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For Sale: The West’s Deadly Nuclear Secrets

THE SUNDAY TIMES [1]

A WHISTLEBLOWER has made a series of extra­or­di­nary claims about how cor­rupt gov­ern­ment offi­cials allowed Pak­istan and oth­er states to steal nuclear weapons secrets.

Sibel Edmonds, a 37-year-old for­mer Turk­ish lan­guage trans­la­tor for the FBI, lis­tened into hun­dreds of sen­si­tive inter­cept­ed con­ver­sa­tions while based at the agency’s Wash­ing­ton field office.

She approached The Sun­day Times last month after read­ing about an Al-Qae­da ter­ror­ist who had revealed his role in train­ing some of the 9/11 hijack­ers while he was in Turkey.

Edmonds described how for­eign intel­li­gence agents had enlist­ed the sup­port of US offi­cials to acquire a net­work of moles in sen­si­tive mil­i­tary and nuclear insti­tu­tions.

Among the hours of covert tape record­ings, she says she heard evi­dence that one well-known senior offi­cial in the US State Depart­ment was being paid by Turk­ish agents in Wash­ing­ton who were sell­ing the infor­ma­tion on to black mar­ket buy­ers, includ­ing Pak­istan.

The name of the offi­cial – who has held a series of top gov­ern­ment posts – is known to The Sun­day Times. He strong­ly denies the claims.

How­ev­er, Edmonds said: “He was aid­ing for­eign oper­a­tives against US inter­ests by pass­ing them high­ly clas­si­fied infor­ma­tion, not only from the State Depart­ment but also from the Pen­ta­gon, in exchange for mon­ey, posi­tion and polit­i­cal objec­tives.”

She claims that the FBI was also gath­er­ing evi­dence against senior Pen­ta­gon offi­cials – includ­ing house­hold names – who were aid­ing for­eign agents.

“If you made pub­lic all the infor­ma­tion that the FBI have on this case, you will see very high-lev­el peo­ple going through crim­i­nal tri­als,” she said.

Her sto­ry shows just how much the West was infil­trat­ed by for­eign states seek­ing nuclear secrets. It illus­trates how west­ern gov­ern­ment offi­cials turned a blind eye to, or were even help­ing, coun­tries such as Pak­istan acquire bomb tech­nol­o­gy.

The wider nuclear net­work has been mon­i­tored for many years by a joint Anglo-Amer­i­can intel­li­gence effort. But rather than shut it down, inves­ti­ga­tions by law enforce­ment bod­ies such as the FBI and Britain’s Rev­enue & Cus­toms have been abort­ed to pre­serve diplo­mat­ic rela­tions.

Edmonds, a flu­ent speak­er of Turk­ish and Far­si, was recruit­ed by the FBI in the after­math of the Sep­tem­ber 11 attacks. Her pre­vi­ous claims about incom­pe­tence inside the FBI have been well doc­u­ment­ed in Amer­i­ca.

She has giv­en evi­dence to closed ses­sions of Con­gress and the 9/11 com­mis­sion, but many of the key points of her tes­ti­mo­ny have remained secret. She has now decid­ed to divulge some of that infor­ma­tion after becom­ing dis­il­lu­sioned with the US author­i­ties’ fail­ure to act.

One of Edmonds’s main roles in the FBI was to trans­late thou­sands of hours of con­ver­sa­tions by Turk­ish diplo­mat­ic and polit­i­cal tar­gets that had been covert­ly record­ed by the agency.

A back­log of tapes had built up, dat­ing back to 1997, which were need­ed for an FBI inves­ti­ga­tion into links between the Turks and Pak­istani, Israeli and US tar­gets. Before she left the FBI in 2002 she heard evi­dence that point­ed to mon­ey laun­der­ing, drug imports and attempts to acquire nuclear and con­ven­tion­al weapons tech­nol­o­gy.

“What I found was damn­ing,” she said. “While the FBI was inves­ti­gat­ing, sev­er­al arms of the gov­ern­ment were shield­ing what was going on.”

The Turks and Israelis had plant­ed “moles” in mil­i­tary and aca­d­e­m­ic insti­tu­tions which han­dled nuclear tech­nol­o­gy. Edmonds says there were sev­er­al trans­ac­tions of nuclear mate­r­i­al every month, with the Pak­ista­nis being among the even­tu­al buy­ers. “The net­work appeared to be obtain­ing infor­ma­tion from every nuclear agency in the Unit­ed States,” she said.

They were helped, she says, by the high-rank­ing State Depart­ment offi­cial who pro­vid­ed some of their moles – main­ly PhD stu­dents – with secu­ri­ty clear­ance to work in sen­si­tive nuclear research facil­i­ties. These includ­ed the Los Alam­os nuclear lab­o­ra­to­ry in New Mex­i­co, which is respon­si­ble for the secu­ri­ty of the US nuclear deter­rent.

In one con­ver­sa­tion Edmonds heard the offi­cial arrang­ing to pick up a $15,000 cash bribe. The pack­age was to be dropped off at an agreed loca­tion by some­one in the Turk­ish diplo­mat­ic com­mu­ni­ty who was work­ing for the net­work.

The Turks, she says, often act­ed as a con­duit for the Inter-Ser­vices Intel­li­gence (ISI), Pakistan’s spy agency, because they were less like­ly to attract sus­pi­cion. Venues such as the Amer­i­can Turk­ish Coun­cil in Wash­ing­ton were used to drop off the cash, which was picked up by the offi­cial.

Edmonds said: “I heard at least three trans­ac­tions like this over a peri­od of 2½ years. There are almost cer­tain­ly more.”

The Pak­istani oper­a­tion was led by Gen­er­al Mah­moud Ahmad, then the ISI chief.

Inter­cept­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tions showed Ahmad and his col­leagues sta­tioned in Wash­ing­ton were in con­stant con­tact with attach�s in the Turk­ish embassy.

Intel­li­gence ana­lysts say that mem­bers of the ISI were close to Al-Qae­da before and after 9/11. Indeed, Ahmad was accused of sanc­tion­ing a $100,000 wire pay­ment to Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijack­ers, imme­di­ate­ly before the attacks.

The results of the espi­onage were almost cer­tain­ly passed to Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pak­istani nuclear sci­en­tist.

Khan was close to Ahmad and the ISI. While run­ning Pakistan’s nuclear pro­gramme, he became a mil­lion­aire by sell­ing atom­ic secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea. He also used a net­work of com­pa­nies in Amer­i­ca and Britain to obtain com­po­nents for a nuclear pro­gramme.

Khan caused an alert among west­ern intel­li­gence agen­cies when his aides met Osama Bin Laden. “We were aware of con­tact between A Q Khan’s peo­ple and Al-Qae­da,” a for­mer CIA offi­cer said last week. “There was absolute pan­ic when we ini­tial­ly dis­cov­ered this, but it kind of panned out in the end.”

It is like­ly that the nuclear secrets stolen from the Unit­ed States would have been sold to a num­ber of rogue states by Khan.

Edmonds was lat­er to see the scope of the Pak­istani con­nec­tions when it was revealed that one of her fel­low trans­la­tors at the FBI was the daugh­ter of a Pak­istani embassy offi­cial who worked for Ahmad. The trans­la­tor was giv­en top secret clear­ance despite protests from FBI inves­ti­ga­tors.

Edmonds says pack­ages con­tain­ing nuclear secrets were deliv­ered by Turk­ish oper­a­tives, using their cov­er as mem­bers of the diplo­mat­ic and mil­i­tary com­mu­ni­ty, to con­tacts at the Pak­istani embassy in Wash­ing­ton.

Fol­low­ing 9/11, a num­ber of the for­eign oper­a­tives were tak­en in for ques­tion­ing by the FBI on sus­pi­cion that they knew about or some­how aid­ed the attacks.

Edmonds said the State Depart­ment offi­cial once again proved use­ful. “A pri­ma­ry tar­get would call the offi­cial and point to names on the list and say, ‘We need to get them out of the US because we can’t afford for them to spill the beans’,” she said. “The offi­cial said that he would ‘take care of it’.”

The four sus­pects on the list were released from inter­ro­ga­tion and extra­dit­ed.

Edmonds also claims that a num­ber of senior offi­cials in the Pen­ta­gon had helped Israeli and Turk­ish agents.

“The peo­ple pro­vid­ed lists of poten­tial moles from Pen­ta­gon-relat
ed insti­tu­tions who had access to data­bas­es con­cern­ing this infor­ma­tion,” she said.

“The han­dlers, who were part of the diplo­mat­ic com­mu­ni­ty, would then try to recruit those peo­ple to become moles for the net­work. The lists con­tained all their ‘hook­ing points’, which could be finan­cial or sex­u­al pres­sure points, their exact job in the Pen­ta­gon and what stuff they had access to.”

One of the Pen­ta­gon fig­ures under inves­ti­ga­tion was Lawrence Franklin, a for­mer Pen­ta­gon ana­lyst, who was jailed in 2006 for pass­ing US defence infor­ma­tion to lob­by­ists and shar­ing clas­si­fied infor­ma­tion with an Israeli diplo­mat.

“He was one of the top peo­ple pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion and pack­ages dur­ing 2000 and 2001,” she said.

Once acquired, the nuclear secrets could have gone any­where. The FBI mon­i­tored Turk­ish diplo­mats who were sell­ing copies of the infor­ma­tion to the high­est bid­der.

Edmonds said: “Cer­tain greedy Turk­ish oper­a­tors would make copies of the mate­r­i­al and look around for buy­ers. They had agents who would find poten­tial buy­ers.”

In sum­mer 2000, Edmonds says the FBI mon­i­tored one of the agents as he met two Sau­di Ara­bi­an busi­ness­men in Detroit to sell nuclear infor­ma­tion that had been stolen from an air force base in Alaba­ma. She over­heard the agent say­ing: “We have a pack­age and we’re going to sell it for $250,000.”

Edmonds’s employ­ment with the FBI last­ed for just six months. In March 2002 she was dis­missed after accus­ing a col­league of cov­er­ing up illic­it activ­i­ty involv­ing Turk­ish nation­als.

She has always claimed that she was vic­timised for being out­spo­ken and was vin­di­cat­ed by an Office of the Inspec­tor Gen­er­al review of her case three years lat­er. It found that one of the con­trib­u­to­ry rea­sons for her sack­ing was that she had made valid com­plaints.

The US attor­ney-gen­er­al has imposed a state secrets priv­i­lege order on her, which pre­vents her reveal­ing more details of the FBI’s meth­ods and cur­rent inves­ti­ga­tions.

Her alle­ga­tions were heard in a closed ses­sion of Con­gress, but no action has been tak­en and she con­tin­ues to cam­paign for a pub­lic hear­ing.

She was able to dis­cuss the case with The Sun­day Times because, by the end of Jan­u­ary 2002, the jus­tice depart­ment had shut down the pro­gramme.

The senior offi­cial in the State Depart­ment no longer works there. Last week he denied all of Edmonds’s alle­ga­tions: “If you are call­ing me to say some­body said that I took mon­ey, that’s out­ra­geous . . . I do not have any­thing to say about such stu­pid ridicu­lous things as this.”

In research­ing this arti­cle, The Sun­day Times has talked to two FBI offi­cers (one serv­ing, one for­mer) and two for­mer CIA sources who worked on nuclear pro­lif­er­a­tion. While none was aware of spe­cif­ic alle­ga­tions against offi­cials she names, they did pro­vide over­lap­ping cor­rob­o­ra­tion of Edmonds’s sto­ry.

One of the CIA sources con­firmed that the Turks had acquired nuclear secrets from the Unit­ed States and shared the infor­ma­tion with Pak­istan and Israel. “We have no indi­ca­tion that Turkey has its own nuclear ambi­tions. But the Turks are traders. To my knowl­edge they became big play­ers in the late 1990s,” the source said.

How Pak­istan got the bomb, then sold it to the high­est bid­ders

1965 Zul­fikar Ali Bhut­to, Pakistan’s for­eign min­is­ter, says: “If India builds the bomb we will eat grass . . . but we will get one of our own”

1974 Nuclear pro­gramme becomes increased pri­or­i­ty as India tests a nuclear device

1976 Abdul Qadeer Khan, a sci­en­tist, steals secrets from Dutch ura­ni­um plant. Made head of his nation’s nuclear pro­gramme by Bhut­to, now prime min­is­ter

1976 onwards Clan­des­tine net­work estab­lished to obtain mate­ri­als and tech­nol­o­gy for ura­ni­um enrich­ment from the West

1985 Pak­istan pro­duces weapons-grade ura­ni­um for the first time

1989–91 Khan’s net­work sells Iran nuclear weapons infor­ma­tion and tech­nol­o­gy

1991–97 Khan sells weapons tech­nol­o­gy to North Korea and Libya

1998 India tests nuclear bomb and Pak­istan fol­lows with a series of nuclear tests. Khan says: “I nev­er had any doubts I was build­ing a bomb. We had to do it”

2001 CIA chief George Tenet gath­ers offi­cials for cri­sis sum­mit on the pro­lif­er­a­tion of nuclear tech­nol­o­gy from Pak­istan to oth­er coun­tries

2001 Weeks before 9/11, Khan’s aides meet Osama Bin Laden to dis­cuss an Al-Qae­da nuclear device

2001 After 9/11 pro­lif­er­a­tion cri­sis becomes sec­ondary as Pak­istan is seen as impor­tant ally in war on ter­ror

2003 Libya aban­dons nuclear weapons pro­gramme and admits acquir­ing com­po­nents through Pak­istani nuclear sci­en­tists

2004 Khan placed under house arrest and con­fess­es to sup­ply­ing Iran, Libya and North Korea with weapons tech­nol­o­gy. He is par­doned by Pres­i­dent Per­vez Mushar­raf

2006 North Korea tests a nuclear bomb

2007 Renewed fears that bomb may fall into hands of Islam­ic extrem­ists as killing of Benazir Bhut­to throws coun­try into tur­moil