On March 10, The Washington Post published an article that caught my eye. Under a headline proclaiming "Saddam Hussein weighed nuclear "package deal' in 1990, documents show," Joby Warrick, the author of the article, declared in his opening paragraph, "As troops massed on his border near the start of the Persian Gulf War, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein weighed the purchase of a $150 million nuclear "package' deal that included not only weapons designs but also production plants and foreign experts to supervise the building of a nuclear bomb, according to documents uncovered by a former U.N. weapons inspector."
The source of the documents was David Albright, a nonproliferation specialist and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a nonprofit organization that Albright himself founded. Albright talked to The Washington Post about these "newly uncovered" documents as part of a publicity campaign for the release of his new book, "Peddling Peril: How the Secret Nuclear Trade Arms America's Enemies." The Washington Post article was picked up by newspapers and other media outlets around the world, and has been cited by the Pakistani government as one of the reasons behind its recent decision to open a new investigation into the nuclear proliferation dealings of A.Q. Khan, who is also accused of selling nuclear weapons plans and related technology to Iran and Libya.
There is only one problem with The Washington Post story--it isn't true. The fact is, there never was any such "package deal" worthy of the name, and, in any event, a Pakistani "deal" for a potential nuclear weapon was never "weighed" by Saddam Hussein or any other Iraqi official of note.
When dealing with an issue as controversial and complex as nuclear
proliferation, it is essential to stick to the facts. Problems of this
difficulty and magnitude must be properly defined prior to offering up a
solution, since any solution to a problem that has not been properly
defined is no solution at all.
Why worry about a story that is more than 20 years old? Because it continues to drive public perception and influence policy (in Pakistan, we know, and perhaps in other countries as well). One must be cognizant of the role that history plays in shaping present policy, which is why it is so important to get the story right in the first place. When it comes to the issue of nuclear nonproliferation, the stakes could not be higher.
President Barack Obama has made nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation one of the major policy objectives of his administration. While the execution of this policy currently leaves much to be desired (witness the much delayed, and uninspired, follow-on to the expired START agreement), there is no doubt that the problem of nuclear weapons is one which must be dealt with effectively not only in the interest of international peace and security for the near term, but for future generations as well.
Managing nuclear technology and material, including the matter of
access and accountability, is the central problem that must be resolved
if universal nuclear disarmament is to be achieved. Nations that possess
nuclear weapons need to feel confident enough to agree to their
elimination. Public opinion cannot be ignored. The problem of nuclear
disarmament and nonproliferation is so technical in nature, those who
are able to comprehend the nuances involved will do much to establish
the parameters of the issue. However, public opinion will determine in
large part the political viability of an effort as daunting as global
nuclear disarmament. As such, the issue of how information is presented
for public consumption is of paramount importance as to whether the
public will choose to decide for or against any future policy.
The Iraqi government, after years of denying it was holding on to an archive of material relating to weapons of mass destruction, suddenly led UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors to the Haider farm, where a trove of more than 1 million documents, together with film and some hardware, was stored. The Iraqis declared that Hussein Kamal had been responsible for keeping these materials. Subsequent investigations by UNSCOM and the IAEA, in which I played a central role, cast doubt on the official Iraqi version of events surrounding the provenance of the documents, while confirming the authenticity of the documents and related material. In addition to the 1,000-page file on the Mukhabarat, an optical disc had been provided by Iraq to the IAEA in October 1995. The disc contained a number of technical and administrative documents, as well as a few documents that related to procurement activities.
The principal document of concern cited by The Washington Post was a communication from an entity known as "15B" to an entity called "15S." The document, classified "Top Secret and Personal," reads as follows:
Attached is the offer submitted to us from the Pakistani scientist Dr. Abdul Qhadir Kahn [sic] concerning the possibility to help to establish a project to enrich uranium and produce a nuclear weapon. The above mentioned person stated that:
- He is ready to give us the drawings of the nuclear bomb;
- He guarantees the procurement of what is needed in terms of materials from the West through his company in Dubai;
- He requested to have a technical meeting to discuss the documents he will give us, but the present situation does not allow this. There is a possibility to meet the intermediary with whom we have good relationships in Greece;
- The motive of the offer is profit i.e. to make money for him and for the intermediary;
- A code name to use in correspondence has been given to the operation and this code name is A.B.
Please study this offer and give us your opinion. Following your comments and guidance we will undertake the preliminary steps to get in touch with him.
October 4, 1990
There is a handwritten note scribbled at the bottom of this document, stating the following: