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When news of Pakistan 's clandestine program showed how the country's top nuclear scientist was secretly selling Iran and North Korea, the so-called "Axis of Evil, " blueprints for building an atomic bomb were uncovered last year, the world 's leaders waited, with baited breath, to see how President Bush would punish Pakistan's President Pervez Musharaff.

Bush has, after all, spent his entire two terms in office talking tough about countries and dictators that conceal weapons of mass destruction and even tougher on individuals who supply rogue nations and terrorists with the means to build WMDs. For all intents and purposes, Pakistan and Musharraf fit that description.

Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and top members of the administration reacted with shock when they found out that Abdul Qadeer Khan, Pakistan 's top nuclear scientist, spent the past 15 years selling outlaw nations nuclear technology and equipment. So it was sort of a surprise when Bush, upon finding out about Khan 's proliferation of nuclear technology, let Pakistan off with a slap on the wrist. But it was all an act. In fact, it was actually a cover-up designed to shield Cheney because he knew about the proliferation for more than a decade and did nothing to stop it.

Like the terrorist attacks on 9-11, the Bush administration had mountains of evidence on Pakistan 's sales of nuclear technology and equipment to nations vilified by the U.S. --nations that are considered much more of a threat than Iraq --but turned a blind eye to the threat and allowed it to happen.

In 1989, the year Khan first started selling nuclear secrets on the black-market; Richard Barlow, a young intelligence analyst working for the Pentagon prepared a shocking report for Cheney, who was then working as Secretary of Defense under the first President Bush administration: Pakistan built an atomic bomb and was selling its nuclear equipment to countries the U.S. said was sponsoring terrorism.

But Barlow 's findings, as reported in a January 2002 story in the magazine Mother Jones, were "politically inconvenient. "


"A finding that Pakistan possessed a nuclear bomb would have triggered a congressionally mandated cutoff of aid to the country, a key ally in the CIA's efforts to support Afghan rebels fighting a pro-Soviet government. It also would have killed a $1.4-billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Islamabad , " Mother Jones reported.

Ironically, Pakistan, critics say, was let off the hook so the U.S. could use its borders to hunt for al-Qaeda leader and 9-11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Cheney dismissed Barlow 's report because he desperately wanted to sell Pakistan the F-16 fighter planes. Several months later, a Pentagon official was told by Cheney to downplay Pakistan 's nuclear capabilities when he testified on the threat before Congress. Barlow complained to his bosses at the Pentagon and was fired.

"Three years later, in 1992, a high-ranking Pakistani official admitted that the country had developed the ability to assemble a nuclear weapon by 1987, " Mother Jones reported. "In 1998, Islamabad detonated its first bomb. "

During the time that Barlow prepared his report on Pakistan , Bryan Siebert an Energy Department analyst, was looking into Saddam Hussein's nuclear program in Iraq . Siebert concluded that " Iraq has a major effort under way to produce nuclear weapons," and said that the National Security Council should investigate his findings. But the Bush administration--which had been supporting Iraq as a counterweight to the Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran --ignored the report, the magazine reported.

"This was not a failure of intelligence," Barlow told Mother Jones. "The intelligence was in the system."

Cheney went to great lengths to cover-up Pakistan 's nuclear weaponry. In a New Yorker article published on March 29, 1993 investigative reporter Seymour Hersh quoted Barlow as saying that some high-ranking members inside the CIA and the Pentagon lied to Congress about Pakistan 's nuclear arsenal so as not to sacrifice the sale of the F-16 fighter planes to Islamabad, which was secretly equipped to deliver nuclear weapons. Pakistan 's nuclear capabilities and the had become so grave by the spring of 1990 that then CIA deputy director Richard Kerr said the Pakistani nuclear threat was worse than the Cuban Missile crisis in the 1960s.

"It was the most dangerous nuclear situation we have ever faced since I 've been in the U.S. government, " Kerr said in an interview with Hersh. "It may be as close as we 've come to a nuclear exchange. It was far more frightening than the Cuban missile crisis. "

Kerr was leading the CIA 's review of prewar intelligence into the Iraqi threat cited by Bush.

Still, in l989 Cheney and others in the Pentagon and the CIA continued to hide the reality of Pakistan 's nuclear threat from members of Congress. Hersh explained in his lengthy New Yorker article that reasons behind the cover-up "revolves around the fact ... that the Reagan Administration had dramatically aided Pakistan in its pursuit of the bomb. "

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Jason Leopold is Deputy Managing Editor of Truthout.org and the founding editor of the online investigative news magazine The Public Record, http://www.pubrecord.org. He is the author of the National Bestseller, "News Junkie," a memoir. Visit (more...)
 

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