'They sold out the world for an F-16 sale'
Onetime CIA analyst alleges Cheney, Libby lied to Congress about Pakistani nukes
In the era of Ronald Reagan, intelligence officer Richard Barlow was an analyst for the CIA, monitoring Pakistan's nuclear program. In 1989, he moved over to the Pentagon, where he worked for then-Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney. Barlow lost that job when he raised objections to his bosses about senior Pentagon officials allegedly lying to Congress concerning Pakistan’s emerging nuclear program.
In a series of interviews with RAW STORY conducted over several weeks, the onetime intelligence officer revealed new details about intelligence on Pakistan’s nuclear program—and efforts by the US to quash attempts to stop development. Barlow's story also casts light on recent efforts by the current administration to keep information from Congress on Iraq and other matters.
Pakistan gets the bomb
In 1975, Pakistani scientist AQ Khan “acquired” nuclear blueprints from his Dutch employer and was immediately put in charge of Pakistan's nuclear program. In 1998, Pakistan would detonate its first atomic bomb.
Former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers has said that the CIA was monitoring Khan from the beginning. He asserts that the US turned down offers to detain Khan in 1975 and 1986 because they wanted to “gain more information” about the scientist’s activities.
Intelligence information later showed that the US and its allies allowed Pakistan to clandestinely acquire most of the technology for its nuclear program from abroad, unwittingly facilitating the spread of nuclear weapons technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya over the past several decades.
When Richard Barlow joined the CIA in 1985 as a counter-proliferation intelligence officer with particular expertise on Pakistan, he quickly realized that Pakistan was continuing to develop its nuclear program, and that some of its clandestine and illegal procurement activity was occurring within the US.
It didn't take Barlow long to realize that US officials knew what Pakistan was doing. According to Barlow, individuals at the State Department later actively facilitated procurement, tipping off targets of sealed arrest warrants in undercover operations and illegally approving export licenses for restricted goods.
Naturally, this situation created problems.
In 1985—following the arrest of a Pakistani agent in the US who attempted to procure specialized switches for nuclear detonators—Congress took steps to prevent Pakistan from developing nuclear weapons, passing bills that would cut off economic and military aid to Pakistan if it were found to be involved in nuclear activities.
One amendment declared that all overt aid to Pakistan—which came to over $4 billion in 1986—must cease unless the President certified annually that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear device. Another prohibited aid to any “non-nuclear” nation found to be illegally exporting nuclear materials from the US.
Given Pakistan's proliferation activities, this meant the ongoing aid to Pakistan was illegal. However, President Reagan wanted military and economic aid to continue flowing to Pakistan to ensure its ongoing support of his covert war against the Russians in Afghanistan.
The countervailing view, held by many at the CIA, was that proliferation was an important threat in its own right and shouldn’t take a back seat to fighting communism. In addition, Barlow and others believed that Pakistan would continue to assist in the covert war against the Russians, regardless of sanctions against its nuclear program.
Barlow sparks a firestorm
In 1987, Barlow engineered the arrest of some of Khan’s agents in the US as part of an undercover operation. He says the arrests came with the full support and knowledge of the highest levels of the CIA and the Reagan administration.
The arrest sparked a firestorm. Proof of Pakistan's proliferation activities would trigger the provisions of the the so-called Solarz Amendment and put an end to Pakistani aid.
The amendment’s author, Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs Chairman Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-NY), called for a top-secret briefing by the CIA. Barlow was sent to represent the agency, armed with talking points.
Under orders from the CIA, Barlow told Solarz’ Subcommittee the truth: There were “scores” of illegal transactions that should have triggered the Solarz Amendment, and the Pakistanis involved—including a retired general—were agents of the government of Pakistan.
Pakistan, Barlow said, had been breaking US nuclear export laws regularly since 1985, and the responsible individuals in the US intelligence and law enforcement communities knew it. Having just approved a multi-billion dollar aid package, Solarz and others in Congress—including Senator Larry Pressler, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee—were outraged to learn about Pakistan's violations of their laws. Solarz was appalled that information had been hidden from Congress.
In contrast, those who had willfully misled Congress were horrified that Barlow had told the truth. They tried to undercut Barlow's testimony but to no avail. Barlow’s classified testimony was unimpeachable.
The pressure on Barlow continued
Barlow was a marked man. While those in his part of the CIA (the Directorate of Intelligence), the State Department non-proliferation staff, and the law enforcement agencies considered him a hero, those running the covert Afghan war—the Directorate of Operations, the former National Intelligence Officer for Proliferation who had been responsible for briefing Congress, and the State Department's regional office—tried to get him fired for engineering the arrest and spilling the beans.
Barlow, however, was soon vindicated. A US court convicted the Pakistani agents and President Reagan triggered the Solarz Amendment for the first and only time.
Immediately afterward, Reagan invoked a national security waiver provision in the law, nullifying the amendment. In the words of veteran intelligence reporter Seymour Hersh, "The President was telling Pakistan that it could have its money—and its bomb."
"These people were determined that nothing like this was ever going to happen ever again—no more arrests, no more truth to the Congress," Barlow recalls. "I had people giving me awards at the same time as other people were trying to fire me—it was unbelievable.”
“I was targeted by some in the Directorate of Operations; they made my life miserable,” he continues. “Nobody at the agency actually tried to destroy my life, but they did make my life miserable and damaged my career prospects.”
“I left of my own free will, relatively speaking,” he adds. “I could have stayed—but I wasn't going to put up with that shit. I was caught in the middle of a massive battle between the cold warriors and the counterproliferation forces in the CIA.”
“The cold warriors were a bunch of arrogant bastards,” he remarks.
F-16s or bust
In early 1989, after George H.W. Bush became president, Barlow joined the Pentagon’s Office of Non-Proliferation Policy—working under then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz, then-Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy Stephen Hadley, and then-Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Scooter Libby.
Barlow says he continued to be engaged in trying to arrest more Pakistani nuclear agents. He also claims there were other examples of officials lying to Congress about Pakistan's nuclear program in order to keep aid flowing, but now there was a significant difference: The Afghan war was over, so there was no Cold War “justification” for continuing to shovel money at Pakistan. This time, he believes, it was simply about profit.
"They sold out the world for an F-16 sale," Barlow says.
By then, Pakistan possessed nuclear weapons.
"They had nuclear weapons at the time, and we knew they did,” Barlow remarks. “The evidence was unbelievable. I can't go into it—but on a scale of 1 to 10, in terms of intelligence evidence, it was a 10 or 11. It doesn't get any better than that.”
Barlow asserts that in 1988 and 1989, Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush illegally certified that Pakistan was free of nuclear weapons in order to keep funds flowing.
In the late eighties, Pakistan, trying to outmuscle India by injecting nuclear and air power steroids into their arms program, was seeking to buy 60 new F-16s worth $1.6 billion.
F-16 manufacturer General Dynamics desperately wanted the sale.
Unfortunately for the firm, Rep. Solarz and others in Congress expected assurances that the planes couldn't be used to drop nuclear weapons.
This was problematic: American intelligence knew that Pakistan had already made the minor modifications to their existing fleet of F-16s so that they could carry, and drop, nuclear weapons.
In fact, US and foreign intelligence and news reports indicated that the Pakistanis had in fact modified their F-16’s for nuclear delivery and had been conducting training exercises where they practiced dropping nuclear weapons from the F-16s. Nonetheless, Barlow says, Pentagon officials lied to Congress under oath, saying that the planes couldn't be used for nuclear purposes without a radical overhaul well beyond the industrial capabilities of Pakistan.
Barlow says he then learned that Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Arthur Hughes had delivered testimony willfully falsified by officials at the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He realized that Hughes had lied to Solarz' committee because earlier in 1989 he had prepared a comprehensive paper on this very issue for then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.
“All the top experts had looked at this question in detail for years, and it was a cold hard engineering question,” Barlow says. “There was no question about it—the jets could easily be made nuke-capable, and we knew that Pakistan had done just that."
Barlow says he tried again to inform his bosses that the congressional testimony was false. He was effectively fired two days later.
“They tried to destroy my life”
They've also continued retaliating against him ever since, more than a decade later, including by invoking the State Secrets Privilege—a blunt legal tool that enables the government to shut down cases which they claim might damage national security—to block the evidence in a court case initiated by the entire US Senate.
“They viciously tried to destroy my life, personally and professionally” says Barlow. “Not just my career, but they went after my marriage, my livelihood, and smeared my name in truly extraordinary ways that no one had ever seen before or since—at least not until the Wilsons were victims of the same people years later.”
“In my case, they suspended my security clearances and engaged in the most vicious abuses of security powers that anyone in the Congress had ever seen. They had nothing on me, so first they secretly fabricated the allegation that I was an ‘intended’ Congressional spy. Once that was found to be false, they then the secretly accused me of being an alcoholic, of not paying taxes, of adultery and more. Then they accused me of being psychotic and used that to invade my marital privacy, including that of my now ex-wife who also worked at the CIA, and sought to destroy my marriage as punishment.” He adds, “Of course, I was cleared of all of these charges, but the damage was done, as intended.”
Three years later, Rep. Solarz told Sy Hersh, “If what Barlow says is true, this would have been a major scandal of Iran-Contra proportions, and the officials involved would have had to resign.”
After two decades of investigations by the CIA Inspector General, the Department of Justice Inspector General, the State Department Inspector General, a General Accounting Office investigation, and the public record, we now know that what Barlow was saying was true.
The officials involved didn't resign. They’ve been running the country for the last six years.
(Editor's note: Article originally included incorrect date for Pakistan's atomic bomb detonation, due to transcription error)