- ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistani
nuclear scientists, in collaboration with former Pakistani intelligence
officers, were assisting Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda organization in developing
a "dirty" nuclear weapons capability, U.S. and Pakistani intelligence
agencies concluded, United Press International learned Thursday.
- Speaking not for attribution, intelligence officers in
Washington and Islamabad are convinced documents uncovered in Kabul and
the interrogation of nuclear scientists, who were frequent visitors to
Taliban-ruled Afghanistan ostensibly involved in humanitarian work, are
conclusive evidence al-Qaeda was trying to put together a "nuclear
device in the 'dirty-bomb' category."
- One Pakistani general who has seen the evidence described
the device as a "dirty nuclear weapon," i.e., radioactive materials
wrapped around conventional explosives. He also believes bin Laden obtained
such materials on Russia's nuclear black market.
- The International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria
is aware of 175 cases of trafficking in nuclear materials since 1993, including
18 that involved highly enriched uranium and plutonium pellets the size
of a U.S. silver dollar.
- 18 Million Chances
- There are 18 million potential delivery vehicles to covertly
introduce a nuclear device in the United States. That's the number of cargo
containers that arrive in the United States annually. Only 3 percent of
them are inspected by U.S. Customs, and bills of lading do not have to
be produced until they arrive at their final destination.
- Radioactivity is invisible, as was the case with the
Chernobyl disaster in 1985, but not undetectable. There is no way of knowing
the future impact on people exposed, although prolonged radiation exposure
can cause genetic alterations resulting in birth defects, health problems
and even death. Because most of the long-term effects of radiation are
unknown, "dirty" nuclear devices are more weapons of mass disruption
than mass destruction.
- An unidentified former chief of Pakistan's Inter-Services
Intelligence agency is believed to be the man who coordinated bin Laden's
nuclear ambitions. One local intelligence source speculated a dirty bomb
could have been smuggled out before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New
York and the Pentagon. It would have been transported in a truck all the
way to Karachi, in southern Pakistan and then shipped in a cargo container.
- That could be the weapon Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad
Omar was referring to when he said after the U.S. bombing started Oct.
7 that America would soon have to face extinction. Allowing for hyperbole,
he may have known what bin Laden was planning next.
- Another ex-ISI chief, retired Gen. Hameed Gul, predicted
to UPI after Sept. 11 that one day there would be a single Islamic state
stretching from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan and it would have nuclear weapons
and control the oil resources of the Persian Gulf.
- The general is an ISI legend and still popular among
the agency's leaders, who were his junior officers in the late 1980s. Gul
is vehemently anti-American and a Muslim fundamentalist. He acts as "strategic
adviser" to Pakistan's extremist religious parties and spent two weeks
in Afghanistan immediately before Sept. 11.
- It's Not Over
- Gul slowly is emerging as the spokesman for the combined
opposition of Islamist fundamentalists. In Thursday's Urdu-language newspapers,
he is quoted as saying: "No one can tell us how to run our nuclear
facilities and nuclear programs. This is being done in the interest of
Pakistan, not the United States. The Taliban will always remain in Afghanistan,
and Pakistan will always support them."
- He presumably was referring to Taliban intentions to
launch a guerrilla campaign once it had lost Kandahar, its last outpost.
- Gul's only daughter runs VARAN, the public transportation
bus company that enjoys a monopoly in Islamabad and its twin military garrison
city of Rawalpindi. Gul himself lives in "Pindi" in an army housing
development for retired generals.
- Officially, the Pakistani government has accepted the
explanation of three nuclear scientists about their "innocuous"
relationship to Taliban. Privately, however, some Pakistani officials,
working closely with U.S. colleagues, told UPI their activities "cannot
be described as innocuous by any stretch of the imagination."
- CIA Director George Tenet, on a brief visit to Islamabad
last weekend, conferred with President Pervez Musharraf on what was described
as the need for "more and better intelligence" from ISI.
- The CIA has reportedly submitted a list of six more nuclear
scientists it wants to probe on suspicion of having links with al-Qaeda.
Two of the six - Dr. Suleiman Asad and Dr. Muhammad Ali Muktar - have been
working in Kahora Research Laboratories. They are in Myanmar (Burma) doing
undisclosed research with Burmese scientists.
- Dr. Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmud, the former director of
the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, and Chief Engineer Dr. Chaudry Abdul
Majeed have been questioned by a joint FBI-ISI team.
- Apparently anxious to avoid further U.S. probes into
Pakistan's ultra-secret nuclear weapons program, these two scientists have
been advised by the government to remain in Myanmar until further notice.
- The CIA, according to PAEC sources, wishes to conduct
a separate interrogation based on documents seized in Kabul. Mahmud is
a close associate of Gul. They were colleagues when Gul ran ISI.
- Mahmud is one of three scientists who befriended Taliban
leaders. He is an expert in enriched uranium and plutonium. He has lectured
all over Pakistan and praised the Taliban as "the wave of the future
- Mahmud and two of his colleagues were detained in late
October as a result of U.S. questions about Pakistani "relief"
organizations active in Taliban-run Afghanistan, including an agricultural
project near Kandahar.
- Spreading Plutonium to Other Muslims
- They admitted to meeting with al-Qaeda associates of
bin Laden and were officially cleared of passing on nuclear secrets. Mahmud
says publicly that plutonium production is not a state secret and advocates
increasing plutonium output to help other Islamic nations build nuclear
- After the start of the U.S. bombing campaign Oct. 7,
Musharraf ordered an immediate redeployment of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal
to six new secret locations, including separate storage facilities for
uranium and plutonium cores and their detonation mechanisms. Army
colleagues now say privately Musharraf was fearful of assassination by
extremists who were already accusing him of betraying Islam and selling
out to the United States. There also were rumors of a coup by hard-line
- The officer corps is 20 percent fundamentalist, according
to a post Sept. 11 confidential survey by military intelligence, which
operates separately from ISI.
- Pakistan's nuclear scientists are known as "profoundly
fundamentalist" and anti-American. They are particularly resentful
of America's economic and military sanctions against Pakistan as punishment
for their country's nuclear weapons program.
- Their guru is Abdul Qadir Khan, the scientist who devised
Pakistan's first nuclear weapon. Pakistan now has an estimated 20 such
weapons in its arsenal.
- ISI is still widely distrusted by western intelligence
agencies and by all levels of Pakistani society, from people in the street
to top political leaders. An ISI general who is regional director in one
of the tribal areas told an important tribal leader known to this reporter:
"After Afghanistan, Pakistan is next on America's list of countries
to be conquered, and after Pakistan, Iran will be next. All that war talk
about Iraq being next is just a smokescreen."
- The tribal leader said "such silly statements are
typical of the Islamist state of paranoia." Gul has been touring federally
administered tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan with much the
same message about Washington's plans for conquest in the region.
- ISI is undergoing a traumatic shock in the wake of the
Taliban's defeat, according to knowledgeable secular political party leaders.
- "They have lost thousands of operatives in Afghanistan,"
said one key politician who did not wish to be named. ISI also facilitated
the transfer to Afghanistan in the past two months of thousands of young
religious school students who had been proselytized by their clerical teachers
to volunteer to fight with Taliban.
- Musharraf had a dangerous precedent in mind. Six years
ago, a group of Pakistani army officers was arrested for plotting to kill
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Abdul Waheed. He had fired the ISI chief for secretly
assisting Muslim rebels in several countries.
- Copyright 2001 by United Press International.
- All rights reserved.