WAR ON TERROR: by Joseph PoprzecznyNews Weekly
Al-Qaeda and Pakistan's nuclear weapons program
, May 28, 2011
Assassinated al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s fortified compound was within easy reach of several top-secret Pakistani nuclear weapons manufacturing facilities. The largely military town of Abbottabad is in the midst of the already heavily nuclear-armed Islamic state’s weapons-producing region.
David Albright, a former UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nuclear inspector and founder and current president of the Boston-based nuclear monitoring think-tank, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), said that Abbottabad is within close proximity of three key Pakistani nuclear complexes and thus their scientific communities.
Albright told America’s CNN News that bin Laden lived at the heart of a nuclear research and development enclave, suggesting that al-Qaeda may have been seeking to recruit nuclear weapons experts.
“With bin Laden there’s a lot of worry he was trying to recruit inside Pakistan’s nuclear establishment,” Albright said. He named the facilities — the Dera Ghazi Khan plant where nuclear processing is undertaken; the Khushab complex which is involved in plutonium manufacture; and Wah, where nuclear weapons are made.
Early this year, the ISIS revealed that Pakistan, since 2006, had vastly expanded its nuclear arsenal from 30-60 atomic bombs to approximately 110, making it the world’s fifth largest nuclear power ahead of Britain and France. (Caroline Glick, Family Security Matters, Center for Security Policy, Washington DC, February 12, 2011).
However, the discovery by America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that bin Laden’s hide-away was so close to these nuclear facilities has led ISIS scientists to begin re-evaluating al-Qaeda and its possible access to nuclear technology.
The ISIS describes itself as a non-government, non-profit, non-partisan institution dedicated to informing the public about science and policy issues affecting international security.
“Its primary focus is on stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and related technology to other nations and terrorists, bringing about greater transparency of nuclear activities worldwide, strengthening the international non-proliferation regime, and achieving deep cuts in nuclear arsenals,” it says.
Albright said that in August 2008 the ISIS obtained satellite photographs of Pakistan’s key military and civilian fuel-cycle site near Dera Ghazi Khan that produces natural uranium hexafluoride and uranium metal, two materials used in nuclear weapons production.
In January, the ISIS obtained photographs showing what appeared to be a fourth reactor under construction at Khushab.
Albright and ISIS senior research analyst Paul Brannan said in a February 9 report: “Pakistan is determined to produce considerably more plutonium for nuclear weapons. Pakistan announced the operation of the first reactor at the Khushab site in 1998.
“Sometime between 2000 and 2002, Pakistan began constructing a second reactor at the site. In 2006, Pakistan began building a third reactor, adjacent to the second Khushab reactor.
“In December 2009, vapour could be seen rising from some of the second reactor’s cooling tower fan blades, indicating that the second reactor was at least at some stage of initial operation.” (Reuters Africa, February 10, 2011).
In October 2001 — shortly after al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks on New York’s Twin Towers and on Washington, Albright warned: “Pakistan has the capability to make both plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU), or ‘fissile materials’, for nuclear weapons. Its main uranium-enrichment facilities are at the A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories at Kahuta.
“Pakistan also has another, newer, enrichment facility near Wah that the U.S. government calls the Gadwal uranium-enrichment plant. It may have other production-scale facilities. Pakistan also operates smaller enrichment facilities, including the Sihala and Golra ultra-centrifuge plants.” (David Albright, “Securing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons complex, ISIS Reports, October 25, 2001).
Once the CIA had established that bin Laden was ensconced in a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, concern mounted about his being able to possibly link up with nuclear scientists.
So far, most attention has been focussed on how long bin Laden was in Abbottabad and who, within Pakistan’s military and intelligence communities, covered for him.
Of greater significance is if those contacts included experts with access to Dera Ghazi Khan, Khushab, Wah or even the A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories at Kahuta. The last is named after Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist and founder of the country’s HEU-based gas-centrifuge uranium-enrichment program. He was educated in West Germany, Belgium and Holland and is the architect of Pakistan’s nuclear arms industry.
More ominous is that, since the late 1990s, his name has been associated with reports of nuclear technology transfers to North Korea, Iraq, Libya and Iran.
All but forgotten is the fact that, in May 2006, a U.S. House of Representatives sub-committee on international terrorism and non-proliferation conducted an inquiry entitled, “The A.Q. Khan network: case closed?” American congressmen and experts called on Pakistan to hand Dr Khan over to the U.S.
Instead, a subcommittee of Pakistan’s Senate unanimously resolved to reject that request and then criticised the U.S. House sub-committee for having made it.