In nuclear net’s undoing, a web of shadowy deals

The president of Switzerland stepped to a podium in Bern last May and read a statement confirming rumors that had swirled through the capital for months. The government, he acknowledged, had indeed destroyed a huge trove of computer files and other material documenting the business dealings of a family of Swiss engineers suspected of helping smuggle nuclear technology to Libya and Iran.

The files were of particular interest not only to Swiss prosecutors but to international atomic inspectors working to unwind the activities of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani bomb pioneer-turned-nuclear black marketeer. The Swiss engineers, Friedrich Tinner and his two sons, were accused of having deep associations with Dr. Khan, acting as middlemen in his dealings with rogue nations seeking nuclear equipment and expertise.

The Swiss president, Pascal Couchepin, took no questions. But he asserted that the files — which included an array of plans for nuclear arms and technologies, among them a highly sophisticated Pakistani bomb design — had been destroyed so that they would never fall into terrorist hands.

Behind that official explanation, though, is a far more intriguing tale of spies, moles and the compromises that governments make in the name of national security.

The United States had urged that the files be destroyed, according to interviews with five current and former Bush administration officials. The purpose, the officials said, was less to thwart terrorists than to hide evidence of a clandestine relationship between the Tinners and the C.I.A.

Editor’s Comment — “CIA Used AQ Khan Network to Sabotage Iran’s Nuclear Program.”

That could have been the headline. Instead we get “In Nuclear Net’s Undoing, a Web of Shadowy Deals” with a subheadline: “3 Swiss Engineers Are Tied to CIA Efforts to Take Down Global Black Market.” And even though this “intriguing tale” made the front page, it will surely get buried under a week’s saturation coverage of the Democratic Convention.

It’s long been asked why the AQ Khan network took so long to be dismantled. This report suggests — even if it refrains from fully spelling it out — an answer: the CIA had not merely penetrated the network but was actively using it. The network was allowed to continue in operation because it provided a possible means to sabotage the nuclear programs that it was ostensibly facilitating.

If the CIA doesn’t want to see the Tinners go on trial, perhaps it has a similar desire not to see AQ Khan face questioning. This is a story that has barely begun to be told.

The souls of young Muslim folk

The question posed by W.E.B. DuBois in his classic “The Souls of Black Folk” cut to the marrow of what it was like to be black under Jim Crow. Now, more than a century after DuBois penned his query, Moustafa Bayoumi thinks it is appropriate to ask it again. The associate professor of English at Brooklyn College argues in his new book, “How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?” that young Arabs and Muslims are America’s latest “problem.”

In a few destructive hours on Sept. 11, he writes, the groups went from being just another set of minorities in our multicultural patchwork to “dangerous outsiders” in many Americans’ eyes. Hate crimes spiked 1,700 percent against Arabs and Muslims in the months after the terrorist attacks and thousands were detained, questioned and deported. A 2006 USA Today/Gallup poll found 39 percent of Americans believed all Muslims –including U.S. citizens — should carry special IDs.

“We’re the new blacks,” a Palestinian-American in his 20s tells Bayoumi as the young man puffs on apple-flavored tobacco in a hookah lounge. “You know that, right?”

Disarming the bomb in the basement

Israel’s interior minister Meir Sheetrit – who is vying to take over the reins from outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert – has struck a welcome note of caution on Iran in his campaign for the ruling Kadima party’s leadership.

On Wednesday, he said: “Israel must on no account attack Iran, speak of attacking Iran or even think about it … Israel must defend itself only if attacked by Iran, but attacking Iran on our own initiative is a megalomaniacal [and] reckless idea.”

Earlier, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy also struck alarm bells against calls to bomb Iran. He warned that an attack could hurt Israel’s interests for a century. “It will have a negative effect on public opinion in the Arab world.”

Israel’s missile shield against Iran: Three Americans in a trailer

A commander and two operators monitor missile radars in an armored trailer somewhere in Europe. Inside, they use satellite technology to track the origin and trajectory of long-range missiles. In true American fashion, each shift begins with calisthenics, followed by an intelligence briefing.

That is the envisioned routine of the U.S. team that will be responsible for protecting Israel from surface-to-surface missiles launched from Iran or Syria.

Earlier this month the U.S. and Israel agreed on the deployment of a high-powered early-warning missile radar system in the Negev, to be staffed by U.S. military personnel. The station will receive information from the U.S. team in Europe that will aid it in its work.

The deployment of the Joint Tactical Ground Station (JTAGS) system, is widely seen as a kind of parting gift from Washington to Jerusalem as President George W. Bush prepares to leave office.

The system will protect Israel’s skies from missile attacks, but the flip side of the deal is that Israel’s freedom of action against Iran or Syria will be significantly curtailed.

U.S. to leave Iraq by 2011, Maliki says

Days after top Iraqi and American officials suggested that a draft of the security pact between the countries was close, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki toughened his language, reiterating earlier Iraqi demands for a fixed date for the withdrawal of American troops.

“It is not possible for any agreement to conclude unless it is on the basis of full sovereignty and the national interest, and that no foreign soldiers remain in Iraqi soil after a defined time ceiling,” Mr. Maliki said in a speech to Shiite tribal leaders in Baghdad’s Green Zone.

The Bush administration has consistently emphasized that the agreement — needed to legalize the presence of American forces after the United Nations mandate expires at the end of this year — is still in draft form.

Fear keeps Iraqis out of their Baghdad homes

When Jabbar, an elderly Shiite man, stormed out of his house here in June wanting to know where all his furniture had gone, the sharp look of the young Sunni standing guard on his street stopped him cold.

The young man said nothing, but his expression made things clear: Jabbar had no home here anymore.

After Iraq’s sectarian earthquake settled, his neighborhood had become a mostly Sunni area. Instead of moving back, he is trying to sell the house while staying in a rented one less than a mile away in an area that is mostly Shiite.

It is not an unusual decision. Out of the more than 151,000 families who had fled their houses in Baghdad, just 7,112 had returned to them by mid-July, according to the Iraqi Ministry of Migration. Many of the displaced remain in Baghdad, just in different areas. In one neighborhood alone, Amiriya, in western Baghdad, there are 8,350 displaced families, more than the total number of families who have returned to their houses in all of Baghdad.

How a Jihadist curtailed a president’s authority

When Salim Hamdan was born in 1970, the horizon of his life extended little beyond his poor Yemeni village and a life (if he was lucky) as a farmer like his father. He was anything but lucky. His mother died when he was 7, his father when he was 11, and he soon found himself living on the streets of Mukalla. He eventually found work as the driver of a dabab, a beat-up minibus stuffed with riders — making just enough to rent a mattress in a flophouse and a daily supply of the mild narcotic khat to chew away his problems.

Yet, within a few years, this dabab driver with a fourth-grade education would occupy not only a cell in Guantánamo Bay but also the minds of members of the Supreme Court and the president of the United States.

Israel has nothing to gain from a Palestinian civil war

When a bomb exploded in the Shajaiyyah district of Gaza last month, killing four Hamas operatives and a 5-year-old girl, Hamas blamed Fatah, and moved violently against its remaining Gazan enclaves. Fatah forces then pursued retribution against Hamas in the West Bank. Another round of intra-Palestinian conflict and bloodletting ensued, with the leading pro-Fatah family in Gaza, the Hilles clan, fleeing to Israel in the hopes of making it to the West Bank.

But do you think that Palestinians nearing civil war and the ongoing collapse of a central Palestinian governing entity serves Israel’s security interests? If so, think again.

Those who are taking comfort in the televised images of Palestinian-on-Palestinian violence, or in the “propaganda coup” of Human Rights Watch condemning both the Hamas government in Gaza and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA), are dangerously misguided. These events neither exonerate Israel for its own violations of human rights and international law in the Occupied Territories, nor improve Israel’s own strategic environment.

U.N. envoy’s ties to Pakistani are questioned

Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to the United Nations, is facing angry questions from other senior Bush administration officials over what they describe as unauthorized contacts with Asif Ali Zardari, a contender to succeed Pervez Musharraf as president of Pakistan.

Mr. Khalilzad had spoken by telephone with Mr. Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, several times a week for the past month until he was confronted about the unauthorized contacts, a senior United States official said. Other officials said Mr. Khalilzad had planned to meet with Mr. Zardari privately next Tuesday while on vacation in Dubai, in a session that was canceled only after Richard A. Boucher, the assistant secretary of state for South Asia, learned from Mr. Zardari himself that the ambassador was providing “advice and help.”

“Can I ask what sort of ‘advice and help’ you are providing?” Mr. Boucher wrote in an angry e-mail message to Mr. Khalilzad. “What sort of channel is this? Governmental, private, personnel?” Copies of the message were sent to others at the highest levels of the State Department; the message was provided to The New York Times by an administration official who had received a copy.

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