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John Bolton and the nuclear terrorists

Many bloggers have noted John Bolton’s instantly-notorious editorial demanding war with Iran. Most commentators have neglected to mention one key fact: Bolton himself is linked to terrorism — including nuclear terrorism.

Bolton has received very hefty fees for speaking on behalf of a group called the MEK, which seeks the overthrow of the present government of Iran, and which is widely credited with carrying out assassinations within that country.

Until recently, the United States kept the MEK on the official list of terrorist organizations. From a 2012 U.S. News & World Report story:

As recently as 2007, a State Department report warned that the M.E.K., retains "the capacity and will" to attack "Europe, the Middle East, the United States, Canada, and beyond."

The M.E.K., which calls for an overthrow of the Iranian government and is considered by many Iranians to be a cult, once fought for Saddam Hussein and in the 1970s was responsible for bombings, attempted plane hijackings, and political assassinations. It was listed as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997.

At one time, the MEK considered itself to be Marxist. That fact makes Bolton’s association with the group seem particularly cute.

One of the lobbyists working on behalf of the MEK was Victoria Toensing, who played a role in the Monica Lewenski affair, and who later told lies about Valerie Plame Wilson. Toensing says that the MEK has "reformed its violent past." Those murdered scientists might disagree, if they could speak.

(I wonder how Toensing would react to someone who said that Hamas was no longer a terrorist organization…?)

But the MEK is only one part of the story. The Intercept helps us zoom out for a wider view.

In his call for war with Iran, Bolton said that, during the Reagan years, Pakistan was allowe3d to develop the bomb only because the United States was "inattentive." That’s a particularly droll phrase to use.

Rather than being “inattentive,” the Reagan administration – in which Bolton served – proactively helped Pakistan violate U.S. law and purchase key material for its nuclear weapons in the United States. Reagan also falsely certified to Congress that Pakistan did not have nuclear weapons so that the U.S. could continue sending the country hundreds of millions of dollars in aid each year. When a Defense Department intelligence analyst complained, the George H.W. Bush administration – in which Bolton also served – fired the analyst and stripped him of his security clearances. The analyst, whose life was ruined, discovered that the specific officials involved in his firing included Scooter Libby and Stephen Hadley – both then working for Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and both, of course, key ideological allies of John Bolton.

The Intercept’s story is good, but does not go far enough.

It should be recalled the the so-called "father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb,’ A. Q. Khan, tried to sell nuclear technology to Libya and North Korea. From a 2010 L.A. Times review of a book on nuclear terrorism…

Much of this perilous state of affairs can be traced to the villainous deeds of Abdul Qadeer Khan. A.Q. Khan, as he is known, is the self-described father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb and the self-confessed mastermind of a criminal network that seemingly sold nuclear weapons technology like it was aluminum siding. The proof: Nearly every nation that has tried to build or obtain a nuclear device in the last 30 years has relied on Khan’s black market enterprise.

For years, government officials downplayed or ignored Khan’s illicit trade as industrial spying, or violations of export control laws, rather than as nuclear espionage on behalf of a foreign power. Security breaches were repeatedly concealed lest they jeopardize other diplomatic priorities or corporate profit margins. It is a terrifying tale, not least because the failure to prosecute or imprison most of Khan’s associates means the world’s most dangerous business may still be thriving.

Other books have sketched Khan’s story, but Albright mines previously unavailable documents, and he interviews key players for new details. He chronicles how Khan stole classified blueprints from a European consortium to jumpstart Pakistan’s uranium enrichment program in the mid-1970s and then did what no Western scientist considered remotely possible – he built an atomic bomb in Pakistan by secretly buying and assembling component parts from abroad.

In the 1980s, Khan again broke new ground: He began selling complete nuclear factories and the know-how to construct bombs, something only governments had done before.

That’s what John Bolton’s pals helped to unleash on the world. And now this guy thinks that he has the moral standing to call for war against Iran.

The CIA whistleblower referenced by The Intercept was Richard Barlow. Sy Hersh wrote about him in 1992, in the New Yorker…

Barlow, now thirty-eight years old, was hired by the C.I.A. in 1985 and quickly became one of the agency’s top experts on Pakistan’s nuclear program. In 1987, he was dismayed to learn, at first hand, that State Department and agency officials were engaged in what he concluded was a pattern of lying to and misleading Congress about Pakistan’s nuclear-purchasing activities. He resigned a year later, after senior agency officials attempted to bar him from working on Pakistan.

And just what was John Bolton doing in the Reagan administration at this time?

During the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations, he worked in several positions within the State Department, the Justice Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). He was a "protege" of conservative North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms.

USAID has strong ties to CIA. I think that we may fairly posit that Bolton was one of the State Department officials whose actions alarmed Barlow.

The origin of the Pakistani bomb is a disturbing and hideously under-discussed tale. Joseph Trento reveals a fair amount of the story in Prelude to Terror, a book discussed in several previous Cannonfire posts. Greg Palast has also done some fine work in this area.

The Pakistani bomb was really the Saudi bomb, since Saudi Arabia arranged for much of the financing. Both the funds and the necessary nuclear materials were channeled through a secret organization called The Safari Club.

Prince Turki bin Faisal, the head of Saudi intelligence from 1977 to 2001, revealed the existence of this group during a 2002 speech in Georgetown:

And now I will go back to the secret that I promised to tell you. In 1976, after the Watergate matters took place here, your intelligence community was literally tied up by Congress. It could not do anything. It could not send spies, it could not write reports, and it could not pay money. In order to compensate for that, a group of countries got together in the hope of fighting Communism and established what was called the Safari Club. The Safari Club included France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Iran. The principal aim of this club was that we would share information with each other in countering Soviet influence worldwide, and especially in Africa.

Turki here offers a skewed reading of what went on during the 1970s. The CIA did send out spies throughout this period, and those operatives got up to all sorts of spooky mischief. That said, it is true that the hardest of the hardliners no longer ruled the roost at CIA during the Carter years.

That’s why reactionary intel professionals in various countries set up their own alternative networks. The main one — though not, I believe, the only one — was the Safari Club.

One of the key operatives within this little club was Ed Wilson. Although younger readers may not recognize that name, Wilson used to be infamous as the "rogue" CIA operative who turned terrorist. That’s a huge story which we may get into in another post.

Right now, let’s return to Trento’s book:

    The same leadership that promulgated the Safari Club-the Saudi royals-also strongly funded and supported the Islamic Development Bank…. It was through the bank’s scientific and economic development efforts that huge amounts were funneled into Pakistan, which ended up in the hands of A.Q. Khan and his now-infamous nuclear bomb-building syndicate.

During the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, this network sent a massive amount of money to Pakistan, because the ISI (Pakistan’s CIA) handled much of the funding for the jihadis. (As you know, the anti-Soviet fighters included a promising fellow named Osama Bin Laden).

But Pakistan also dipped into this treasure trove for its own purposes. India had a bomb, and now Pakistan wanted one. The Saudis wanted to pay for it. To make the Saudis and the Pakistanis happy, the United States was willing to countenance the creation of the Islamic world’s first nuke.

As noted above, A.Q. Khan later shopped the technology around to various "rogue" states. Some even claim that he tried to give a small nuke to Al Qaeda.

Did the U.S. know about Khan’s activities? Of course.

A senior source in the British government, who asks not to be named, confirms that Khan ran the network and that parts for the nuclear-weapons program came from the United States. Khan’s daughter, attending school in England, was being tutored, and at the ends of faxes dealing with logistics for her education, Khan would sometimes write, in his own hand, items he needed for the nuclear program.

So that’s the tale of the Pakistani bomb, a baby which the Reagan administration State Department helped to midwive — at a time when John Bolton was an important official in that administration.

If this background briefing seems ancient or abstruse to you — well, all I can say is this: The tale of how the Pakistani bomb came into existence will suddenly seem very interesting to you on the day when CNN describes the blinding flash of light that evaporated thousands of people.

If and when that terrible day comes, don’t rely on the mainstream media to tell you the full story of how nuclear technology spread in that part of the world. I imagine that our journalists will spew a lot of hooey about Iran. You won’t hear much about A.Q. Khan and Pakistan.

And you certainly won’t hear anything about John Bolton.


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