Pakistanis Abet bin Laden's
'Dirty Nuke' Program
By Arnaud De Borchgrave Wires

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 for Pakistan."
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 weapons.
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 military Islamists.
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.


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