The long suspected truth about Pakistan'ssupposedly clandestine nuclear programme is finally out ? it was fathered by the United States! The Federal Bureau of Investigation'sTurkish translator, Sibel Edmonds, has let the cat out of the bag. What is more, there may be more covert nuclear powers in the Gulf than beleaguered Teheran, because it seems to have been US policy to use a circuitous route to facilitate Islamabad'snuclear armament, and as with all illicit deals, one can'tmanage the leaks.
Strategic experts feel Saudi Arabia may be far more advanced than Libya ever was in nuke technology. Similarly there are reasons to believe that Turkey, the nation through which much of the nuclear traffic was routed, may have its own secret nuclear programme. Dr. A.Q. Khan, the designated ?father? of Pakistan'snuclear bomb, visited Turkey in 1995.
According to a report in The Sunday Times (6 January 2008), Sibel Edmonds, 37, a Turkish language translator with the FBI, government officials allowed Pakistan and other states to steal nuclear weapons secrets. Edmonds, whose job was to translate intercepts of conversations by Turkish diplomatic and political targets, learnt that a famous State Department official was receiving payments from Turkish agents in Washington for information for black market buyers, including Pakistan. The official, believed to have been posted to Ankara as well, denied the allegations to the media.
Edmonds, however, insists the official gave highly classified information from the State Department and the Pentagon to foreign operatives, in return for money and political objectives, which have not been explained. She approached the media last month after reports surfaced about an Al-Qaeda terrorist'sconfession about his role in training some of the 9/11 hijackers in Turkey.
Experts are sceptical that the US could be infiltrated by Muslim states to the extent of having its nuclear secrets stolen on a regular basis. Hence it seems likely that Washington had a strategic objective in helping countries like Pakistan acquire bomb technology. Edmonds translated tapes going back to 1997, regarding an FBI investigation into links between the Turks and Pakistani, Israeli and US targets. By the time she quit in 2002, she unearthed evidence of money laundering, drug imports, and attempts to acquire nuclear and conventional weapons technology.
She said the Turks and Israelis had ?moles? in military and academic institutions handling nuclear technology, and every month there were several transactions of nuclear material with Pakistanis among the eventual buyers. This network obtained information from every nuclear agency in America, and was helped by a high-ranking State Department official who provided some moles, mostly PhD students, with security clearance to work in sensitive nuclear research facilities like Los Alamos in New Mexico, which handles the security of the US nuclear deterrent.
In one taped conversation, Edmonds heard this official arrange to pick up a $15,000 cash bribe, which was to be dropped off at an agreed location by a Turkish diplomat. The Turks, she revealed, served often as a conduit for Pakistan'sInter-Services Intelligence as they did not attract so much suspicion. This suggests a greater coordination than previously suspected in the Islamic world, for the purpose of acquiring the nuclear bomb. Interesting, the American Turkish Council in Washington was used for these illicit transactions.
ISI chief, Gen. Mahmoud Ahmad, led the Pakistani operation. Gen. Ahmad and his colleagues in Washington kept in constant touch with attach'sin the Turkish embassy. The ISI was close to Al-Qaeda before and after 9/11, and Gen. Ahmad is believed to have sanctioned a $100,000 wire payment to hijacker Mohammed Atta immediately before the attack. The principal recipient of the nuclear espionage was Dr. A.Q. Khan, close to both Gen. Ahmad and the ISI.
It is conventional wisdom that Dr. Khan made a fortune selling atomic secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea, which he acquired via a network of companies in America and Britain. But if it now transpires that Ankara was the main transit point and a very senior US official the chief salesman, matters acquire a different light. If the US government sanctioned the nuclear leaks in the first place, the Pakistan government may have approved the further sales to Islamic countries. The US became nervous only when intelligence agencies learnt that Dr. Khan personally met Osama Bin Laden. Yet the US-Pak collaboration went deep ? the FBI engaged the daughter of a Pakistani embassy official who worked for Gen. Ahmad.
Packages of nuclear secrets were delivered by Turkish operatives under cover of their diplomatic immunity, to contacts at the Pakistani embassy in Washington. After 9/11, several foreign operatives were questioned by the FBI for possible knowledge about the attacks. But the high-ranking State Department official proved useful and helped in the release and extradition of the suspects. It is unlikely this could be accomplished by a single individual, no matter how highly placed, and may be part of covert diplomacy by the US, which often has contradictory irons in the fire.
Several senior officials in the Pentagon helped Israeli and Turkish agents. A Pentagon analyst, Lawrence Franklin, was jailed in 2006 for passing defence information to lobbyists and sharing classified information with an Israeli diplomat. FBI found that Turkish diplomats sold copies of nuclear information to the highest bidder. Obviously their market was not confined to Pakistan; nor would the Turkish Government have remained out of the loop.
Interestingly, in 2000, the FBI followed an agent who met two Saudi Arabian businessmen in Detroit to sell nuclear information stolen from an air force base in Alabama. His price was $250,000. Edmonds would have learnt more, but the FBI dismissed her in March 2002 after she accused a colleague of covering up illicit activity involving Turkish nationals. Later, the Office of the Inspector General reviewed her case and concluded that she was sacked for making valid complaints.
It is amusing to note that when The Sunday Times tried to verify Edmonds? testimony, a CIA source admitted that the Turks had acquired nuclear secrets from America and ?shared? it Pakistan and Israel. The CIA claimed ignorance of whether or not Turkey had any nuclear ambitions of its own!