In 2004, we were all wondering what Pakistan’s plan was for its nuclear warheads. We knew it had 76 enriched uranium warheads with 5 – 25 kilotons of explosive yield each. We also knew it was working on plutonium fissile materials and had well over 100 tons of raw uranium buried in the hills of Balochistan. It was a God-awful mess of reckless development.
We knew Pakistan wasn’t afraid to hand off its warheads to some of our worst enemies, and the country had already sold nuclear secrets for oil, gas, and economic trade agreements to North Korea, Iran, Syria, Libya to name a few. The Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which uncharacteristically and unexplainably oversaw the country’s nuclear program, was also growing increasingly cooperative with China. We felt there was much reason for concern over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.
In November 2004, I was given a series of briefs over a three-day period by former Senior Pakistani Military Officers. These men were educated, well traveled, and religious in their beliefs, family oriented and professionally respectful toward everyone in our group. Some unpolished, but very knowledgeable British and American scientists also attended the briefings. The former Pakistani officers conducted a brilliant briefing about Pakistan’s Nuclear Program since it’s inception in the 1970s and made very pointed statements about the ISI’s exclusive control of the country’s nuclear arsenal and its dangerous habit of recklessly moving nuclear warheads.
The briefing also included details of a Pakistani nuclear scientist’s visit to Afghanistan to consult with Osama bin Laden, the Al-Qaida terrorist network and the Taliban-controlled government of Afghanistan of the late 1990s that was orchestrated, planned and executed by Pakistan’s ISI. The General also mentioned China’s now-growing cooperation with the ISI in the advanced production of lighter plutonium warheads for miniaturization and fitment on Chinese missiles made from stolen US and British technology. Plutonium weapons are lighter and have a higher explosive yield than weapons based on enriched uranium, which have been the mainstay of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. Those weapons are now showing signs of decay due to purity contamination in the early stages of the uranium enrichment processes. By the time we heard this, everyone in the room was silent. The briefing had hit a deep nerve.
I intervened and asked, is it not the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission’s right and duty to oversee the nuclear power development in Pakistan? Also, why would an intelligence services organization like the ISI be in the business of massing a nuclear arsenal? Is it not the central government’s job to ensure that any nuclear energy program is managed and operated by its country’s qualified personnel?
The room went silent again and everyone started shaking their heads in approval, except the Pakistani military officers giving the briefing. They were looking at me and nodding their heads in disapproval. But I understood people from this region of the world usually shook their heads from side to side whether they agreed or disagreed. I was understanding of the culture and bodily gestures they commonly express. The highest ranking officer, Brigadier General Naseer, looked out at our group and was about to say something when one of the American scientists stopped him and stated that he would take it from there.
The American scientist was a nuclear weapons expert and was employed by the Department of Energy. He looked a bit scraggly—long hair, a beard, slacks and a short sleeve shirt. He said: “ I understand that all of you here have been selected by our government to attend this briefing. You all have impeccable credentials and are unusually skilled in specific areas of your profession. We’re all grown men, and I’m going to fast forward a bit here and get to the heart of a very sensitive matter.
“Last week, an elite team of Navy SEALs attached devices to the hull of a luxury yacht off the coast of U.A.E. and deployed powerful miniature surface water devices that enhanced eavesdropping. On board were three high-ranking Pakistani ISI general officers with Iranian officials to discuss the sale and transfer of nuclear arms to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Furthermore, it has been leaked through a Saudi Arabian official, many years before—whose identity is anonymous—that Saudi Arabia has already made a purchase from the Central Government of Pakistan for 13 enriched uranium nuclear warheads in a long-term oil-for-arms deal. The three ISI officials, who have been identified, are in charge and in control, by succession of Rank and Authority, of various sites that store these warheads and are rouge profiteers conspiring to make the sale and transfer without Pakistani government knowledge.”
“What has been discovered thus far is that the movement of the enriched uranium warheads may occur within the next three to six months, or when there is an event within the country or region that would warrant authorized movement of the warheads from the highest level of Pakistani leadership and power. It is most likely at that time, the ISI General Officers would move three warheads into the possession of Iranian handlers”.
An American General Officer and two company personnel came into the room, and the Pakistani generals along with the American and British scientists were escorted out. The lights were turned on, and my group all filed into another room. We went to lunch, and no one talked. But there was no doubt we could feel the energy of mind vibes at lunch. What was next, we were all thinking. We didn’t have to wait long.
It’s 2004, the US and its allies were at war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Pakistani government is virtually in a perpetual state of economic default due to expenditures in nuclear development, increased military budgets, cuts in social and food programs for its people and a deep rooted hatred of its neighbor, India. A secret intelligence agency virtually ran everything in and out of Pakistan and killed its own leaders who were determined to either harness or diminish its power and authority, much like the Nazi Gestapo of World War II. The agency was out of control, and the ISI’s own leadership was now in the radical Muslim, “Islamic Jihadi” nuclear black market business.
Planning went into effect to locate Pakistan’s nuclear warheads that were to be sold to Iran.A large team was assembled and assigned various known routes to transport the weapons—rail, air, road, tunnels, ports. Highly sophisticated electronics with powerful penetrating x-ray, sensors, cameras, Geiger counters, radiation-exposure detectors, cellular GPRS eavesdropping devices, even remote satellite command was employed. This was going to be a huge undertaking of diligent efforts on everyone’s part to make this work like a Swiss clock.
My primary responsibility was Aviation Operations Surveillance, and I had all the resources at my disposal I could imagine. I was assigned six crack aviators with impeccable flying skills beyond reproach. These guys were the best we had to offer. There was a team of excellent technicians; all were combat-hardened, proven leaders with solid backgrounds in ethical and moral professionalism. If one of them screwed up, he admitted it, took full responsibility, and held himself to a high standard of maturity while ensuring whatever it was didn’t happen again.
Our home base of operations was in the desolate desert of Afghanistan with operational teams in Pakistan at key sites where the nukes were stored and maintained. I operated out of an airbase in Pakistan with a small fleet of Helicopters and Cessna Caravan Turboprops that were owned by the US and under the operational control of the Pakistani Ministry of Interior. However, The exact number of planes and helicopters in Pakistan, to include their color, markings, registration numbers, interior and even the scratches or marks on the fuselage were staged just over the border in Afghanistan. In other words, for all the aircraft we had in Pakistan, we had exact lookalikes in Afghanistan that could easily intrude Pakistani Airspace at anytime.
Whenever the Pakistani Ministry of Interior, the Pakistani military, gave the US a mission in Pakistan, the teams in Afghanistan were alerted, given the Pakistani transponder and IFF codes so they could fly covertly over the border into Pakistan to scout any new evidence of moving nukes. In the meantime, the fleet that had always been in Pakistan flew the usual, day-to-day missions. Without the Pakistani Transponder and IFF Codes, our aircraft were sure to be shot down in these highly sensitive areas. We lucked out every time, and these guys never knew what was going on.
Our Cessnas were loaded with highly sophisticated ground-penetrating radar panels inside the cargo holds that emitted a lot of energy on a newly discovered frequency and band that isn’t recorded in any technical literature. We were searching for the enriched uranium signatures below ground, in buildings, on trains, in tunnels, you name it.
No Pakistani-deployed sensors ever picked up the slightest signature of electronic interrogation from our sweeps and it if it was there, we had no problems finding it. The floors and crew compartments of all our aircraft were flamed sprayed with a layer of lead to prevent exposure to the crews and sensitive equipment. The aircraft exterior control surfaces were enhanced with static wicks that dissipated electricity generated through the airframe and improved grounding discharge through landing gear contact with the earth upon landings. We went undetected.
On 8 October, 2005, a 7.6-magnitude earthquake in the North West Frontier Province struck with a destructive force never before seen in Pakistan. Some estimates put the number killed at 84,000 including 1,400 killed in China. All planes and helos we had in Afghanistan at home base immediately went into action as the US was very concerned that now was the time these rogue ISI generals would move the nukes. In addition, the Department of Energy was very concerned that a possible nuclear processing facility was leaking radiation as detected through satellite sensor readings. The Pakistani government knew about the leak, kept the information secret, and had issues getting qualified personnel to the location due to washed-out and debris-covered roads. It was a complete mess, and the Pakistanis had their pride and honor at stake for their inability to handle an emergency of this magnitude.
The Pakistani government is always claiming the need for and arguing for more and more aid and assets from the US. However, this time DOE was very concerned about Pakistan’s aging uranium enrichment processing plants, and it was a well known fact that the Pakistanis needed to bypass roads and get experts to the damaged facilities via air ASAP. The decision was made by DOE to approve funding for the purchase of six more Bell 412s through the Pacific Northwest Nuclear Laboratory. Knowing a great deal about the Pakistani Military Aviation Maintenance Programs and the caliber of technicians and pilots they possessed, this was just a Band-Aid compared to the gushing wound the services lacked.
The program manager for the company I was working for as my cover requested I immediately move air assets from the airbase where I was stationed. I communicated this request to the teams in Afghanistan, and a fully loaded Cessna Caravan landed at the airfield where I was with no issues whatsoever. The Pakistani Military understood the immediate need to get all air assets to the affected region as soon as possible. As we were en route to Qasim Air Base, all equipment was powered on and the surveillance ops were all now in full swing. I had to make a pit stop for fuel and passengers in Multan, and was soon back up and heading into the devil’s lair. Our mission this day was to actually land at Chaklala Air base and electronically interrogate a large hanger and adjacent facilities, as there were Readmore...