Alexander's Column

On the Trail of Nuclear Terror

Mark Alexander · Mar. 12, 2004

(This is the first of a two-part commentary on how the CIA scooped the nuclear WMD black market. Read Part Two: The Khan con)

“Your successes are unheralded – your failures are trumpeted.” –John F. Kennedy to CIA intelligence professionals in 1961.

The CIA has, once again, become the favorite political whipping boy of the Left – its “failures trumpeted” primarily by Senator Ted Kennedy, the derelict younger brother to John Kennedy. Though Kennedy the lesser had aspirations to follow in his big brother’s footsteps to the White House, his ambitions could not overcome the death of a young intern, Mary Jo Kopechne, whom a drunken Teddy left to die in a car he drove into the shallow water off Chappaquiddick Island.

Her tragic death, and the cover-up that followed notwithstanding, Kennedy has been re-elected perpetually as U.S. Senator from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts. One of Kennedy’s prime objectives is to make the Bush administration look inept in matters of national security, particularly as it pertains to efforts to combat terrorism.

On the way to that objective, Kennedy has wasted no time assassinating the character and competence of the CIA.

“Where was the CIA director when the vice president was going nuclear about Saddam going nuclear?” Kennedy bellowed to the Council on Foreign Relations recently. “Did Tenet fail to convince the policy-makers to cool their overheated rhetoric? Did he even try to convince them?” But were the CIA’s intelligence estimates wrong about the threat of nuclear WMD posed by the “Axis of Evil”?

In the last month, the nuclear WMD web between Pakistan, Libya, Iran and North Korea has been incrementally exposed. Despite Ted Kennedy’s assertions about George Tenet’s leadership, our analysts conclude that the CIA, much maligned by Kennedy, et al., for some intelligence failures regarding 9/11 and Operation Iraqi Freedom, succeeded in a high-stakes takeover of the nuclear black market in recent years and is responsible for exposing the perils of this nuclear web of terror – a success that will likely remain unheralded beyond this column.

Last week, there were additional revelations about the nuclear WMD black-market connecting state-sponsors of international terror – including Libya, Iran and North Korea. (Fortunately, the Iraqi element of this “Axis of Evil” has been neutralized.)

According to diplomatic sources, inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency on the ground in Iran found advanced uranium-enrichment equipment on an air force base outside Tehran (evidence Iran failed to conceal). Wednesday, inspectors announced their discovery of traces of highly enriched uranium at that location – uranium of a purity used only in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. This latest discovery was of uranium refined to 90% of isotope 235.

“It’s rather strange, don’t you think, that the military gets involved in the electric-power-generating business?” queried one senior U.S. official, speaking anonymously, “or that they forgot to mention this before, when they were ‘fully disclosing’ all details of their program?”

Iran continues to deny the existence of a nuclear-weapons program, though when confronted with the IAEA’s evidence, Iran’s defense minister, Ali Shamkhani, for the first time admitted the military’s production of gas centrifuges for uranium enrichment … for energy applications only. (The only “energy application” for enriched U-235 is to power nuclear weapons.)

Nevertheless, Libya’s recent disclosures and dismantlement of its WMD programs, coupled with Pakistan’s cooperation involving their notorious nuke-peddling scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, are tightening the noose on Tehran, among others. Only last month, information was leaked that the IAEA had discovered plans for such centrifuge equipment. The designs reportedly match centrifuge plans recently disclosed by Libya, provided by the Pakistani nuclear black market under Khan. U.S. sources indicate that these plans were provided to Pakistan, in turn, by China. The IAEA has declined to comment.

An IAEA resolution on Libya, brokered by the U.S. and Britain and passed by the agency’s board of governors Wednesday, praises Libya’s WMD disarmament while calling on the agency to report that country’s previous Nonproliferation Treaty breaches to the UN Security Council. The net effect of such a report, the senior U.S. official said, is to make it “very hard not at some point to address Iran’s breaches by referring them to the Security Council. The trap is sprung,” he concludes.

Only two days prior to the IAEA’s Wednesday announcement, the U.S. was applying public pressure to the agency and European allies, urging a formal condemnation of Iran’s nuclear activities. Most European states, including Great Britain, preferred a milder approach, not wishing to provoke Tehran into expelling UN inspectors. The agency’s announcement of the discovery of traces of U-235 on illegal and undeclared centrifuge equipment – found on an Iranian military facility – appears to have been the compromise solution. Iran, it seems, isn’t getting off the hook this time.

Given the dire significance of these events for U.S. national security – and that of all free nations, the timing of President Bush’s Proliferation Security Initiative, discussed in Federalist No. 04-06, was on the mark – not by coincidence, but as the result of an excellent body of intelligence.

It is the considered opinion of our analysts that this week’s revelations about Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons (and recent weeks’ revelations about similar efforts in Libya and North Korea) were the direct result of a covert operation (which began years ago) to cultivate operatives in the nuclear black marketplace, and ultimately, control a substantial part of that market in an effort to track sellers and buyers.

Next week, part two of this series will detail our estimate on how the CIA (with the help of the NSA, DCI and FBI) developed and maintained this black-op, and the role of Pakistan’s Abdul Qadeer Khan as its nuclear godfather.

In the meantime, suffice it to say that in the high-stakes game of nuclear chess between the U.S. and the Axis of Evil (and their surrogates like al-Qa'ida), the CIA remains several moves ahead of our adversaries. Despite all the rhetoric from the Left, you can sleep well knowing that a few hundred thousand of America’s finest, and those of our Allies are in the heart of the Middle East, putting pressure on state sponsors of terrorist organizations to cut ties and come clean about their nuclear programs.

Quote of the week…

“There is a consensus among nations that proliferation cannot be tolerated. Yet, this consensus means little unless it is translated into action. Every civilized nation has a stake in preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction. For international norms to be effective, they must be enforced.” –President George Bush

On cross-examination…

“The greatest irony of the post-911 world is that so many Democrats hate the Bush Doctrine. Liberation, anti-proliferation, and nation-building are activist and liberal, not defensive and conservative. The perceived immorality of our actions may weigh heavily on their souls. But it’s nothing compared to what we might have to face if our goal of limited war for democracy fails. If the Middle East gets nukes before it gets freedom, it will be extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to wage a war on liberal grounds. We’ll be back where we were during the Cold War. The only difference is that the equation of Mutually Assured Destruction won’t balance. Say what you will about the Communists. They did not want to martyr themselves to destroy us. If terrorists detonate a portable nuke in a Western city, what’s left of the Terror War will be nasty, brutish, and short. The West’s so-far limited response will instantly become total and, in effect, genocidal. Any and all WMD-producing states will be considered targets for a unilateral nuclear counterattack, starting with capital cities. The UN will not be consulted. Millions could die in a day.” –Michael J. Totten

Open query…

“In the coming weeks and months, reporters ought to feel obliged to question the Democrat candidates closely on the implications that would flow specifically from their Iraq policy. It is not enough for them to say they would have done otherwise. They must explain how what they would start doing on Jan. 20, 2005, would make the country safer, not more dangerous. It is a deadly illusion for either the reporters or the candidates to think they have a capacity for choice on whether America must succeed at the Iraq venture. We are no longer mere spectators to the human butchery that has long plagued the world.” –Tony Blankley