Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The price of dissent in the CIA

The Iraq war under the junior President George Bush highlighted how intelligence agencies could be pressure to produce reports that satisfied their bosses. Evidence is now emerging that much the same thing happened in respect of Pakistan's pursuit of nuclear weapons under the now disgraced scientist A Q Khan.

The Economist has a review of a recent book, The Nuclear Jihadist, that details how the US disregarded reports about Pakistan's flouting non-proliferation laws in order to secure the bomb. Worse, an intelligence agent who protested about the cover-up of the growing evidence ended up paying a heavy price:

The book's most revealing passages are about America's role in the affair. The authors argue that successive American administrations knew a lot about Mr Khan's activities, but for larger strategic foreign-policy reasons, chose to do nothing about them. Mr Khan was able to flout international rules on nuclear non-proliferation because American policymakers thought that securing Pakistan's assistance in defeating the Soviet Union in Afghanistan—and, more recently, President Pervez Musharraf's help in fighting terrorism—were more important than limiting the spread of nuclear bombs.

The story of Richard Barlow, a CIA agent who once worked in its directorate of intelligence on proliferation, sums up the American attitude. Mr Barlow had protested that intelligence was being manipulated by the Pentagon to suit the policy adopted by President Bush senior's administration of turning a blind eye to Pakistan's nuclear development. He lost his job. The authors find Mr Barlow at the end of the book denied his state pension, living with two dogs in a motor home.

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