Date: 24 Oct 2007
The man who knew too much
He was the CIA's expert on Pakistan's nuclear secrets, but Rich Barlow was
thrown out and disgraced when he blew the whistle on a US cover-up. Now he's
to have his day in court. Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark report
Saturday October 13, 2007
Rich Barlow idles outside his silver trailer on a remote campsite in
Montana - itinerant and unemployed, with only his hunting dogs and a
borrowed computer for company. He dips into a pouch of American Spirit
tobacco to roll another cigarette. It is hard to imagine that he was once a
covert operative at the CIA, the recognised, much lauded expert in the trade
in Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).
He prepared briefs for Dick Cheney, when Cheney was at the Pentagon, for the
upper echelons of the CIA and even for the Oval Office. But when he
uncovered a political scandal - a conspiracy to enable a rogue nation to get
the nuclear bomb - he found himself a marked man.
In the late 80s, in the course of tracking down smugglers of WMD components,
Barlow uncovered reams of material that related to Pakistan. It was known
the Islamic Republic had been covertly striving to acquire nuclear weapons
since India's explosion of a device in 1974 and the prospect terrified the
west - especially given the instability of a nation that had had three
military coups in less than 30 years . Straddling deep ethnic, religious and
political fault-lines, it was also a country regularly rocked by
inter-communal violence. "Pakistan was the kind of place where technology
could slip out of control," Barlow says.
He soon discovered, however, that senior officials in government were taking
quite the opposite view: they were breaking US and international
non-proliferation protocols to shelter Pakistan's ambitions and even sell it
banned WMD technology. In the closing years of the cold war, Pakistan was
considered to have great strategic importance. It provided Washington with a
springboard into neighbouring Afghanistan - a route for passing US weapons
and cash to the mujahideen, who were battling to oust the Soviet army that
had invaded in 1979. Barlow says, "We had to buddy-up to regimes we didn't
see eye-to-eye with, but I could not believe we would actually give Pakistan
How could any US administration set such short-term gains against the
long-term safety of the world?" Next he discovered that the Pentagon was
preparing to sell Pakistan jet fighters that could be used to drop a nuclear
Barlow was relentless in exposing what he saw as US complicity, and in the
end he was sacked and smeared as disloyal, mad, a drunk and a philanderer.
If he had been listened to, many believe Pakistan might never have got its
nuclear bomb; south Asia might not have been pitched into three near-nuclear
conflagrations; and the nuclear weapons programmes of Iran, Libya and North
Korea - which British and American intelligence now acknowledge were all
secretly enabled by Pakistan - would never have got off the ground. "None of
this need have happened," Robert Gallucci, special adviser on WMD to both
Clinton and George W Bush, told us. "The vanquishing of Barlow and the
erasing of his case kicked off a chain of events that led to all the
nuclear-tinged stand-offs we face today. Pakistan is the number one threat
to the world, and if it all goes off - a nuclear bomb in a US or European
city- I'm sure we will find ourselves looking in Pakistan's direction."
US aid to Pakistan tapered off when the Soviet Union withdrew from
Afghanistan. Dejected and impoverished, in 1987 Pakistan's ruling military
responded by selling its nuclear hardware and know-how for cash, something
that would have been obvious to all if the intelligence had been properly
analysed. "But the George HW Bush administration was not looking at
Pakistan," Barlow says. "It had new crises to deal with in the Persian Gulf
where Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait."
As the first Gulf war came to an end with no regime change in Iraq, a group
of neoconservatives led by Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, Lewis "Scooter"
Libby and Donald Rumsfeld were already lobbying to finish what that campaign
had started and dislodge Saddam. Even as the CIA amassed evidence showing
that Pakistan, a state that sponsored Islamist terrorism and made its money
by selling proscribed WMD technology, was the number one threat, they
earmarked Iraq as the chief target.
When these neocons came to power in 2001, under President George W Bush,
Pakistan was indemnified again, this time in return for signing up to the
"war on terror". Condoleezza Rice backed the line, as did Rumsfeld, too.
Pakistan, although suspected by all of them to be at the epicentre of global
instability, was hailed as a friend. All energies were devoted to building
up the case against Iraq.
It is only now, amid the recriminations about the war in Iraq and
reassessments of where the real danger lies, that Barlow - the despised
bringer of bad news about Pakistan - is finally to get a hearing. More than
20 years after this saga began, his case, filed on Capitol Hill, is coming
to court later this month. His lawyers are seeking millions of dollars in
compensation for Barlow as well as the reinstatement of his $80,000 a year
government pension. Evidence will highlight what happened when ideologues
took control of intelligence in three separate US administrations - those of
Reagan, and of the two Bushes - and how a CIA analyst who would not give up
his pursuit for the truth became a fall guy.
Born in Upper Manhattan, New York, the son of an army surgeon, Barlow went
to an Ivy League feeder school before attending Western Washington
University on America's northwest tip. Even then he was an idealist and an
internationalist, obsessively following world events. He majored in
political science, and his thesis was on counter-proliferation intelligence;
he was concerned that the burgeoning black markets in nuclear weapons
technology threatened peace in the west. "I got my material from newspapers
and books," he recalls. "I went to congressional hearings in Washington and
discovered that there was tonnes of intelligence about countries procuring
nuclear materials." After graduation in 1981, shortly after Reagan became
president - avowedly committed to the non proliferation of nuclear weapons -
Barlow won an internship at the State Department's Arms Control and
Disarmament Agency (ACDA), which had been established by John F Kennedy in
At first Barlow thought he was helping safeguard the world. "I just loved
it," he says. His focus from the start was Pakistan, at the time suspected
of clandestinely seeking nuclear weapons in a programme initiated by
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the father of Benazir. "Everywhere I looked I kept
coming up against intelligence about Pakistan's WMD programme," Barlow says.
"I thought I was telling them what they needed to hear, but the White House
seemed oblivious." Immersed in the minutiae of his investigations, he didn't
appreciate the bigger picture: that Pakistan had, within days of Reagan's
inauguration in 1981, gone from being an outcast nation that had outraged
the west by hanging Bhutto to a major US ally in the proxy war in
Within months Barlow was out of a job. A small band of Republican hawks,
including Paul Wolfowitz, had convinced the president that America needed a
new strategy against potential nuclear threats, since long-term policies
such as détente and containment were not working. Reagan was urged to
remilitarise, launch his Star Wars programme and neutralise ACDA. When the
agency's staff was cut by one third, Barlow found himself out of Washington
and stacking shelves in a food store in Connecticut, where he married his
girlfriend, Cindy. He was not on hand in 1984 when intelligence reached the
ACDA and the CIA that Pakistan had joined the nuclear club (the declared
nuclear powers were Britain, France, the US, China and Russia) after China
detonated a device on Pakistan's behalf.
Soon after, Barlow was re-employed to work as an analyst, specialising in
Pakistan, at the Office of Scientific and Weapons Research (OSWR). The CIA
was pursuing the Pakistan programme vigorously even though Reagan was
turning a blind eye - indeed, Reagan's secretary of state, George Schultz,
claimed in 1985: "We have full faith in [Pakistan's] assurance that they
will not make the bomb."
Back on a government salary, Barlow, aged 31, moved to Virginia with his
wife Cindy, also a CIA agent. From day one, he was given access to the most
highly classified material. He learned about the workings of the vast grey
global market in dual-use components - the tools and equipment that could be
put to use in a nuclear weapons programme but that could also be ascribed to
other domestic purposes, making the trade in them hard to spot or regulate.
"There was tonnes of it and most of it was ending up in Islamabad," he says.
"Pakistan had a vast network of procurers, operating all over the world." A
secret nuclear facility near Islamabad, known as the Khan Research
Laboratories, was being fitted out with components imported from Europe and
America "under the wire". But the CIA obtained photographs. Floor plans.
Bomb designs. Sensors picked up evidence of high levels of enriched uranium
in the air and in the dust clinging to the lorries plying the road to the
laboratories. Barlow was in his element.
However, burrowing through cables and files, he began to realise that the
State Department had intelligence it was not sharing - in particular the
identities of key Pakistani procurement agents, who were active in the US.
Without this information, the US Commerce Department (which approved export
licences) and US Customs (which enforced them) were hamstrung.
Barlow came to the conclusion that a small group of senior officials was
physically aiding the Pakistan programme. "They were issuing scores of
approvals for the Pakistan embassy in Washington to export hi-tech equipment
that was critical for their nuclear bomb programme and that the US Commerce
Department had refused to license," he says. Dismayed, he approached his
boss at the CIA, Richard Kerr, the deputy director for intelligence, who
summoned senior State Department officials to a meeting at CIA headquarters
in Langley. Barlow recalls: "Kerr tried to do it as nicely as he could. He
said he understood the State Department had to keep Pakistan on side - the
State Department guaranteed it would stop working against us."
Then a Pakistani nuclear smuggler walked into a trap sprung by the CIA - and
the Reagan administration's commitment to rid the world of nuclear weapons
was put to the test.
US foreign aid legislation stipulated that if Pakistan was shown to be
procuring weapons of mass destruction or was in possession of a nuclear
bomb, all assistance would be halted. This, in turn, would have threatened
the US-funded war in Afghanistan. So there were conflicting interests at
work when Barlow got a call from the Department of Energy. "I was told that
a Pakistani businessman had contacted Carpenter Steel, a company in
Pennsylvania, asking to buy a specific type of metal normally used only in
constructing centrifuges to enrich uranium. His name was Arshad Pervez and
his handler, Inam ul-Haq, a retired brigadier from the Pakistan army, had
been known to us for many years as a key Pakistan government operative."
Barlow and US customs set up a sting. "Pervez arrived to a do a deal at a
hotel we had rigged out and was arrested," Barlow says. "But ul-Haq, our
main target, never showed."
Trawling through piles of cables, he found evidence that two high-ranking US
officials extremely close to the White House had tipped off Islamabad about
the CIA operation. Furious, Barlow called his superiors. "The CIA went mad.
These were criminal offences," Barlow says. The State Department's lawyers
considered their position. They argued that an inquiry would necessitate the
spilling of state secrets. The investigation was abandoned just as Reagan
made his annual statement to Congress, testifying that "Pakistan does not
possess a nuclear explosive device."
But the Pervez case would not go away. Congressman Stephen Solarz, a
Democrat from New Jersey, demanded a closed congressional hearing to vet the
intelligence concerning Pakistan's bomb programme. Barlow was detailed to
"backbench" at the meeting, if necessary offering advice to the White House
representative, General David Einsel (who had been chosen by Reagan to head
his Star Wars programme). An armed guard stood outside the room where the
hearing was held.
Barlow recalls that Solarz got straight to the point: "Were Pervez and
ul-Haq agents of the Pakistan government?" Without flinching, Einsel barked
back: "It is not cut and dried." It was a criminal offence to lie to
Congress, as other hearings happening on the same day down the corridor were
spelling out to Colonel Oliver North, the alleged mastermind behind
Iran-Contra. Barlow froze. "These congressmen had no idea what was really
going on in Pakistan and what had been coming across my desk about its WMD
programme," he says. "They did not know that Pakistan already had a bomb and
was shopping for more with US help. All of it had been hushed up."
Then Solarz called on Barlow to speak. "I told the truth. I said it was
clear Pervez was an agent for Pakistan's nuclear programme. Everyone started
shouting. General Einsel screamed, 'Barlow doesn't know what he's talking
about.' Solarz asked if there had been any other cases involving the
Pakistan government and Einsel said, 'No'." Barlow recalls thinking, " 'Oh
no, here we go again.' They asked me and I said, 'Yes, there have been
scores of other cases.' "
The meeting broke up. Barlow was bundled into a CIA car that sped for
Langley. It was a bad time to be the US's foremost expert on Pakistan's
nuclear programme when the administration was desperate to prove it didn't
exist. Shortly after, Barlow left the CIA, claiming that Einsel had made his
Later that year, Reagan would tell the US Congress: "There is no diminution
in the president's commitment to restraining the spread of nuclear weapons
in the Indian subcontinent or elsewhere."
Once again, Barlow was able to bounce back. In January 1989, he was
recruited by the Office of the Secretary of Defence (OSD) at the Pentagon to
become its first intelligence analyst in WMD. For a man uncomfortable with
political pragmatism, it was a strange move: he was now in a department that
was steeped in realpolitik, balancing the commercial needs of the US
military industry against America's international obligations. Within weeks,
he had again built a stack of evidence about Pakistan's WMD programme,
including intelligence that the Pakistan army was experimenting with a
delivery system for its nuclear bomb, using US-provided technology. "Our
side was at it again," Barlow says.
Still optimistic, still perhaps naive and still committed to the ideal of
thwarting the Pakistan programme, Barlow convinced himself that his
experience in the CIA was untypical, the work of a handful of political
figures who would now not be able to reach him. When he was commissioned to
write an intelligence assessment for Dick Cheney, defence secretary, giving
a snapshot of the Pakistan WMD programme, he thought he was making headway.
Barlow's report was stark. He concluded that the US had sold 40 F-16 fighter
jets to Pakistan in the mid-80s - it had been a precondition of the sale
that none of the jets could be adapted to drop a nuclear bomb. He was
convinced that all of them had been configured to do just that. He concluded
that Pakistan was still shopping for its WMD programme and the chances were
extremely high that it would also begin selling this technology to other
nations. Unbeknown to Barlow, the Pentagon had just approved the sale of
another 60 F-16s to Pakistan in a deal worth $1.4bn, supposedly with the
same provison as before.
"Officials at the OSD kept pressurising me to change my conclusions," Barlow
says. He refused and soon after noticed files going missing. A secretary
tipped him off that a senior official had been intercepting his papers. In
July 1989, Barlow was hauled before one of the Pentagon's top military
salesmen, who accused him of sabotaging the new F-16 deal. Eight days later,
when Congress asked if the jet could be adapted by Pakistan to drop a
nuclear bomb, the Defence Department said, "None of the F-16s Pakistan
already owns or is about to purchase is configured for nuclear delivery."
Barlow was horrified.
On August 4 1989, he was fired. "They told me they had received credible
information that I was a security risk." Barlow demanded to know how and
why. "They said they could not tell me as the information was classified."
All they would say was that "senior Defence Department officials", whose
identities were also classified, had supplied "plenty of evidence". The
rumour going around the office was that Barlow was a Soviet spy. Barlow went
home to Cindy. "We were in marriage counselling following my fall-out at the
CIA. We were getting our relationship back on track. And now I had to
explain that I was being fired from the Pentagon."
Barlow still would not give up. His almost pathological tenacity was one of
the characteristics that made him a great analyst. With no salary and few
savings, he found a lawyer who agreed to represent him pro-bono. At this
point, more documents surfaced linking several familiar names to Barlow's
sacking and its aftermath; these included Cheney's chief of staff, Libby,
and two officials working for Wolfowitz. Through his lawyer, Barlow
discovered that he was being described as a tax evader, an alcoholic and an
adulterer, who had been fired from all previous government jobs. It was
alleged that his marriage counselling was a cover for a course of
psychiatric care, and he was put under pressure to permit investigators to
interview his marriage guidance adviser. "I had to explain to Cindy that her
private fears were to be trawled by the OSD. She moved out. My life,
professionally and personally, was destroyed. Cindy filed for divorce."
Barlow's lawyers stuck by him, winning a combined inquiry by the three
inspector generals acting for the Defence Department, the CIA and the State
Department (inspector generals are the equivalent of ombudsmen in Britain).
By September 1993, the lead inspector, Sherman Funk, concluded that the
accusation of treachery was "an error not supported by a scintilla of
evidence. The truth about Barlow's termination is, simply put, that it was
unfair and unwarranted." The whole affair, Funk said, was "Kafka-like" -
Barlow was sacrificed for "refusing to accede to policies which he knew to
It seemed Barlow had been vindicated. However, when the report was published
it had been completely rewritten by someone at the Pentagon. Funk was
appalled. When Barlow's lawyers called the Pentagon, they were told it was
the department that had been exonerated. Now it was official: Pakistan was
nuclear-free, and did not have the capability of dropping a bomb from an
American-supplied F-16 jet and the reputation of the only man who claimed
otherwise was destroyed. Later, Barlow's lawyers would find his brief to
Cheney had been rewritten, too, clearing Pakistan and concluding that
continued US aid would ensure that the country would desist from its WMD
The Pentagon officials who were responsible for Barlow's downfall would all
be out of government by 1993, when Bill Clinton came into the White House.
In opposition they began pursuing an aggressive political agenda, canvassing
for war in Iraq rather than restraining nuclear-armed Pakistan. Their number
now included Congressman Donald Rumsfeld, a former Republican defence
secretary, and several others who would go on to take key positions under
George Bush, including Richard Armitage, Richard Perle and John Bolton.
Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz headed the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile
Threat to the United States, which concluded in July 1998 that the chief
threat - far greater than the CIA and other intelligence agencies had so far
reported - was posed by Iran, Iraq and North Korea: the future Axis of Evil
powers. Pakistan was not on the list, even though just two months earlier it
had put an end to the dissembling by detonating five nuclear blasts in the
deserts of Balochistan.
It was also difficult not to conclude that Islamist terrorism was escalating
and that its epicentre was Pakistan. The camps that had once been used to
train the US-backed mujahideen had, since the Soviet retreat from
Afghanistan, morphed into training facilities for fighters pitted against
the west. Many were filled by jihadis and were funded with cash from the
It was made clear to the new president, Bill Clinton, that US policy on
Pakistan had failed. The US had provided Islamabad with a nuclear bomb and
had no leverage to stop the country's leaders from using it. When he was
contacted by lawyers for Barlow, Clinton was shocked both by the treatment
Barlow had received, and the implications for US policy on Pakistan. He
signed off $1m in compensation. But Barlow never received it as the deal had
to be ratified by Congress and, falling foul of procedural hurdles, it was
kicked into the Court of Federal Claims to be reviewed as Clinton left
When the George Bush came to power, his administration quashed the case. CIA
director George Tenet and Michael Hayden, director of the National Security
Agency, asserted "state secrets privilege" over Barlow's entire legal claim.
With no evidence to offer, the claim collapsed. Destroyed and penniless, the
former CIA golden boy spent his last savings on a second-hand silver Avion
trailer, packed up his life and drove off to Bear Canyon campground in
Bozeman, Montana, where he still lives today.
Even with Barlow out of the picture, there were still analysts in
Washington - and in the Bush administration - who were wary of Pakistan.
They warned that al-Qaida had a natural affinity with Pakistan,
geographically and religiously, and that its affiliates were seeking nuclear
weapons. Some elements of the Pakistan military were sympathetic and in
place to help. But those arguing that Pakistan posed the highest risk were
isolated. Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were in the ascendant, and they
returned to the old agenda, lobbying for a war in Iraq and, in a repeat of
1981 and the Reagan years, signed up Pakistan as the key ally in the war
Contrary advice was not welcome. And Bush's team set about dismantling the
government agency that was giving the most trouble - the State Department's
Nonproliferation Bureau. Norm Wulf, who recently retired as deputy assistant
secretary of state for non-proliferation, told us: "They met in secret,
deciding who to employ, displacing career civil servants with more than 30
years on the job in favour of young, like-thinking people, rightwingers who
would toe the administration line." And the administration line was to do
away with any evidence that pointed to Pakistan as a threat to global
stability, refocusing all attention on Iraq.
The same tactics used to disgrace Barlow and discredit his evidence were
used again in 2003, this time against Joseph Wilson, a former US ambassador
whom the Bush administration had sent to Africa with a mission to
substantiate the story that Saddam Hussein was seeking to buy material to
manufacture WMD. When Wilson refused to comply, he found himself the subject
of a smear campaign, while his wife, Valerie Plame, was outed as a CIA
agent. Libby would subsequently be jailed for leaking Plame's identity
(although released on a presidential pardon). Plame and Wilson's careers and
marriage would survive. Barlow and his wife, Cindy's, would not - and no one
would be held to account. Until now.
When the Republicans lost control of both houses of Congress in 2006,
Barlow's indefatigable lawyers sensed an opportunity, lodging a compensation
claim on Capitol Hill that is to be heard later this month. This time, with
supporters of the Iraq war in retreat and with Pakistan, too, having lost
many friends in Washington, Barlow hopes he will receive what he is due.
"But this final hearing cannot indict any of those who hounded me, or
misshaped the intelligence product," he says. "And it is too late to contain
the flow of doomsday technology that Pakistan unleashed on the world."
· Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark are the authors of Deception:
Pakistan, The United States And Global Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy, published
later this month by Atlantic Books, £25.