENCO. Here British, Dutch, and German scientists conducted experiments in uranium enrichment and innovative production techniques like “vertical separation”, the use of “centrifugal force to split apart atoms of uranium-235 from uranium 238”. While working here Khan made several attempts to gain employment in Pakistan only to be rejected.
This changed in the mid-1970s when Pakistani prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto agreed to allow Khan to work on the Pakistani nuclear program after receiving a letter from Khan describing his technical expertise in the field. After reading the letter, Bhutto claimed “Khan is the only man who can fulfill my dream of making Pakistan a nuclear power”. In the remaining chapters Levy and Clark depict how Bhutto’s “dream” unfolded in the shape of a nightmare. The nightmare began in 1974. In this year India, which had its own western-backed nuclear program, exploded a nuclear bomb. The US, China, the UK, France, and the Soviet Union all contributed to this nuclear program, a preview to what would occur in the following decades with Pakistan playing the role of India and the western powers (minus France) replaying their roles as contributors.
US complicity in the development of Pakistani nuclear weapons is the product of Cold War ideologies mobilized and nurtured by a political elite obsessed with short-term gain at the expense of long-term global security. Beginning in 1979 with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, president Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski put in place a policy that spanned across multiple administrations. Brzezinski advised that Carter depart from the norms of nuclear non-proliferation enshrined in the 1968 non-proliferation treaty and provide military support to drug-trafficking death squads later to be known as the mujahideen. Pakistan’s cooperation in the anti-Soviet resistance would be safeguarded by assurances from the US that their burgeoning nuclear weapons program would be kept secret. While Carter’s support could be described as “turning a blind eye”, his successor, Ronald Reagan, offered nothing less than unequivocal support for Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. In the early years of his first term he was even quoted by secretary of state Alexander Haig as saying “he could live with a Pakistani bomb”. This was followed by a stunningly Orwellian attack on all existing organs of the state’s intelligence apparatus, a policy illustrated most graphically in his dismantling of the Arms Control Disarmament Agency, the facilitation of WMD technology sales to Pakistan in violation of export control laws, and the suppression ,and ultimate excommunication, of intelligence analyst Richard Barlow.
Barlow produced reports detailing the deceit and complicity of the Reagan administration only to have a smear campaign launched against him by the State Department. Not only were Barlow’s reports whitewashed but he soon discovered that unknown sources within the State Department sabotaged law enforcement operations aimed at shutting down the proliferation racket by tipping off Pakistani contacts involved in the illicit sale of nuclear materials. This pattern of revelation, deceit, and cover-up continued until the State Department decided to revoke all of Barlow’s security clearances, condemning him to a life of poverty. Barlow’s story was particularly interesting in that it strongly parallels with the story of John Kiriakou, a former CIA analyst who was sentenced to 30 months in jail for allegedly providing an intelligence source without state authorization. Kiriakou’s real crime, and therefore not worth stating, was that he is a vocal critic of what he called the US government’s “policy of torture”. He, like Barlow, had to be taught the lesson that revealing state crimes is not to be tolerated.
Coinciding with Reagan’s witch hunt against Barlow, was an expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear program, now under the auspices of the Khan Research Facility, from a US-backed nuclear state to a major, US-backed nuclear proliferator. Intelligence reports in the following years recorded the shipment of nuclear materials–centrifuge parts, aluminum tubes, maraging steel– to Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and even al Qaeda. This buildup climaxed in 1998 when Pakistan exploded its first nuclear bomb and “the Ras Koh mountains trembled”. Clinton, outside of a few slaps on the wrist, did little to deter Pakistan after this inauguration into the nuclear weapons club. Interestingly, this nuclearization continued well after September 11 when George W. Bush recruited Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf as an ally in his so-called war on terror. Musharraf, a seasoned war criminal, had long been lending decisive material support to Sunni militias carrying out massacres against Shia populations in the region and authorizing Pakistani invasions of Kashmir, one which came shockingly close to nuclear war.
Though Bush’s purported war-aims after 2001 were to combat nuclear proliferation and “terrorism”, he consciously ignored this very visible terrorist network bankrolled in large part by US dollars and the ISI. Instead the “vulcans”–Levy and Clark’s term for the Bush administration–focused their crosshairs on the “axis of evil”–Iraq, Iran, and North Korea–while neglecting to mention the fact that was obvious to any honest intelligence analyst, namely all the perceived threats that this “axis” posed could be traced directly back to Pakistan and, by association, Washington. In an effort to conceal this hypocrisy, the Bush administration repeated the tactics of the Reagan administration–whitewashing intelligence reports, lying to the public, and sacrificing long-term security for short-term gain. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this nuclear saga is how instructive it is in revealing the ideological continuity between Democratic and Republican administrations on the most urgent foreign policy decisions. For example, president Obama’s policy of “leaving all options on the table” can be traced back to one of the leading commissars in the Bush administration by the name of Robert Joseph. Joseph was responsible for the formal shift in US nuclear policy from non-proliferation to what he called “counter-proliferation”. Under the rubric of “counter-proliferation” negotiations and diplomacy is substituted with the use of brute military force in the form of a pre-emptive strike. Empirical evidence of a threat or acknowledgement of international law was deemed unnecessary in this clear policy of international terrorism.
Deception ends as ominously as it begins. Though A.Q. Khan is placed under house arrest in 2004 after a politically motivated manhunt by president Musharraf that demobilized all of the scientists working at the Khan Research Facility, the authors note “Musharraf’s Pakistan remains at the epicenter of terror, a disingenuous regime with its hands on the nuclear tiller”, an observation difficult to comprehend for those who succumb easily to dogmatic fictions created and sustained by state-corporate power. In a recent speech Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Khameini denounced not the use, but the very existence, of nuclear weapons as a “crime against humanity”. Irrespective of the sincerity of the speaker, the substance of his statement should be seriously contemplated and, for those less susceptible to deceit, acted upon.