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Context of 'December 2, 1998: Clinton Meets Pakistani Leader but Bin Laden Not Top Priority'

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At some time in 1981, Pakistan begins digging some tunnels under the Ras Koh mountains. The work is apparently related to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, which begins preparation for a cold test of a nuclear weapon this year (see Shortly After May 1, 1981). This work is noticed by both India and Israel, who also see other signs that work is continuing on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. Tunnels in these mountains will be used when Pakistan tests nuclear weapons in 1998 (see May 28, 1998). [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 86, 275]

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

In 1985, US Congress passes legislation requiring US economic sanctions on Pakistan unless the White House can certify that Pakistan has not embarked on a nuclear weapons program (see August 1985 and August 1985). The White House certifies this every year until 1990 (see 1987-1989). However, it is known all the time that Pakistan does have a continuing nuclear program. For instance, in 1983 a State Department memo said Pakistan clearly has a nuclear weapons program that relies on stolen European technology. Pakistan successfully builds a nuclear bomb in 1987 but does not test it to keep it a secret (see 1987). With the Soviet-Afghan war ending in 1989, the US no longer relies on Pakistan to contain the Soviet Union. So in 1990 the Pakistani nuclear program is finally recognized and sweeping sanctions are applied (see June 1989). [Gannon, 2005] Journalist Seymour Hersh will comment, “The certification process became farcical in the last years of the Reagan Administration, whose yearly certification—despite explicit American intelligence about Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program—was seen as little more than a payoff to the Pakistani leadership for its support in Afghanistan.” [New Yorker, 3/29/1993] The government of Pakistan will keep their nuclear program a secret until they successfully test a nuclear weapon in 1998 (see May 28, 1998).

Entity Tags: US Congress, White House, Pakistan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

1987: Pakistan Secretly Builds Nuclear Weapon

Pakistan successfully builds a nuclear weapon around this year. The bomb is built largely thanks to the illegal network run by A. Q. Khan. Pakistan will not actually publicly announce this or test the bomb until 1998 (see May 28, 1998), partly because of a 1985 US law imposing sanctions on Pakistan if it were to develop nuclear weapons (see August 1985-October 1990). [Hersh, 2004, pp. 291] However, Khan will tell a reporter the program has been successful around this time (see March 1987).

Entity Tags: Abdul Qadeer Khan, Pakistan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

The United Nations adopts the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) banning the testing of nuclear weapons. The UN General Assembly votes 158-3 to adopt the CTBT, with India (see June 20, 1996), Bhutan, and Libya voting against it, and Cuba, Lebanon, Syria, Mauritius, and Tanzania abstaining. US President Bill Clinton will be the first to sign the treaty, followed by 70 other nations, including Britain, China, France, and Russia. By November 1997, 148 nations will sign the treaty. [Nuclear Threat Initiative, 4/2003; Federation of American Scientists, 12/18/2007] In 1999, the Times of India will observe that from the US’s viewpoint, the CTBT will primarily restrict India and Pakistan from continuing to develop their nuclear arsenals (see May 11-13, 1998 and May 28, 1998), and will delay or prevent China from developing more technologically advanced “miniaturized” nuclear weapons such as the US already has. It will also “prevent the vertical proliferation and technological refinement of existing arsenals by the other four nuclear weapons states.” [Times of India, 10/16/1999] Two years later, the US Senate will refuse to ratify the treaty (see October 13, 1999).

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, United Nations

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

India, which has refused to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) banning nuclear testing (see September 10, 1996), shocks the world by testing five nuclear devices over the course of three days. The largest is a 42-kiloton thermonuclear device. [Federation of American Scientists, 12/18/2007] India’s rival Pakistan will conduct its own nuclear tests two weeks later (see May 28, 1998). Indian political scientist and nuclear critic Kanti Bajpai will later say: “Whatever Indians say officially, there is a status attached to the bomb. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council are all nuclear powers.” [New York Times, 5/4/2003]

Entity Tags: Kanti Bajpai

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

May 28, 1998: Pakistan Tests Nuclear Bomb

Pakistan’s first nuclear  test take place underground but shakes the mountains above it.Pakistan’s first nuclear test take place underground but shakes the mountains above it. [Source: Associated Press]Pakistan conducts a successful nuclear test. Former Clinton administration official Karl Inderfurth later notes that concerns about an Indian-Pakistani conflict, or even nuclear confrontation, compete with efforts to press Pakistan on terrorism. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] Pakistan actually built its first nuclear weapon in 1987 but kept it a secret and did not test it until this time for political reasons (see 1987). In announcing the tests, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declares, “Today, we have settled the score.” [New York Times, 5/4/2003]

Entity Tags: Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan, Karl Inderfurth

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, US International Relations, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Pakistan conducts the sixth and last of a series of nuclear bomb tests that started two days earlier (see May 28, 1998). Samples taken by US aircraft over the site indicate that the test may have involved plutonium, whereas uranium bombs were used for the other five. After the US learns that the tests are witnessed by Kang Thae Yun, a North Korean involved in that country’s proliferation network (see Early June 1998), and other North Korean officials, it will speculate that the final test was performed by Pakistan for North Korea, which is better known for its plutonium bomb program. Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will comment, “In terms of nuclear readiness, this placed North Korea far ahead of where the CIA had thought it was, since [North Korea] had yet to conduct any hot tests of its own.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 278]

Entity Tags: Kang Thae Yun, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: US International Relations, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

The US again begins to provide agricultural aid to Pakistan, although its provision had been frozen in the wake of Pakistani nuclear weapons tests in May (see May 28, 1998 and May 30, 1998). The US will again begin to provide military and technological assistance three months later (see October 1998). [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 286]

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Congressional conservatives receive a second “alternative assessment” of the nuclear threat facing the US that is far more to their liking than previous assessments (see December 23, 1996). A second “Team B” panel (see November 1976), the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, led by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and made up of neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz and Stephen Cambone, finds that, contrary to earlier findings, the US faces a growing threat from rogue nations such as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, who can, the panel finds, inflict “major destruction on the US within about five years of a decision.” This threat is “broader, more mature, and evolving more rapidly” than previously believed. The Rumsfeld report also implies that either Iran or North Korea, or perhaps both, have already made the decision to strike the US with nuclear weapons. Although Pakistan has recently tested nuclear weapons (see May 28, 1998), it is not on the list. Unfortunately for the integrity and believability of the report, its methodology is flawed in the same manner as the previous “Team B” reports (see November 1976); according to author J. Peter Scoblic, the report “assume[s] the worst about potential US enemies without actual evidence to support those assumptions.” Defense analyst John Pike is also displeased with the methodology of the report. Pike will later write: “Rather than basing policy on intelligence estimates of what will probably happen politically and economically and what the bad guys really want, it’s basing policy on that which is not physically impossible. This is really an extraordinary epistemological conceit, which is applied to no other realm of national policy, and if manifest in a single human being would be diagnosed as paranoia.” [Guardian, 10/13/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 172-173] Iran, Iraq, and North Korea will be dubbed the “Axis of Evil” by George W. Bush in his 2002 State of the Union speech (see January 29, 2002).

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, J. Peter Scoblic, Paul Wolfowitz, Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, Stephen A. Cambone, John Pike

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

By this time, US intelligence has documented many links between the Pakistani ISI, Taliban, and al-Qaeda. It is discovered that the ISI maintains about eight stations inside Afghanistan which are staffed by active or retired ISI officers. The CIA has learned that ISI officers at about the colonel level regularly meet with bin Laden or his associates to coordinate access to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. The CIA suspects that the ISI is giving money and/or equipment to bin Laden, but they find no evidence of direct ISI involvement in al-Qaeda’s overseas attacks. The ISI generally uses the training camps to train operatives to fight a guerrilla war in the disputed Indian province of Kashmir. But while these ISI officers are following Pakistani policy in a broad sense, the CIA believes the ISI has little direct control over them. One senior Clinton administration official will later state that it was “assumed that those ISI individuals were perhaps profiteering, engaged in the drug running, the arms running.” One US official aware of CIA reporting at this time later comments that Clinton’s senior policy team saw “an incredibly unholy alliance that was not only supporting all the terrorism that would be directed against us” but also threatening “to provoke a nuclear war in Kashmir.” [Coll, 2004, pp. 439-440]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The US again begins to provide Pakistan with military and technological aid, which had been frozen in the wake of Pakistani tests of nuclear weapons in May (see May 28, 1998 and May 30, 1998). The US also froze agricultural aid after the tests, but began to provide it again in July (see July 1998). [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 286]

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Nawaz Sharif meeting with US Defense Secretary William Cohen at the Pentagon on December 3, 1998.Nawaz Sharif meeting with US Defense Secretary William Cohen at the Pentagon on December 3, 1998. [Source: US Department of Defense]Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif comes to Washington to meet with President Clinton and other top Clinton administration officials. The number one issue for Clinton is Pakistan’s nuclear program, since Pakistan had recently illegally developed and exploded a nuclear weapon (see May 28, 1998). The second most important issue is Pakistan’s economy; the US wants Pakistan to support free trade agreements. The third most important issue is terrorism and Pakistan’s support for bin Laden. Author Steve Coll will later note, “When Clinton himself met with Pakistani leaders, his agenda list always had several items, and bin Laden never was at the top. Afghanistan’s war fell even further down.” Sharif proposes to Clinton that the CIA train a secret Pakistani commando team to capture bin Laden. The US and Pakistan go ahead with this plan, even though most US officials involved in the decision believe it has almost no chance for success. They figure there is also little risk or cost involved, and it can help build ties between American and Pakistani intelligence. The plan will later come to nothing (see October 1999). [Coll, 2004, pp. 441-444]

Entity Tags: Nawaz Sharif, Clinton administration, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA readies an operation to capture or kill bin Laden, secretly training and equipping approximately 60 commandos from the Pakistani ISI. Pakistan supposedly agrees to this plan in return for the lifting of economic sanctions and more economic aid. [Washington Post, 10/3/2001] Pakistan proposed the plan in December 1998 (see December 2, 1998). US officials were said to be “deeply cynical” of the plan, knowing that Pakistani intelligence was allied with bin Laden (see Autumn 1998). They figured that if Pakistan really wanted bin Laden captured or killed, they could just tell the US when and where he would be, but Pakistan never revealed this kind of information. But the US went ahead with the plan anyway, figuring it held little risk and could help develop intelligence ties with Pakistan. [Coll, 2004, pp. 442-444] After months of training, the commando team is almost ready to go by this month. However, the plan is aborted because on October 12, General Musharraf takes control of Pakistan in a coup (see October 12, 1999). Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ties to use the commando team to protect himself during the coup, but the team dissolves rather than fight on what they judge to be the losing side. Musharraf refuses to reform the team or continue any such operation against bin Laden despite the promise of substantial rewards. [Washington Post, 10/3/2001; Coll, 2004, pp. 442-444, 478-480] Some US officials later say the CIA was tricked, that the ISI just feigned to cooperate as a stalling tactic, and never intended to get bin Laden. [New York Times, 10/29/2001]

Entity Tags: Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pervez Musharraf, Central Intelligence Agency, Nawaz Sharif, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. [Source: Government of Pakistan]Gen. Pervez Musharraf becomes leader of Pakistan in a coup, ousting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. One major reason for the coup is the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence agency) felt Sharif had to go “out of fear that he might buckle to American pressure and reverse Pakistan’s policy [of supporting] the Taliban.” [New York Times, 12/8/2001] Shortly thereafter, Musharraf replaces the leader of the ISI, Brig Imtiaz, because of his close ties to the previous leader. Imtiaz is arrested and convicted of “having assets disproportionate to his known sources of income.” It is later revealed that he was keeping tens of millions of dollars earned from heroin smuggling in a Deutsche Bank account. [Financial Times, 8/10/2001] Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed, a close ally of Musharraf, is instrumental in the success of the coup. Ahmed actually secured the capital and detained Sharif, but then honored the chain of command and stepped aside so Musharraf, as head of the military, could take over. Ahmed is rewarded by being made the new director of the ISI. [Guardian, 10/9/2001; Coll, 2004, pp. 504-505]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Pervez Musharraf, Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Deutsche Bank, Mahmood Ahmed, Brig Imtiaz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Karl Inderfurth.Karl Inderfurth. [Source: Harikrishna Katragadda Mint]Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth, accompanied by State Department counterterrorism expert Michael Sheehan, visits Pakistan, shortly after Pervez Musharraf took power in a coup (see October 12, 1999). Inderfurth meets with Musharraf, and is disappointed with Musharraf’s reluctance to take any action against al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is living openly in the Pakistani town of Peshawar, and the previous month was implicated in an attempted bomb plot in Jordan (see November 30, 1999). A number of intelligence agencies are monitoring Zubaida’s communications (see October 1998 and After), and one of his top aides, Khalil Deek, appears to be a Jordanian intelligence mole (see Shortly After December 11, 1999). There are allegations that the Pakistani ISI intelligence agency has been protecting Zubaida (see 1998-2001). Musharraf indicates to Inderfurth that he is unwilling to act on US intelligence about Zubaida. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 295] US ambassador to Pakistan William Milam will later say: “The Pakistanis told us they could not find him, even though everyone knew where he was. The ISI just turned a blind eye to his activities.” In fact, there is evidence Zubaida was working with the ISI, helping them vet and train militants to later fight in the disputed region of Kashmir (see 1998-2001). [Rashid, 2008, pp. 48] Musharraf also tells Inderfurth that he is unwilling to support any program to capture Osama bin Laden, as his predecessor, Nawaz Sharif, had been willing to do (see October 1999). And asked to pressure the Taliban, Musharraf sends ISI Director Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed to meet Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Mahmood is well known to be a supporter of the Taliban, so his visit is considered an empty gesture. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 295] Robert Einhorn, a specialist on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Clinton administration, does not go on the trip. Inderfurth will later say Einhorn’s absence showed a lack of interest by the administration in non-proliferation: “The fact that Mike [Sheehan] was included and Bob left out showed our priorities at that time. Our agenda was counterterrorism, al-Qaeda, and democracy. We had somehow divorced these from the nuclear threat and A. Q. Khan.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 292]

Entity Tags: Robert Einhorn, Pervez Musharraf, Michael Sheehan, Abu Zubaida, Osama bin Laden, Karl Inderfurth, Mahmood Ahmed, Khalil Deek, William Milam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

President Bush waives the last set of US sanctions against Pakistan. The US imposed a new series of sanctions against Pakistan in 1998, after Pakistan exploded a nuclear weapon (see May 28, 1998), and in 1999, when President Pervez Musharraf overthrew a democratically elected government (see October 12, 1999). The lifted sanctions had prohibited the export of US military equipment and military assistance to a country whose head of government has been deposed. Some other sanctions were waived shortly after 9/11. Bush’s move comes as Musharraf is trying to decide whether or not to support a US-sponsored United Nations resolution which could start war with Iraq. It also comes two weeks after 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was captured in Pakistan (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). [Agence France-Presse, 3/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Pervez Musharraf, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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