Thursday, May 21, 2009

CIA and the Nuclear Black Market

In June 2008, I wrote about the destruction of evidence in a nuclear black market case involving A.Q. Khan, the CIA, and the Swiss government. Now we have some more interesting news.

One of AQ Khan's key suppliers to his nuclear black market (as well as the Pakistani bomb) was a Swiss family - Urs, Marco and Friedrik Tinner. Urs Tinner was under investigation by the French authorities and the CIA told Tinner that they could make his French problems, and any other problems, go away if Tinner became an agent for the CIA.

Tinner agreed to inform for the CIA, and fed them some information when he was working for AQ Khan in Malaysia, building Libya's nuclear weapons program, but when the CIA eventually exposed the AQ Khan network, Tinner kept a digital copy of the 'nuclear blueprints' which he could then sell on the nuclear black market for his personal profit.

In 2004, Tinner was arrested in Germany, along with his brother and father, and extradited to Switzerland. In May 2008, while Urs Tinner was in jail awaiting prosecution, the Swiss President announced that, six months earlier, he had destroyed ALL files related to the Tinners case. These files included not just the nuclear blueprints, but also any evidence that the Tinners had been working with the CIA. This caused an uproar in Switzerland, with the Swiss courts and Swiss parliament outraged that the President apparently made this decision unilaterally. The President claimed that he destroyed the documents so that they didn't fall into the hands of terrorists, a patently nonsensical claim. Most observers agreed that the Swiss President was actually doing the bidding of the CIA.

At the time, I noted the amazing silence in the US media about this story, particularly given headlines such as in the Guardian: "Nuclear bomb blueprints for sale on world black market, experts fear."

Destroyed Nuclear Weapons Blueprints Found
Last month, the leading Swiss newspaper Le Temps reported (google translation from the French is here) that:
(C)opies of some files removed, including that contained plans for a new generation atomic weapon had simply escaped the destruction and slept in the archives of the Office of the Attorney General.
This remarkable news was also completely ignored by the US corporate media.

Swiss Block US Investigation
Now we learn that the Swiss is refusing to allow US access to the Tinners.

Douglas Frantz, former Managing Editor at the LA Times, wrote one of the better books on the AQ Khan network, and was the fir
st to report that the CIA had recruited Urs Tinner. Frantz is among those who believes that the Swiss President destroyed the Tinner documents to hide the CIA's relationship with the network. Earlier this year, Frantz became the chief investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) under Senator John Kerry, focussing on nuclear proliferation.

Frantz wants to speak to Urs Tinner's lawyer, however
Frantz received a letter from the Swiss Justice Department last week forbidding any meeting between the two, and threatening Frantz with three years in prison if he fails to comply.

Again, this news has not been reported in the English language media.

What is going on here? It's difficult to tell, not least because there is so little reporting on the matter.

After the Swiss President caved to US requests to destroy all the evidence, infuriating the Swiss Parliament and Justice Department, it is possible that the Swiss Justice Department is wresting back control of the case (the Swiss criminal case against the Tinner family is still pending.) If this hypothesis is true, then it is not surprising that the Swiss Justice Department is nervous about any discussions between the US and the Tinners. A possible compromise would be if the Swiss authorities sit in on the discussions between Frantz and Tinner's lawyer, but neither side appears to have made that offer...

It is not clear why Frantz wants to talk to Tinner's lawyer. Frantz's main focus appears to be the Iranian nuclear program, and it is possible that he wants to ask Tinner about Iranian procurement activities, but then why would he want to speak to Tinner's lawyer, rather than Tinner? (Perhaps that isn't possible for other reasons?) But if Frantz isn't there to ask questions, why is he there? Is he there to give Tinner a message? If so, is the message from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee? That sounds unlikely. Is the message from the CIA? Since when does the Senate offer cover for the CIA?

It would be somewhat ironic -if that's the correct word - if the US was unable to get important inside information about the Iranian nuclear procurement program because the Swiss are upset that the CIA forced them to destroy all evidence of US activity in the same network nuclear black market...

Update: see here


Anonymous said...

Wow. Just wow. I'm so glad I found your blog. I had no idea you were doing one. Why don't you post this stuff elsewhere any more?

lukery said...

Hi - glad you like it here.

I might start posting elsewhere again - maybe later in the year.