Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 3, 2007

A.Q. KHAN....Way back in 2004, during the first Bush-Kerry debate, the president was anxious to convince voters that he'd been successful in combating terrorism. Specifically, the president boasted about bringing a notorious Pakistani scientist to justice who was selling nuclear secrets -- design plans and components -- to North Korea.

"We continue to pursue our policy of disrupting those who proliferate weapons of mass destruction.... The A.Q. Khan network has been brought to justice," Bush said. He added, "We busted the A.Q. Khan network. This was a proliferator out of Pakistan that was selling secrets to places like North Korea and Libya."

The truth was more complicated than that. Far from bring Khan "to justice," Bush signed off on a deal in which Khan was slapped on the wrist by Pakistani officials, who were afraid of the political implications of punishing someone considered a hero in much of Pakistan. As for "busting" Khan's network, none of Khan's cohorts have even been charged with a crime.

This week, we learn that Khan is "virtually a free citizen," and has been for "several months." What's more, Spencer Ackerman noted, "Musharraf refused to allow U.S. intelligence officials to question Khan, and Congress has raised questions over whether the proliferation network Khan created is truly out of business."

I'd only add that the White House was told about Khan's nuclear-selling network almost immediately after the president took office -- but the Bush gang was slow to act on it. Indeed, British officials encouraged the administration to take Khan's network more seriously, but the administration pursued awkward and fruitless negotiations with Pakistan, which only gave Khan more time to expand his growing business.

And now, Khan is basically free. Policy towards Pakistan sure can be tricky, can't it?

Update: A reader reminds me that the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, along with the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, recently held a joint hearing: "A.Q. Khan's Nuclear Wal-Mart: Out of Business or Under New Management?"

Steve Benen 11:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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Comments

Paris Hilton served a harsher sentence than A.Q. Khan and Scooter Libby combined.

Nice.

Posted by: lampwick on July 3, 2007 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

And you're surprised by this? I mean, has anything this administration ever done actually worked? Has anything this administration done actually been good for America?

Posted by: Trolly McTroll on July 3, 2007 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

too bad he's not iranian. then we'd get tough.

Posted by: benjoya on July 3, 2007 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

I can't imagine a more important issue than putting A.Q. Khan out of business. There should not be anything remotely partisan about this. Just get it done.

Posted by: Steve on July 3, 2007 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Bin Laden's been given a free ride. Kahn can proliferate to his heart's content. Libby gets a Get Out of Jail Free card. Bush is the biggest wimp we've ever had in office.

Posted by: tomeck on July 3, 2007 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

Stop with the defense of Paris Hilton already.

70 mph in a 30 mph zone with her lights off and a suspended license. If i did that in my town, and I survived the police ass kicking, I'd probably get a three month sentence.

Posted by: asdf on July 3, 2007 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

wow, that's some impressive contortionism, mhr. mind you don't strain anything.

and you forgot to give props to dear leader, who really put the pakis in their place.

Posted by: benjoya on July 3, 2007 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

The most likely place for a rogue nuke to originate is Pakistan. Musharraf will get killed one of these days, and then we will be in deep doo-doo, along with the Brits and everyone on the Subcontinent.

Posted by: Fred on July 3, 2007 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

Add OBL to the list of those who have served the Bush administration, but will never to prison time.

Posted by: elliottg on July 3, 2007 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

asdf: "Stop with the defense of Paris Hilton already.

"70 mph in a 30 mph zone with her lights off and a suspended license. If i did that in my town, and I survived the police ass kicking, I'd probably get a three month sentence."

Pull your head out of your ass. Nobody's defending Paris Hilton. It's reasonable to expect that justice be distributed evenly.

Tool.

Posted by: asdfs_momma on July 3, 2007 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

Khaaaaaaaaaannnnn!!!!!

Posted by: James T. Kirk on July 3, 2007 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

Corinthian Leather!

Posted by: Khan on July 3, 2007 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

Bin Laden's been given a free ride. Kahn can proliferate to his heart's content. Libby gets a Get Out of Jail Free card. Bush is the biggest wimp we've ever had in office.

What you say is true, although I'd add that Iraq is now a bloody quagmire, the military is near broken, the treasury is going bankrupt, New Orleans is destroyed and not rebuilt, the country is beginning to feel the effects of global climate change while Bush fiddles, et alia.

And despite all that and despite being quite obviously the most abysmal president ever to stink up the Oval Office the wingnuts love him because "he sure stuck it to those libs by pardoning Libby."

Just unreal.

Posted by: trex on July 3, 2007 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

Josh Marshall's voice is, perhaps, the most effective on the liberal side of things. Too bad his site won't download these last few days.

Posted by: ferd on July 3, 2007 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

ferd, i haven't had any trouble with josh's site. change your browser.

Posted by: benjoya on July 3, 2007 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

"Josh Marshall's voice is, perhaps, the most effective on the liberal side of things. Too bad his site won't download these last few days."

benjoya is right. The problem is your computer.

Posted by: junebug on July 3, 2007 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Ferd is *almost* right. The past couple of weeks, TPM and TPM Muckraker have been slow to load for me too. The background color shows up quickly and then a minute or more passes before the actual content shows up. I usually start TPM up in a separate tab and go visit another blog while I'm waiting.

Posted by: theo on July 3, 2007 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

the wingnuts love him because "he sure stuck it to those libs by pardoning Libby."

Caused by having a big foam "We're #1" finger where your brain used to be...

Never underestimate the Spite Vote.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on July 3, 2007 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

In the good old days much beloved by the republicans, the CIA or its proxies in Europe would have given Khan a extra heavy live-saver prior to a dip in the ocean.

Posted by: Rula Lenska on July 3, 2007 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

trex: . . . the wingnuts love him because "he sure stuck it to those libs by pardoning Libby."

AND he had the balls to tell the insurgents to "bring it on." That's why they fearfully ran away from Iraq and were never heard from again!

What? That didn't scare them away?

Posted by: wingnut on July 3, 2007 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Steve:

You forgot to mention one of the really galling parts of the AQ Khan story. Back when Kerry was being nominated, you will recall that we had another elevated color level to the terrorist warning [and children's primary color learning]chart. In fact I think it was called "Orange Plus" I guess that is more dangerous than those tools that lit a car on fire at the Glasgow Airport?

The media actually cried foul for a few minutes when the terror alert was elevated, noting the timing was suspicious to take the media attention away from the Democratic Convention. The Bush Administration responded that "no really, we mean it this time" or some mealy mouthed response, probably with the over-used and often untrue "credible evidence" canard.

And to "prove" their bona fides, the Bush Administration actually divulged why their "credible evidence" was indeed credible. They breathlessly revealed that they had flipped a terrorist who was providing valuable intelligence and communicating with other members of the terrorist network and leading them on, essentially acting as a mole. Great news, right? WRONG. By revealing that they had a mole in the AQ or AQ Khan network the other members of that network learned they had a leak and went underground.

The British authorities were furious with Bush because they did not yet have enough evidence to charge many of the members or at least charge them and make the charges stick and many of the members slipped through their fingers. And the only decent intel was some basic information about some financial buildings in NYC that predated 9/11. Real basic stuff like pictures, addresses.

So not only will the Bush Administration out its own undercover agents to essentially settle a grudge, it will out its moles too. That is often a death sentence for the mole unless the mole has "come in" already.

Posted by: coltergeist on July 3, 2007 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Well, if Bush is too conflicted to do something to protect us from Khan's proliferation network, hopefully one of the other regional powers (like Polonium Putin) could do something.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on July 3, 2007 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

Suskind, in The One Percent Doctrine, explains why it took so long for the Bush Administration to move against AQ Khan and have him put under house arrest.

The CIA had a mole inside Khan's organization - the son of one of his longtime German suppliers. They had to find a way to expose Khan without exposing their source. The break came with the October '03 shipment of a batch of nuclear toys to Qadaffi. Once the U.S. intercepted the shipment, they were able to treat that as their source and smoking gun.

That interception was also key, as the WP link points out, in getting Qaddafi to drop his nuclear program. The U.S., knowing from their mole exactly what he had, had been urging him to divest himself of it, and Qadaffi had been grinning and saying he had nothing to divest. The U.S. couldn't tell him how certain they were without blowing the game; but after the interception of the BBC China, the Libyan strongman knew the jig was up. He'd wanted better relations with the West for years, and this was the last hole card he had to give up. It was this, not some fear put into him by Rumsfeld's Shake 'n' Bake Show in Baghdad, that brought Libya into the fold.

Posted by: nicteis on July 3, 2007 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

I'd add that Iraq is now a bloody quagmire, the military is near broken, the treasury is going bankrupt...

And the gift that will keep on giving, the Supreme Court.

It's just going to get worse and worse.

Posted by: tomeck on July 3, 2007 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

You don't understand. Traffic violations in Cali, especially SoCal are much more SERIOUS than trivial things like murder, especially of estranged spouses. Why do you think Mel Gibson faced such scrutiny? It's not not the "Sugarlumps" comment, it's the traffic violation!
Although I think Paris got about the right sentence. Sometimes there is justice in L.A.

Posted by: doug r on July 3, 2007 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

For those of you having trouble with TPM, try Sage in Firefox. Click on the first story you haven't read, then work your way up the page. Then when you're done, mark all as read. Simple.

Posted by: doug r on July 3, 2007 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

011612.. Nice :)

Posted by: www.washingtonmonthly.com on April 17, 2011 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

011612.. Nice :)

Posted by: www.washingtonmonthly.com on May 4, 2011 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK
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