British journalists Levy and Scott-Clark (The Amber Room: The Fate of the World’s Greatest Lost Treasure, 2004, etc.) offer persuasive evidence that the United States looked the other way for years while Pakistan developed a nuclear bomb and exported weapons technology to Iran, North Korea and other enemies of the West.
In the early 1970s, write the authors, Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan stole European centrifuge technology to enrich uranium and developed his secret research laboratory in Kahuta. Years later, the mercurial Khan would give a sham public confession to having run a black market in nuclear weapons on his own, when in fact he worked for Pakistan’s military government. The authors provide detailed accounts of Khan’s dealings with Western suppliers, his relations with a succession of his country’s leaders and his wooing of customers in “Axis of Evil” and other nations. Most alarming in this mind-boggling exposé are the deliberate efforts by U.S. administrations from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush to conceal the fact that Pakistan even had a nuclear bomb. Needing the Pakistanis as allies against the Soviets in Afghanistan and later in the “war on terror,” the presidents lied to Congress that the Islamic nation had no nuclear weapons (making it possible to give Pakistan billions of dollars in aid, some of which Khan diverted to his nuclear program), helped Pakistan circumvent laws against procurement in the United States and destroyed documents that might shed light on the situation, all the while touting a non-proliferation policy. The silencing of former CIA and Pentagon analyst Richard Barlow, the leading in-house expert on Pakistan’s weapons program, who fought to bring the truth to Congress, is one of many outrages recounted in this tale of expediency run amok. The authors also note that the “greatest nuclear scandal of our age” continues, with Pakistan still buying and selling nuclear technology, heightening American vulnerability to nuclear terrorism.
Simultaneously astonishing, maddening and absolutely frightening.