Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 27 - 39)



  Chairman: Welcome to Dr Gary Samore from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, who regularly helps our Committee, and to Dr Zafar Cheema, who is a visiting fellow at St Antony's College in Oxford. Gentlemen, we are going to deal with the Pakistan problems of the nuclear black market. Later we will have two experts on Afghanistan. Before we do that, because of the importance of the atrocity in Madrid this week, I would like to ask Mr Maples to begin the questioning on that.

  Q27  Mr Maples: I wonder if you could both separately tell us whether you think what happened in Madrid tells us anything new about al-Qaeda or is it just part of a pattern that went from Bali to Casablanca to Turkey to Madrid, as we all feared could happen in European capitals, or does this tell us anything new about their ability to do things?

  Dr Samore: I think it tells us something very frightening about the extent to which al-Qaeda is apparently trying to tailor its attacks to manipulate public opinion and to divide the West. You have to assume that this bombing was deliberately intended to affect the outcome of the election and was designed to bring to power a Socialist government, which al-Qaeda hoped would pull Spanish troops out of Iraq. If you operate on the assumption that this is not a random attack, that it is opportunistic, but that the attack was designed to achieve a political purpose and if that purpose succeeds, then I think we have to expect that al-Qaeda will plan future attacks in order to influence elections and domestic politics and divide the Western Alliance.

  Dr Cheema: With great respect to my friend, Dr Samore, I have a slightly different opinion on that. First, let me frankly acknowledge that I have no great expertise in European politics. I know more about south-east Asia, and so I will respect his opinion, despite my difference. It has yet to be conclusively established whether al-Qaeda or ETA did the bombing in Spain. I also do not agree with him about the capability of al-Qaeda to manipulate European politics from a political perspective to the extent that he has said. I do not think they have that level of expertise and the basic infrastructure to do that. I think the answer has to be that perhaps, in my opinion, it is the result of European politics rather than an influence or interference.

  Q28  Mr Maples: Does it tell us anything about their capability—and forget whether it was manipulation of the election agenda—to launch such attacks, or is this just an example of what we had all feared, that sooner or later it was going to happen, whether in London, Paris, Madrid, Frankfurt, or wherever, that it is just part of that sort of pattern, or does it tell us anything new, 13 bombs and not using suicide bombers? Is there some difference in the capability or technique here?

  Dr Samore: I do not see any technical demonstration of proficiency over and above what they have demonstrated in other cases.

  Q29  Mr Olner: Picking up on what Dr Samore said right at the start, what about if Prime Minister Aznar had blamed al-Qaeda right from the start? Would that have made a difference to the general election result?

  Dr Samore: I am not an expert in Spanish domestic politics but I did speak to a friend of mine who is Spanish and who I think certainly understands better than I do. His view was that either way the government, the ruling party, would have suffered because there is such a strong view.

  Q30  Mr Olner: That is disturbing.

  Dr Samore: I think there is such a strong view in the Spanish public that the Iraq war was wrong and I think al-Qaeda was trying to capitalise on that by selecting Spain as a target. I think one has to anticipate that they will try to use similar tactics to try to influence other governments that were part of the Coalition.

  Q31  Mr Chidgey: I have two questions, Dr Samore. Does this attack in Madrid tell you anything about the current capability of al-Qaeda in terms of its ability to mobilise human resources rather that specifically financial resources, as has been seen in the past? My second question is: do you subscribe to the view which is put about by some of the press that this is an example of franchised operations where al-Qaeda expertise has been used to train, mobilise and support existing terrorist activities?

  Dr Samore: When I say "al-Qaeda", I am using that as shorthand for the very loose collection of Islamic jihadist terrorist groups.

  Q32  Mr Chidgey: Is that from a central base anywhere in the world?

  Dr Samore: It is hard to imagine that Osama bin Laden is sitting in a cave in north-west Pakistan issuing orders. I do not think it is that carefully orchestrated, but I do think there is a number of groups in different Islamic countries that share the same objectives and to some extent there is some co-ordination. I cannot tell you exactly who gave the order to set off the bombs in Madrid when they did. I just do not have that information. Unfortunately, in all of the Muslim communities in Europe there are very small numbers of sympathisers who are probably willing to carry out these kinds of operations. It does not take a lot of technical proficiency to place bombs on a train. I think we have to assume that al-Qaeda has, or that Islamic jihadists have, the capability to carry out similar operations in every major city in Europe. I want to make one point. I hope that Dr Cheema is right but if I am right and this is part of a calculated campaign, it seems to me absolutely critical that al-Qaeda not be in a position to claim victory. Therefore, I think it is important that we try to work with the new Spanish Government, either to establish political conditions for the Spanish to keep their forces in Iraq so that it does not look like the bombing campaign paid off, or to find some alternative measures that the Spanish Government can take in order to demonstrate that they are with the West or the Western Alliance in the fight against terrorism, even if they decide to pull their troops out of Iraq. I hope that Washington and London, and frankly I think Paris and Berlin have the same interest, will try to find a way to make sure that this new government in Spain is part of the Coalition and does not do or say things that appear to reward al-Qaeda for these attacks.

  Dr Cheema: In my view, al-Qaeda has the capability to unleash violence and the kinds of terrorist activities which have taken place in Spain. In order to escape pursuit, they have divided themselves, to my understanding, into small splinter cells that are active and which are then having a huge influence on where the directions are being issued. I would reiterate my opinion that they do not have the ability to influence political outcomes in European politics.

  Q33  Chairman: Let us turn to Pakistan and particularly the frightening revelations which have arisen from those documents supplied by Iran. We have the greatest proliferation scandal in history and in Dr A Q Khan, history's greatest nuclear proliferator. Can you, one or both of you, say what do you believe is the extent of proliferation from Pakistan, which has been revealed as a result of the current inquiries, and could it have included other states apart from those we know; that is, North Korea, Libya and Iran?

  Dr Samore: Certainly in the case of Libya, Iran and North Korea, there is no question that Pakistan provided significant nuclear weapons systems, although I think there are still some uncertainties about exactly what Iran and North Korea acquired. In the case of Libya, my impression is that the Libyan Government has fully divulged everything that it obtained with a lot of detail. There I think we have a full understanding. There are still some questions with respect to Iran and North Korea. My understanding is that the Pakistani Government is carrying out investigations and has promised to share further information with the US and other governments.

  Q34  Chairman: Are other states likely to be involved?

  Dr Samore: I think we know from documentary evidence that representatives of A Q Khan approached Iraq in the months leading up to the 1991 war, and that Iraq never followed up on that offer. That is one case. According to public reports, supposedly A Q Khan approached both Syria and Saudi Arabia, both of whom, for whatever reason, decided not to purchase his services. I think we have to assume that A Q Khan knocked on every door. We may very well learn that he had contacts with other governments in the Middle East but whether anybody actually bought anything, at this point in time, I am not aware.

  Dr Cheema: I would like to remove one word about North Korea, Iran and Libya having significant nuclear weapons capabilities. I would remove the word "significant" and then I would agree with that, with the exception of North Korea. North Korea is a closed environment with greater nuclear weapons capability as compared with Iran and Libya. On the question of A Q Khan, I would like you to go back to 1979 when the French Ambassador got some clue about what was happening in Kahuta and what kind of facility had been established there and he was beaten up by the ISI[1]. The Kahuta laboratories are closely monitored by the Pakistan intelligence agencies and establishment. To pass on the entire blame to Dr A Q Khan has to wait for the inquiry which the Government of Pakistan has established. I happen to know him. He had a great craze for publicity. He was egoistic and he was known well but he was not at that time known to be a man who craved for wealth, at that time at least. I do not know whether recently he is interested in that or not; he may be. I am not denying that. Therefore, the second question is important and it is what the inquiry has to establish. The first question is: is A Q Khan entirely and exclusively himself responsible for that? Are there other elements from the Pakistan establishment which are involved along with him? The establishment itself may not be but there could be elements within the nuclear establishment, either in the civilian or in the military establishment, which may be involved.

  Q35  Chairman: How far, in the hierarchy of Pakistan, in your judgment, could this knowledge or concurrence have gone?

  Dr Cheema: The knowledge is well known, there is no doubt about that. Secondly, I would say that if something, as a result of that inquiry, establishes that proliferation activities have been carried out, as prima facie the case appears to be, it would not happen without some people individually in the establishment knowing about that.

  Q36  Chairman: You say "the establishment" but there have been allegations that even the entourage of the President himself would have known. What is your response to that?

  Dr Cheema: He came to power as President and Chief Executive, you could say, in 1999. Before that, he had been in various positions. I do not know whether he knew that or not in his earlier positions, but after he became Chief Executive and the President, I am sure nothing could pass him by. Intelligence would definitely brief him about what is happening.

  Q37  Chairman: I have one final question before going on to Mr Olner. What is shown, I guess, is the problem also of stopping scientists passing on intellectual property. Is there any way of stopping that?

  Dr Samore: Of course the reason why people sign secrecy laws and commitments is to hold them accountable if they are found to have divulged classified information. I think that it is very difficult to analyse A Q Khan's activities as an individual scientist and his close coterie of friends acting on a freelance basis. I think it is much more likely that what we are witnessing is proliferation as a matter of state policy, that the Pakistani Government felt it had important strategic interests in providing nuclear assistance to countries like Iran and North Korea, and Libya's case may in fact have been primarily motivated by greed. Apparently A Q Khan was able to generate as much as $100 million from the sales to the Libyans. I think this is not really a case of individual scientists acting on their own. I think it much more of a state policy.

  Q38  Mr Olner: Apart from countries gaining these nuclear weapons or experience, Bin Laden has called it a "duty" to obtain nuclear weapons. Do you think there is a danger that other Pakistani scientists could have passed on nuclear technology or equipment to terrorist groups?

  Dr Samore: As far as I know, there is no information that A Q Khan was in touch with any non-state actors. The package that he was offering was centrifuge designs and components, nuclear weapons designs and some feed material, either natural or low enriched uranium hexafluoride. That package would be of little use to a terrorist group. For a terrorist group to acquire nuclear weapons, they would either need to obtain ready-made weapons or sufficient highly enriched uranium to make a crude nuclear bomb. I am less worried about non-state actors, even if they did get access to the package that A Q Khan was offering.

  Q39  Mr Olner: But, given that, what it actually uncovered is that there has been a looseness about passing on the technology. Could there not be a similar looseness about passing on the finished goods?

  Dr Samore: No information has come to light indicating that Pakistan or A Q Khan provided either nuclear weapons or highly enriched uranium. It may be that Pakistan viewed those strategic assets as so vital for its own defence that they were carefully kept under control. Obviously this is a matter that needs to be investigated. I am just not aware of any information that nuclear weapons or large quantities of weapons grade uranium were transferred as part of any of these deals.

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