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Covert Nukes Program a MI6/CIA Sting Op?
The Libyan operation was hardly 'superbly planned and perfectly executed'
Ludwig De Braeckeleer (LUDWIG)     Print Article 
Published 2006-05-19 15:29 (KST)   
"The bird must be destroyed, feathers and all," said the text message. And in another: "They have fed us to the dogs."

These cryptic messages signaled the beginning of the end for a worldwide network of smugglers who peddled nuclear technology.

The "bird" is an off-the-shelf uranium enrichment plant: a five-stage cascade consisting of 5,832 centrifuges, including the vacuum, processing and control systems. This plant would have been capable of producing enough weapons-grade material to produce a nuclear bomb every other month.

"They" are none other than Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, Libya's president, and his son Saif el-Islam Qaddafi. The "dogs" are the watchdogs of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

On Oct. 4, 2003, a German cargo ship en route to Tripoli, Libya, from Dubai was intercepted in the port of Taranto, Italy. On board the "BBC China," the police found five containers filled with enough components to produce 1,000 centrifuges. The containers bore the logo of a Malaysian company: Scomi Precision Engineering (SCOPE).

The intercept was made possible when Libya admitted its covert nuclear activities, undertook to end its nuclear program, and decided to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA.).

"We dealt with an underground network of middle men and secret workshops ... This piece from here, that piece from there," said Saif Qaddafi in London's Sunday Times (Dec. 19, 2003).

Saif Qaddafi revealed that Libya had paid "millions of pounds" for nuclear technology from Pakistan. His revelations led to the dismantling of the nuclear black market run by the renegade Pakistani nuclear engineer Abdul Qadeer Khan.

In the aftermath, after many years of denial, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf finally admitted his country's role in the worst case of nuclear proliferation in history.

On Feb. 4, 2004, Kahn, speaking in English on Pakistani national television, admitted to sharing nuclear technology with other countries. "I take full responsibility for my actions and seek your pardon," he said.

The Pakistani government said Khan acted independently and without state knowledge.

After publicly admitting his role in overseeing the nuclear network, Khan was given immunity from prosecution. He currently lives under house arrest in Islamabad.

Pakistan has taken no actions against other members of the group, about a dozen of whom were detained.

Mohammad Farooq, director-general for procurement at the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) at Kahuta, an Islamabad suburb, was the last member of the group to be released. Pakistani officials say he was responsible for clandestine purchases abroad. He had spent almost 2 1/2 years in custody helping the investigation.

President George W. Bush, in a recent visit to Pakistan, told Musharraf that U.S. experts want to question Khan.

"We have conducted thorough investigations. We have shared our conclusions with the IAEA and other countries including the United States. I would presume Dr. Farooq's release is a closure to that," said a foreign ministry spokeswoman on May 3.

She repeated that Pakistan would block any attempt by foreign governments to send investigators to interview Khan, Farooq or any other member of the group.

"Such a statement by the Pakistani Foreign Office was an attempt to sweep things under the rug. But this raises a very difficult question for Pakistan -- how a chief scientist was able to leak nuclear secrets to countries like Iran and Libya," said BBC security correspondent Gordon Correra.

Correra said the U.S. wants access to Khan because he supplied nuclear material to Iran and could explain the history and purposes of Iran's nuclear program.

Following the interception of the BBC China, the Malaysian police launched an investigation into SCOPE. They confirmed that the centrifuge components had indeed been manufactured by SCOPE and shipped through Dubai. However, the order for the components came from a Sri Lankan citizen, B. S. A. Tahir.

Tahir met Khan in the '80s. Soon, he became the network's chief moneyman. Tahir's company, SMB Computers, was used as a front to ship centrifuge components to Libya, North Korea, Iran and possibly other countries.

In December 2001, Tahir signed a $13 million contract with SCOPE for 25,000 aluminum centrifuge components.

According to the Malaysian investigation, SCOPE representatives have said they were told that the equipment would be used in Dubai oil and gas industries.

SCOPE is a subsidiary of the SCOMI Group BHD, a company controlled by Kamaluddin Abdullah, who is the son of Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

No charges are known to have been filed against Kamaluddin Abdullah or any other officer of SCOPE.

After being cleared of violating Malaysian criminal law, Tahir was arrested on May 28, 2004, under Malaysia's internal security law. He confessed to the police the existence of the nuclear smuggling network, named its main suppliers and explained the modus operandi of the organization.

Press accounts and official sources have already identified dozens of individuals and companies from Austria, Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland, the U.K., Turkey, South Africa, Dubai, Singapore, South Korea, Sudan, Mozambique and Japan. Investigations are currently underway in France and Spain.

According to George J. Tenet, the former CIA director, the interception of the BBC China was the result of many years of hard work -- an operation that had been superbly planned and perfectly executed.
But was it? Somehow, it looks too good to be true.

Let me suggest an alternative scenario.

In the mid-90s, Saif Qaddafi, a remarkable young man by all accounts, secretly contacted MI6, Britain's Secret Intelligence Service. Saif Qaddafi told them that his country wished to renew normal diplomatic relations with the West.

The British consulted their American partners and concluded that they would agree upon two conditions. First, the Libyans would have to deliver the agents responsible for the 1998 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie. Second, the families of the victims of that bombing would have to be compensated.

Next, they cooked up one of the most twisted sting operations in history. They asked Saif Qaddafi to acquire a complete uranium enrichment facility on the black market. If he agreed, Washington would renew full diplomatic relations with Tripoli.

In mid-1997, Khan met with new customers in an Istanbul cafe: the Libyans. Khan sat at a table with the head of the Libyan nuclear weapons program, while Khan's protege Tahir sat at the next table. At least this is what Tahir told German investigators when he was interrogated in Malaysia.

The project that resulted from this meeting was dubbed "Machine Shop 1001." Khan instructed his man in Dubai to ship an entire assembly line for constructing the simpler centrifuge model, the P-1. The model promptly became known as L-1 -- "L" for Libya.

In 1999, Clinton sent his Middle East expert, Martin Indyk, to London where he met with Moussa Kooussa, the director of Libya's secret service.

Perhaps wary of incompetence, the CIA and MI6 decided to plant their own men in Khan's network. They recruited a British citizen and a German citizen, long time friends of Khan who were likely to be approached if a new business opportunity arose.

Then they decided to add a new twist to their sting operation: the spectacular interception of the BBC China and the no less spectacular political turnaround of Tripoli.

By 2003, a five-stage cascade consisting of 5,832 centrifuges, including the vacuum, processing and control systems was ready for shipment in South Africa. Before the merchandise could be shipped, however, the Libyans blew the whistle and brought down everyone involved.

"They fed us to the dogs."

In Tripoli, the Libyans turned over to the IAEA boxes full of parts from Malaysia, many never even unpacked, and a special lathe that Khan's network had already sent to Tradefin Engineering in South Africa once before. More importantly, however, the Libyans named names.

The motivation for the operation is rather easy to figure out. For Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, it provides justification of their foreign policies in the Middle East.

"As the Bush administration likes to tell it ... just six days after Saddam Hussein was hauled from his spider hole, Qaddafi gave up his life's work as an international terrorist, renouncing both his weapons of mass destruction program and his terror tactics," wrote Michael Hirsh in Newsweek.

"Here is the real story on Libya, corroborated by multiple sources. Qaddafi cut his deal in 2003 only after the British and Americans assured him that Bush would settle for policy change," he added.

The operation was deemed a great success, and helped the CIA and MI6 regain some much-needed credibility. Setting up the operation also helped them study the modus operandi of Khan's network. Thus, they could figure out how he collaborated with the Iranians and what exactly he may have provided them.

Last and not least, the exposure of Khan's network forced the Pakistani government to shut down his activities before he could provide Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia with a full-scale nuclear arsenal. If he hadn't already done so.

So is my theory of an impromptu sting operation crazy?

A great physicist once said:

"The right question is not whether the theory is crazy. It is whether it is crazy enough."

Who knows? In one of the many upcoming trials, an embarrassing truth may surface. But coming by witnesses will not be easy.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ludwig De Braeckeleer

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