While it's well known that the war party's fateful
"outing" of CIA agent Valerie Plame was partly revenge against her
husband, Joseph Wilson, for his 2003 New
York Times article, it may have also been motivated by a desire to neutralize
Plame's investigations into rogue nuclear trafficking. The long and storied
history of indiscretions of powerful neocons in and around the Bush administration
gives us reason to consider this possibility.
Plame at the CIA: Background
Within the CIA, Valerie Plame was an NOC (non-official
cover) agent, meaning
that she had "little or no protection from the U.S. government if she
got caught." Far from being a "bit player," as neocons once belittled
her, Plame was operating undercover and working to counter the spread of the
world's most dangerous materials. And, while the front company by which she
was ostensibly employed as an energy consultant, Brewster
Jennings & Associates, may indeed have been little more than a "telephone
and post office box" in Boston, Plame and her colleagues were using this
ruse as a means of getting important information and undertaking delicate missions
Bob Novak's revelation of July 2003 thus did not just affect Plame. It affected
all of us. Former CIA chief of counterterrorism operations and analysis Vince
Cannistraro stated in October 2003 that since not only Plame but other agents
were run through this front company, the leak had put them all in danger – and
disrupted the international network of contacts the agents had carefully developed
over the years. It severely impeded long-standing CIA investigations into one
of the world's most serious issues.
The leak had wider effects, therefore, than just ruining one woman's career.
It had serious national security implications, which have astonishingly enough
been ignored by red-blooded backers of Washington's war party. The question
thus becomes: who in the government would have stood to gain by ruining a CIA
investigation into rogue nuclear trafficking, and in what ways?
An article published in Turkish
newspaper Hurriyet, entitled "She Came to Turkey Too,"
cites an anonymous American intelligence expert who verifies that Plame's job
involved "the 'top secret' part of nuclear weapons proliferation."
The source also claims that it had brought her to Turkey several times, for
follow-up visits with persons of interest:
"[P]lame and other employees of Brewster & Jennings, the CIA's
fake energy consulting firm, used to visit the International Atomic Energy Agency
[IAEA, located in Vienna] frequently.
They used to attend the meetings and undertake deliberate operations to get
'targeted names' on their side.
"Plame and other 'energy consultants' used to continue with follow-up
meetings for those persons whom they had contacted in Vienna, in Istanbul. …
Plame met with foreign dignitaries who are in charge of nuclear weapons in their
countries and scientists in Turkey, where she has visited several times as an
Independently of this, former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds told me recently
that "Plame's undercover job involved the organizations [the FBI had been
investigating], the ATC (American-Turkish
Council) and the ATA (American-Turkish Association)."
Further, she adds, "the Brewster Jennings network was very active in Turkey
and with the Turkish community in the U.S. during the late 1990s, 2000, and
2001 … in places like Chicago, Boston, and Paterson, N.J." These disclosures
make it clear that nuclear trafficking was one of the widespread illegal activities
enjoyed by government officials, foreign agents, rogue businessmen, and terrorists
under surveillance prior to and during Ms. Edmonds' time at the FBI
Case Studies in Nuclear Smuggling
In May 2004, an intricate multinational scheme
for smuggling in nuclear parts was documented
by the L.A. Times. The case, which began with an anonymous tip from
someone in South Africa in July 2003, "offers a rare glimpse into what
authorities say is an international bazaar teeming with entrepreneurs, transporters,
scientists, manufacturers, government agents, organized-crime syndicates, and,
The case centered around an Israeli, Asher Karni, who was caught trying to
sell 200 triggered spark gaps that can be used for medical purposes – as well
as for nuclear weapons – to Humayun Khan, a Pakistani with military and radical
Islamist links, whose father had been a supplier to Pakistan's Atomic Energy
Commission in the 1970s. The Pakistani government was thus suspected to be the
Some two months before the L.A. Times piece, the New Yorker's
had provided detailed information on Pakistan's "nuclear godfather,"
A.Q. Khan (no relation to Humayun Khan), who had been forced to admit to a long
career of black-market nuclear trafficking that helped arm various volatile
states. The revelations came when Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi voluntarily
gave up his nuclear program, ushering in UN inspectors and casting light on
the complex and far-flung network of dealers, suppliers, and clients from Malaysia
to Dubai. This in turn implicated Khan, who was pardoned by Pakistani President
Pervez Musharraf, despite being regarded as a hero for his role in developing
the bomb. Official Washington said little about the pardon, though the investigations
picked up. For successive American administrations that had held up Pakistan
as a stellar ally, the disclosure was an embarrassment, to say the least.
The Karni-Humayun Khan transaction was allowed to continue so that investigators
could trace the whole operation. Karni first requested the spark gaps from a
Massachusetts company, Perkin-Elmer Optoelectronics, but a company official
told him that he first "needed to submit required U.S. certificates detailing
what the switches would be used for, and promising not to send them to blacklisted
countries such as Pakistan or use them in nuclear-related applications."
Deciding not to fill out the forms, Karni instead contacted Zeki Bilmen, a
Turkish Jew and head of Giza
Technologies in Secaucus, N.J. Bilmen secured the shipment by giving Perkin-Elmer
certificates stating that the switches would be used in a South African hospital.
However, authorities became suspicious when Perkin-Elmer told them a typical
hospital would only request five or six such devices, not 200. What followed
was a textbook case of rerouted shipments, front companies, and multiple handoffs
in numerous countries before it finally finished in Pakistan.
Bilmen's company also described the spark gaps as "'electrical splices
and couplings for switchings," something for which no export license would
be required. However, an affidavit filed by Special Agent James R. Brigham of
the Commerce Department's Office of Export Enforcement pointedly noted that
"providing such false or misleading information is a violation of federal
What is more, court records cited by the L.A. Times show that this was
not the first time this threesome had worked together: in one of the several
"suspicious deals" mentioned, "Karni bought for Khan a type of
sophisticated oscilloscope often used in nuclear weapons and military programs,
also through Giza."
Protections and Paradoxes
Despite these red flags, Zeki Bilmen was not implicated;
with more success than the other two characters involved, he portrayed himself
as a naïvely innocent victim of circumstances. "It's beyond logical
Sibel Edmonds back in August. "Maybe it was decided in high places
that no one would touch him."
According to her, Giza's business in New Jersey, staffed by Jewish Turks, was
not affected by the controversy:
"[T]hey have many shipments going out, coming in, all day long. To
places like Dubai, Spain, South Africa, Turkey. They have branches in all these
places. Yep, they're sailing along very smoothly."
Giza Technologies' Web site states that
the company is characterized "by the speed and dexterity by the way it
locates hard-to-find products and the flexibility and efficiency of the service
that it gives its customers." The company's main European branch is located
in Madrid, Spain, and it claims to have worked in an (unspecified) capacity
on various European defense projects such as the Eurofighter,
and Leopard tank.
From the Hersh piece, one also gets the sense that the worst proliferators
are getting off with a slap on the wrist. A former Pakistani government official,
Husain Haqqani, quipped that with the A.Q. Khan case "it is not a few scientists
pocketing money and getting rich. It's a state policy." This might explain
the American reticence to put an end to the unsavory activities by embarrassing
key ally Pakistan. One mystified international counter-proliferation official
asked Hersh, "Why hasn't A. Q. Khan been taken out by Israel or the United
An American intelligence officer "with years of experience in nonproliferation
issues" could only lament to Hersh that "we had every opportunity
to put a stop to the A.Q. Khan network 15 years ago. Some of those involved
today in the smuggling are the children of those we knew about in the '80s.
It's the second generation now."
Back to the Future
In the present context, nothing illustrates the
old adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same better than
comprehensive 1993 report from the New Yorker's archive. Seymour
Hersh chronicled how a desire to maintain certain foreign relations and prolong
the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, as well as to cash in on lucrative
military deals, inspired the Reagan and Bush I regimes to help Pakistan develop
its nuclear arsenal – something that brought the volatile Southeast Asian state
to the brink of Armageddon with neighboring adversary India in 1990. The Pakistanis,
led by the aforementioned A.Q. Khan and radical Islamist generals, were able
to develop a nuclear program "with the aid of many millions of dollars'
worth of restricted, high-tech materials bought inside the United States."
As with the situation today, the State Department back then efficiently neutralized
the many incriminating intelligence reports that revealed the clandestine role
of prominent individuals and government officials in the whole sordid affair.
Just as with the whistleblower cases of the past few years, the Pakistan imbroglio
had its own hardworking and talented young agent to sacrifice: Richard M. Barlow,
an expert on Pakistani nuclear proliferation issues. As with Sibel Edmonds a
generation later, he stumbled upon hugely significant information while "rummaging"
through a forgotten backlog of data. And, as with Edmonds, Barlow was harassed
and then fired for refusing to shut up when he spoke up about clear evidence
of wrongdoing. Hersh recounted events thus:
"[E]ven as Barlow began his digging, some senior State Department officials
were worried that too much investigation would create what Barlow called 'embarrassment
for Pakistan and trigger the Solarz Amendment, which would cut off all aid.'
Protecting the Afghanistan war had emerged as a major policy of the State Department's
Bureau of Near East and South Asia Affairs, which was responsible for Pakistani
The State Department, deemed "easily the most corrupt" of major government
agencies by Edmonds, was again the target in another of Barlow's investigations,
which involved "possibly illegal State Department approval of licenses
to the Pakistani Embassy in Washington for equipment whose export had previously
been denied – for nuclear-proliferation reasons – by the Commerce Department."
The realities of then and now collide unhappily yet again with the ultimate
example of What It's All About. When Barlow discovered that the government "was
once again distorting intelligence on Pakistan's nuclear capability," he
prepared a comprehensive study for the benefit of "Secretary of Defense
Richard Cheney and other senior officials." Barlow's report, which was
backed up by a similar one from the Defense Intelligence Agency, proved that
Pakistan was retrofitting its American F-16 fighter jets to carry nuclear warheads.
This revelation presented a "big problem" for Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz,
and the boys, because it imperiled the $1.6 billion they expected to rake in
from the sale of 60 more F-16 fighters and subsequent acceleration of the India-Pakistan
arms race. When Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Arthur Hughes stood before
Congress on Aug. 2, 1989, and claimed that the planes could not be modified
to carry nuclear missiles, Barlow immediately protested to his superiors that
this was a lie, and was just as immediately terminated. The deal, like all the
others before and after it, went ahead.
Humorously enough, when Khan finally admitted his black-market role in 2004,
Cheney purported to
be "shocked." For this act, he could have taken home the Oscar.
The Turkish-Pakistani Connection
Turkey has long been known as a vital transit
and assembly point for contraband nuclear materials. It has been aiding the
aspirations of Pakistan, in particular, since a military coup in 1980. A
report from back in 2000 recalled that:
"[T]urkey has already been implicated in nuclear arms aid to Pakistan.
An earlier attempt to build an Argentinean-designed reactor was likely aimed
at plutonium production for nuclear weapons. Evidence of nuclear smuggling based
in Turkey, and Turkey's push for its own nuclear fuel capability and indigenous
reactor design, all pointed to possible nuclear weapons development. The support
of prominent Turkish citizens for nuclear weapons development has leant credence
to this evidence."
Over the past 20 years, various Turkish and Pakistani governments, as well
as sections of the military, have looked kindly on the idea of creating Islamic
nuclear states. The countries were specifically linked in the A.Q. Khan network;
July 2004 summary gives detailed information:
"[W]orkshops in Turkey made the centrifuge motor and frequency converters
used to drive the motor and spin the rotor to high speeds. These workshops imported
subcomponents from Europe and elsewhere, and they assembled these centrifuge
items in Turkey. Under false end-user certificates, these components were shipped
to Dubai for repackaging and shipment to Libya."
Today, it is not known whether Turkey possesses nuclear weapons. But remember, the crucial part of the above-cited 2000 report is:
"[E]vidence of nuclear smuggling based in Turkey, and Turkey's push
for its own nuclear fuel capability and indigenous reactor design, all pointed
to possible nuclear weapons development. The support of prominent Turkish citizens
for nuclear weapons development has leant credence to this evidence."
Total trafficking levels are hard to adduce, though it's clear that more supplies
get through than are caught. From 1993-1999 alone, there were 18 high-profile
incidents of nuclear trafficking involving Turkey – the sort of cases that Valerie
Plame's unit sought to investigate. As
this report details, "these cases include nuclear material seized in
Turkey, nuclear material interdicted en route to Turkey, and seizure of nuclear
material smuggled by Turkish nationals." In most of the cases, the nuclear
materials originated in unstable former Soviet states such as Georgia, Romania,
Moldova, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Russia itself. Among the destination
states, Libya and Iran jump out. In addition to Turks, detained smugglers included
nationals of Azerbaijan, Russia, Georgia, Romania, as well as a Kazakh army
colonel and suspected Iranian secret service agents.
A couple of years later, on Sept. 10, 2001, the N.Y.
Times reported that "in the last eight years, there have been 104
attempts to smuggle nuclear material into Turkey, according to an internal report
by the Turkish Atomic Energy Authority."
An Unpredictable Future
As Seymour Hersh related in his 1993 article,
Pakistani leaders were smart enough to know that the U.S. was just using them
for their proximity to Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. They knew that
when the Russians withdrew, the U.S. would have no further need for them – and
would be less enthusiastic about letting the country go nuclear. However, by
the time the Soviets pulled out, the damage had long been done. After all, A.Q.
Khan had been boasting since the mid-1980s that his country had the bomb.
An even more frightening prospect is a nuclear Turkey. The country has been
militarily subsidized even more than Pakistan; mass military aid and technology
transfer were justified first of all by Turkey's status as a key Cold War ally
and thereafter as a bulwark of secular Islam, holding the wall against Syria,
Iran, and Iraq.
However, the very same American leaders who have been arming Turkey and allowing,
in some cases even profiting from, nuclear smuggling there have also ruined
the delicate balance of regional power with the invasions of Afghanistan and
Iraq, and brought the world far closer to nuclear confrontations.
In the former case, they put huge strain on the "pro-Western" Musharraf
government, strengthening the hand of fundamentalist Islamists in both the mosque
and in the armed forces. Musharraf has survived multiple assassination attempts,
but there is no guarantee that he will enjoy lucky escapes forever. If he goes,
what then? Any coup by a populist, fundamentalist-based leader would instantly
put both Pakistan and India on high alert, taking us back to previous near-apocalyptic
nuclear showdowns. Mired in numerous other bloody commitments of its own making,
there's no certainty that the U.S. could finesse the situation as it did in
While Turkey is much less likely to fall victim to an Islamist coup, preserved
as it is by a strongly secular military, it could easily grow more isolationist.
Major changes have occurred since the invasion of Iraq that have manifested
themselves in a demoted role for Turkey in U.S. foreign policy considerations,
a shifting relationship between it and Europe, a return to Islamic roots, and
the revival of armed Kurdish insurrectionists in the southeast.
With 2002's war planning, the neocons decided that it was not enough to merely
keep Turkey on as the dependable bulwark of the West's hinterland; instead,
they chose to take the bull by the horns and seize the whole neighborhood for
themselves. After the Iraq invasion gave the U.S. troops a huge and probably
permanent regional military presence and the capabilities to easily strike Iran
and Syria, Turkey's strategic importance has been downgraded. At the same time,
the revival of Kurdish terrorism in Turkey, inspired by the "liberation"
next door in Iraq, has left many Turks feeling angry and apprehensive that the
U.S. no longer has its best interests in mind. They also sympathize on religious
grounds with fellow Muslims who are being injured and killed every day in Iraq.
The way Turkey's other external relationships are handled in the coming months
will also play a role in deciding the direction of future trends. The European
Union recently began candidacy negotiations with Turkey, something about which
large sections of the European public have deep misgivings. It's hard to see
how they will become more eager to welcome Turkey aboard after having seen the
rioting of Muslim immigrants that swept France and neighboring countries in
The issue of the EU is controversial not only in Europe, however; nationalist
and religious-minded Turks do not want to make the sometimes humiliating concessions
and "reforms" Brussels is requesting of them. That the Iraq war added
to the volatility of the Middle East, rather than to its stabilization, goes
without saying. But Turkey's sudden drop in the estimation of U.S. policy planners
and its arm's-length treatment from the EU can only increase feelings of frustration
and alienation among the general populace, strengthening the religious-based
parties and go-it-alone
nationalist sentiment alike.
Proud Turkey has always wanted to be seen as an important country. Were it
to declare itself a nuclear one, it would become, for a time at least, the most
important country in the world. The entire balance of power in Europe and the
Middle East would be radically altered overnight, and the overall side results
would not at all be positive for Turkey or anyone else – except of course for
those cashing in on illicit nuclear sales. Nevertheless, the country is probably
technologically capable by now. A new question that has thus arisen, as articulated
recently by Turkish scholar Mehmet
Kalyoncu on Balkanalysis.com, is the following: "If the U.S. and the
EU do not approve of Turkey having nuclear weapons, what do they have to offer
This is a startling question that no one hopes will be asked. If it is, it
certainly won't come as a surprise to those neocons of long experience who have
gotten rich by helping Pakistan (and perhaps soon Turkey) realize nuclear ambitions
– making the world a safer place for all of us in the process.