Weapons and Equipment
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Representative Charlie Wilson (D-TX) travels to Israel where he meets with Zvi Rafiah and other Israeli officials. From Israel he travels to Egypt and then Pakistan, where he secretly negotiates a major weapons deal with Pakistan (see November-December 1982) on behalf of the Israelis in support of the mujaheddin fighting Soviets in Afghanistan. Among other things, the deal includes the delivery of T-55 tanks. Author George Crile will later comment, “The Israelis were hoping this deal would serve as the beginning of a range of under-the-table understandings with Pakistan that the congressman would continue to quietly negotiate for them.” [Crile, 2003, pp. 141]
Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan sends one of his associates, Peter Griffin, a copy of the book The Islamic Bomb. The book has the dedication, “With kindest regards, my friend, Peter Griffin,” and is signed “Dr. AQ Khan.” It will be seized several years later by British customs agents during a search of Griffin’s home. The book details Khan’s role in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and the help provided to him by Griffin and one of Griffin’s partners, Abdus Salam. Griffin had earlier claimed he did not understand what Khan was doing with the technical equipment he shipped to him (see 1980), but the book must remove any doubts about the real nature of Khan’s work. Despite this, Griffin continues to work with Khan for a number of years, and will later say, “Anything that could be sent to Pakistan, I sent to Pakistan.” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 102]
The US places a high-tech piece of surveillance equipment near Pakistan’s nuclear weapons facility in Kahuta. The device is a boulder made from resin that is moulded and coloured to look like the local rocks. It is transported in on the back of a delivery truck and can transmit intelligence through an array of sophisticated recording and air-sampling technology hidden inside the shell. However, according to Pakistani General Khalid Arif, the device is discovered by chance. A student travelling on the back of another truck falls off and hits his head on the rock. Arif will say: “He opened his eyes and realized that he was still alive and unbruised. The rock, however, had a hole in it and inside were all sorts of whirring and blinking bits. We took it away for analysis and later put it into our museum for trainee spies.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 92-93]
The US sells forty F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan. One of the contractual preconditions of the sale is that Pakistan does not configure them to drop a nuclear bomb. However, US analyst Richard Barlow will conclude that in fact all of them are configured to carry nuclear weapons. [Guardian, 10/13/2007]
I. H. Khan, a procurement agent for Pakistan’s Special Works Organization (SWO) in Germany, sends two payments to the British-based company SR International. I. H. Khan, SWO, and SR International are all involved in procuring equipment in Europe for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. The payment in March is for £15,872.26 (roughly $36,000) and the payment in April is for £604.07 (roughly $1,370). Although the payments will be listed as “book debt” in a statement later issued by SR International’s liquidator, they may signify that SR International is continuing to provide nuclear-related equipment for Pakistan, although British authorities have been aware of its activities for several years (see 1978 and (Fall 1979)). [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 101]
Robert Gallucci, a director of the Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs at the State Department, drafts a comprehensive report showing that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program is continuing. The report begins with an overview of Pakistan’s nuclear fuel cycle and a confirmation that Pakistan has built a plant to “concentrate uranium ore,” while another to produce uranium hexafluoride is “already in operation.” The report also details work done at the facility in Kahuta headed by Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan and the technology being assembled there based on designs stolen in the Netherlands. In addition, Gallucci warns of the procurement network’s increasing confidence and its use of “false end-use statements.”
'Unambiguous Evidence' - The report, which is marked “secret” and not distributed to security contractors or abroad, finds, “There is unambiguous evidence that Pakistan is actively pursuing a nuclear weapons development program,” and, “Pakistan’s near-term goal evidently is to have a nuclear test capability enabling it to explode a nuclear device if [Pakistani dictator Muhammad] Zia [ul-Haq] decides it’s appropriate for diplomatic and domestic political gains.”
'Nuclear Explosives' - Another section, entitled “Nuclear Explosives,” says that Pakistan is working on an “electronic triggering circuit for nuclear device detonation… as well as experiments on conventional as well as shaped charges.” The Pakistanis have “already undertaken a substantial amount of the necessary design and high explosives testing of the explosive device and we believe that Pakistan is now capable of producing a workable package of this kind.” Gallucci even has drawings given to suppliers by agents for Khan that have been “unambiguously identified as those of a nuclear device.”
Chinese Connection - The report also mentions the Pakistan-China connection, as notes in Chinese and an operations manual from China have been found in circumstances linked to Khan’s operations. US scientists who analysed them concluded they concerned equipment remarkably similar to a device used in a 1964 nuclear test by China, and Gallucci finds, “China has provided assistance to Pakistan’s program to develop a nuclear weapons capability.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 93-94, 478]
Test firing of a US Pershing II IRBM. [Source: US Army / Public domain]The US and its NATO allies carry out a military exercise called “Able Archer,” or “Able Archer 83,” designed to simulate the use of nuclear weapons in an assault against the Soviet Union, and to test command and control procedures. The military exercise comes perilously close to touching off a real nuclear exchange with the USSR. The exercise—not the first of its kind, but the most expansive—is huge, spanning Europe from Turkey to Scandinavia; it involves the heads of state of countries like Great Britain and Germany; and, perhaps most alarmingly for the Soviets, involves NATO forces escalating their military alert levels to DEFCON-1, at which point NATO nuclear weapons have their safeguards disabled and are ready for launch. The Soviet’s VRYAN program to detect a possible assault (see May 1981) is extremely active. On November 8, Moscow sends high-priority telegrams to its KGB stations in Western Europe demanding information about a possible surprise first attack on the USSR. Though little actual evidence exists, some sources erroneously tell Moscow that NATO ground forces are mobilizing. The KGB concludes that “Able Archer” is a cover for a real military assault; Warsaw Pact fighter units armed with nuclear weapons are put on alert in East Germany and Poland. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 134-135; Cardiff Western News, 11/10/2008]
'Frighteningly Close' to Nuclear War, Says Soviet Intelligence Official - Oleg Gordievsky, the intelligence chief of the Soviet embassy in London and a British double agent, warns the British that the West is entering what he calls a “danger zone.” The Daily Telegraph will later write, “It was on Nov. 8-9 that the Kremlin had pressed what came close to a panic button.” [Washington Post, 10/16/1988] In his memoirs, Gordievsky will write: “In the tense atmosphere generated by the crises and rhetoric of the past few months, the KGB concluded that American forces had been placed on alert—and might even have begun the countdown to war.… [D]uring ABLE ARCHER 83 it had, without realizing it, come frighteningly close—certainly closer than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.” [Fischer, 3/19/2007]
Reagan 'Shocked' at Soviet Reaction - The exercise ends without incident, but National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane will later admit, “The situation was very grave.” Secretary of State George Shultz terms the exercise “a close call” and “quite sobering.” In early 1984, when the CIA reports that the Soviets had been convinced that the US was readying a nuclear strike, President Reagan will be, in author J. Peter Scoblic’s words, “shocked” to realize that he and his administration “had nearly started a nuclear war.” Reagan, in McFarlane’s recollection, will show “genuine anxiety” and begin talking about the concept of Armageddon—the Biblical end times—with his advisers. [Fischer, 3/19/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 134-135]
By his own account, Israeli intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe runs a covert Israeli arms network, primarily supplying weapons to the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Iran for use in the Iran-Iraq War. Huge profits are made. “At various times the fund reached peaks of more than $1 billion,” he later explains in his book, Profits of War. “At its height it stood at $1.8 billion.… Between 1984 and 1989 no less than $160 million was funneled to [Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak] Shamir’s [Likud] faction.” He also says that the money helped finance the intelligence community’s “black” operations including “Israeli-controlled ‘Palestinian terrorists’ who would commit crimes in the name of the Palestinian revolution but were actually pulling them off, usually unwittingly, as part of the Israeli propaganda machine.” The Israeli government will later deny that Menashe had any association with their intelligence services. But faced with evidence, the government will change its story, alleging that he was only a low-level translator who had taken to freelancing arms deals. However, Ben-Menashe is able to produce strong evidence to support his version of events and his 1991 trial in New York will culminate in his acquittal on the grounds that the jury disbelieves the Israeli government’s denials. [Ben-Menashe, 1992, pp. 120; Consortium News, 1997; Coll, 2004, pp. 120]
By 1984, huge amounts of arms and ammunition for the mujaheddin fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan are pouring into Pakistan. These weapons are funded by the CIA and Saudi government, and generally come into the port of Karachi. The criminal BCCI bank has an enforcement arm nicknamed the “Black Network.” Time magazine reporters Jonathan Beaty and S.C. Gwynne will later describe it as “a Karachi-based cadre of bank operatives, paramilitary units, spies, and enforcers who handled BCCI’s darkest operations around the globe and trafficked in bribery and corruption.” By 1984, BCCI and its Black Network takes effective control of Karachi’s port, dominating Pakistan’s customs service there with bribery and intimidation. BCCI is thus in a position to dominate the flow of supplies to the mujaheddin. Pakistan’s military handles the flow of weapons from Karachi to the Afghan border, but once there the supplies have to be carried by mules to reach the mujaheddin fighting in remote Afghan mountain ranges. BCCI controls this part of the supply chain as well. Sometimes BCCI personnel simply transport the supplies across Afghanistan to Iran and then sell them there for a profit. [Beaty and Gwynne, 1993, pp. 66, 315-316] The US government is aware of BCCI’s support role and cooperates with it. For instance, in 1987 USAID asks BCCI to buy 1,000 more mules to help the mujaheddin. [Los Angeles Times, 9/3/1991] At almost every step of the way, BCCI takes a cut of the profits and often steals some of the supplies. [Beaty and Gwynne, 1993, pp. 66, 315-316]
A. Q. Khan, head of Pakistan’s attempt to build a nuclear device, makes comments to a Pakistani journalist indicating the country is engaged in a nuclear weapons program: “Western countries had never imagined that a poor and backward country like Pakistan would end their [nuclear] monopoly in such a short time.… As soon as they realized that Pakistan had dashed their dreams to the ground, they pounced at Pakistan and me like hungry jackals and began attacking us with all kinds of accusations and falsehood.… How could they tolerate a Muslim country becoming their equal in this field.… All Western countries including Israel are not only the enemies of Pakistan but in fact of Islam.… All these activities are part of the crusade which Christians and Jews have been carrying on against Muslims for about one thousand years.” [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]
George Schulz, secretary of state in the Reagan administration, says, “We have full faith in [Pakistan’s] assurance that they will not make the bomb.” However, the US, including the State Department, is already aware that Pakistan has a nuclear weapons program (see 1983 and August 1985-October 1990). [Guardian, 10/13/2007]
The arrest of a Pakistani agent attempting to buy components for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program in the US starts a crisis that could potentially lead to the cutting off of US aid to Pakistan, and an end to US support for the mujaheddin in the Soviet-Afghan War. When Stephen Solarz (D-NY), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs and an opponent of Pakistan, learns of the attempted purchase—of Kryton high-speed triggers that are used to fire nuclear weapons—he calls for hearings to look into the affair. The crisis passes, but it is unclear exactly how. Author George Crile will attribute the resolution to threats made to Solarz by Congressman Charlie Wilson (D-TX), a strong supporter of US involvement in the war: “Wilson understood that this was a battle that could not be won with debating points; reportedly, he went to Solarz armed with certain classified intelligence about India’s nuclear program. He is said to have suggested that India might be more exposed than Pakistan when it came to the issue of the bomb.” [Crile, 2003, pp. 463-4]
A 2007 satellite image of the Khan Research Laboratories in Kahuta. [Source: GeoEye]Richard Barlow, an analyst working on Pakistan’s nuclear program who was released by the State Department in the early 1980s (see 1981-1982), is hired by the CIA’s Office of Scientific and Weapons Research (OSWR). Barlow re-analyzes the data and confirms his earlier conclusions—that Pakistan is pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program. Barlow learns about the trade in dual-use components—tools and equipment that can be used to make nuclear weapons, but also for other, non-nuclear purposes, meaning trade in them is hard to spot and regulate. One example of this is a California couple that exports dozens of high-speed cathode-ray oscilloscopes and special cameras to Hong Kong, where they are picked up by Pakistani agents. Barlow realizes that such a large number of oscilloscopes must be for nuclear weapons manufacturing, and also finds a link between the purchase and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC). Barlow will later comment, “There was tons of it and most of it was ending up in [Pakistan]. Pakistan had a vast network of procurers, operating all over the world.” Barlow also finds that the material is going to a secret nuclear facility near Islamabad, the Khan Research Laboratories, where sensors pick up high levels of enriched uranium in the air and in dust on [trucks] leaving the laboratories. [New Yorker, 3/29/1993; Guardian, 10/13/2007] Despite this, in order to prevent Congress from cutting of aid to the anti-Soviet mujaheddin, which flows through Pakistan, US authorities will repeatedly insist Pakistan is not working on a nuclear program (see August 1985-October 1990).
A. Q. Khan, the scientist in charge of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, tells a US analyst that Pakistan will never halt its development of nuclear weapons. The analyst, who meets Khan at an international energy conference, will later have some connection to the US government, but it is unclear if he does so at this time. Khan tells him: “Never again. Whatever else occurs, even if we tell you we’ve terminated [the nuclear weapons program], I can tell you that I will not be allowed to terminate, because we must continue to show the Indians that we have the ability to never again be defeated at their hands.” [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]
Khan Research Laboratories in Kahuta. [Source: CBC] (click image to enlarge)The CIA obtains a complete set of the floor plans for a Pakistani uranium-enrichment plant at Kahuta, 12 miles west of Islamabad, while the plant is under construction. The plans show that the hot, or radioactive, work areas at Kahuta had been built as many as five stories underground, to guard against a surprise Indian bombing raid. [New Yorker, 3/29/1993] The CIA will also obtain detailed information about what happens at the plant when it comes into operation (see (1987)).
Ronald Reagan with Afghan mujaheddin leaders. [Source: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library] (click image to enlarge)President Reagan issues a secret National Security Decision Directive to sharply escalate US covert action in Afghanistan. No longer content to simply help harass Soviet forces in Afghanistan, the directive leads to sharp increase in military and other aid to the mujaheddin to completely defeat the Soviets. The CIA begins supplying mujaheddin rebels with “extensive satellite reconnaissance data of Soviet targets on the Afghan battlefield, plans for military operations based on the satellite intelligence, intercepts of Soviet communications, secret communications networks for the rebels, delayed timing devices for tons of C-4 plastic explosives for urban sabotage and sophisticated guerrilla attacks, long-range sniper rifles, a targeting device for mortars that was linked to a US Navy satellite, wire-guided anti-tank missiles, and other equipment.” CIA Director William Casey also sees the directive as an opportunity to launch attacks inside the Soviet Union itself (see 1984-March 1985 and 1985-1987). [Washington Post, 7/19/1992]
The US and the Soviet Union engage in the Nuclear and Space Talks (NST) in Geneva. The US wants to discuss a transition from mutual nuclear deterrence based solely on the threat of nuclear retaliation (the concept of MAD, or Mutual Assured Destruction) to increased reliance on ground- and space-based defense systems such as its Strategic Defense Initiative (see March 23, 1983). In its turn, the USSR wants a comprehensive ban on research, development, testing, and deployment of “space-strike arms.” [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]
Senator Larry Pressler. [Source: Public domain]The US Congress passes the “Pressler Amendment,” requiring the president to certify that Pakistan does not have nuclear weapons every year. The amendment was championed by Senator Larry Pressler (R-SD). If the president does not issue such certification, Pakistan cannot not get any foreign aid from the US. Presidents Reagan and Bush will falsely certify Pakistan does not have nuclear weapons several times (see August 1985-October 1990). Journalist Seymour Hersh will later comment: “There is indisputable evidence that Pakistan has been able to escape public scrutiny for its violations of the law because senior officials of the Reagan and the Bush administrations chose not to share the intelligence about nuclear purchases with Congress. The two Republican administrations obviously feared that the legislators, who had voted for the Solarz (see August 1985) and Pressler Amendments, would cut off funds for the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. It was yet another clash between a much desired foreign-policy goal and the law.” [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]
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).
A delegation from Pakistan’s foreign ministry holds its first talks about possibly selling the nuclear technology and know-how it has acquired with representatives of the Iranian, Syrian, and Libyan governments. The talks, ostensibly about the wider topic of strategic co-operation, follow on from a conscious decision by Pakistani leaders to sell what they have (see (Early 1985)).
No Qualms - Although it is possible the US would be angry if it finds out, and could cut off significant aid to Pakistan, according to authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, “no one at Army House in Rawalpindi perceived it as immoral or considered the risk too large to take.” General Khalid Mahmud Arif will say: “Having seen the US so flexible in the past, everyone doubted that it would sanction us at all. Also, few of us held the NPT [Nuclear Proliferation Treaty] in high regard. We referred to it as a monopoly, to service the West’s interests. There were so many countries that had been allowed to arm and proliferate—Israel, South Africa, Argentina—countries that slotted into the US’s foreign policy requirements and were allowed to do as they please.”
Shia Iran Not a Problem - Although the Pakistanis want to sell the bomb to other Muslim countries, Pakistani leader General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, a hardline Sunni, is wary of sharing it with Shia Iran. However, according to Levy and Scott-Clark, because Iran is currently at war with Iraq and threatened by Soviet troops in Afghanistan, it is not perceived as such a threat at this time: “The Shias were a contained and localized minority, the underdogs to the US-backed Sunni elite of Islamabad, Amman, Cairo, and Riyadh. No one contemplated a time when that Sunni strength and wealth would be threatened by war in Iraq and a Shi’ite awakening with its epicentre in Iran.” Nevertheless, Pakistan will not sell completed nuclear weapons to Iran, only technology for enriching uranium. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 133-134]
Former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, an emissary of the Reagan administration, takes 23 tons of weapons to Iran. [PBS, 2000]
The US ships another 500 TOW anti-tank missiles to Iran via Israel. [PBS, 2000]
After the governments of Saudi Arabia and Britain sign the massive Al Yamamah arms deal, “unconventional aspects” of the deal mean that money can be diverted for a variety of purposes. The arms being purchased by Saudi Arabia are paid for not in cash, but in oil, with between four and six hundred thousand barrels a day being bartered to finance the weapons. This enables the Saudis to evade production caps put in place by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Although most of the money realized from the oil should theoretically go to the British as payment for the arms, some of it apparently finds its way back to Saudi Arabians. It is then used to support a number of covert programs to arm anti-Communists supported by Saudi Arabia, such as the purchase of weapons in Egypt that are then sent to the mujaheddin in Afghanistan. [Coll, 2008, pp. 289] It is possible that some of the money is used to finance a missile purchase by the bin Laden brothers for Arabs fighting in the Soviet-Afghan War (see Mid-1986).
Officials from the National Program Office (NPO), responsible for the highly classified Continuity of Government program, fake an exercise in front of congressional leaders in order to cover up equipment failures. At a secret site near Great Falls, Montana, Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill (D-MA) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd (D-WV) gather with other key officials to witness the first major test of a new post-nuclear communication system. The high-tech system, worth millions of dollars, is meant to provide government leaders with the ability to communicate during and after a nuclear war. Much of the equipment, however, was purchased from separate contractors and is technically incompatible. The multi-million dollar system does not function properly, but NPO officials rig the exercise, paving the way for additional funding. As one participant will later explain: “At one point information was supposed to be sent out, and even though lights were blinking and the wheels were turning, the message was being sent by payphone about a block and a half from the site where the exercise was taking place.… Millions of dollars worth of equipment failed to function correctly and 25 or 50 cents worth of change and a pay telephone got the message through.” The visiting congressmen, who are responsible for allocating funds for the project, are fooled into thinking the system is fully functional. Money will continue to flow into the shoddy equipment for years to come. Sources will tell CNN five years later that the system is still not working properly. “Very few people knew about the scam and because the program is so classified there was no one they could tell,” CNN will report in 1991. [CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]
Outgoing National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane and National Security Council staffer Oliver North fly to London to meet with Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms merchant. Also present at the meeting are David Kimche, of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and Israeli arms dealer Yaacov Nimrodi. McFarlane tells Ghorbanifar that the US wants to end arms sales to Iran, though the US wants to continue pursuing diplomatic relations. [New York Times, 11/19/1987] The US will in actuality continue selling arms to Iran (see January 7, 1986 and January 17, 1986).
North Korea ratifies the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is aimed at stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. The treaty binds North Korea, which builds another nuclear reactor in the mid-1980s, to put stronger safeguards in place, installing cameras and allowing permanent access to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors at all its facilities. However, the North Koreans will drag their feet and not meet deadlines for implementing safeguards until the early 1990s, citing the presence of US nuclear missiles in South Korea. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 246]
Assistant Undersecretary of Defence Michael Pillsbury flies to the Afghan frontier to review training facilities used by two Afghan warlords, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. Although Pillsbury is not involved in the day-to-day running of the Soviet-Afghan War, he chairs an interagency White House group that sets US policy on its support for anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan. During the meetings, Pillsbury asks the two rebel commanders, both noted for their close relationship with Arab volunteers fighting in the war, about how effective the Arabs are and whether the US should allocate resources to them directly. However, both commanders reply that they do not want aid or supplies to be diverted to the Arabs, they want everything they can get for themselves. [Coll, 2008, pp. 286-287] Despite this, CIA Director William Casey comes to an agreement with the Pakistani ISI to boost Arab participation in the war (see 1985-1986), and a group of Arabs led by Osama bin Laden will establish a camp independent of the Afghan leaders later in the year (see Late 1986).
Salem and Osama bin Laden hold a series of meetings with South African arms dealers to discuss supplies for the anti-Soviet mujaheddin in Afghanistan. One meeting is held at the Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar, Pakistan, and a person who attends this meeting will later discuss it with a lawyer acting for victims of the 9/11 attacks. The person’s name is not known. The meeting is attended by Osama bin Laden, Afghan commander Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, and two South African officers. The attendees discuss weapons and training. There are other meetings in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, between South African suppliers and Salem bin Laden, Osama’s older brother. Arms purchases are also discussed there. Reportedly, some of the financing for the weapons comes from the Saudi government. [Coll, 2008, pp. 287]
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, the National Security Council staffer who facilitates the secret Iran arms deals, helps divert $12 million in money from those arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras. The deal is documented in a memorandum located in North’s desk by investigators for Attorney General Edwin Meese (see November 21-25, 1986). Meese will inform President Reagan and top White House officials of the memo, but many of the cabinet members and top officials he will inform already know of the transaction. [United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 8/4/1993] National Security Adviser John Poindexter, the recipient of the memo, will later testify that President Reagan never saw the memo. Reagan will deny knowing anything about the diversion of arms profits to the Contras until November 1986 (see November 10, 1986 and After and November 13, 1986). [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Five hundred and eight TOW anti-tank missiles, and 240 spare parts for Hawk anti-aircraft missiles, are shipped to Israel for transfer to Iran. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, the NSC staffer running the Iran-Contra arms deals, informs National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane that money from the sales of arms to Iran is being diverted to the Nicaraguan Contras (see April 4, 1986). [PBS, 2000] North informed Israeli officials of the diversion five months before (see December 6, 1985).
Unaware of the White House machinations with Iran and the Nicaraguan Contras (see 1984, May 1984, October 10, 1984, November 19, 1985, December 6, 1985, Mid-1980s, April 4, 1986, May 29, 1986, and June 11, 1986), Congress approves a $100 million appropriation for military and non-arms aid to the Contras. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Osama and Salem bin Laden purchase anti-aircraft missiles for Arab volunteers fighting in Afghanistan in a deal concluded at the Dorchester Hotel in London. The transaction results from a request by Osama that Salem help him with two purchases, of the anti-aircraft missiles and of equipment to refill ammunition shells for AK-47 assault rifles.
Middleman - Salem attempted to obtain the missiles from the Pentagon, but was rebuffed (see (Early-Mid 1986)), and brought a German acquaintance named Thomas Dietrich in to help him complete the deal. It is difficult to arrange as, even though the bin Ladens are backed by the Saudi government, they do not have clearance to buy the missiles from Western authorities. Dietrich has contacts at the arms manufacturer Heckler & Koch and also gets an arms salesman to meet Salem and Osama in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. However, the salesman tells Osama that refilling the ammunition makes no sense and it would be simpler to just purchase it on the international market. For the missiles, Osama, Salem, Dietrich and Dietrich’s contacts meet two or three times at the Dorchester Hotel over a period of six to eight weeks. Dietrich will later learn that his contacts help arrange the purchase of Soviet SA-7 missiles in South America, as well as the ammunition.
Paid in Oil - However, there is a problem with the deal because the bin Ladens want to pay for the weapons not with cash, but with oil, “just a tanker offshore,” according to Dietrich. This causes trouble as “a company like Heckler & Koch, they don’t want oil, they want money.” Dietrich is not aware of the source of funding for the purchases, but author Steve Coll will note, “The best available evidence suggests it probably came at least in part from the Saudi government,” because the bin Ladens are “working in concert with official Saudi policy” and “seem to fit inside a larger pattern.” This is a reference to the Al Yamamah arms deal (see Late 1985). [Coll, 2008, pp. 284-288]
President Reagan signs legislation that bans arms sales to nations that support terrorism (such as Iran), and strengthens US anti-terrorism measures. [PBS, 2000] The law, entitled the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986 [White House, 8/27/1986] , does not halt the Reagan administration’s sales of arms and weapons to Iran; the arms sales go forward in spite of the law explicitly prohibiting them (see September 19, 1986, Early October-November, 1986, October 5, 1986, Early November, 1986, and November 3, 1986).
Mujaheddin preparing to fire a stinger missile. [Source: National Geographic]Worried that the Soviets are winning the war in Afghanistan, the US decides to train and arm the mujaheddin with Stinger missiles. The Soviets are forced to stop using the attack helicopters that were being used to devastating effect. Some claim the Stingers turn the tide of the war and lead directly to Soviet withdrawal. Now the mujaheddin are better trained and armed than ever before. [Coll, 2004, pp. 11, 149-51; Clarke, 2004, pp. 48-50] The British Special Air Service (SAS) train the mujaheddin in how to use the Stingers (see 1980-1989).
On the same day that CIA worker Eugene Hasenfus survives the destruction of his transport plane over Nicaragua (see October 5, 1986), Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, the National Security Council staffer who is heavily involved in the secret arming of the Nicaraguan Contras, is on his way to Frankfurt, Germany. North is slated to negotiate with representatives of the Iranian government. But news of Hasenfus’s capture forces North to cut short the negotiations and fly back to Washington for damage control. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 65]
Eugene Hasenfus sits among the weapons captured from his downed cargo plane. His Sandinista captors surround him. [Source: Nancy McGirr / Reuters / Corbis]A CIA C-123 transport plane (see November 19, 1985) is shot down in southern Nicaragua by a Sandinista soldier wielding a surface-to-air missile. The transport plane left an airfield in El Salvador with arms and other supplies intended for the Nicaraguan Contras. Three crew members—US pilots William Cooper and Wallace Sawyer, Jr, and an unidentified Latin American—die in the crash, but one, a “cargo kicker” named Eugene Hasenfus, ignores CIA orders and parachutes to safety—and capture by the Sandinistas. Hasenfus is a construction worker from Wisconsin who signed on to do temporary work with CIA contractors, and has no intention of “going down with the plane.” The next day, newspapers around the world run stories with Hasenfus’s face peering out from their front pages.
Reveals US's Arming of Contras - The Hasenfus shoot-down will break the news of the Reagan administration’s secret arming of the Contras in their attempt to bring down the democratically elected Socialist government of Nicaragua. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 64]
Damage Control - Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see Late 1985 and After) is the designated US spokesman on the Hasenfus shootdown. Abrams coordinates with his fellow Contra supporters, the NSC’s Oliver North and the CIA’s Alan Fiers, and with the US Ambassador to El Salvador, Edwin Corr, on how to handle the situation. Between the three, they coordinate a denial from the Salvadoran military about any Salvadoran or US involvement in the Hasenfus flight. As for themselves, they agree not to flatly lie about anything, because they cannot be sure of what Hasenfus will say, but they agree to remain as quiet as possible and hope the media sensation surrounding Hasenfus dies down with little long-term effect. According to notes taken by Corr during one meeting, everyone knows that a leak—“eventually someone in USG [the US government] will finally acknowledge some ‘winking.’ Salv role now more public”—is inevitable. It is eventually decided that the Contras themselves will take all responsibility for the flight. Fiers worries that the flight will be connected to previous humanitarian aid supplied to the Contras (see October 1985). They also confirm that Felix Rodriguez, North’s liaison to the Contras in Central America (see Mid-September 1985), is in Miami, hiding from the press. Hasenfus will later acknowledge making at least ten supply flights into Nicaragua (see October 9, 1986). [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]
The Reagan administration, reeling from the revelation that it has illegally armed the Nicaraguan Contras (see October 5, 1986), attempts to conceal its workings in Nicaragua. In a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, joined by CIA officials, assures committee members that the US government is not involved in supplying the Contras. According to the witnesses, the CIA claims it had nothing to do with Eugene Hasenfus, the cargo handler who survived the recent downing of a CIA transport plane and in doing so revealed the existence of the illegal arms deals. Supposedly, the only involvement by US officials was to offer public encouragement. The committee Democrats do not believe anything Abrams or the CIA officials say, but at least one committee member, Dick Cheney (R-WY) offers his support. According to the summary written by the administration staffer taking notes that day, “Mr. Cheney said he found our ignorance credible.” There is far more going on than the committee Democrats know—or than Cheney will tell them. For years, Cheney has been urging Congress to authorize aid to the Contras, but the majority Democrats have been inconsistent in their support. As authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later characterize the situation, Abrams, a self-described former socialist turned enthusiastic neoconservative, and others in the administration, such as National Security Council staffer Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, have now taken matters into their own hands (see October 5, 1986), in direct violation of US law. Committee Democrats are as yet unaware that Reagan officials such as North have also been negotiating arms-for-hostages deals with Iran, in a covert three-way deal involving Iran, the US, and the Contras (see November 3, 1986). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 65]
The Reagan administration, led by CIA Director William Casey and National Security Adviser John Poindexter (Robert McFarlane’s replacement), decides to downplay and deny any arms-for-hostages deals as reported in the world press (see November 3, 1986), while maintaining the secret negotiations with Iran. President Reagan accepts their advice. In notes Reagan takes during a clandestine meeting about the situation, he writes, “Must say something because I’m being held out to dry.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 65-66]
Ronald Reagan speaks to the nation. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]President Reagan addresses the nation on the Iran-Contra issue (see October 5, 1986 and November 3, 1986). “I know you’ve been reading, seeing, and hearing a lot of stories the past several days attributed to Danish sailors (see Early November, 1986), unnamed observers at Italian ports and Spanish harbors, and especially unnamed government officials of my administration,” he says. “Well, now you’re going to hear the facts from a White House source, and you know my name.” But despite his direct introduction, Reagan presents the same half-truths, denials, and outright lies that his officials have been providing to Congress and the press (see Mid-October, 1986 and November 10, 1986 and After).
'Honorable' Involvement - He admits to an 18-month “secret diplomatic initiative” with Iran, for several “honorable” reasons: to renew relations with that nation, to bring an end to the Iran-Iraq war, to eliminate Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, and to effect the release of the US hostages being imprisoned by Hezbollah. He calls the press reports “rumors,” and says, “[L]et’s get to the facts.”
Falsehoods Presented as Facts - The US has not swapped weapons to Iran for hostages, Reagan asserts. However, evidence suggests otherwise (see January 28, 1981, 1983, 1985, May 1985, June 11, 1985, July 3, 1985, July 8, 1985, August 6, 1985, September 15, 1985, December 6, 1985, December 12, 1985, Mid-1980s, January 7, 1986, January 17, 1986, Late May, 1986, September 19, 1986, and Early October-November, 1986). Reagan also claims the US has not “trafficked with terrorists,” although Iran is listed as a sponsor of terrorism by the State Department. It “has not swapped boatloads or planeloads of American weapons for the return of American hostages. And we will not.” Reports of Danish and Spanish vessels carrying secret arms shipments, of Italian ports employed to facilitate arms transfers, and of the US sending spare parts and weapons for Iranian combat aircraft, all are “quite exciting, but… not one of them is true.” Reagan does admit to his authorization of “the transfer of small amounts of defensive weapons and spare parts for defensive systems to Iran,” merely as a gesture of goodwill. “These modest deliveries, taken together, could easily fit into a single cargo plane,” he says. (In reality, the US has already sent over 1,000 missiles to Iran over the course of a number of shipments.) He says the US made it clear to Iran that for any dialogue to continue, it must immediately cease its support of Hezbollah and other terrorist groups, and to facilitate the release of US hostages held by that group in Lebanon. Evidence exists, Reagan says, of the Iranians ramping down their support of terrorism. And some hostages have already been freed, a true statement, though he fails to mention that others have been taken.
Admission of May Meeting - Reagan admits that former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane met with Iranian officials (see Late May, 1986). According to Reagan, McFarlane went to Iraq “to open a dialog, making stark and clear our basic objectives and disagreements.” He presents no further information about the meeting, except that the talks were “civil” and “American personnel were not mistreated.”
Exposure Risks Undermining Efforts to Facilitate Peace - The public disclosure of these “honorable” negotiations has put the entire US efforts to broker peace between Iran and Iraq in jeopardy, he says. In negotiations such as these, there is “a basic requirement for discretion and for a sensitivity to the situation in the nation we were attempting to engage.”
Reagan Says Congress Not Lied to - Reagan says that there is no truth to the stories that his officials ever lied to members of Congress about the Iranian negotiations (see Mid-October, 1986). The members of Congress who needed to know about the negotiations were informed, as were the “appropriate Cabinet officers” and others “with a strict need to know.” Since the story has now broken, “the relevant committees of Congress are being, and will be, fully informed.” [Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, 11/13/1986; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 65-66]
Attorney General Edwin Meese. [Source: Doug Mills / Bettman / Corbis]Attorney General Edwin Meese undertakes an internal fact-finding investigation focused on President Reagan’s involvement in the November 1985 sale of Hawk missiles to Iran (see 1985). Meese is apparently not interested in finding facts, because he refuses a request to assist from the FBI, and takes no notes during his interviews of administration officials.
'Shredding Party' - Additionally, during his investigation, National Security Council documents are altered or destroyed, including a presidential finding from December 1985 that retroactively authorized US missile sales to Iran (see November 24-25, 1985 and December 5, 1985); National Security Adviser John Poindexter will later admit to destroying this document. Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North holds what is later called a “shredding party,” destroying thousands of documents that would likely implicate White House officials in a criminal conspiracy to break the law (see November 21-23, 1986). The Iran-Contra investigative committee will later fault Meese for departing from “standard investigative techniques” during his investigation.
Document Linking Iran Arms Sales, Contra Supplies Survives - Meese also finds a potentially explosive document in the desk of North, the National Security Council staffer who managed the Iran arms deals. The document, an undated memorandum apparently from April 1986, outlined “a planned diversion of $12 million in proceeds from the Iran arms sales to the Nicaraguan contras” (see April 4, 1986). Meese’s investigation now diverges onto two tracks, one a continuation of the Hawk shipments, and the second an investigation into who knew about, and who had approved, the diversion.
Reagan Courting Impeachment? - Meese confirms from North that the $12 million had indeed been given to the Contras, and informs Reagan, Chief of Staff Donald Regan, and Vice President Bush. Reagan is reportedly shocked by the revelation, in part because he knows he could face impeachment for violating the Boland Amendment (see October 10, 1984). Meese informs the cabinet the next day. Apparently Meese does not want to know if any senior White House officials knew of the diversion, because he does not ask them about it. When Poindexter informs Meese that before December 1985, his predecessor Robert McFarlane handled the Iran arms sales “all alone” with “no documentation,” Meese accepts his word. Several White House officials present at the meeting—Reagan, Regan, Bush, Poindexter, Secretary of State George Shultz, and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger—all know that Poindexter is lying, but none correct him. After the meeting, Shultz tells his aide, Charles Hill: “They may lay all this off on Bud [McFarlane].… They [are] rearranging the record.” Investigative counsel Lawrence Walsh will later write: “The Select Committees viewed this as an isolated error. It was not.”
'Case for Deniability' for Reagan - In Walsh’s opinion, Meese is not conducting an investigation at all, but instead is “building a case of deniability for his client-in-fact, President Reagan.” Walsh will characterize Meese’s actions as “an effort to obstruct a congressional inquiry.” In 2006, authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will write, “The two strands of an illegal policy came together in that memo.” The authors refer to the US arms sales to Iran and the diversion of the profits from those sales to the Contras. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 8/4/1993; PBS, 2000; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 66]
Entity Tags: Charles Hill, Edwin Meese, Caspar Weinberger, Ronald Reagan, Robert C. McFarlane, Oliver North, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George Herbert Walker Bush, George Shultz, Jake Bernstein, Contras, Donald Regan, Lou Dubose, Lawrence E. Walsh, John Poindexter
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
Attorney General Edwin Meese announces the results of his internal “investigation” of US arms sales to Iran (see November 21-25, 1986). In the conference, Meese announces that President Reagan did not learn of the US shipments of Hawk anti-aircraft missiles (see 1985, November 24-25, 1985, and August 4, 1986) until February 1986. Investigators for Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh will later conclude that Meese lied; not only did Meese never ask Reagan about his knowledge of the Hawk shipments, he ignored evidence and testimony that proved Reagan did indeed know of the shipments, such as a statement from Secretary of State George Shultz that Reagan had told him that he had known of the Hawk shipments in advance. But Meese will also, reluctantly, admit that the US had illegally diverted between $10 million and $30 million in funds from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see April 4, 1986). National Security Adviser John Poindexter immediately resigns, and Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North is fired from the National Security Council staff. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 8/4/1993; PBS, 2000]
Barbara Walters, in a 1988 photo. [Source: Raul Vega / Corbis]ABC News reporter Barbara Walters covertly provides the White House with documents from Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar, according to a Wall Street Journal article published in March 1987. The documents, prepared by Walters and given to the White House at Ghorbanifar’s request, report that Ghorbanifar believed, correctly, that National Security Council staffer Oliver North diverted profits from the sale of arms to Iran to Nicaragua’s Contra insurgents (see April 4, 1986). Walters will provide the White House with further documents on the arms sales in January 1987. The documents are given to Walters either just before or just after her interviews with Ghorbanifar and Saudi businessman and arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi for the ABC News program 20/20. The documents will eventually be turned over to the Tower Commission (see February 26, 1987). The White House will claim that the documents contain little more than reiterations of Ghorbanifar’s comments to Walters in the interview. ABC News will say that Walters’s actions—essentially acting as an information peddler or middleman between the Arab arms merchants and the US government—are “in violation of a literal interpretation of news policy.… ABC policy expressly limits journalists cooperating with government agencies unless threats to human lives are involved.… Ms. Walters believed that to be the case.” ABC does not explain why Walters believes “threats to human lives” were involved; this assertion also contradicts ABC’s assertions that the documents contained little more that what was said in the interview. [New York Times, 3/17/1987; Nation, 3/28/1987]
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).
Around this time, the network set up by Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan to purchase components for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons begins to sell the technology and know-how it has acquired to other nations, including Iran, North Korea, and Libya. A US analyst predicts this will happen (see Mid-1989), but neither the US nor its allies takes action against the network for some time. [Guardian, 10/13/2007]
West German intelligence discovers Pakistan has violated German law by buying equipment for purifying and storing tritium gas, apparently as a part of its nuclear weapons program. Tritium is useful for nuclear weapons because, when inserted in a warhead, it provides additional neutrons at the moment of fission, meaning there is a bigger explosion. [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]
The US government conducts tests for the purpose of establishing methods for deploying biological weapons from submarines. [Associated Press, 7/1/2003]
Afghan Arab Essam al Ridi purchases more equipment in the US for the mujaheddin fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan. He had previously worked as a buyer for the mujaheddin, traveling the world to acquire items for the anti-Soviet jihad (see Early 1983-Late 1984). However, in 1985 he fell out with the others over Osama bin Laden’s influence in the movement, which he thought was excessive, and returned to the US to work as a flight instructor. Al Ridi buys eleven pairs of night vision goggles and gives them to Wadih El-Hage, who will later become Osama bin Laden’s personal secretary (see October 1995). El-Hage takes them to Pakistan for use in his passenger luggage. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001] Al Ridi will later purchase assassination rifles for the fighters linked to bin Laden, apparently with the CIA’s knowledge, but it is unclear whether the CIA knows about this transaction (see Early 1989).
Soon after people involved in the A. Q. Khan nuclear proliferation ring start to meet with Iranian representatives (see 1987 and 1987), Israeli intelligence becomes aware of these contacts. Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will comment that the Israeli intelligence community studies “the Pakistan-Iran nuclear pact since its inception in 1987.” One of the key elements in the Israeli effort is Unit 8200, an intelligence component of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), which will crack the encryption used in communications between Pakistan and Iran at some point in the next few years. The intercepts suggest that Pakistan may have given the Iranians what Levy and Scott-Clark will call “a nuclear weapons factory.” Future IDF chief Moshe Ya’alon will say of the period in the mid-90s: “Pakistan was broke. Khan was flying around the world alongside his military escort. Our people overheard him dealing and many of these deals came back to Iran, to whom he was offering KRL stock.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 256]
The Foundation for Economic Trends sues the US Department of Defense and forces it to acknowledge the existence of its chemical and biological weapons programs. The Pentagon admits that it is operating 127 chemical and biological warfare research sites in the US. Science magazine reports that the suit reveals that the “DoD is applying recombinant DNA techniques in research and the production of a range of pathogens and toxins including botulism, anthrax and yellow fever.” [Science Magazine, 2/27/1987]
A. Q. Khan. [Source: CBC]A. Q. Khan, father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, tells an Indian reporter that the program has been successful (see 1987). “What the CIA has been saying about our possessing the bomb is correct,” he says, adding, “They told us Pakistan could never produce the bomb and they doubted my capabilities, but they now know we have it.” He says that Pakistan does not want to use the bomb, but “if driven to the wall there will be no option left.” The comments are made during a major Indian army exercise known as Brass Tacks that Pakistanis consider a serious threat, as it is close to the Pakistani border. In fact, at one point the Indian commanding general is reported to consider actually attacking Pakistan—an attack that would be a sure success given India’s conventional superiority. According to reporter Seymour Hersh, the purpose of the interview is “to convey a not very subtle message to the Indians: any attempt to dismember Pakistan would be countered with the bomb.” This interview is an embarrassment to the US government, which aided Pakistan during the Soviet-Afghan War, but has repeatedly claimed Pakistan does not have nuclear weapons (see August 1985-October 1990). Khan retracts his remarks a few days later, saying he was tricked by the reporter. [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]
The CIA sets a trap to catch operatives connected to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program who are buying components in the US, but “two high-ranking US officials extremely close to the White House” tip off Pakistan and only a minor player is caught. Initially, a Pakistani businessman contacts a Pennsylvania company called Carpenter Steel and asks to buy a specific type of metal used only in constructing centrifuges to enrich uranium. The Department of Energy learns of the contact and informs Richard Barlow, a CIA analyst focused on Pakistan’s nuclear program. Barlow realizes that both the businessman, Arshad Pervez, and his handler, Inam ul-Haq, a retired brigadier in the Pakistani army, are well-known Pakistan government operatives. Barlow and US Customs set up a sting at a bugged hotel room, but Pervez arrives without ul-Haq, the main target. Barlow then finds that the officials have tipped off Pakistan, even though the information about the operation was closely held (see Mid-1986 and After). Barlow finds cables implicating the two high-ranking officials in the tip-off: Robert Peck, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State of Near East Affairs, and another official at the under secretary level. A trail of paperwork definitively proves sabotage within the State Department and the tip-off is found “buried within the lawyerly language of a demarche to Islamabad, subtly phrased so as to protect those who had sent it.” Barlow will later comment: “The CIA went mad. These were criminal offenses.” However, the State Department argues an inquiry would disclose state secrets and the investigation is abandoned, just before President Ronald Reagan again certifies that “Pakistan does not possess a nuclear explosive device.” There will later be a stormy congressional hearing about the affair (see July 1987 or Shortly After). [New Yorker, 3/29/1993; Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 169; Guardian, 10/13/2007] Ul-Haq will later be arrested in Germany and extradited to the US, but he will only serve a very short sentence. His nuclear transactions in the US will also be linked to the criminal BCCI bank (see July 11, 1991).
Longtime US Army intelligence officer Tom Golden, who is currently acting as a watchdog within the ultra-secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program (see January 1984), notifies the Army Inspector General’s Office of several instances of waste, fraud, and abuse within the highly classified COG project. Golden additionally speaks in confidence about his findings to the chief of the inspector general’s intelligence oversight division, Colonel Ned Bacheldor. Golden tells the Inspector General’s Office that contracts are being awarded based on personal relationships among military officials and company employees. He says government personnel have rotating careers at contracted companies and some are being hired at excessive rates for limited work. Golden says the multi-billion dollar communication system at the heart of the COG program does not function properly and is costing exorbitant amounts of money to fix, and alleges the problems are being covered up by military officials (see Late 1985 and December 1990). Golden reports a high-ranking officer within the COG program, Brigadier General Eugene Renzi, who was awarded a multimillion-dollar no-bid contract to the BETAC Corporation, which employed the general’s son. US News and World Report describes BETAC as a “consulting firm composed of former intelligence and communications specialists from the Pentagon.” Golden also notes the BETAC contract included $400-a-day consultant jobs for several COG officials, including one of Renzi’s aides. As a result of Golden’s report, two contracts will be found to be illegal and will be subsequently canceled. Renzi will also be reprimanded. The Army assures Golden his name will remain confidential, but his status as a whistleblower will be leaked weeks later by Bacheldor, who will soon leave the Inspector General’s Office to join the COG program. Golden will soon become the target of a retaliatory smear campaign led by members of the secret project, including Renzi and Bacheldor (see After July 1987). [Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/16/1990; Knight Ridder, 12/18/1990; CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]
The US Congress suspends aid to Pakistan for six weeks, due to arguments related to the arrest of a Pakistani agent attempting to buy material for its nuclear weapons program (see Before July 1987 and July 1987 or Shortly After). Congress suspects that Pakistan has a nuclear weapons program, but the administration denies this, as do the Pakistanis, even though they are both well aware that the program is a reality. The suspension is symbolic, as it only lasts six weeks and does not affect aid that has already been agreed upon, but not yet provided. [New York Times, 9/30/1987; New Yorker, 3/29/1993]
Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan supplies North Korea with some basic technology for its nuclear program. The equipment is to be used for enriching uranium, but the Koreans are unable to make full use of the technology as they do not have the technical expertise to master the process alone. This causes co-operation between Pakistan and North Korea on nuclear matters to stall, until it is revived some years later (see Late 1990 or After). [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 220]
Pakistan test fires two ballistic missiles that are capable of carrying nuclear weapons. The missiles are fired in the Thar Desert on the border with India, and apparently have a range of between 50 and 200 miles, meaning that Pakistan could hit Delhi and Mumbai. They were developed by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) using Chinese designs, and are given the name Hatf 1 and 2 (Hatf means “lethal” in Arabic, and is the name the prophet Muhammad gave his sword) by PAEC chairman Munir Khan. The test will be discovered by the US Defense Intelligence Agency, and soon reported in the Western press. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 198, 498]
Dr. Stephen Bryen, a neoconservative serving in the Defense Department who dodged espionage charges a decade before (see March 1978 and April 1979), helps Israel obtain secret US weapons information. Israel is in the final stages of building its “Arrow” anti-ballistic missile. It does not have “klystrons,” small microwave amplifiers needed for the missile’s target acquisition system to function. Klystrons are among the most secret of American weapons research products. Bryen is the director of the Pentagon’s Defense Technology Security Administration (DTSA), which itself is contained within the Pentagon’s Office of International Security Policy, headed by fellow neoconservative Richard Perle. Bryen attempts to secure the authority to allow four klystrons to be exported to Israel via Varian Associates, a private defense manufacturing firm, without consulting with tech transfer officials from the Army, the Air Force, or other agencies. Navy tech transfer official Richard Levine refuses the request, and holds a meeting with officials from the above agencies. All the officials agree that the transfer should not be approved. Bryen responds by suggesting that he go back to the Israelis to ask why they needed the klystrons. After the Israelis provide what one Defense Department official later calls “a little bullsh_t answer,” Bryen tells the participants that he had received an acceptable response. Varien is granted a license, he says, and the klystrons will be sent to Israel. The license is withdrawn after Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Richard Armitage, objects to Bryen’s maneuvering. Two senior Defense Department officials later say that the attempt to provide Israel with classified weapons materials is “standard operating procedure” for Bryen, who has often ignored Defense and State Department refusals to provide sensitive information and materials to Israel. Later in the year, Bryen will leave the government and work as a consultant for a number of defense technology firms. [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]
Crew members monitor radar screens in the combat information center aboard the Vincennes. This photo was taken by a crew member in January 1988. [Source: Public domain]The USS Vincennes, a state-of-the-art Aegis guided missile cruiser patrolling the Strait of Hormuz in an effort to keep oil tankers safe from Iranian and Iraqi depredations, detects an Iranian aircraft apparently closing in on its position. The captain and crew of the Vincennes are aware of previous attacks on US ships and Kuwaiti oil tankers by Iranian gunboats, and know of the attack a year before on the USS Stark by an Iraqi fighter (see May 17, 1987 and After). Just a half-hour before, the Vincennes itself had fired on Iranian gunboats. Captain Will Rogers III has seven minutes to decide what to do about the aircraft, which he and his radar operators believe is most likely an Iranian F-14. Although the first transmission from the Iranian aircraft identifies itself as “commair”—commercial aircraft—the radio operator forgets to reset his receiver, and subsequently receives transmissions from Iranian military aircraft which he mistakenly attributes to the incoming aircraft. When the aircraft is nine miles away, Rogers fires two SM-2 surface-to-air missiles at the aircraft. At least one missile hits the plane, which is not a military fighter, but Iran Air Flight 655, a civilian Boeing 747 carrying 290 passengers. The missile slices the airliner in half; all 290 passengers, including 66 children, die. Though the international community is outraged, the White House and the Pentagon defend the Vincennes’s action. The UN Security Council will not condemn the attack, and President Reagan volunteers to pay compensation to the families. The Navy is embarrassed that in the first real military action from one of its new Aegis cruisers, it had shot down an unarmed civilian aircraft. An investigation proves that the aircraft had been well within a commercially designated flight path, and was not descending in a threatening manner, as was initially claimed by both Vincennes personnel and Pentagon officials. No disciplinary actions against Rogers or any of his crew are ever taken. During the 1988 presidential campaign, Vice President George H. W. Bush will frequently say of the incident: “I will never apologize for the United States of America. I don’t care what the facts are.” [New York Times, 11/9/1988; TomDispatch (.com), 5/3/2007; History (.com), 2008]
A. Q. Khan (right) and Benazir Bhutto (center). [Source: CBC] (click image to enlarge)After becoming prime minister of Pakistan following the victory of the Pakistan People’s Party in elections, Benazir Bhutto does not play a large role in Pakistan’s nuclear policy, according to US analysts. It is unclear whether she chooses not to do so, or is cut out of it by the military. In her absence the two senior figures overseeing the program are President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and army head General Aslam Beg. [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]
Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto refuses to visit North Korea during her first term in office. Bhutto will later say that she is pressured to go by her party, the Pakistan People’s Party, and there may be some link to co-operation on the two countries’ nuclear programs (see Late 1980s). Bhutto resists the pressure for fear it will generate adverse publicity in Western countries. However, Bhutto will go to North Korea in her second term in order to facilitate nuclear proliferation (see December 29, 1993 and Shortly After). [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 244]
Gordon Oehler, the US national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction, begins to track missile deals between Pakistan and China. Pakistan needs missiles from China to use as a delivery mechanism for nuclear warheads it is producing at home. Oehler begins this work shortly after being appointed to the position. He had previously worked in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, as the superior of Richard Barlow, another US intelligence official interested in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program (see January 1989 and After). [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 257] Oehler’s activities will lead to sanctions against China two years later (see June 1991).
The US government sends 25 high-powered sniper rifles to a group of fighters in Afghanistan that includes bin Laden. The armor-piercing weapons have range-finding equipment and night-vision scopes. In an early 2001 US court trial, Essam al Ridi, a pilot for bin Laden in the early 1990s (see Early 1993), will recall that he helped ship the weapons to Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden’s mentor. Azzam and bin Laden are close to each other at this time, and al Ridi will later testify he sometimes saw the two of them together. The president of the US company that made the rifles will later state that the rifles “were picked up by US government trucks, shipped to US government bases, and shipped to those Afghan freedom fighters.” The rifles are considered ideal for assassination. [Associated Press, 10/16/2001] The order, worth about $150,000 at the time, is a significant one for the manufacturer, accounting for 15-25% of its annual turnover on the guns. Their export would usually require an end user certificate from the US Department of State, but the circumstances of the sale are unknown, as al Ridi is not asked how he manages to purchase such a large number of rifles. [New York Times, 10/7/2001; Sunday Tribune, 10/15/2001] The CIA will deny being involved in the transfer. [Central Intelligence Agency, 3/7/2002] However, al Ridi will say that the CIA was aware that bin Laden ended up with some of the guns. [New York Times, 6/3/2002] This shipment is especially significant because there was a protracted debate within the Reagan administration about sending sniper rifles to Afghanistan due to worries that it could violate a US law against assassinations and put US officials in legal jeopardy. In the end, the US gave less than 100 of such rifles without night-vision scopes to the government of Pakistan to pass on to mujaheddin, but the ones sent to Azzam had night-vision scopes. The timing is also significant since the Soviet Union agreed to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in 1988 and complete the pull out in February 1989, around when these rifles are sent. The rifles given to Pakistan appear to have arrived before 1987. [Washington Post, 7/20/1992]
Richard Barlow, an analyst previously forced out of the State Department and CIA for coming to the politically unacceptable conclusion that Pakistan has a nuclear weapons program (see 1981-1982 and August 1987-1988), is hired by the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon to become its first weapons of mass destruction intelligence analyst. Shortly after arriving, Barlow again builds up “a stack of evidence” about Pakistan’s WMD program, including intelligence that the Pakistan army was experimenting with a delivery system for its nuclear bomb, using US-provided technology. Barlow concludes, “Our side was at it again.” [Guardian, 10/13/2007] In the summer of 1989, Barlow is involved in investigating four criminal cases involving senior officers of the Pakistani Army who had attempted to make illegal purchases in the US or abroad of American-made nuclear-related materials, including highly enriched uranium. One of the cases involves evidence showing that Pakistan is attempting to obtain dual-use items for its nuclear program by claiming that the materials are to be used for its F-16 fleet. [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]
Pakistan conducts a second test firing of its Hatf 1 and 2 missiles, which are able to carry a nuclear payload. This follows a first test in May of the previous year (see May 1988). The missiles are launched from mobile pads on Pakistan’s Merkan coast, which is towards the border with Iran. The tests will be revealed by General Aslam Beg, chief of army staff, in a speech to students at Pakistan’s National Defence College. Beg comments that the missiles are “extremely accurate” and can carry up to 500 kg. Beg also thanks Munir Khan of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission for his team’s work on their development, and indicates that Pakistan’s development of a tank is progressing. This is intended as a message to the US that Pakistan is becoming less and less reliant on it for purchases of military hardware. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 198, 498]
The US briefs Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on Pakistan’s nuclear program, and says it has decided to cut off aid to Pakistan in 1990, because US law does not permit aid to nuclear proliferators (see August 1985 and June 1989). However, current President George Bush and his predecessor Ronald Reagan falsely certified that Pakistan did not have nuclear weapons during the Soviet-Afghan war (see August 1985-October 1990 and 1987-1989). The initial briefing is provided by CIA Director William Webster and contains new information for Bhutto, who receives only limited information about her own country’s nuclear program (see After November 16, 1988). To dramatize the extent of American knowledge, Webster arranges for Bhutto to be shown a mockup of a Pakistani nuclear bomb. Mark Siegel, an associate of Bhutto, will later say she experienced feelings of disbelief: “The briefing was more detailed” than any information she had received from her own military and “showed that the military was doing it behind her back.” The next day, President George Bush tells her that in order to continue to receive US aid, she must assure the White House that her government will not take the final step of producing nuclear-bomb cores. Bush says he will still allow the sale of sixty more F-16 planes needed by to Pakistan, even though Pakistan has fitted such planes with nuclear weapons in the recent past, despite promising not to do so (see 1983-7). Despite this, the sale will not go through. [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]
Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1991. [Source: BBC]Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto tells a joint session of the US Congress: “[W]e do not possess nor do we intend to make a nuclear device. That is our policy.” The statement receives “thunderous cheers” from members of both houses. However, Bhutto has been aware of Pakistan’s nuclear program for some time (see After November 16, 1988) and recently received a detailed briefing on it from the CIA (see June 1989). [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]
Richard Barlow, a WMD analyst at the Pentagon, is commissioned to write an intelligence assessment for Defense Secretary Dick Cheney about Pakistan’s nuclear program. The report is apparently “stark,” indicating that the program is ongoing and Pakistan has configured US-made fighters to drop nuclear bombs, despite promising not to do so. Barlow also says that Pakistan is still trying to procure components and will start selling its technology to other nations (note: it is already doing so—see 1987). Barlow’s analysis is supported by a separate Defense Intelligence Agency study, which reaches the same conclusion. Barlow will later say, “Officials at the [Office of the Secretary of Defense] kept pressurizing me to change my conclusions.” When he refuses to do so, however, files start to go missing from his office and a secretary tells him a senior official has been intercepting his papers. In July, one of the Pentagon’s top salesmen criticizes him for trying to scupper a forthcoming deal to sell another 60 F-16s to Pakistan (see August-September 1989). Barlow refuses to change the report, but after he is fired he finds that it has been rewritten to say that continued US aid to Pakistan will ensure the country stops its WMD program. [New Yorker, 3/29/1993; Guardian, 10/13/2007]
Arthur Hughes. [Source: Middle East Institute]The US agrees to sell Pakistan 60 more F-16 fighter jets in a deal worth $1.5 billion. The US previously sold forty F-16s to Pakistan and Pentagon analyst Richard Barlow believes they were adapted to carry nuclear weapons, in conflict with a promise made by the Pakistanis (see 1983-7). Despite this, shortly before the sale goes through, the Pentagon falsely claims to Congress, “None of the F-16s Pakistan already owns or is about to purchase is configured for nuclear delivery.” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Arthur Hughes also tells Congress that the nuclear wiring has been removed from the planes and that to equip them to deliver nuclear bombs, “it first would be necessary to replace the entire wiring package of the aircraft.”
Testimony Known to Be False - However, this is contradicted by Pentagon analysis and the US intelligence community is well aware that the Pakistani air force has already practiced delivery of nuclear weapons by F-16s. [New Yorker, 3/29/1993; Guardian, 10/13/2007] Barlow will later say the US intelligence community was certain Pakistan had nuclear weapons (see 1987): “The evidence was unbelievable. I can’t go into it—but on a scale of 1 to 10, in terms of intelligence evidence, it was a 10 or 11. It doesn’t get any better than that.” Regarding the F-16 fighters, he will add: “All the top experts had looked at this question in detail for years, and it was a cold hard engineering question. There was no question about it—the jets could easily be made nuke-capable, and we knew that Pakistan had done just that.” [Raw Story, 4/30/2007] Barlow therefore urges that the testimony be corrected, but he is fired from his position two days later (see August 4, 1989). The US should not agree to the sale, as it has passed a law saying it will not sell such equipment to countries that obtain nuclear weapons, but President Reagan has repeatedly and falsely certified that Pakistan does not have a nuclear device, so the contract is signed. However, the deal will collapse the next year when President Bush fails to certify that Pakistan does not have a nuclear weapon (see October 1990). [New Yorker, 3/29/1993; Guardian, 10/13/2007]
Motivation Said to Be Profit - Given that the Soviet-Afghan War is over and there is therefore no need to be friendly with Pakistan to ensure it supports the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, Barlow believes that Hughes is lying not to support US national interests, but simply for the profits to be made by the planes’ manufacturer. “They sold out the world for an F-16 sale,” Barlow will comment. [Raw Story, 4/30/2007]
Tensions rise in India and Pakistan due to a crisis in Indian-held Kashmir, and the situation escalates to such a degree that strikes with nuclear weapons are considered. In January, Indian police open fire on pro-independence demonstrators in the province, killing fifty, which prompts the Pakistani government to step up support for pro-Pakistani militants operating there. There are also large protests and India blames Pakistan for the unrest, a charge which is partially correct and leads Indian authorities to try to suppress the protesters. India also moves offensive units to the Pakistan border, prompting the Pakistani army to mass on the other side. A US official will later say that the Pakistani military knew it could not hold out against the Indian army using conventional means: “The only way for the Pakistanis to deal with the Indians is to be able to take out New Delhi.… There’s no way that sending ten F-16s with conventional bombs is going to do it. Only the nukes could strike back.” Richard Kerr, a deputy director at the CIA, will later comment: “It was the most dangerous nuclear situation we have ever faced since I’ve been in the US government. It may be as close as we’ve come to a nuclear exchange. It was far more frightening than the Cuban missile crisis.” [New Yorker, 3/29/1993] The crisis is resolved by National Security Council member Robert Gates, who persuades the two sides to disengage (see May 1990).
Based on intelligence gathered about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, the US concludes that Pakistan has between six and ten nuclear weapons. Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker will later say that at this time Pakistan’s leadership is “fully prepared to use the weapons, if necessary, in a war against India.” There are heightened tensions between the two countries at this time due to unrest in Kashmir and Indian army manouevers (see January-May 1990 and May 1990). [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]
On the homeward journey from their Middle East trip (see August 5, 1990 and After), Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney hands General Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a copy of Powell’s proposal to retire the US Army’s tactical nuclear weapons stockpile. Powell states that the arsenal is expensive, difficult to maintain, inaccurate, and, in light of modern weaponry, virtually irrelevant. The proposal is heavily annotated by Cheney’s aide David Addington. Cheney and Addington adamantly oppose any such move to retire the tactical nuclear arsenal. “[N]ot one of my civilian advisers supports this,” Cheney tells Powell. Powell’s viewpoint will eventually prevail, but not until September 2002. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 101]
In a letter handed to Pakistani Foreign Minister Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, the US demands that Pakistan destroy the cores of its nuclear weapons, thus disabling the weapons. Pakistan does not do so. The US then imposes sanctions on Pakistan (see October 1990), such as cutting off US aid to it, due to the nuclear weapons program. However, it softens the blow by waiving some of the restrictions (see 1991-1992). [New Yorker, 3/29/1993] The US has known about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program for some time, but continued to support the Pakistanis during the Soviet-Afghan War (see August 1985-October 1990).
Pakistan sends a Stinger missile to North Korea. Pakistan obtained the Stinger from the US, which provided them to Pakistani-backed rebels during the Soviet-Afghan War in the 1980s (see September 1986). The missile is partly intended as a gift for the North Koreans—an incentive for the revival of co-operation between the two countries, which has been stalled for some time (see Late 1980s). In addition, the Stingers held by Pakistan are becoming useless, because their batteries are failing, and the Pakistanis hope that the North Koreans will be able to help them reverse engineer the batteries. The mission to North Korea is undertaken by ISI Director Javed Nasir at the behest of Pakistani army chief Mirza Aslam Beg and nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan, who will later become closely involved in co-operation with the North Koreans. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 220]
Despite several years of multi-million dollar investments, the high-tech communication system at the heart of the Continuity of Government program does not work properly. The system has been malfunctioning since it was first established. Officials from the National Program Office (NPO) faked the broken system’s first major test in 1985, successfully fooling the congressmen responsible for allocating funds for the project (see Late 1985). Five years later, federal agencies are still unable to “talk” to one another with the equipment. “It was like, ‘So what, we’ll catch up with it later,’” a former NPO official will tell CNN, “but later never came.” Sources familiar with the system say a lack of oversight has allowed problems within the Continuity of Government program to go unchecked and spiral out of control. [CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]
China begins to supply the M-11 missile, which is capable of carrying nuclear warheads, to Pakistan. However, the Chinese had apparently started supplying missile technology to the Pakistanis some time before this (see June 23, 1983 and 1989). The US has been tracking Pakistani-Chinese missile deals and the White House becomes aware of these transactions, but no action is taken. Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will comment on the rationale for the inaction, “Despite overwhelming evidence from satellite overheads, human intelligence, and reconnaissance aircraft, Washington held back from intervening, fearing an impasse at a time when the White House was trying to better relations with Beijing, with an eye to the rapidly expanding power of the Chinese consumer who, it was hoped, would be allowed to purchase imported US goods.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 257]
President George Bush allows Pakistan to buy US-made weapons from commercial companies, despite having invoked the Pressler amendment (see August 1985) the previous year due to the Pakistanis’ nuclear weapons program. The Pressler amendment provided for sanctions against Pakistan, such as the suspension of foreign aid, if the US president failed to certify Pakistan did not have a nuclear weapon, which President Bush did not do in 1990 (see October 1990). Journalist Seymour Hersh will later comment that this permission “nullif[ies] the impact of the law.” [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]
Early diagram of V-22 Osprey. [Source: US Navy]Defense Secretary Dick Cheney refuses to issue contracts for the trouble-plagued V-22 Osprey, a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) airplane designed to replace the Vietnam-era Sea Stallion helicopters. Cheney opposes the Osprey, but Congress has voted to appropriate funds for the program anyway. Cheney refuses to issue contracts, reviving the Nixon-era practice of “impounding” funds, refusing to spend money Congress has already appropriated. The practice of impoundment was made illegal by Congressional legislation in 1974; Cheney believes the anti-impoundment law to be illegal, and ignores it. Many look at Cheney’s opposition to the Osprey as an unusual example of fiscal restraint from Cheney, who is well known to favor most high-budget defense programs, but author and reporter Charlie Savage will cite the Osprey example as an instance of Cheney attempting to impose the executive branch’s will on the legislature. The Osprey will become operational in 2006. [Wired News, 7/2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 62]
One of the many air strikes launched against Iraqi targets during Operation Desert Storm. [Source: US Air Force]The US launches a massive air assault against Iraq in retaliation for that country’s invasion of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990). The air assault begins the day after a UN deadline for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait expires (see November 29, 1990). F-117 Stealth bombers hit Baghdad with an array of high-tech bombs and missiles; many of the explosions are televised live, or on briefly delayed feeds, on CNN, which launches virtually 24-hour coverage of the air strikes. In the first 48 hours of the war, 2,107 combat missions drop more than 5,000 tons of bombs on Baghdad alone, nearly twice the amount that incinerated Dresden in World War II.
'Thunder and Lightning of Desert Storm' - US Army General Norman Schwarzkopf, chief of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), announces the beginning of hostilities by transmitting the following: “Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of the United States Central Command, this morning at 0300, we launched Operation Desert Storm, an offensive campaign that will enforce the United Nation’s resolutions that Iraq must cease its rape and pillage of its weaker neighbor and withdraw its forces from Kuwait. My confidence in you is total. Our cause is just! Now you must be the thunder and lightning of Desert Storm. May God be with you, your loved ones at home, and our country.” [US Navy, 9/17/1997]
Initial Attacks Obliterate Iraqi Navy, Much of Air Force, Many Ground Installations - The attack begins with an assault of over 100 Tomahawk land attack missiles (TLAMs) launched from US naval vessels in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, and attack helicopter strikes on Iraqi radar installations near the Iraq-Saudi Arabian border. The assaults destroy much of Iraq’s air defense and command-and-control capabilities. The missile assault is quickly followed by fighter, bomber, and assault helicopter strikes which continue pounding at Iraqi government buildings, power stations, dams, military sites, radio and television stations, and several of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. The strikes essentially obliterate the Iraqi Navy, and drastically cripple the Iraqi Air Force. (Between 115 and 140 aircraft and crews of the Iraqi Air Force flees to Iran over the course of the war, a move that surprises US commanders, who expected the aircraft and their crews to attempt to flee to Jordan, not Iran. The Iranians will never give Iraq back its aircraft, and will not release Iraqi air crews for years to come.) A US Navy review later calls the combined Navy-Marine air campaign, conducted in concert with US Air Force strikes, “successful beyond the most optimistic expectations.” The Navy later reports that “allied air forces dropped over 88,500 tons of ordnance on the battlefield.” [US Navy, 9/17/1997; NationMaster, 12/23/2007] Iraqi anti-aircraft counterattacks are surprisingly effective, downing around 75 US and British aircraft in the first hours of attacks. The US media does not widely report these downings, nor does it give much attention to the dozens of pilots and air crew captured as POWs. [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
'The Mother of All Battles' - Five hours after the first attacks, Baghdad state radio broadcasts a voice identified as Saddam Hussein. Hussein tells his people that “The great duel, the mother of all battles has begun. The dawn of victory nears as this great showdown begins.” [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
US Embassy Helped Locate Targets for Air Strikes - Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the last American to leave Baghdad (see January 12, 1991), and his staff provided critical assistance to the US battle planners in choosing their initial targets. Over the months, Wilson and his staff developed a “hostage tracking system,” monitoring and recording the movements of the American hostages as they were transferred from site to site to be used as human shields in the event of a US strike (see August 4, 1990 and August 8, 1990). Wilson and his staff were able to identify some 55 sites that were being used around the country, presumably some of the most critical military and infrastructure sites in Iraq. Wilson gave that information to the Pentagon. He will later write, “I was gratified when several months later, on the first night of Desert Storm, long after the hostages had been released, many of those sites were ones hit by American bombs.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 141]
Entity Tags: US Department of the Navy, United Nations, US Department of the Marines, US Department of the Air Force, US Department of the Army, CNN, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Norman Schwarzkopf, Joseph C. Wilson, US Department of Defense, US Department of State, Saddam Hussein
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
A NASA satellite photo of King Khalid Military City. [Source: NASA / Public domain]Czech and French units stationed near the Iraq-Saudi border report seven detections of chemical weapons—nerve and blister agents—in the vicinities of Hafar al Batin and King Khalid Military City (KKMC) in Saudi Arabia. [Illnesses, 7/29/1998] (KKMC is more of a military base than a city, built by the US Army Corps of Engineers in the 1970s and 1980s to house US and Saudi troops. It is one of the central hubs of US air strikes into Iraq.) [NationMaster, 2005] None of the detections are reported as life-threatening, and none can be independently verified, though both the US Defense Department and CIA will later find the reports to be valid. [Illnesses, 7/29/1998; Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, 1/20/2008]
An ‘exo-atmospheric kill vehicle,’ or EKV, part of the ‘Brilliant Pebbles’ space-based missile defense system. [Source: Claremont Institute]In his State of the Union address, President Bush announces a drastic revision of the controversial Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or “Star Wars”) missile defense system (see March 23, 1983). The system, still in its research and development stages, will no longer attempt to protect the majority of the US population from nuclear assault. Now, Bush says, SDI will be retooled to “provid[e] protection against limited ballistic missile strikes—whatever their source.” The system, called Global Protection Against Limited Strikes (GPALS), will include some 1,000 space-based “Brilliant Pebbles” interceptors, 750 to 1,000 long-range ground-based interceptors at six sites, space-based and mobile sensors, and transportable ballistic missile defenses. [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008] The concept is based on an earlier proposal by nuclear weapons experts Edward Teller, Lowell Wood, and Gregory Canavan of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who came up with the idea of a “Smart Rocks” defense system based on thousands of small rocket-propelled canisters in Earth orbit, each capable of ramming an incoming ballistic missile and exploding it outside the lower atmosphere. The “Smart Rocks” concept was one component of the original SDI concept, but was retooled, upgraded, and renamed “Brilliant Pebbles” to be the main component of the program. It will never be deployed, and will be defunded entirely during the first year of the Clinton administration. [Claremont Institute, 12/24/2007]
US Defense Secretary Dick Cheney warns that the US will retaliate if Iraq uses chemical or biological weapons against US or coalition forces. Cheney may be implying the use of nuclear weapons. [PBS Frontline, 1/9/1996]
Iraqi forces launch four Scud missiles at the US/Saudi military base in King Khalid Military City. All four are reportedly destroyed by US Patriot anti-missile batteries. [NationMaster, 2005]
Demolished and disabled vehicles litter the ‘Highway of Death’ in the hours after Iraqi forces were slaughtered by US strikes. [Source: Public domain / US Department of Defense]Thousands of Iraqi soldiers retreating on two highways from Kuwait City, Kuwait, towards Basra, Iraq, are slaughtered by US forces on what is later called the “Highway of Death.” [PBS Frontline, 1/9/1996] The so-called “Battle of Rumaylah,” or as some call it, the “Battle of the Junkyard,” is not a battle in the classic sense, as the huge losses of Iraqi soldiers and vehicles are contrasted with the loss of a single American tank, lost when an Iraqi tank explodes too close to it. Only one US soldier is injured. In the two separate but connected US assaults that make up the battle, at least 600 Iraqi tanks, armored vehicles, and trucks are destroyed or disabled; estimates of Iraqi personnel losses vary widely, but the losses are well in the thousands. Iraqi, Kuwaiti, and Palestinian civilians, including children, are caught in the heavy US assault as well as innumerable Iraqi soldiers. (Some believe the Kuwaitis and Palestinians were being taken to Baghdad to be used as hostages.) Most of the bodies are buried within hours, making it impossible to ascertain the number of dead. During the US assault, US tanks, using sophisticated thermal-imaging targeting, have little trouble sighting and destroying Iraqi tanks before the Iraqi units are even aware that they are being fired upon. [Time, 3/18/1991; New Yorker, 5/22/2000; Newsweek, 5/29/2000]
Air Strikes - Initially, a force of retreating Iraqi armored units are bombed front and rear by US aircraft during the night of February 27-28, trapping the convoy between the centers of destruction. The remaining units are targets for later air strikes. Most of the vehicles—military tanks, trucks, and armored personnel carriers, as well as civilian cars and trucks—are destroyed.
Five-Hour Air, Armor Assault - The March 2 attack on the Iraqi Republican Guard “Hammurabi” tank division is ordered by Army General Barry McCaffrey (the general who commanded the already-famous “left hook” maneuver days before—see February 23, 1991 and After), in response to what McCaffrey says is an attack on his forces with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). The decision surprises some in the Allied command structure in Saudi Arabia and causes unease among civilian and military leaders in Washington, who worry about the public relations ramifications of an attack that comes days after a cease-fire was implemented (see February 28, 1991). McCaffrey himself later calls the attack “one of the most astounding scenes of destruction I have ever participated in.” The “Hammurabi” division is obliterated in the assault.
Criticism from Fellow Officers - Some senior US officers are not sure that McCaffrey’s unit, the 24th Mechanized Division, was in fact attacked; many senior US officers privately assert that McCaffrey’s five-hour assault was well out of proportion. (McCaffrey, later accused of war crimes by an anonymous but well-informed accuser, will be exonerated by an Army inquiry.) McCaffrey will assert that his troops were indeed attacked—an assertion backed by other field officers on the scene—and that he ordered the retaliation because had he not, his forces would have come under heavy attack by Iraqi armored units. Besides, McCaffrey will later say, the entire war was intended to be a one-sided affair: “We didn’t go up there looking for a fair fight with these people.” The whole war, one British commander said in earlier weeks, was “rather like a grouse shoot.” [New Yorker, 5/22/2000; Newsweek, 5/29/2000]
One critic is the commander of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Unit, Lieutenant General James Johnson, who will later say: “There was no need to be shooting at anybody. [The Iraqis] couldn’t surrender fast enough. The war was over.” Johnson, whose unit is deployed near McCaffrey’s, will add, “I saw no need to continue any further attacks.” Explaining why McCaffrey ordered the assault on his own authority, Johnson will say that McCaffrey—widely perceived as CENTCOM commander General Norman Schwarzkopf’s favorite general—“does what he wants to do.”
Lieutenant General Ronald Griffith, commanding the 1st Armored Division of VII Corps, will later say that many of the tanks destroyed in the assault were being transported on trailer trucks to Baghdad, with their cannons facing away from the US troops, and thus posing no threat. “It was just a bunch of tanks in a train, and he made it a battle,” Griffith will later say of McCaffrey. “He made it a battle when it was never one. That’s the thing that bothered me the most.”
Major James Kump, the senior intelligence officer for the Army’s 124th Military Intelligence Battalion, is monitoring what he believes to be a routine retreat before McCaffrey’s units begin attacking the Iraqi forces. Kump will later recall: “I thought, I can’t believe what I’m hearing! There’s nothing going on. These guys are retreating.” Kump receives a large amount of electronic data indicating that McCaffrey is attacking a retreating force. “I had links to several intelligence systems—more than I can talk about,” he will later say. “And I’d have known if troops were moving toward us.… I knew of no justification for the counterattack. I always felt it was a violation of the ceasefire. From an integrity standpoint, I was very troubled.”
McCaffrey’s orders will be questioned even by one of his own subordinates, Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Lamar, the 24th’s operations officer. Lamar, who is in charge of the assault command post and who relays McCaffrey’s orders to the field units, will later say: “There was no incoming. I know that for a fact.” The battle is “a giant hoax. The Iraqis were doing absolutely nothing. I told McCaffrey I was having trouble confirming the incoming.” But, Lamar will recall, nothing he says matters. McCaffrey wants to attack.
Private First Class Charles Sheehan-Miles, a gun loader in a 1st Brigade tank platoon, will later recall being sent to rescue an American unit under attack by Iraqi armored units. “We went up the road blowing the sh_t out of everything,” he will recall. “It was like going down an American highway—people were all mixed up in cars and trucks. People got out of their cars and ran away. We shot them.” Sheehan-Miles recalls shooting at least one person in civilian clothing. “My orders were to shoot if they were armed or running. The Iraqis were getting massacred.”
Specialist 4 James Manchester, a member of the Scout platoon of the 27th Battalion of the 1st Brigade, will later call the battle nothing more than “f_cking murder.”
Shortly after the attack, an interpreter for the 124th Military Intelligence Battalion interrogates a captured Iraqi tank commander who asks over and over: “Why are you killing us? All we were doing was going home. Why are you killing us?”
After the battle, military analysts will pore over the battle films recorded by the Apache attack helicopters participating in McCaffrey’s assault. One of the analysts will later tell a reporter that the footage was clear: the Iraqi tanks were in full retreat and posed no threat to American forces. “These guys were in an offroad defensive position—deployed in a perimeter,” the analyst will recall. Some of the Iraqi tanks attempted to return fire once McCaffrey began his assault: “We saw T-72s in battle lines, firing away blindly in the air. They didn’t know what was killing them, but they were gamely shooting—knowing they would die.”
Many officers on the ground will later describe actions by McCaffrey and some of his senior subordinates they believe are designed to provoke a response from the retreating Iraqis and thus provide an excuse to begin a counterattack.
Massacre Factor in Decision to End Hostilities - Reporters are not allowed in the area, so no one is there to report on, or photograph, the actual assault or its immediate aftermath. But the area is heavily photographed in the following days, and the swath of destroyed, burned-out vehicles becomes at once a symbol of US military superiority and of Iraqi defeat. It is later cited as one of the factors in President Bush’s decision to accept Iraq’s surrender and cease hostilities. The decision enables the Iraqi Army to survive the war somewhat intact, and keeps Saddam Hussein in power. Bush will later explain: “If we continued the fighting another day… would we be accused of a slaughter of Iraqis who were simply trying to escape, not fight? In addition, the coalition was agreed on driving the Iraqis from Kuwait, not on carrying the conflict into Iraq or on destroying Iraqi forces.”
Dehumanizing the Iraqis - Manchester will later tell a reporter: “I was as patriotic as they come. I was a gung-ho ass-kicking Commie-hating patriotic son of a b_tch. I hated the Arabs. We all did. I dehumanized them. Did the Iraqis commit war crimes in Kuwait? Did they retreat back into Iraq to commit war crimes against their own people? The answer is yes to both questions. But does that make March 2nd justified? There have to be limits, even in war. Otherwise, the whole system breaks down.” [New Yorker, 5/22/2000]
Entity Tags: US Department of the Air Force, Ronald Griffith, Saddam Hussein, George Herbert Walker Bush, Charles Sheehan-Miles, Barry McCaffrey, US Department of Defense, James Johnson, James Manchester, James Kump, Patrick Lamar, Norman Schwarzkopf, US Department of the Army
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
US soldiers destroy around 40 ammunition bunkers and 45 warehouses in various locations throughout Iraq and Kuwait. In one open-air location outside the Khamisiyah Ammunition Supply Point (nicknamed “the Pit” by American soldiers), 1,250 rockets are destroyed. UN inspectors will later determine that many of those rockets had contained chemical warfare agents. [Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, 1/20/2008]
Hasan Cengic. [Source: Dani]The SDA, the ruling party of Bosnian Muslim President Alija Izetbegovic, decides in private meetings that war in Bosnia is inevitable. They begin forming their own paramilitary force called the Patriotic League, which answers to Izetbegovic and his party, not the Bosnian government as a whole. Hasan Cengic, a radical militant imam, is given control of the Patriotic League and begins arming it. The Bosnian Muslims have no armed force at all at this time while the Yugoslavian army they face is very large and well supplied. Cengic travels to many countries arranging secret arms deals to supply the new force, planned to be 30,000 soldiers strong. By the end of the year, he arranges deals with Slovenia, Lebanon, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. [Schindler, 2007, pp. 70] Cengic’s efforts will be the start of an illegal arms pipeline into Bosnia of massive proportions (see Mid-1991-1996).
The US imposes sanctions on two Chinese companies for their part in nuclear proliferation activities. The sanctions are the product of work by Gordon Oehler, the US national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction. Oehler has been tracking missile deals between China and Pakistan for two years (see 1989) and finds out about the companies’ involvement in a shipment to Pakistan of a “training M-11 ballistic missile.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 257]
A container leaking an unknown but potentially dangerous substance is reported at a Kuwaiti girls’ school in Kuwait City. [Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, 1/20/2008] The container is a storage tank that is initially shown to contain mustard agent and phosgene. The report causes a brief media sensation in the British and US press. Later, more intensive analysis of the data by British inspectors shows that the tank contained no chemical warfare agents, but instead contained a substance known as inhibited red fuming nitric acid (IRFNA). The US Defense Department will confirm those reports. [Illnesses, 3/19/1998]
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