Iranian nuclear program and role of A.Q. Khan network in it

Iran’s nuclear aspirations had deep roots. They predated the 1979 Iranian Revolution that brought the current theocratic government to power, originating in the critical period of the mid-1970s. Flush with oil money, the Shah of Iran publicly declared that he wanted to move forward with an ambitious nuclear energy program. In 1976 Iran signed a deal with a Ger- man company to build nuclear reactors at Bushehr, on a sandy peninsula in the South East of Iran, on the coast of the Persian Gulf. Though the plant in Bushehr would ostensibly be devoted to nuclear power, U.S. intelligence suspected that the Shah also had a modest clandestine weapons development program or was at least keeping that option open through research work. As the same enrichment plants and reactors can be used for either purpose, it is difficult to tell whether facilities are for civilian purposes or for nuclear weapons. For the Shah, as with Iranian leaders decades later, nuclear technology was not just a means of delivering security but also a matter of prestige, a means of restoring status to the proud Persian people who had once ruled an empire.

Whatever the Shah’s real intent, his decision in turn led Saddam Hussein in Iraq to press his own officials to move forward with a nuclear program to balance that of neighboring Iran, a typical domino effect created by nuclear ambitions. Iran’s move was a “triggering factor,” explains Iraqi nuclear chief Jafar Dhia Jafar as Saddam purchased a reactor from France.1 Iran and Iraq were conscious of living in a dangerous neighborhood and were wary of each other’s ambitions. Each was fearful of being outpaced by the other. The smallest suspicion of a nuclear program on the part of a neighbor was enough to drive the other forward. Each would maintain the story that it was only nuclear power they were after not the bomb, but both knew that the same technology could easily be used for both.

From 1984 nuclear research in Iran had begun to pick up under the Speaker of Parliament (and later President) Hashemi Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani was a wily, enigmatic politician who would become a key proponent of developing Iranian nuclear capability. His task would not be easy: the 1979 revolution had left Iran with a paltry scientific and technological base with which to develop its own program. Thousands of students were sent abroad again and Iran even tried to lure former scientists back to the country but this was largely unsuccessful.5

China’s cooperation with Iran began in the mid-1980s in the field of missile technology. The first nuclear agreement came in 1989. In 1991 a major nuclear deal was signed when a senior Chinese official visited Iran, touring around facilities near the ancient city of Esfahan, one of Iran’s most historic sites situated south of Tehran. Secretly that year, China provided Iran with three cylinders, one large and two small, containing 1.8 tons of Uranium ore, a deal that Iran did not report to the IAEA. This allowed the Iranians to carry out experiments in the 1990s without the IAEA noticing any diversion of existing material that the agency had been monitoring. China also agreed to build the Iranians a complete uranium conversion plant at Isfahan. As the decade wore on, China grew warier of Iran’s intentions and the United States began to exert more and more pressure on China to halt its support. Eventually, a 1997 deal with the United States led China to cut off remaining assistance. But Iran already had the plans and continued to build the conversion facility at Esfahan using the Chinese designs.

Through the 1990s as China’s support waned, Russia was perceived as the main facilitator of any Iranian nuclear program.

The United States put in enormous amounts of diplomatic time and energy during the 1990s to try and prevent Russia and China from passing on technology to Iran in the field of both missile and nuclear technology. But while Russian and Chinese help was useful to the Iranians, there was another secret partner. Iran, just like Pakistan in the 1970s, had realized that the plutonium reprocessing route to the bomb was highly visible and thus subject to diplomatic pressure, but enrichment could be much easier to conceal. It was to be the enrichment route pioneered in Pakistan by A. Q. Khan and then exported to Iran that would bring Iran closest to the bomb. In many ways, the Iranian path would be a close parallel to that of Pakistan.

In 1985 the Iranian leadership made the decision to begin work on its own enrichment program. Researchers were told to scour through publicly available technical literature for any clues on how to master the complex technology. But the Iranians would find that it was far easier to buy in outside help than do all the difficult research themselves. They knew that Pakistan was developing the bomb and that Khan was the man who was working on it and so discreet inquiries began. It was under President Zia’s watch that the first contacts were made between Pakistan and Iran in the nuclear field and these were on an official state-to-state level.

Even though they were secret, some of the contacts were at the highest level between the two states. Iran-Pakistan relations had been difficult in the early 1980s as Pakistan was closer to Saudi Arabia who in turn was backing Iran’s enemy in its war, Iraq. But relations began to improve from around 1983. By 1986 economic and technical cooperation was increasing as Pakistan began importing Iranian oil. The Iranian president, Ali Khamenei, who would later become the country’s supreme leader, was a long-time proponent of the nuclear option and paid a visit to Pakistan in February 1986.

Iran signed up for a package from the Khan network comprising of P-1 designs, five hundred components for P-1 machines, as well as drawings for the more advanced P-2 centrifuge. The first deal provided designs and a shopping list, but this time the Iranians were getting more centrifuges and components, as well as designs for a much more efficient machine with which to enrich uranium. Following payment, these parts were delivered to Iran in two more consignments in late 1994 and early 1995. Tahir personally arranged for the transhipment of two containers of parts via Dubai using a merchant ship owned by an Iranian front company. Some components were shipped from storage in Dubai before payment was received, an unusual occurrence, making it possible that the network wanted to clear out the parts in a hurry from the ware- house in Dubai where they were stored, perhaps because they feared someone was on to them.

The centrifuges and components that Khan provided were secondhand cast-offs from the Pakistan program. It some ways, the deal looks almost like a “clear-out” sale from the warehouse run by the Khan network, offloading the bits and pieces no longer required that were stored in Dubai. This seems to be the case as there were odd numbers of components rather than a coherent set with the same quantities of each different part. It also explains why some of the material was shipped even before payment. Khan had been busy from the mid-1980s updating the centrifuges at Kahuta from the P-1 with its aluminium rotor to the more efficient P-2, which used maraging steel, leaving used machines and surplus components that could be sold.24 These were supposed to be sent to a company in Pakistan to be scrapped and destroyed. Instead, they appear to have been sold in a hurry on this occasion.

It is clear that Khan’s support was critical to Iran’s nuclear program and that Khan helped Iran overcome major technical hurdles. Both in the 1980s and 1990s, Khan helped jump start the Iranian program, allowing them to move much faster by providing plans, blueprints, technology, and advice.

But slowly Iran began to master the complex technology. By 2000 Iran was ready to begin the construction of the two enrichment facilities at Natanz: the smaller pilot plant was to have one thousand centrifuges, the larger fifty thousand. This would provide the capacity to produce highly enriched uranium for twenty to thirty nuclear weapons each year. Natanz was carefully built with deep bunkers reinforced by triple layers or con- crete and then covered with earth to hide their existence and to provide protection against any possible air strikes. A dummy building covered the vehicle entrance ramp and power lines were hidden. A building that housed the power supply was made to look like a cafeteria.

Analysts believe Iran could be pursuing is creating a secret parallel program, for a so-called “sneak out” capacity. A large declared facility makes it much easier to run a parallel undeclared facility since it provides cover for research and procurement activities. The fear is that Iran may have pursued such an option based around the P-2 information (and possibly material) it received from Khan.

The problem was that the scale and persistence of the contacts between Khan and Iran and particularly the large mid-1990s deals were missed (there were some rumors but no more). In the mid-1990s, just as the Iranian program was actually picking up a gear and becoming more secret, the expansion was missed, a failure that would have major consequences. U.S. intelligence on Iran became weaker with fewer sources. It was only at the end of the 1990s that there would be some signs of renewed Iranian activity. This was based around procurement patterns as European states began to report that dual-use technology, in other words technology that could be used for civilian or military purposes, was being sent to Tehran. British and American intelligence officials following Iran’s program had been aware that Iran was conducting research in both enrichment and reprocessing and was trying to buy components and materials. In the late 1990s some technical analysts in Britain warned that if Iran had enough fissile material, they judged the country would be able to build a bomb, perhaps, even a relatively advanced implosion device. However, at the time policymakers were trying to take advantage of the election of the moderate Mohammed Khatami as Iranian president in 1997, and there was resistance in pushing such views higher up the intelligence chain. Around 2000 the CIA also tried to pass on flawed information on the triggering mechanism for a nuclear weapon to the Iranians through a Russian agent, an- other indicator of the level of awareness and concern over the Iranian program long before it became public.47 The Iranians may have uncovered that operation but U.S. and Israeli intelligence are also believed to have tried to pass other flawed machinery and equipment to Iran to disrupt its program and cause technical difficulties.

Beginning in 2000 intelligence analysts in London and Washington watched Natanz being built. Every day they scoured satellite photography of the site they noted how the Iranians were clearly aware of the points at which satellites were not overhead to carry out certain work, leaving dis- crepancies between sequences of images (a trick they had apparently learned from the Indians in their 1998 test). The evidence of what was going on at the site was limited and no one was sure what was going on inside. There was some debate over what to do with the knowledge. Should it be made public? Should it be provided to the IAEA? But it was pointed out that building an enrichment site secretly did not actually break any of Iran’s international agreements, only the introduction of uranium and the carrying out of enrichment without notification would violate agreements and there was no proof yet of this kind of activity.

Every site that was revealed by the Iranian opposition in 2002 was already known to the British and American intelligence, but they had chosen not to show their hand. “It was not publicly known as it was secret information but it was shared among the close allies that work on this issue,” says Gary Samore who was in charge of non-proliferation in the White House until the start of 2001.48 But it was not appreciated just how far the Iranians had gone. Nor was Khan’s pivotal role in the Iranian program appreciated until it was too late. It was only after February 2003 when Olli Heinonen and the IAEA entered Natanz that a more complete picture began to emerge and with it the evidence of just how central Khan had been and how he had helped the Iranians move far faster than anyone suspected. Even now, much is still unknown about the scale of his assistance.

Excerpted from “Shopping for Bombs: Nuclear Proliferation, Global Insecurity, and the Rise and Fall of the A.Q. Khan Network

AQ Khan and Nuclear Bomb : Part II : Aslam Beg and Iraq’s Kuwait Invasion

But since [General Aslam] Beg did not care where Pakistan’s money or political patronage came from, he simultaneously reached out to Saddam Hussein in Iraq, authorizing a KRL [Khan Research Laboratories] agent to approach Baghdad just as the UN Security Council authorized the use of “all means necessary” to eject Iraq from Kuwait and a US-led coalition prepared to insert ground forces into Kuwait to repel Saddam’s army. Beg’s man offered the Iraqi secret service something special, a nuclear bomb. The Iraqi nuclear weapons program—code-named PC-3—had been all but destroyed by Israel’s attack on the Osirak reactor in 1981, and for the following decade, against a backdrop of censure from the international community, Saddam and his scientists had struggled to rebuild it. But here was pragmatic and impoverished Pakistan offering Saddam the whole package, a complete product or the blueprints to manufacture one (along with advice and drawings on the creation of a uranium enrichment plant). PAEC in Islamabad would machine the former, and the latter would come from A. Q. Khan at Kahuta, who planned to recycle bomb designs given to him by China in the 1980s.

If intelligence about this offer had filtered out at the time it would have radically transformed the approach to the Gulf War, as no US president would have willingly put thousands of American troops into a maverick state armed with a nuclear weapon. However, another five years would pass before the West glimpsed the Pakistan–Iraq deal, after IAEA inspectors raided a farm outside Baghdad belonging to General Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, who, as director of the Military Industrialization Authority, had been in charge of the country country’s weapons program. Briton Gary Dillon, who led this inspection team, recalled how they recovered boxes of documents, among which was a tantalizing reference to the offer made by Pakistan. Dillon’s team was so shocked by the contents of the one-page memo that for some time they presumed it was a fake. Headed “Top-Secret Proposal,” it referred to something with the code name “Project A/B.” Dillon said: “The memo appeared to be from the Mukhabarat, the Iraqi intelligence service, and dated 6 October 1990 it was an account of a meeting that had taken place in the offices of the Technical Consultation Corporation, a procurement organization used by the Mukhabarat.” Addressed to an unnamed link man in PC-3, it reported: “We have enclosed for you the following proposal from the Pakistani scientist Dr. Abd-el-Qadeer Khan [sic] regarding the possibility of helping Iraq establish a project to enrich uranium and manufacture a nuclear weapon.” On offer were project designs for a bomb, with the necessary components supplied by European companies operating through the nexus of Dubai. The report noted that a meeting could not be arranged with Khan himself, due to the chaos surrounding the invasion of Kuwait, so instead a rendezvous was proposed with a trusted intermediary in Greece. As to Pakistan’s motives, the Mukha-barat was clear: money.

Poring over the documents, Dillon’s team found a second reference to Pakistan, something that resembled the offer KRL had made to Iran in 1987. It was a menu of items for sale, with a request by Pakistan’s intermediary for an initial fee of $5 million, with 10 percent commission payable by Iraq on every purchase. Dillon recalled: “We also discovered a response from PC-3 to the Mukhabarat that warned of their fears of a possible sting operation. Iraq’s nuclear specialists were unsure.” It was such an extraordinary offer, someone proposing to sell a nuclear bomb to a malignant Arab state, that even an adventurist like Saddam was skeptical. But then, he had seen what the forces pitted against his nuclear plans were capable of—like the undercover Mossad hit men who had killed one of his top scientists in a hotel room in Paris.

Dillon said: “Hedging their bets, PC-3 suggested that Iraq obtain samples from Pakistan before agreeing to go-ahead.” But there the paper trail ended. Dillon later tracked around the world to identify the parties involved and traced an Iraqi who had participated in the negotiations to Australia, where he was living as a refugee. “He refused to discuss the Iraqi nuclear project,” Dillon recalled. “He said, ‘I know my rights and if you pursue this I will disappear and you will never be able to find me.’ We registered our extreme concern at the IAEA and I tried to prick the US interest too, but no one in Washington wanted to talk about it or share any intelligence.” Dillon scrutinized the documents. “I believed that they were an accurate representation of what Pakistan had put on the table—although we could never know for sure. As for the overall code name, Project A/B, I puzzled over this for some time until I realized what the letters stood for: Atom Bomb. The truth is often far simpler than one thinks.”

There was a morbid conclusion to the uncovering of the Iraqi bomb-for-sale plot. Dillon explained: “We had been led to the farm where we found the Pakistani bomb proposal by General Hussein Kamel and his brother, Colonel Saddam Kamel, after they had defected to Jordan on 8 August 1995, bringing with them their wives, Saddam’s daughters Rana and Raghad, and Saddam’s nine grandchildren.” Saddam would never forget the treachery, and the following February he lured the Kamel brothers back to Baghdad, only to have them and many of their in-laws shot dead in their own home.

The cash deal with Iraq faltered, but General Beg worked hard to get the Islamabad–Baghdad relationship on track. As US troops entered Kuwait in February 1991, General Beg called on prime minister Sharif and, without mentioning the Mukhabarat negotiations, reasoned that Pakistan should stand beside Saddam Hussein. Sharif was startled. He recalled: “Pakistan had already pledged to be part of an Islamic coalition formed to defend the Middle East against Saddam and we had offered to send soldiers to Saudi Arabia. I had been touring Arab states pulling the coalition together. Saddam had occupied an Islamic state, Kuwait, and was threatening to attack our sponsors, Saudi Arabia. I said to Beg, ‘No, we won’t support Saddam.’ He left disgruntled and no doubt sowed dissent in the military against me.”

Excerpted from “Shopping for Bombs: Nuclear Proliferation, Global Insecurity, and the Rise and Fall of the A.Q. Khan Network

Pakistan “Army Drama”

The title of the news in DAWN was Pakistan army drama to show human face of war. However, later on DAWN decided to take the news (I don’t know why) but God bless Google which keeps track of such things through cached pages. You can find the cached copy of the news here.

In case the above link does not work, try reading the cache version on Google

A friend of mine highlighted the fact that, there is an actual phrase “army drama” in the title of DAWN article and wondered how did it happen? I said may be it is a case of Freudian slip.

The news item goes on to say that the “multi million” dollar drama is an effort from Pakistan Army to win the battles of hearts and mind and to show the valour of Pakistani soldiers. As if dramas could win the hearts and mind of people. I think rather than spending billions in Iraq and Afghanistan on people, war lords and corrupt leaders, US should make dramas showing brave American soldiers laying down their lives for safety of Iraqi/Afghani people and this would help in winning Iraqs/Afghanis hearts and minds.

I don’t think so any of us doubt the bravery with which our foot soldiers lay down their lives in this wasteful exercise when it has been clearly stated by Ashfaq Pervez Kyani that this war is only till US leaves the region and then we will be pals with the Talibans.

Working so closely with US has an adverse impact on our army. It now thinks like US rather wants to repeat their mistakes. Making this drama is akin to pro-war propaganda of US during vietnam era. No body doubted the bravery of American soldier fighting in the Vietnam war. But it was a wrong war that resulted in so many lives being wasted.

Spending “multi million dollars” on a drama to win hearts and minds is such a shameful waste of money. But what is shameless is getting the sons of this soil killed for a war that GHQ does not even want to win.

America’s War on Terror

There was a time that a healthy skepticism to US fed propaganda was considered OK. Now if anyone says anything against it, he or she is considered fundo, pseudo-intellectual, out-of-touch etc. The most recent article that has been receiving such criticism is Imran Khan’s in Guardian where he rightly called the current war on terror in Afghanistan as America’s war.

Is there any doubt left that this is America’s war? One may find some justification for attacking Afghanistan post 9/11 but attacking Iraq under the same premise was a war crime as to date they haven’t found any evidence of weapons of mass destruction nor a link between al qaeda and saddam’s regime and the western media might say that Iraqis are better off but the daily bombing and killings in Iraq have made them worse off that during than Saddam’s time. Moreover, since we tend to forget, in the last ten years of Saddam thousands of people died not because of his policies but US sanctions on supplying food and medicine to Iraq. I am not justifying Saddam’s rule here just recalling a bit of historical facts which in the current media frenzy we all seem to forget.

US had a hard time convincing its European and NATO allies to come to Iraq and in the end US went in with its poodle UK only based on a “sexed up” dossier that was presented to UK parliament. Even Musharraf had agreed to send Pakistani troops to Iraq and it was only the protests by our religious parties in the Assembly (their own will or backdoor pushing by Army who knows) that we didn’t send our men to get killed in Iraq. [for the naives, google the news and you shall see]. Anyway, the men we saved by not going on an adventure in Iraq, we are killing in war with Talibans.

Regarding calling America’s war in Afghanistan “our war” is a mistake only the liberal elite and ex-military idiots of this country make. Because our Chief of Army Kiyani does not consider this war “our war” and he is just wasting our men and resources till Americans leave and they will leave so that he can against implement the Pakistan Army’s plan of “strategic depth”.

I am not making this up. Here is General Kyani (the end savior of liberals) in Washington Post.

The two countries’ “frames of reference” regarding regional security “can never be the same,” he said, according to news accounts. Calling Pakistan America’s “most bullied ally,” Kayani said that the “real aim of U.S. strategy is to de-nuclearize Pakistan.”

The above article is to be read in full to realize the the double face of our army which is getting our people killed on both sides (Army and the people it is fighting).

Now if General Kiyani talks like this, no wonder the man on the street is right to believe that US is after our nuclear weapons.

So if I get it straight, Kiyani is fighting as long as US is there and will change strategy once US leaves the scene. To me it clearly seems the case that Pakistan Army believes that it is America’s war on terror and will make a U-turn as soon as US leaves.

Destinations : Innocent Deaths

Some items in the media regarding innocent deaths.

From Christian Science Monitor

A video released on the Internet Monday by WikiLeaks, a small nonprofit dedicated to publishing classified information from the US and other governments, appears to show the killing of two Iraqi journalists with Reuters and about nine other Iraqis in a Baghdad suburb in 2007 that is sharply at odds of the official US account of the incident.
Permission is given, a voice says “light them all up,” and the helicopter opens up on the group with its machine gun – apparently killing all but two of the men. One unarmed man who escaped the first salvo and ran across the street into an empty lot is also tracked and killed.

For further details, go to Collateral Murder. Large number of resources are available on the site.

A friend of mine made the following comment on her facebook page after visiting the above website:

This is how American Soldiers kill ordinary citizens in Iraq – indiscriminately. The morons cannot tell the difference between RPGs, AK47s and cameras. When they kill people, they also take pride in killing the rescuers and call them “dead bastards”

What I find more insane is that on the youtube, there are ordinary American commenters who are happy that US pilots “fucking owned” the dead Iraqi journalists and many actually support the war, occupation and brutal murder of innocent people on daily basis.

From New York Times

KABUL, Afghanistan — After initially denying involvement or any cover-up in the deaths of three Afghan women during a badly bungled American Special Operations assault in February, the American-led military command in Kabul admitted late on Sunday that its forces had, in fact, killed the women during the nighttime raid.

The admission immediately raised questions about what really happened during the Feb. 12 operation — and what falsehoods followed — including a new report that Special Operations forces dug bullets out of the bodies of the women to hide the true nature of their deaths.


From Talking Points Memo

In a stark assessment of shootings of locals by US troops at checkpoints in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal said in little-noticed comments last month that during his time as commander there, “We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.”


Now to Pakistan. Robert Fisk in The Independent

A young Peshawar journalist sits beside me, talking in a subdued but angry way, as if someone is listening to us, about the pilotless American aircraft which now slaughter by the score – or the four score – along the Afghanistan border. “I was in Damadola when the drones came. They killed more than 80 teenagers – all students – and, yes they were learning the Koran, and the madrasah, the Islamic school, was run by a Taliban commander. But 80! Many of them came from Bajaur, which would be attacked later. Their parents came afterwards, all their mothers were there, but the bodies were in pieces. There were so many children, some as young as 12. We didn’t know how to fit them together.”

The reporter – no name, of course, because he still has to work in Peshawar – was in part of the Bajaur tribal area, to cover negotiations between the government and the Taliban. “The drones stayed around for about half an hour, watching,” he says. “Then two Pakistani helicopter gunships came over. Later, the government said the helicopters did the attack. But it was the drones.”

From Reuters

New York-based Human Rights Watch said it had briefed U.S. State Department and congressional officials about mounting evidence of more than 200 summary executions in Swat Valley in the past eight months of suspected Taliban sympathizers.

Pakistan’s army denied the group’s accusations of abuse in Swat, home to about 1.3 million people and the site of a much-lauded military operation last year to take back the former Taliban stronghold.