by Luke Ryland
June 6, 2008
It’s remarkable, really.
The US government has taken some extreme measures to silence former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds. Among other reasons, they are obviously very nervous about information that Sibel has regarding the involvement of US, Israeli, and Turkish officials in supplying the nuclear black market.
Now we have this: The US Government apparently demanded that the Swiss government destroy all evidence – all 30,000 pages of it – related to the pending prosecution of the Tinner family. The Tinners were “very key suppliers” of AQ Khan’s nuclear proliferation network, but their court case is now unlikely to proceed, given the destruction of the evidence.
The Tinners, the father and two sons, were arrested by German authorities and extradited to Switzerland in 2004 for their role in supplying the A.Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network.
Two weeks ago, the Swiss President, responding to media reports, read out a prepared statement announcing that all the evidence relating to the Tinners’ case was destroyed late last year. He said that it was important to destroy all the evidence, which included sensitive information about how to make nuclear weapons, in case the information fell into the hands of terrorists. He also stated that Switzerland was merely meeting its obligations under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and that the IAEA supervised the destruction of the documents.
That sounds reasonable.
Unilateral Decision Making. The Swiss government is under pressure internally as a result of its unilateral decision to destroy the evidence. Both the parliament and the courts are accusing the Swiss government of violating the principle of Separation of Powers. The Parliament has already announced that it will hold an investigation into the matter.
Why the Secrecy? The announcement that the evidence was destroyed (6 months ago) was forced on the Swiss President by rumours in the media. The Swiss government refuses to answer any questions regarding the matter, as do the IAEA and the US government.
NPT Obligations? I haven’t seen any media report which confirms or supports the Swiss claim that this destruction of evidence was an obligation under the NPT. However the Guardian, which has the best reporting on this story, quotes a ‘former senior IAEA official’ saying: “I am quite astonished. It’s very unusual to see people destroying documents like this. They should be put somewhere very safe.”
The destruction of evidence took place with the apparent imprimatur of the IAEA, but they refuse to comment too. Has the IAEA been corrupted too?
Virtually every media article about this matter – including those articles preceding the official announcement – notes the strong suspicion that the Swiss Government acted on behalf of the US Government, specifically the CIA. The Guardian has the details:
“While the Swiss government maintains the treasure trove of nuclear intelligence was destroyed for reasons of national security, the Americans may have been involved because Tinner is believed to have also been working for the CIA. Albright said Tinner was recruited by the American agency from 1999-2000.
“The Swiss were doing other people’s dirty work,” said an international official familiar with the investigation into the Khan network. “The allegation is that Urs (Tinner) was on the CIA payroll for a very large sum of money.”
The Americans were also present (at the destruction), according to the international official. “The Americans were involved in the destruction. They were calling the shots,” he said.
Had the evidence been presented in court, compromising and embarrassing information about the CIA’s activities with the Khan network could have surfaced, say experts and officials. “
Time Magazine has a more benign take on the reasons that the CIA might have wanted the evidence destroyed:
“The official stonewalling has fueled speculation that the United States, and specifically the CIA, has pressured the Swiss government to destroy the documents to aid its own efforts to stop nuclear smuggling, whatever the effect on the Tinners’ trials. (emphasis mine)”
One item that I have not seen mentioned in any of the recent press reports is that the US government actively hindered the Swiss investigation into the Tinners for at least 18 months. In May 2006, former weapons inspector David Albright testified in Congress that the US government had been stonewalling the Swiss investigation:
“The U.S. Government Needs to Cooperate With Swiss Prosecutions of the Tinners.
Although the focus today is on Pakistan and unanswered questions about the Khan network, the United States has been remiss in assisting the overseas prosecution of key members of the Khan network. The United States has ignored multiple requests from Swiss prosecutors for cooperation that have extended over a year.
The (Swiss) Office of the Attorney General is disappointed over this matter. It is difficult to understand the actions of the U.S. Government. Its lack of assistance needlessly complicates this important investigation.
The United States should respond to the Swiss requests for assistance as quickly as possible. To continue to ignore these requests undermines the vital prosecution of key members of the Khan network and risks undercutting support for Swiss cooperation in non-proliferation matters. In addition, I find this lack of cooperation frankly embarrassing to the United States and those of us who believe that the United States should take the lead in bringing members of the Khan network to justice for arming our enemies with nuclear weapons.”
In an interview on Democracy Now a week later, Albright said that he finds the US stonewalling “disturbing and perplexing,” “mystifying” and “embarrassing as an American,” adding:
“The signal (the U.S. government is) sending is that it doesn’t want the Swiss to prosecute these three people, and yet they provide no reason for that.”
Albright’s perspective certainly add some important context to the allegations that the US government pressured the Swiss to destroy the Tinner files in order to prevent a public trial – and all that might entail…
The Tinner case brings to mind the Sibel Edmonds case, in terms of the underlying issues, the secrecy, and the destruction of evidence.
One of the key issues in Sibel’s case is the involvement of American, Turkish and Israeli officials in supplying the nuclear black market, including the so-called AQ Khan network. See the UK’s Times’ “For sale: West’s deadly nuclear secrets:
Edmonds described how foreign intelligence agents had enlisted the support of US officials to acquire a network of moles in sensitive military and nuclear institutions.
Her story shows just how much the West was infiltrated by foreign states seeking nuclear secrets. It illustrates how western government officials turned a blind eye to, or were even helping, countries such as Pakistan acquire bomb technology.
In order to keep this information from becoming public, Sibel’s case has been swept under the blanket of secrecy by the invocation of the State Secrets Privilege.
Destruction of Evidence
In a subsequent article, The Times also reported that the FBI “has been accused of covering up a file detailing government dealings with a network stealing nuclear secrets.” The case file, 203A-WF-210023, was known to exist, but the FBI now denies that it exists. The question at the time was whether the FBI was lying about the existence of the file, or whether the case file, which contained all the evidence of a multi-year counterintelligence investigation, had been destroyed. I had been leaning toward the option that the FBI was hiding the existence of the file, but given that the US government has apparently been able to orchestrate the destruction of evidence in the Swiss Tinner case, it’s easier to imagine that they could, and would, destroy their own case file.
The main argument for the destruction of the Tinner evidence is that it had to be destroyed in case the nuclear blueprints somehow got into the hands of terrorists or rogue states. This is obviously a worthy objective, however:
a) Copies of the exact same information are known to exist elsewhere, and is suspected to be on the Khan network computers in Dubai.
b) There is no indication in any of the media reports that any effort was made to destroy only the sensitive information while maintaining the evidence required to prosecute the Tinners.
c) The US (and UK) allowed the network to proliferate nuclear hardware and nuclear know-how for years without apparently being concerned about the fallout. Why the concern all of a sudden with the Tinner case?
The Times accurately described how the US has ignored proliferation for years, without any apparent concern:
“The wider nuclear network has been monitored for many years by a joint Anglo-American intelligence effort. But rather than shut it down, investigations by law enforcement bodies such as the FBI and Britain’s Revenue & Customs have been aborted to preserve diplomatic relations.”
In Sibel’s case, the FBI watched while the network delivered nuclear product not only to their acknowledged end-customers, but also while freelancers within the network made copies of the information stolen “from every nuclear agency in the United States” and sold it to the highest bidder. There’s no indication that the US government did anything to stop the flow of any of this information at the time, but rather went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that Sibel’s knowledge of these events did not become public. Similarly, people at the Pentagon and State Department were able to ensure that the honest counterintelligence agents at the FBI were prevented from moving forward on any of their multi-year investigations that had discovered all of these nefarious activities.
After all this, we are now being asked to believe that the destruction of evidence in the Tinner case is to prevent secure information from getting in the hands of terrorists? Please.
Where is the Media?
One other similarity between Sibel’s case and the Tinner case is the absence of the US mainstream media. The Tinner case broke on May 23. The Guardian article was on May 31. The US media has been completely AWOL on this story, apart from a single AP story that ran in some venues on May 23. UPI ran a short article based on the Guardian story, and Time ran an article on June 3. The New York Times hasn’t run a single article on the story.
The US government has done just about everything it can to ensure that Sibel Edmonds is prohibited from spilling the beans on what she knows about the nuclear black market, among other things. Now we see the hand of the US government apparently reaching into a foreign democracy, exporting the concept of the ‘unitary executive’ and upsetting the balance of powers, to destroy evidence which was to be used to prosecute crimes involving the spread of nuclear weapons to rogue regimes.
The US government had previously demonstrated that it didn’t wanted to prosecute these crimes, therefore their flimsy ex-poste rationales for destroying the evidence, in secret, need to be held up for extra scrutiny.
What’s going on???
Crossposted at Let Sibel Edmonds Speak
For more background on Sibel’s case and the nuclear black market, see my “Sibel Edmonds Case: Nukes for sale (Pt 2)” and “Sibel Edmonds Case: Benazir and The ‘Islamic’ Bomb”