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Here We WMD Again: Iraq and the Mythical Pakistani Package
Posted on Mar 30, 2010
By Scott Ritter
The twin entities known by UNSCOM and the IAEA as “15S” and “15B” were finally deciphered. The designation “15” represented the code for the liaison activity between PC-3 and the Mukhabarat. “15S” was the code designation for Dhafir Salbi, a senior manager with the Third Group of PC-3, while “15B” similarly designated Ali Barqat, the principal contact for PC-3 at TCC. UNSCOM and the IAEA had previously interviewed Barqat, during the evening of Sept. 22, 1997 (I served as the UNSCOM chief inspector for this interview). Barqat had been in charge of TCC in 1990-1991, the period of interest concerning the Pakistani offer.
UNSCOM and the IAEA were likewise able to delve deeper into the matter of the Pakistani offer of October 1990. Initial contact between Iraq and the Pakistani individual in question occurred in 1983-84, when the Pakistani source, a Shiite, was in Iraq to visit Karbala and other holy places and shrines. The Pakistani claimed to be an expert in centrifuge technology, and that he worked for Dr. A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist. The Pakistani was processed by the Mukhabarat upon entering Iraq, and his offer of assistance was treated as an unsolicited offer, and forwarded through Mukhabarat channels (M-19 and TCC) to PC-3, where it went no further, since the Iraqis at that time were not pursuing the centrifuge option and unsolicited offers such as this were viewed with extreme suspicion.
From the Mukhabarat’s perspective, however, the Pakistani was by this time a known entity, and as a result when he made the offer in the fall of 1990 the Mukhabarat treated it differently than the agency would a “cold pitch” from a stranger; rather the offer was seen as being made during a recontact with a friendly source. This explains the Mukhabarat’s comfort level in stating that it did not view the offer as part of a “sting” operation. Dhafir Salbi’s recommendation to Dr. Jafar to seek documentary verification of the offer fell on deaf ears, however. Jafar was not interested, and the matter died there. The flyer-plate tests that the IAEA believed might provide evidence of a Pakistani link had nothing to do with the Pakistani offer, but rather an internal Iraqi research initiative that failed to materialize because of the 1991 Gulf War. The Pakistani offer was a nonevent, ignored like numerous other unsolicited proposals brought to the attention of PC-3 by the Mukhabarat.
This is the truth about the Pakistani offer made to Iraq in October 1990. What is important to note is the fact that, far from representing “new” information “recently uncovered” by David Albright, as was reported in the Washington Post story, the documents had been known to both the IAEA and UNSCOM and, by extension, various governments, including Israel, the United States and Great Britain, for more than 15 years. The contents of the documents had been subjected to a very thorough investigation, which determined that the unsolicited offer of nuclear assistance was never treated seriously by the head of the Iraqi nuclear weapons program, Jafar Dhia Jafar. Rather, just the opposite was true: The offer was considered to provide absolutely no value to the Iraqi effort. It is also certain that the unsolicited Pakistani proposal was never brought to the attention of Saddam Hussein, and therefore Saddam could never have “weighed” the purchase of a Pakistani bomb.
The real story that comes out of the Iraqi-Pakistani nuclear offer isn’t that Saddam Hussein thought about buying a nuclear bomb (he clearly did not), but rather that the IAEA, together with UNSCOM, was dutiful in its pursuit of the truth, and the final status of Iraq’s weapons-of-mass-destruction programs was determined by the facts. The investigation also opened the eyes of the IAEA to the potential of possible proliferation scenarios involving other nations. Maurizio Zifferero, in his final months as team leader for the IAEA’s Iraq investigation, declared the documents regarding the unsolicited Pakistani offer as “a source of concern,” noting that “what was proposed by the intermediary may be repeated in the future.” A thorough investigation of the offer, Zifferero believed, was essential. “Bringing the truth to light,” Zifferero concluded, “may be an effective way to avert this threat for the future.”
Zifferero’s concern was prescient: A.Q. Khan made another unsolicited offer regarding nuclear weapons and nuclear technology years later, this time to Iran. The investigations undertaken by the IAEA and UNSCOM back in 1996-1997 paved the way for the counter-proliferation activities that eventually uncovered the Khan network’s involvement with Iran. They also established the investigatory techniques that are being used by the IAEA today in Iran, where Kahn’s offer has been thoroughly investigated by that agency. This, and not some fantasy-based scenario that had Saddam Hussein “weighing” the possibility of buying a Pakistani nuclear weapon, is the real story that comes out of the documents cited by The Washington Post.
As the world continues to wrestle with the problem of nuclear weapons, it is critical that an effective mechanism be devised by the international community to deal with the issue of nuclear proliferation. The viability of inspection-based methodologies continues to come under attack by those who assess capabilities not from a fact-based approach like that of UNSCOM and the IAEA, but rather a faith-based approach relying on unsubstantiated rumor and speculation. While such misrepresentation of fact doesn’t alter the reality of what happened in the past, it does impact how members of the public, and thus politicians, view sensitive issues such as disarmament and nonproliferation.
President Obama is preparing for several critical meetings that are essential for his vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, including one in May that will discuss the future of nuclear nonproliferation and the role that will be played by institutions such as the IAEA. Getting the support of Congress for this initiative is essential if it is to have any chance of success. The danger of The Washington Post’s fanciful reinterpretation of history, whether dealing with Iraq or Iran, is that, when picked up and disseminated by the mainstream media, it may shape public sentiment in a manner that will be detrimental to Obama’s disarmament vision. Americans need to start spending more time looking at the sources from which they draw their information. The stakes cannot get much higher, and the consequences of failure are grave.
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