A pair of NY Times reporters offer a damning indictment of the CIA’s failed war on nuclear proliferation.
Wannabe nuclear powers must love the Internet. Imagine the headaches a rogue nation would have had trying to enrich uranium during the cold war: build a spy network, recruit double agents, arrange illicit midnight meetings at spooky train stations along the borders of non-NATO countries where chain-smoking men wearing fedoras and black overcoats can exchange weapons designs scribbled on wrinkled cocktail napkins. The bill for fake moustaches alone would bankrupt a small country.Skip to next paragraph
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In 2010, nuclear proliferation is a lot easier. Facebook is great for sharing pictures of your newborn. It’s even better for posting classified sketches of P-2 centrifuges. And because sharing nuclear technology is now as easy as pressing “send” in an e-mail, it’s become more important than ever to stop it. The Central Intelligence Agency understands that, right?
Maybe not. In Fallout: The True Story of the CIA’s Secret War on Nuclear Trafficking, New York Times veterans Catherine Collins and Douglas Frantz Monday morning quarterback the CIA’s failed war on nuclear proliferation.
“By the time the CIA set up its first full-time counterproliferation operation, Khan had fulfilled his role in providing the highly enriched uranium required for Pakistan to develop its nuclear arsenal,” the authors write of A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani engineer who provided nuclear secrets to Iran and Libya for decades. Though the CIA discussed assassinating Khan as early as 1978, the agency allowed the criminal scientist to continue peddling nuclear secrets to learn more about his network – a bit like a basketball team running an ineffective zone defense to see how many points it can lose by.
“The CIA could have stopped Khan before he had even begun to help Pakistan build its nuclear arsenal,” write Collins and Frantz, “and before he ever provided the technology and expertise that was even then leading Iran to the brink of possessing a nuclear weapon, further destabilizing the Middle East.” Though the authors’ 2007 book “The Nuclear Jihadist” detailed Khan’s long career as the Harold Hill of black market nuclear weapons technology, the portrait that “Fallout” paints of the CIA as Khan’s enabler is more devastating. The agency discouraged the International Atomic Energy Agency from investigating its informants in Khan’s employ, pushed Swiss authorities to destroy evidence of Khan’s activities, and, most ridiculously, provided Khan’s network with “sabotaged” enrichment materiel to slow his progress. “He didn’t doubt that the American scientist had altered the [uranium enrichment] pump enough so that it would not work properly,” the authors write of an IAEA engineer skeptical of the CIA’s plans.