Treachery: How America’s Friends and Foes Are Secretly Arming Our Enemies

Bill Gertz has a new book out entitled, Treachery: How America’s Friends and Foes Are Secretly Arming Our Enemies. The Washington Times features three excerpts, two of which are particularly interesting. Neither contain shocking new revelations but they condense stories that trickled out over a span of a couple of years into short packages.

French connection armed Saddam

New intelligence revealing how long France continued to supply and arm Saddam Hussein’s regime infuriated U.S. officials as the nation prepared for military action against Iraq.The intelligence reports showing French assistance to Saddam ongoing in the late winter of 2002 helped explain why France refused to deal harshly with Iraq and blocked U.S. moves at the United Nations. “No wonder the French are opposing us,” one U.S. intelligence official remarked after illegal sales to Iraq of military and dual-use parts, originating in France, were discovered early last year before the war began. That official was careful to stipulate that intelligence reports did not indicate whether the French government had sanctioned or knew about the parts transfers. The French company at the beginning of the pipeline remained unidentified in the reports. France’s government tightly controls its aerospace and defense firms, however, so it would be difficult to believe that the illegal transfers of equipment parts took place without the knowledge of at least some government officials.

***

French aid to Iraq goes back decades and includes transfers of advanced conventional arms and components for weapons of mass destruction. The central figure in these weapons ties is French President Jacques Chirac. His relationship with Saddam dates to 1975, when, as prime minister, the French politician rolled out the red carpet when the Iraqi strongman visited Paris. ***
In fact, Chirac helped sell Saddam the two nuclear reactors that started Baghdad on the path to nuclear weapons capability. France’s corrupt dealings with Saddam flourished throughout the 1990s, despite the strict arms embargo against Iraq imposed by the United Nations after the Persian Gulf war. By 2000, France had become Iraq’s largest supplier of military and dual-use equipment, according to a senior member of Congress who declined to be identified.

***

The war in Iraq, which began March 19, 2003, provided disturbing evidence that France’s treacherous dealings come at a steep cost to the United States. On April 8 came the downing of Air Force Maj. Jim Ewald’s A-10 Thunderbolt fighter over Baghdad and the discovery that it was a French-made Roland missile that brought down the American pilot and destroyed a $13 million aircraft. Ewald, one of the first U.S. pilots shot down in the war, was rescued by members of the Army’s 54th Engineer Battalion who saw him parachute to earth not far from the wreckage. Army intelligence concluded that the French had sold the missile to the Iraqis within the past year, despite French denials. A week after Ewald’s A-10 was downed, an Army team searching Iraqi weapons depots at the Baghdad airport discovered caches of French-made missiles. One anti-aircraft missile, among a cache of 51 Roland-2s from a French-German manufacturing partnership, bore a label indicating that the batch was produced just months earlier.

In May, Army intelligence found a stack of blank French passports in an Iraqi ministry, confirming what U.S. intelligence already had determined: The French had helped Iraqi war criminals escape from coalition forces — and therefore justice. Then, there were French-made trucks and radios and the deadly grenade launchers, known as RPGs, with French-made night sights. Saddam loyalists used them to kill American soldiers long after the toppling of the dictator’s regime. The intelligence team sent to find Iraqi weapons also discovered documents outlining covert Iraqi weapons procurement leading up to the war. The CIA, however, refused to make public the documents on assistance provided by France or by other so-called allies of the United States.

U.N. nuclear agency asleep at the switch

Again and again, dangerous states have built up their militaries and weapons programs right under the world body’s nose, despite sanctions and anti-proliferation agreements. Three times, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency missed the covert nuclear-arms programs of rogue regimes, allowing those states to build deadly weapons capability under the guise of generating nuclear power. Disclosures of the nuclear progress of North Korea, Libya and Iran came in rapid succession, within the space of about a year. If the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) did not detect these programs, one must wonder what purpose the U.N. branch serves.

The United Nations established the IAEA in 1957 to help countries build nuclear facilities for generating electricity. Its initial program, Atoms for Peace, quickly became “Atoms for Bombs.” And not much has changed in the past five decades, except the size of the program. Today, the IAEA has about 2,200 staff members at its headquarters in Vienna, Austria, and at four regional offices in Geneva, New York, Toronto and Tokyo. Its budget for 2004 was $268.5 million. The IAEA’s statutory purpose is to assist in transferring expertise and equipment for the “peaceful” use of nuclear power. The international agency also is charged with making sure that nations do not divert equipment or material for nuclear-energy development into weapons programs.

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The IAEA failed to anticipate or uncover North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program. The agency admitted as much last year, when it reported: “The agency has never had the complete picture regarding [North Korean] nuclear activities.” Pyongyang froze plutonium production as part of a 1994 pact with the United States known as the Agreed Framework. But the CIA noted in 1995, in a classified Special National Intelligence Estimate: “Based on North Korea’s past behavior, the [intelligence] community agrees it would dismantle its known program [only] if it had covertly developed another source of fissile material.” Sure enough, North Korea’s disclosure in October 2002 of its uranium-enrichment activity confirmed that Pyongyang was trying to build nuclear bombs. In essence, Kim and the North Koreans were announcing that membership in the NPT had been a ruse all along.

***

The matter was sent to the U.N. Security Council, but that body did little more than express “deep concern” for the violations. The United States picked up its diplomatic approach, which produced no results. North Korea continues its drive for nuclear arms.

The United Nations also failed to confront the nuclear threat from Iran, which, like North Korea, used the NPT to acquire equipment and materials to make nuclear bombs. When Iran’s weapons work was discovered, showing that the Iranians knowingly ignored obligations to their treaty partners, the IAEA essentially ignored the violations. The agency sought only an additional “protocol” from Iran as a new safeguard. “This is a good day for peace, multilateralism and nonproliferation,” ElBaradei declared after Iran signed the protocol. “A good day for peace because the [IAEA] board decided to continue to make every effort to use verification and diplomacy to resolve questions about Iran’s nuclear program.” But “verification and diplomacy” failed to stop Iran from developing nuclear arms in the first place. Despite pressure from security officials within the Bush administration, ElBaradei refused to cite Iran for breaking its obligations. Moreover, the IAEA did not keep careful watch over Libya’s nuclear-weapons program, which was further along than both U.S. intelligence or the U.N. agency had known. When Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi publicly disclosed his weapons program in December 2003, the IAEA knew nothing about it. The agency said Libya should have reported its activities to the IAEA.

The IAEA was happy to report Tripoli’s decision to eliminate “materials, equipment and programs which lead to the production of internationally proscribed weapons.” But the agency tried to minimize its failure to discover the program. It noted that a Libyan official characterized his nation’s uranium-enrichment program as “at an early stage of development” and that “no industrial-scale facility had been built, nor any enriched uranium produced.”

Algeria long since had launched its own nuclear-arms program in response to the military buildup by neighbor Libya, with which it had tense relations, reflecting how weapons proliferation only breeds further proliferation. U.S. intelligence agencies in the spring of 1991 detected the first signs that Algeria was developing nuclear weapons with the assistance of China.

The ultimate threat to peace is nuclear weapons in the hands of international terrorists. There is a real danger that terrorists could use nuclear materials in radiological attacks, or “dirty bombs.” Worse, terrorists would use them in a nuclear blast that could kill thousands or even hundreds of thousands. To his credit, the IAEA’s ElBaradei has begun to worry about this threat. [Nuclear] source security has taken on a new urgency since 9/11,” the U.N. arms agency’s director general said in a speech last year. “There are millions of radiological sources used throughout the world. Most are very weak. What we are focusing on is preventing the theft or loss of control of the powerful radiological sources.”

The fact is, al Qaeda and the world’s other most lethal terrorist organizations are trying to acquire nuclear arms. The United Nations’ record of failure to detect and halt nuclear threats posed by rogue states, however, casts doubt on its ability to grapple with such arms in the grip of shadowy terrorist groups.

To put it mildly. The story, here, though isn’t so much one of “treachery” but of incompetence. The UN is simply incapable of handling this mission. For one thing, it’s a diplomatic organ, which means its chief goal is “consensus” rather than effectiveness. Second, it’s toothless to do anything meaningful without the backing of the Security Council, an institution which gives a veto power to the U.S., the UK, France, Russia, and China. One of those states almost always will have incentive to look the other way. More importantly, though, the entire premise of the UN is flawed. States will always attempt to act so as to further their own interests. To the extent that national interest clashes with the will on the international community, the former almost always prevails.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. So that’s why they call him “Doctor” Joyner
    James Joyner has a great post reviewing Bill Gertz’s new book, “Treachery: How America’s Friends and Foes Are Secretly Arming Our Enemies”….

  2. ken says:

    You seem to think that the United Nations is an entity distinct from its members. It isn’t. As the lone superpower on the planet the US has the ability to make the UN as effective as we want. But since conservative idealogy, at least since the Goldwater days, holds the UN in contempt, as long as conservatives hold the power in Washington the UN will remain just as inept as they want.

  3. Winston Review, No. 12
    “I can’t, of course, get out of my mind the fact that I physically met President George Bush for the first time on the 10th of September, 2001 at the White House. And as I think back over the…

  4. Winston Review, No. 12
    “I can’t, of course, get out of my mind the fact that I physically met President George Bush for the first time on the 10th of September, 2001 at the White House. And as I think back over the…