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Tuesday, March 02, 2004

JPost notes revelation in New Yorker article:

"There's nothing more important than stopping terrorist groups from getting nuclear weapons"
Seymour Hersh has a must-read in this week's New Yorker: "The Deal"
On a trip to the Middle East last month, I was told that a number of years ago the Israeli signals-intelligence agency, known as Unit 8200, broke a sophisticated Iranian code and began monitoring communications that included talk between Iran and Pakistan about Iran’s burgeoning nuclear-weapons program. The Israeli intelligence community has many covert contacts inside Iran, stemming from the strong ties it had there before the overthrow of the Shah, in 1979; some of these ties still exist. Israeli intelligence also maintained close contact with many Iranian opposition groups, such as the National Council. A connection was made—directly or indirectly—and the Israeli intelligence about Iran’s nuclear program reached the National Council. A senior I.A.E.A. official subsequently told me that he knew that the Council’s information had originated with Israeli intelligence, but he refused to say where he had learned that fact. (An Israeli diplomat in Washington, asked to comment, said, “Why would we work with a Mickey Mouse outlet like the Council?”)

The Israeli intercepts have been shared, in some form, with the United States intelligence community, according to the former senior intelligence official, and they show that high-level officials in Islamabad and Tehran had frequent conversations about the I.A.E.A. investigation and its implications. “The interpretation is the issue here,” the former official said. “If you set the buzzwords aside, the substance is that the Iranians were saying, ‘We’ve got to play with the I.A.E.A. We don’t want to blow our cover, but we have to show some movement. There’s no way we’re going against world public opinion—no way. We’ve got to show that we’re coöperating and get the Europeans on our side.’” (At the time, Iran was engaged in negotiations with the European Union on trade and other issues.) It’s clear from the intercepts, however, the former intelligence official said, that Iran did not want to give up its nuclear potential. The Pakistani response, he added, was “Don’t give away the whole ballgame and we’ll look out for you.” There was a further message from Pakistan, the former official said: “Look out for your own interests.”

In the official’s opinion, Pakistan and Iran have survived the crisis: “They both did what they said they’d do, and neither one has been hurt. No one has been damaged. The public story is still that Iran never really got there—which is bullshit.”

. . . Robert Gallucci, a former United Nations weapons inspector who is now dean of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, calls A. Q. Khan “the Johnny Appleseed” of the nuclear-arms race. Gallucci, who is a consultant to the C.I.A. on proliferation issues, told me, “Bad as it is with Iran, North Korea, and Libya having nuclear-weapons material, the worst part is that they could transfer it to a non-state group. That’s the biggest concern, and the scariest thing about all this—that Pakistan could work with the worst terrorist groups on earth to build nuclear weapons. There’s nothing more important than stopping terrorist groups from getting nuclear weapons. The most dangerous country for the United States now is Pakistan, and second is Iran.” Gallucci went on, “We haven’t been this vulnerable since the British burned Washington in 1814.”