By JOHN HALL
Media General News Service
July 19, 2005
The mastermind of this scheme was the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, A.Q. Kahn, whose motives appeared to be sheer profit.
The outing of Kahn, through the efforts of the Directorate of Operations working alongside British intelligence, is looking even more important as London police trace a Pakistani pipeline to the bus and subway bombings. The world shudders to think what this incident would have meant for all of mankind if the Pakistani connection had been a nuclear connection.
Pakistan is a nuclear nation but a dependable U.S. ally. It is filled with decent people and its government said it alerted Britain several times during its recent election of other terrorist plots. Having said that, Pakistan is still a chamber of horrors. It is a breeding ground for terrorists, a refuge for militants and a suspected haven for al Qaeda.
At least one of the London bombers had just undergone three months of "religious" training in Pakistan, according to his uncle. He apparently came back with a chest full of hate. Somebody gave the Pak men satchels full of high explosives. It could have been worse.
Al Qaeda and the remnants of Afghanistan's Taliban drift across the border into Pakistan's remote regions, and it is rumored that Osama bin Laden himself is in residence.
If Kahn were still trying to peddle a "one-stop shopping" nuclear market as he was doing before he was stopped, the likelihood would have been stronger that the London suicide bombers would have had a nuclear device of some kind at their disposal. The miracle is that they didn't.
The Robb-Silberman Commission on Intelligence Capabilities found little comfort in the roll-up of the Kahn network. It reported in March that others may try to replicate Kahn because the gray market for nuclear trafficking has created a "burgeoning industry" in nuclear weapons.
Is it just a matter of time before bin Laden or some other terrorist buys one? The situation is complicated with an adversary like North Korea in the game and Iran, with a new, potentially more dangerous leadership, on the brink of developing nuclear weapons.
Intelligence agencies have been predicting that al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists would eventually use a radiological, nuclear, germ or gas warfare device somewhere. The nation's Homeland Security secretary, Michael Chertoff, announced plans last week to step up defenses against biological and nuclear terror.
A "dirty" bomb - a radiological weapon that could spread terror and fear as well as mass casualties in an urban center - may be the deadliest and easiest unconventional weapon for terrorists to get their hands on.
Though radiological devices are no small technological hurdle, the raw material apparently is abundant. A top British expert on "loose nukes" told a recent closed-door international conference that there is so much of the stuff lying around in Russia today that it "is plainly a practical possibility" for terrorists to find radiological components. He said that was partly because of inadequate funding of the Nunn-Lugar clean-up program during President Bush's first term. Russia's Kola Peninsula seems to be a center of the problem.
With one exception, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., no one in Congress seems to worry about nukes very much, and that's because the public isn't listening. And why should we?
Right now, Washington's leadership consists of a theater of the absurd. A "house-that-Jack-built" scandal is reaching gale force about who leaked the name of a CIA agent who was the wife of the ambassador who wrote the report that knocked down the theory that Saddam Hussein was buying uranium in Africa. It is well known now that he was not buying uranium and Iraq did not have nuclear weapons. Bush was mistaken, the intelligence community was duped and the Iraq war was fought, with tragic consequences, on fallacious grounds.
But no one can take an ounce of comfort in any of this silliness. The central problem of the age continues to be the proliferation of nuclear weapons and whether wise men can rise to the awful challenge.