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Tuesday, July 22 1997

CIA man who blew the whistle on Pak nuclear arms vindicated

Chidanand Rajghatta

WASHINGTON, July 21: Just how much perfidy and duplicity is practised by successive US governments in protecting and mollycoddling Pakistan's nuclearisation -- while making mealy-mouthed assertions about non-proliferation -- is demonstrated in the strange case of Richard M Barlow.

Barlow was a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analyst dealing with nuclear proliferation in the late 1980s when Pakistan contracted to buy 60 F-16 fighter planes from the United States. Administration officials and Pentagon mandarins backing the sale assured the Congress that the planes were not capable of delivering nuclear weapons and that Pakistan had no such bombs.

As the official in charge of coordinating US efforts to halt the secret spread of nuclear weapons across the world, Barlow knew that they were wrong on both counts. He could go before the Congress and tell them the truth. If he did, he would be protected by what was appropriately called the Whistle Blowers Protection Act, under which CIA officials could tell approved Congressmen or Congressional committees about crime, fraud and deceit.

Suspicious that Barlow was going to blow the whistle, his superiors ordered him not to talk to Congressional staff members. He was sacked soon after because his supervisor was ``not confident he will not contact them in spite of my clear instructions''. ``I was fired out of the blue. I had just been promoted, and overnight, my security clearances were withdrawn and a major investigation was launched,'' Barlow recalled in an interview with this correspondent from Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he has a new job as a consultant on nuclear proliferation, thanks to a Senator who took up his cause.

As it turned out, Barlow's assessment of Pakistani nuclear capability was bang on target.

* In 1990, confirmation of Barlow's evaluation came from the highest level. President George Bush was unable to certify that Pakistan did not have nuclear weapons, thus bringing into motion the Pressler Amendment and freezing the sale of F-16s.

* Soon after, CIA Director Robert Gates too affirmed the F-16s could deliver nuclear weapons with minor modifications.

* Pakistan itself confirmed that it had gone nuclear, and according to one version, the head of its nuclear programme wrote that Barlow ``had it right on the money, but was told to keep quiet.''

Still, that did not get back Barlow his job. Because he was technically protected against reprisal under the Whistle Blowers Act (if talking to the Congress was given as the reason for his dismissal), he had been fired for incompetency. He was charged with not having paid his taxes and described as an alcoholic. ``They painted me out as a psychotic and destroyed my career.

I lost my wife as a direct result of this. I was devastated,'' Barlow, who was then only 35, recalled.

For seven years now, Barlow has been seeking restitution, working his way back into life, starting as a vagrant and then a $ 6-an-hour tour guide. ``It was the first time I realised what it is to be up against the might of the government,'' he said describing the persecution he suffered in the world's freest country.

Last week, even as the US Senate and the administration eased economic and military training sanctions against Pakistan imposed because of its nuclear transgressions, Barlow found some light at the end of the tunnel. A new government report questioned his dismissal by Pentagon and criticised an earlier internal investigation by the DOD which cited undisclosed deficiencies in his performance as the reason for his sacking.

The July 9 report by the General Accounting Office said the reasons for his sacking (incompetency) lacked supporting documentation for its conclusion.

The case also did not address how the threat of disclosure perceived by Barlow's supervisor affected the protection he was due under the Whistle Blower Law.

``I feel vindicated,'' Barlow told the Indian Express on Sunday, adding, ``but it's not over yet.'' He wants an apology, payment of lost wages, and $ 1 million in damages. The Pentagon did not return calls seeking its comment on the story.

Asked about the Clinton administration's moves to incrementally relax sanctions against Pakistan leading to the possible unfreezing of the sequestered F-16s, Barlow said the F-16 deal had been jinxed from the very beginning and it was unlikely Pakistan would get the planes in the near future, if ever.

Barlow also said the F-16 deal had little to do with the administration or Pakistan. ``This is about greed and money. This is to the benefit of their generals and our arms merchants. So Pakistan has not got the F-16s for nearly ten years now. Has it suffered on account of this?'' he asked.

The Barlow case is at the heart of a new battle between the US legislature and the executive. The Senate is currently considering strengthening the Whistle Blowers Act to enable federal employees tell Congressional Intelligence Committee members classified information that may expose government wrong-doing without fear of reprisal. President Clinton has threatened to veto the bills because the White House feels it would ``usurp the President's constitutional authority to protect national security and other privileged information''.

Copyright © 1997 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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