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    Repiglican Roast

    A spirited discussion of public policy and current issues

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    I'm furious about my squandered nation.

    Monday, October 29, 2007

    CIA's expert on Pakistan's nuclear secrets, but Rich Barlow was thrown out and disgraced when he blew the whistle on a US cover-up

    [...]

    The Pentagon officials who were responsible for Barlow's downfall would all be out of government by 1993, when Bill Clinton came into the White House. In opposition they began pursuing an aggressive political agenda, canvassing for war in Iraq rather than restraining nuclear-armed Pakistan. Their number now included Congressman Donald Rumsfeld, a former Republican defence secretary, and several others who would go on to take key positions under George Bush, including Richard Armitage, Richard Perle and John Bolton.

    Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz headed the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, which concluded in July 1998 that the chief threat - far greater than the CIA and other intelligence agencies had so far reported - was posed by Iran, Iraq and North Korea: the future Axis of Evil powers. Pakistan was not on the list, even though just two months earlier it had put an end to the dissembling by detonating five nuclear blasts in the deserts of Balochistan.

    It was also difficult not to conclude that Islamist terrorism was escalating and that its epicentre was Pakistan. The camps that had once been used to train the US-backed mujahideen had, since the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan, morphed into training facilities for fighters pitted against the west. Many were filled by jihadis and were funded with cash from the Pakistan military.

    It was made clear to the new president, Bill Clinton, that US policy on Pakistan had failed. The US had provided Islamabad with a nuclear bomb and had no leverage to stop the country's leaders from using it. When he was contacted by lawyers for Barlow, Clinton was shocked both by the treatment Barlow had received, and the implications for US policy on Pakistan. He signed off $1m in compensation. But Barlow never received it as the deal had to be ratified by Congress and, falling foul of procedural hurdles, it was kicked into the Court of Federal Claims to be reviewed as Clinton left office.

    When the George Bush came to power, his administration quashed the case. CIA director George Tenet and Michael Hayden, director of the National Security Agency, asserted "state secrets privilege" over Barlow's entire legal claim. With no evidence to offer, the claim collapsed. Destroyed and penniless, the former CIA golden boy spent his last savings on a second-hand silver Avion trailer, packed up his life and drove off to Bear Canyon campground in Bozeman, Montana, where he still lives today.

    Even with Barlow out of the picture, there were still analysts in Washington - and in the Bush administration - who were wary of Pakistan. They warned that al-Qaida had a natural affinity with Pakistan, geographically and religiously, and that its affiliates were seeking nuclear weapons. Some elements of the Pakistan military were sympathetic and in place to help. But those arguing that Pakistan posed the highest risk were isolated. Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were in the ascendant, and they returned to the old agenda, lobbying for a war in Iraq and, in a repeat of 1981 and the Reagan years, signed up Pakistan as the key ally in the war against terror.

    Contrary advice was not welcome. And Bush's team set about dismantling the government agency that was giving the most trouble - the State Department's Nonproliferation Bureau. Norm Wulf, who recently retired as deputy assistant secretary of state for non-proliferation, told us: "They met in secret, deciding who to employ, displacing career civil servants with more than 30 years on the job in favour of young, like-thinking people, rightwingers who would toe the administration line." And the administration line was to do away with any evidence that pointed to Pakistan as a threat to global stability, refocusing all attention on Iraq.

    The same tactics used to disgrace Barlow and discredit his evidence were used again in 2003, this time against Joseph Wilson, a former US ambassador whom the Bush administration had sent to Africa with a mission to substantiate the story that Saddam Hussein was seeking to buy material to manufacture WMD. When Wilson refused to comply, he found himself the subject of a smear campaign, while his wife, Valerie Plame, was outed as a CIA agent. Libby would subsequently be jailed for leaking Plame's identity (although released on a presidential pardon). Plame and Wilson's careers and marriage would survive. Barlow and his wife, Cindy's, would not - and no one would be held to account. Until now.

    When the Republicans lost control of both houses of Congress in 2006, Barlow's indefatigable lawyers sensed an opportunity, lodging a compensation claim on Capitol Hill that is to be heard later this month. This time, with supporters of the Iraq war in retreat and with Pakistan, too, having lost many friends in Washington, Barlow hopes he will receive what he is due. "But this final hearing cannot indict any of those who hounded me, or misshaped the intelligence product," he says. "And it is too late to contain the flow of doomsday technology that Pakistan unleashed on the world."

    [...]

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