|SUBJECT ||Re: [hangout] NYC targeted for a Nuke
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Once again, a useless post, due to formatting problems
which render the text unbearable...
December 9, 2001
Nuclear Experts in Pakistan May Have Links to Al Qaeda
By DAVID E. SANGER
This article was reported by Douglas Frantz, James Risen and David E. Sanger
and written by Mr. Sanger.
The United States is investigating new intelligence reports of contacts between
Pakistani nuclear weapons scientists and the Taliban or the terrorist network
Al Qaeda, according to Pakistani and American officials.
More than a month ago, Pakistan detained and interrogated two nuclear
scientists who had contacts with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, but neither had any
knowledge or expertise that would have helped terrorists build or obtain a
nuclear weapon, the officials said.
Since then, however, American and Pakistani officials have received new reports
of other possible contacts involving scientists with actual experience in
production of nuclear weapons and related technology.
The officials in the United States and Pakistan offered different, and
sometimes conflicting, accounts of the nature of those contacts and who might
be involved. But American officials said the intelligence was credible enough
for them to focus new concern on the security of Pakistan's weapons program.
Pakistani officials said their government was resisting some of the American
efforts to interrogate several of the scientists and engineers, for fear that
the intelligence reports may be a ploy by Washington to learn details of
Pakistan's secret nuclear program.
According to Pakistani officials and news reports in Pakistan in recent days,
the United States has asked that two other nuclear experts, Suleiman Asad and
Muhammed Ali Mukhtar, with long experience at two of Pakistan's most secret
nuclear installations, be questioned. Pakistani officials said George J.
Tenet, the director of central intelligence, discussed this issue with top
Pakistani officials while he was in the country last weekend. C.I.A.
officials would not confirm that account, but White House officials said Mr.
Tenet's trip was related in part to nuclear issues.
But in an unusual move, as soon as Mr. Tenet returned to Washington, Pakistani
officials volunteered to Pakistani and Western reporters that Mr. Asad and Mr.
Mukhtar were the subjects of concern by the C.I.A. The motives of the Pakistani
officials for disclosing the information were unclear, but they also said the
two men were unavailable because they were sent, shortly after Sept. 11, on a
vague research project to Myanmar, formerly Burma, and were not expected home
anytime soon. In fact, one Pakistani official said that Gen. Pervez Musharraf,
Pakistan's military president, who met Mr. Tenet during his trip, telephoned
one of Myanmar's military rulers to ask him to provide temporary asylum for the
two nuclear specialists, offering his assurances that they were not connected
to terrorism. A spokesman for Pakistan's Atomic Energy Commission told a
Pakistani news service that "we don't want to interrupt them" by returning them
to Pakistan for questioning. While much about this latest dispute remains
unclear, it underscores the degree to which Pakistan and the United States are
at odds over important issues despite recent cooperation in the war against
The United States is concerned that Al Qaeda is trying to obtain at least a
primitive radioactive weapon and has concerns about the security of the
Pakistani nuclear weapons program, the officials said.
The Pakistani government, for its part, is suspicious that Washington, which is
also trying to grow closer to Pakistan's nuclear rival, India, is using its
security concerns as a pretext for prying open Pakistan's nuclear weapons
Pakistan has always barred international inspectors from examining its
facilities or taking stock of its production of plutonium and highly enriched
uranium, used to make weapons.
So far, American officials say, the Bush administration does not believe Al
Qaeda has a nuclear weapon, despite its clear desire to obtain one. On Friday
Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the American commander heading the Afghanistan
operations, said, "We have not yet found evidence of weapons of mass
destruction in the sites that we have been in." But officials in Washington
remain concerned that Al Qaeda cells elsewhere may be searching for enough
material to make a "dirty bomb," in which radioactive material would be wrapped
around a conventional explosive and detonated, spreading nuclear contamination.
Two Pakistani nuclear scientists who have been detained and questioned by
Pakistan did meet with Taliban and Al Qaeda officials in Afghanistan to discuss
nuclear issues. But the scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudry
Abdul Majeed, were not weapons experts, and therefore of little value to
terrorists, American officials say.
Under interrogation, Mr. Mahmood and Mr. Majeed have recounted discussions with
the Taliban and Al Qaeda, an American official said. The interrogations
disclosed that Al Qaeda officials did not have even the most basic knowledge of
nuclear weapons and materials, the American official said. "It was the blind
leading the blind," the official said.
The interrogations have provided new evidence to suggest that Al Qaeda has been
lacking in technical expertise, the official added. "If they had been handed
the plans for a nuclear bomb, the worst they could have done is use them as
kindling to start a fire," the official said. But in the interrogations, one
of the two scientists mentioned that he had a personal relationship with a
Pakistani, and that the man had also been in contact with the Taliban, an
American official said. United States intelligence officials believe that they
have identified the man as a weapons expert who has left the Pakistani program
and is now in business, an intelligence official said. While unable to confirm
that account, another American intelligence official said there were new
reports suggesting previously undisclosed connections between Pakistani nuclear
weapons experts and the Taliban or Al Qaeda.
American and Pakistani officials said that at least some of the scientists the
United States is worried about had been involved in the complex of top-secret
nuclear facilities southwest of Islamabad where much of Pakistan's rogue
nuclear weapons program is concentrated. It remains unclear whether Pakistan
plans to detain any of the individuals suspected of involvement. The new
American concern over Pakistan's nuclear program highlights what could well
become a growing source of tension between the United States and Pakistan as
the war against terrorism enters a new phase. Mr. Bush is more focused than
ever, his aides say, on preventing any repeat of the Sept. 11 terrorism, and is
particularly worried that Al Qaeda, seeking revenge for the American success in
Afghanistan, will use any weapon it can find. But in private, midlevel
Pakistani officials say that while they share Mr. Bush's concern, they also
believe that the United States is trying to leverage the current crisis to
discover more about Pakistan's facilities, in case Washington someday feels the
need to secure or destroy them. But the American approach, to one Pakistani
government official, seems straightforward. Asked in Islamabad about the
American requests for cooperation, he characterized the requests this way: "One
of the things the U.S. wants is Pakistani knowledge of the market. Could these
people have passed on how to acquire technology? Who is selling on the
international market?" If the survivors of the American- led military assault
on Al Qaeda in Afghanistan are searching for such nuclear technology and
materials, there are two natural targets: Russia and Pakistan. The Pakistani
program may be particularly tempting, American officials say, because its major
facilities are near the Afghanistan border, as far from India as possible.
Pakistan has barred international inspections of the facilities, so their
security is unclear.
While American officials believe that Pakistan has built fewer than 20 complete
nuclear weapons, all based on designs that use uranium, they also believe that
Pakistan has enough weapons-grade material to build a total of at least 45
nuclear weapons. That figure includes Pakistan's recent production of
plutonium, enough for at least five bombs.
As one former American official who carefully followed the program until
recently said, the estimates of Pakistan's nuclear material are "almost
certainly way, way low." The fact of the matter, said another senior Bush
administration official in Washington this week, is, "we simply don't know what
they've got, how much they've made. That means we can't create a baseline" to
determine whether nuclear material is missing.
But the most immediate concern is whether Pakistani scientists and engineers
harbor sympathies for the defeated Taliban government in Afghanistan, or are
willing to carry on for Osama bin Laden. "Is there loose plutonium in
Pakistan?" one senior administration official with lengthy experience in
Pakistan said on Friday. "I don't think so. Is there loose technology? That's
a different question, and everyone there who has knowledge and access to the
material needs to be talked to."
The interrogations of Pakistani scientists and engineers began several weeks
ago. After a tip from the United States, Pakistani authorities last month
arrested Mr. Mahmood and Mr. Majeed. Both men were associated with a private
foundation that did humanitarian work in Afghanistan, and both apparently had
contact with Al Qaeda members within the country. Papers found in the
foundation's office in Kabul indicated that someone there was also sketching
out designs for a helium balloon that could disperse anthrax. The two men were
released and then rearrested, and attempts to reach them have been
unsuccessful. They are still being detained without charges. A spokesman for
the Pakistani foreign ministry said yesterday that several other associates of
the private foundation had recently been detained for questioning, but that
none of them were nuclear experts. The families of Mr. Mahmood and Mr. Majeed
have said they are innocent of any wrongdoing. Gary Samore, a senior fellow at
the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London and a former senior
nonproliferation specialist in the Clinton White House, returned from Pakistan
last week with a similar report. "Pakistani officials claim that no sensitive
nuclear materials or information was provided by these retired scientists to Al
Qaeda, although they acknowledged that there were discussions that were
ongoing," he said. "The critical question is whether that is accurate, and
whether there are other cases of individual Pakistani scientists willing to
sell nuclear or missile information."
American intelligence officials are increasingly convinced that Pakistan may
become the site of a furtive struggle between those trying to keep nuclear
technology secure and those looking to export it for terrorism or for profit.
"The Pakistanis themselves have a strong interest in keeping everything locked
down," one senior American official said. "But at the same time, they refuse to
stop producing new material," because India, Pakistan's nuclear rival,
continues its own production. "And there are some in the Pakistani hierarchy
who fear a Trojan horse that we are learning about their nuclear program
because, in their minds, we may one day need to deal with it."
"The funk, the whole funk, and nothing but the funk."
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