Monday, July 12, 2004

Countdown to The Next Strike--Part 2 Are we facing a WMD strike on America?

note: Both Secretary Ridge and Lt. Gen. Patrick Hughes have recently made voicing their concerns over non-conventional strikes and the increasing amount of chatter.

Countdown to the Next Strike Part 2 by William Webb

On April 30, 2003, ABC news reported that the FBI had issued an alert warning operators to be on the lookout for terrorist activity around nuclear power plants. As mentioned earlier, this was the initial plan for September 11 as was told to Al Jazeera reporter and author Yosri Fouda by Khalid Shaik Mohammed (KSM) during an interview in Pakistan in April 2002. KSM, who was captured in March 2003, told Fouda, “it was eventually decided to leave out nuclear targets—for now.”

Weapons of Mass Destruction—Nuclear

Publicly, most government officials do not believe or at least will not confirm they believe Al-Qaida or other terrorists groups have acquired atomic weapons. Privately, as one senior intelligence official told me, “there is growing concern the ultimate nightmare might be true.”

It is easy to see how the nightmare might become real. Reports of bin Laden’s attempts to acquire nuclear weapons have been covered by the press and offered as evidence in criminal trials since 1997. Mainstream and non-mainstream press have covered them.

One of the earliest reported incidents was a leaked Israeli intelligence report that stated bin Laden allegedly payed more than 2 million pounds to a middleman in Kazakhstan for a stolen “suitcase” bomb. The suitcase bombs, called backpack nukes by American Special Forces, were developed by the Russians to be used by the KGB.

While the official Russian position is that the bombs never existed and that all Russian nuclear weapons are tightly controlled and accounted for, a PBS interview with Alexei Yablokov, former science advisor to then-President Boris Yeltsin, indicates otherwise.

When asked, “Do backpack nuclear weapons exist?” Yablokov answered, “Yes, small atomic charges exist. They are very small. Several dozen kilos, thirty kilos, forty kilos. I spoke with people that made them, I saw them.”

Yablokov testified before a subcommittee of the House National Security committee in October 1997 concerning the existence of the bombs and said, “During beginning of ’70s, in USSR have been made some number—nobody knows exactly—some number of small-sized suitcase-size nuclear munitions. For what? For terroristic [purposes]. Exactly; only for terroristic [purposes].

“It was Cold War; it was maybe middle of Cold War, and they tried to fight this capitalism. They tried to kill capitalism through this unusual weapons. I repeat, it was KGB; it was not Minister of Defense. It was KGB who ordered it. This nuclear bomb [was] never included into official list of Soviet nuclear arms or nuclear stockpiles.”

More telling was Representative Curt Weldon’s statement in the same hearing that, “So, in fact, both the U.S. and Russia took this extremely seriously, as recently as 1995. And, in fact, under questioning yesterday, by our friends from the NEST (Nuclear Emergency Search Teams) they train every day for the potential response necessary to deal with suitcase-sized nuclear devices. And to be frank and honest with you, one of the problems that I have, as someone who spends as much time in a positive relationship with Russia as any member of this Congress, is a repeated denial of what we know to be reality, in fact.”

Another Russian, General Alexander Lebed, a prominent soldier and politician, told both CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes and a U.S. Congressional subcommittee in 1997 that more than 80 small atomic demolition munitions (ADMs) were unaccounted for in the Soviet nuclear stockpiles. His charges caused great controversy and denials both within Russia and the U.S. State Department. General Lebed died in a helicopter crash in Siberia in April 2002.

Another well-publicized account of Al-Qaida attempts to acquire nuclear weapons is the case of Pakistani scientists Sultan Bashir ul Din Mehmood and Abdul Majid. The two were taken into custody after U.S intelligence operatives received reports they had crossed into Afghanistan and met with bin Laden. During their debriefings by both Pakistani and Western intelligence officers, the two spoke of nuclear material obtained by bin Laden from Islamic connections in Uzbekistan.

While it is generally believed that Mehmood and Majid only provided technical know-how, particularly expertise on how to build a dirty bomb, the story is troubling since it shows the great danger of Islamic extremists involved in nuclear programs of nations such as Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Russia.

When you couple the idea of Islamic extremists aiding terrorist groups with political remarks like those made by former Iranian president and “Expediency Council” chairman Ali Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani during an Al Quds day sermon in 2003, you can understand why the warnings concerning Al-Qaida using WMDs continue.

Rafsanjani said that “Muslims must surround colonialism and force them [the colonialists] to see whether Israel is beneficial to them or not. If one day,” he said, “the world of Islam comes to possess the weapons currently in Israel’s possession [meaning nuclear weapons]—on that day this method of global arrogance would come to a dead end.” This, he said, is “because the use of a nuclear bomb in Israel will leave nothing on the ground, whereas it will only damage the world of Islam.

Rafsanjani warned of the outbreak of World War III: “The confrontation of pious and martyrdom-seeking forces with the highest forces of colonialism is extremely dangerous, and might inflame a third world war.”

Another report in Newsday cited a former Russian intelligence official that said Russian intelligence blocked a deal between a Russian and Pakistani firm owned by bin Laden to provide uranium for a nuclear weapon.

This is particularly interesting, because if true, would seem to indicate that bin Laden actually already possesses a weapon, and seeks fissionable material to recharge the device.

The New York Times covered a 1998 story of the arrest of Al-Qaida member Mamduh Salim and cited German government sources that Salim was trying to obtain nuclear materials including highly enriched uranium.

Two Arab publications also documented Al-Qaida’s nuclear aspirations. In October 1998, the Saudi owned Al-Hayat carried an article that stated bin Laden had acquired nuclear weapons. This was followed in November 1998 by an article in Al Watan Al Arabi that outlined Al-Qaida’s nuclear weapon plans and identified bin Laden’s links to organized crime members in the former Soviet republics in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

According to Kimberly McCloud and Matthew Osborne of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, “The Al-Watan Al-Arabi article cited one particular meeting in which an agreement was negotiated by some of bin Laden’s followers and Chechen organized crime figures in Groznyy, Chechnya.

It was referred to as ‘the nuclear warheads deal.’ Bin Laden reportedly gave the contacts in Chechnya $30 million in cash and two tons of opium in exchange for approximately 20 nuclear warheads. Sources stated that bin Laden planned to have the warheads dismantled by his own team of scientists, who would then transform the weapons into instant or suitcase nukes.

“Al-Watan Al-Arabi also reported that bin Laden had tried a different route to acquisition before turning to Chechnya for nuclear weapons. According to the article, bin Laden’s original strategy was to develop his own ‘in-house’ nuclear manufacturing complex, in which small, tactical nuclear weapons would be manufactured from scratch. Beginning in 1993, bin Laden instructed some of his aides to obtain weapons-grade uranium that could be used to develop small nuclear weapons.”

While the Arab media reports are generally discounted by the Western mainstream press and Western intelligence sources, particularly the assertion that bin Laden actually acquired nuclear weapons, it is instructive to note that not one Western government has stepped forward to categorically reassure its citizens that the initial purchase of the suitcase bomb cited in the Times of London did not happen

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