Profile: Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood
Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood was a participant or observer in the following events:
Pakistani government leaders consider a secret proposal made by Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan that it build a uranium bomb (see After May 18, 1974) and find it to be a good idea. Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto writes of Khan, “He seems to be making sense.” Siddique Butt, an employee of Pakistan’s embassy in Belgium who will go on to help Khan’s future nuclear smuggling ring, investigates Khan and finds he is a top scientist who can be helpful to Pakistan. Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, another future key associate of Khan’s, is asked to write another assessment, which finds that, if implemented, Khan’s ideas could give Pakistan enough uranium for a bomb by 1979. Based on these reports, the Pakistani government starts working with Khan, who begins to steal secrets for them (see October 1974). [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 49-50]
Following discussions with fellow Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan, on February 15, 1975, head of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) Munir Khan proposes that Pakistan formally establish a uranium enrichment program, to go with the plutonium enrichment program it already has. The $450 million plan calls for a centrifuge plant, a uranium mine, and a facility to produce uranium gas, which would allow Pakistan to produce a nuclear weapon. The proposal is approved by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and a scientist known as Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood is placed in charge of the program. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 52-3]
Following the commencement of Pakistan’s uranium enrichment program (see After February 15, 1975), A. Q. Khan meets program head Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood in Belgium and then begins to steal an unprecedented amount of information from the company he works for, a European nuclear company called Urenco, to support the program. According to authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento: “Khan sent everything from centrifuge designs and technical literature to parts and lists of suppliers. He even sent blueprints of an entire uranium enrichment facility. In at least one instance, Khan sent [an associate] a discarded component from a uranium centrifuge.” He evens asks a photographer he shares an office with to photograph some centrifuges and components. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 53-4]
Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan is appointed director of Pakistan’s uranium enrichment program, replacing Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood. The program is also separated from the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), and Khan is to report directly to the prime minister. The changes are a result of complaints Khan made about Mahmood and PAEC chief Munir Khan. In letters to both Munir Khan and Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Khan had threatened to resign and said that progress with uranium enrichment was very slow: “Each week passing is putting the project behind by at least two to three months.” In a meeting with Bhutto, Khan calls the PAEC chief and his associates “liars and cheats,” and points out there is no way they can carry out a promised test for a plutonium bomb by the deadline they have set. The separation of the plutonium bomb project under Munir Khan and the uranium bomb project under A. Q. Khan does have a benefit for Pakistan: the world is focused on frustrating Munir Khan’s plutonium project, and for a short while A. Q. Khan can “move forward relatively unhindered.” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 57-59]
Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood. [Source: BBC]Two retired Pakistani nuclear scientists create a charity to help the Taliban. The scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, had both retired the year before after long and distinguished careers, and had both become radical Islamists. They set up a charity, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), purporting to conduct relief work in Afghanistan, including helping to guide the Taliban on scientific matters. A number of pro-Taliban Pakistani generals and business leaders are on the board of directors, including Hamid Gul, a former director of the ISI. But not long after setting up an office in Kabul, the two scientists meet with Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, and discuss weapons development. During a later visit, Mahmood provides one of bin Laden’s associates with information on how to construct a nuclear weapon. [Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 264-265; Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 310-311] The two scientists will have a more extensive meeting with bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in August 2001, and will discuss how al-Qaeda can make a radioactive weapon (see Mid-August 2001). Shortly before 9/11, the CIA will learn of this meeting (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001), and also learn that UTN offered to sell a nuclear weapon to Libya, but the CIA will take no effective action against the group (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001). In late 2001, the Wall Street Journal will report that “One Pakistani military analyst said it was inconceivable that a nuclear scientist would travel to Afghanistan without getting clearance from Pakistani officials and being debriefed each time. Pakistan maintains a strict watch on many of its nuclear scientists, using a special arm of the Army’s general headquarters to monitor them even after retirement.” Furthermore, a former ISI colonel says the ISI “was always aware of UTN’s activities and had encouraged Dr. Mahmoud’s Afghanistan trips. He said the ISI learned last year that Dr. Mahmoud had recently discussed nuclear matters with Mr. bin Laden, and Dr. Mahmoud agreed not to do so again.” [Wall Street Journal, 12/24/2001] The US will finally freeze UTN’s assets in December 2001 (see Early October-December 2001).
Hafiz Mohammed Saeed. [Source: BBC]In April 2001, the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) holds its annual public meeting in Pakistan. Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan attends the meeting as an honored guest. Accompanying Khan at the podium is Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, another Pakistani nuclear scientist who had met with Osama bin Laden the year before (see 2000). He will meet with bin Laden again shortly before 9/11 and advise him on how to build a “dirty bomb” (see Mid-August 2001). [Asia Times, 6/4/2004] French journalist Bernard Henri-Levy, the author of a book about Pakistani militant Saeed Sheikh, will later claim in the Wall Street Journal that Khan was a secret member of LeT. [Wall Street Journal, 2/17/2004] The US will ban LeT after 9/11 because of its involvement in a string of attacks against India (see December 20, 2001). LeT is considered linked to al-Qaeda, and bin Laden addressed the annual LeT meeting by phone in some past years. Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the founder and leader of LeT, has publicly declared that Pakistan should share its nuclear technology with other Islamic nations, a position also advocated by Khan. In 2002, he will claim that people loyal to his organization “control two nuclear missiles.” [Asia Times, 6/4/2004]
Some time before 9/11, ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed learns that two prominent Pakistani nuclear scientists met with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan in mid-August 2001. Bin Laden revealed to the two scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, that he had acquired nuclear material and wanted their help to turn it into a weapon (see Mid-August 2001). ISI Director Mahmood is said to have learned about this through military contacts, as several Pakistani generals sit on the board of directors of a charity run by the two scientists that assists the Taliban. For instance, Hamid Gul, a former director of the ISI, is the charity’s honorary patron and was in Afghanistan at the time of the meeting. However, the ISI does not warn the US or take any action against the scientists or their charity. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 310-311]
Entity Tags: Mahmood Ahmed, Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, Hamid Gul, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Osama bin Laden
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network, 9/11 Timeline
Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood. [Source: Public domain]Two retired Pakistani nuclear scientists meet with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri at a campfire in a compound near Kandahar, Afghanistan. The more prominent scientist, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, worked with A. Q. Khan for two decades before having a falling out with him in the early 1990s (however, he was seen with Khan earlier in 2001 (see April 2001)). A highly regarded scientist, he also became an advocate of the Taliban and published a pamphlet predicting that “by 2002 millions may die through mass destruction weapons… terrorist attack, and suicide.” He was forced to retire in 1999 after publicly advocating sharing nuclear technology with other Islamic countries. The other scientist, Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, also retired in 1999 after a long career. In 2000, the two men set up a charity, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, purporting to conduct relief work in Afghanistan (see 2000). Bin Laden allegedly tells the scientists that he has made great headway in advancing the apocalypse predicted by Mahmood. He claims that he has acquired highly enriched uranium from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and wants their help to turn it into a bomb. The scientists reply that while they could help with the science of fissile materials, they are not weapons designers. They are also asked with other Pakistani weapons experts could be approached for help. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 310-311] They spend two or three days at the compound and discuss how the material could be used to create a so-called dirty bomb, in which radioactive material is blown up using conventional explosives to spread radiation. But the discussion apparently ends inconclusively when bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, and others depart abruptly for the mountains. Before leaving, bin Laden says that something great is going to happen soon and Muslims around the world will join them in holy war. [Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 264-265] Both US intelligence and Pakistani ISI learn about this meeting prior to the 9/11 attacks, but neither group will take any effective action as a result (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001 and Between Mid-August and September 10, 2001).
According to a 2007 book by former CIA Director George Tenet, shortly before 9/11, the CIA learns that a Pakistani charity front has been helping al-Qaeda acquire weapons of mass destruction. The charity, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), was founded in 2000 by two prominent nuclear scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed (see 2000). UTN allegedly is conducting charitable projects in Afghanistan, but a friendly intelligence service tells the CIA that UTN is really helping al-Qaeda build weapons, especially nuclear weapons. Tenet will claim that he presses “all of our contacts worldwide to find out anything we could about the people and organizations with WMD that might be wiling to share expertise with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.” Ben Bonk, deputy chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC), meets with Musa Kusa, head of Libya’s intelligence service, and Kusa tells him that Libya had contact with UTN. “Yes, they tried to sell us a nuclear weapon. Of course, we turned them down.” According to Tenet, this confirms other information from a different intelligence agency that UTN approached Libya with an offer to provide WMD expertise. The CIA then informs the Pakistani government of this, and Pakistan brings in seven board members of UTN for questioning. But according to Tenet, “The investigation was ill-fated from the get-go” and the UTN officials “were not properly isolated and questioned.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 262-263] Also shortly before 9/11, the CIA also learns that the two nuclear scientists who founded UTN had recently met with Osama bin Laden and advised him on how to make a nuclear weapon (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001). But despite all this the US takes no other action against UTN before 9/11, not even freezing the assets of the charity until December 2001 (see Early October-December 2001).
In October 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Pakistan and tells Pakistani officials that, shortly before 9/11, the CIA learned two prominent Pakistani nuclear scientists had met with al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in mid-August 2001 (see Early October-December 2001). In the meeting, the two scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, discussed helping al-Qaeda make a nuclear weapon (see Mid-August 2001). [Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 268-269] In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet will confirm that the CIA learned of this prior to 9/11. He will write, “A Western intelligence service came to us in the fall of 2001 [with details of the meeting]… [The] CIA pressed the Pakistanis to confront Mahmood and Majeed with this new information. We put [evidence that a charity named Ummah Tameer-e-Nau run by Mahmood and Majeed tried to sell Libya a nuclear weapon] on the table. We also passed new information that had been collected by other intelligence services. To no avail. Then 9/11 struck, and there was no slowing down in this pursuit.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 264] But no evidence will come forward that President Bush or other top US officials were warned of this, or that there were any general warnings inside the US government about this. Pakistan is not successfully pressured about it before 9/11 (in fact, the Pakistani ISI already knew about it and failed to warn the US (see Between Mid-August and September 10, 2001)), and after 9/11 the only action Pakistan will take is to twice arrest and then quickly release the two scientists. Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will comment in a 2007 book that “This information, added to the missing canisters of highly enriched uranium [in Pakistan], might have been sufficient to redirect” top Bush officials to take sterner action against al-Qaeda before 9/11. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 311]
Ummah Tameer-e-Nau’s headquarters in Kabul. [Source: CBC]In early October 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Pakistan and discusses the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. He offers US technical assistance to improve the security of Pakistan’s nukes, but Pakistan rejects the offer. Powell also says that the CIA learned of a secret meeting held in mid-August 2001 between two Pakistani nuclear scientists and al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Mid-August 2001). As a result of US pressure, Pakistan arrests the two scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, on October 23. The Pakistani ISI secretly detains them for four weeks, but concludes that they are harmless and releases them. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 264-268; Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 269-271] In mid-November, after the Taliban is routed from Kabul (see November 13, 2001), the CIA takes over the headquarters there of Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), a charity founded by the two scientists. In addition to charity material, they find numerous documents and pieces of equipment to help build WMD, including plans for conducting an anthrax attack. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 322] As a result, on December 1, CIA Director George Tenet, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, head of the CIA Counterterrorist Center’s WMD branch, and a CIA analyst named Kevin make an emergency trip to Pakistan to discuss the issue. Accompanied by Wendy Chamberlin, the US ambassador to Pakistan, Tenet meets with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and urges him to take stronger action against the two scientists and their UTN charity. Musharraf reluctantly agrees, and the two men are rearrested. According to a 2007 book by Tenet, after being tested by a team of US polygraph experts and questioned by US officials, “Mahmood confirmed all we had heard about the August 2001 meeting with Osama bin Laden, and even provided a hand-drawn rough bomb design that he had shared with al-Qaeda leaders.” During the meeting, an unnamed senior al-Qaeda leader showed Mahmood a cannister that may have contained some kind of nuclear material. This leader shared ideas about building a simple firing system for a nuclear “dirty bomb” using commercially available supplies. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 264-268; Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 269-271] However, on December 13, the two scientists are quietly released again. The US does not officially freeze UTN’s assets until December 20, and Pakistan apparently follows suit a short time later (see December 20, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 12/24/2001; Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 271]
Entity Tags: Wendy Chamberlin, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pervez Musharraf, Al-Qaeda, Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, Colin Powell, George J. Tenet, Osama bin Laden, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network
A. Q. Khan (left) and Pervez Musharraf (right). [Source: CBC] (click image to enlarge)After CIA Director George Tenet visits Pakistan and pressures the Pakistani government to take stronger action against the charity front Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN) (see Early October-December 2001), the CIA learns more about the organization. The CIA was previously aware that the two prominent nuclear scientists who co-founded UTN, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, had met with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and advised them on how to make a nuclear weapon (see Mid-August 2001). However, the CIA discovers that other nuclear scientists are also connected to UTN, including Mirza Yusef Beg, a former member of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), and Humayun Niaz, also formerly with the PAEC. At least two senior Pakistani military officers are also connected to UTN. All these men are brought in and questioned by US officials. But the CIA is unable to question two others connected to UTN, Muhammad Ali Mukhtar, a nuclear physicist who worked for the PAEC as a weapons expert, and Suleiman Asad, who worked at A. Q. Khan’s Kahuta Research Laboratories (KRL) in its weapons design division. The CIA reasons that these two scientists would be the type of nuclear bomb makers bin Laden was most interested in. However, the Pakistani government claims that the two are in Burma working on a top secret project and cannot be brought back to Pakistan for questioning. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 320-321] Shortly after 9/11, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf called one of the leaders of Burma and asked if the two scientists could be given asylum there. [New York Times, 12/9/2001] The CIA is also interested in talking to Hamid Gul, a former ISI director and UTN’s honorary patron, but Pakistan will not allow him to be questioned either, even though he had met with Mahmood in Afghanistan around the time Mahmood met with bin Laden and al-Zawahiri. As a result, the CIA is unable to learn just how much UTN could have assisted al-Qaeda with weapons of mass destruction. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 320-321]
Entity Tags: Suleiman Asad, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, Pervez Musharraf, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, Mullah Omar, Humayun Niaz, Hamid Gul, Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, Central Intelligence Agency, Muhammad Ali Mukhtar, Osama bin Laden, Kahuta Research Laboratories, Mirza Yusef Beg
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network
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