Charlie Wilson’s Betrayal

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Charlie Wilson’s Betrayal

Paul Fitzgerald & Liz Gould – 2006-12-03


Or, once again, Hollywood distorts the facts. Please note all the mentions of CIA involvement with the creating of al Qaeda, factual history that seemed to escape the attention of President Bush’s handpicked 9/11 Commission.


“This eye-popping review of Charlie Wilson’s War should be required reading for the entire production of the film, including Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. It lays bare how the maturing of the American public’s genuine mythology has suffered with Hollywood’s preference for fairy tale story telling to all our detriment. This time let’s hold Hollywood accountable for its role in setting an understanding of the atrocity to the Afghan people back a century.”

Paul Fitzgerald & Liz Gould

Charlie Wilson’s Betrayal

The other day, Agent Borussky called up and insisted on reading me a passage from George Crile’s best selling book, Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History.

It was a funny passage because it showed Richard “Prince of Darkness” Perle, Ollie North, Walt Raymond and others acting like complete dingbats over the CIA’s proxy war in Afghanistan. This passage had popped up in the blogosphere , so I knew some of the details.

But Borussky thought I should read the whole damned thing. He felt so strongly about it that he showed up at my front door the next evening with a copy in his hand. So I read it.

And discovered the real story of this book has been overlooked, to say the least. Charlie Wilson’s War is one of those remarkable books that after you have finished reading it, you know less than before you started. The entire function of the book is to make the American public less informed than ever about how we threw ourselves over the cliff of the Cold War and into the chasm of the War on Terrorism. By the time the movie version starring Tom Hanks has been through the theaters, the process of turning history into fiction will be complete.

The jacket blurbs describe Charlie Wilson’s War as an entertaining thriller:

Charlie Wilson’s War is the untold story of a whiskey swilling, skirt-chasing, scandal-prone congressman from Texas, and how he conspired with a rogue CIA operative to launch the biggest and most successful covert operation in U.S. history. – Publisher’s blurb

“Americans often ask: ‘Where have all the heroes gone?’ Well a lot of them come roaring through in this tour de force of reporting and writing. Tom Clancy’s fiction pales in comparison with the amazing, mesmerizing story told by George Crile. By resurrecting a missing chapter of our recent past, Charlie Wilson’s War provides us with the key to understanding the present.”

– Dan Rather

The reviews that I have found in the New York Times , the Texas Observer , the Huston Chronicle and Salon all read pretty much the same:

“What a tale, what a yarn. Good Time Charlie Wilson of Lufkin, Texas, noted boozer and pussyhound, teams up with a rule-bending CIA agent to secretly funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to the mujahideen of Afghanistan. Over the years, they slowly bleed the Red Army to defeat, ultimately causing the fall of the Soviet Union. I know it sounds far-fetched–even fantastic–but veteran 60 Minutes producer George Crile has a shitload of evidence.

“This has to be one of the wildest stories ever told. Wilson, the perennial Peck’s bad boy, first of the Texas Legislature and then of the U.S. Congress, and his CIA sidekick Gust Avrakotos, take on Congress, the CIA, the White House, bureaucrats, arms dealers, and foreign potentates. All the while accompanied by gorgeous babes and all in the interest of killing commies.” — Molly Ivins in the Texas Observer

“Charlie Wilson’s War is a behind-the-scenes chronicle of a program that is still largely classified. Crile does not provide much insight into his reporting methods, but the book appears to be based on interviews with a number of the principals. The result is a vivid narrative, though a reader may wonder how much of this story is true in exactly the way Crile presents it. Still, few people who remember Wilson’s years in Washington would discount even the wildest tales.

“Crile recounts with relish Wilson’s partying. There are many anecdotes of his overseas travels, first-class at taxpayers’ expense, accompanied by former beauty queens who seem to pop up at events in conservative Islamic countries wearing skintight jumpsuits. In one odd moment, according to Crile, Wilson brought his own belly dancer from Texas to Cairo to entertain the Egyptian defense minister, who was secretly supplying the mujahedeen with millions of rounds of ammunition for the AK-47’s that the C.I.A. was smuggling into Afghanistan. Her sultry dancing went far beyond the prudish norms of Cairo, but delighted the powerful minister.

“Crile tells us that Wilson enjoyed driving to distraction a succession of C.I.A. officials as he prodded the agency to supply the fighters with increasingly more lethal weapons. The agency bureaucrats were content with a modest program designed to bleed the Soviets, whereas Wilson envisioned a war that the mujahedeen could win. As the money for the war began to flow, the C.I.A. put one of its own misfits in charge of the operation, Gust Avrakotos. He formed a small band of agency officers who quickly got behind the war in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of automatic weapons, antitank guns, even satellite intelligence maps, redrawn in the form of crude maps that might have been penned by the mujahedeen themselves — all of it was carried across Pakistan’s border into Afghanistan on the backs of mules procured by the C.I.A. from as far away as the Tennessee hill country. ” — David Johnson in the New York Times

Two patriotic good ol’ boys win Cold War by bucking the system and sticking their fingers into the eyes of snobbish and effete East Coast blue-bloods. A cross-fertilization of Horatio Alger and techno-thriller. Congressman Charlie Wilson and CIA operative Gust Avrakotos make good, kill commies, boff beauty queens, win Cold War, save Western Civilization. And that’s the way it reads… on the surface.

The espionage as entertainment genre

Charlie Wilson’s War is actually a very different book than described in the reviews. The best parallel that can be drawn to Charlie Wilson’s War is the notorious A Man Called Intrepid by William Stevenson. Both books are examples of a whitewash all dressed up as an expose.

The popular literature of espionage is cluttered with these books. They are easy to write: find a likely source involved in some skull-duggery and ghost-write their memoirs. Dress it up with the appearance of having researched the subject — usually by interviewing co-actors in the drama who support the protagonists’ story. Entries in the genre are easily detected by a glance at the sources: did the author actually do research or just write down what people told him?

Writing popular espionage books is a fairly safe game to play. Packaged as entertainment, the “whitewash as expose” style is rarely examined closely. With blurbs featuring words and phrases like “now it can be told,” “rips aside the curtain of secrecy,” “shocking secrets revealed,” etc, nobody is going to set the bar very high. Occasionally, as happened with A Man Called Intrepid, a few scholars will debunk it, but usually in academic publications that never reach the public.

Occasionally, the “whitewash as expose” can serve a deeper purpose — extending the lifetime of the covert operation it purports to expose. Telling the marks the tale, in which almost all of the “facts” are true but the analysis is utterly false, can be a very effective swindle. Or in the parlance of espionage: disinformation.

Crile’s book is well within the mainstream of espionage entertainment. The historical framework is sketchy and often highly distorted. The sourcing is laughable. Crile’s research usually went no further than asking his sources for other contacts to confirm what he had already been told. There are numerous errors — minor and major — in his fact-checking and conclusions. But the errors of factual reporting fade into insignificance when one begins to grasp the underlying direction of the book’s interior analysis.

Stretchers and Whoppers

Mark Twain said that tall tales fall into two categories: whoppers and stretchers. Charlie Wilson’s War is mostly stretchers, but the whoppers are breath-taking:

The Afghan mujahideen had no participation in transnational terrorism.

“Granted, the way the Afghans deal with invaders or, for that matter, with one another inside their own borders is terrifying. But never once during their jihad against the Soviet Union did they resort to what we identify as terrorism outside of their own country — no embassies were bombed, planes hijacked, diplomats taken hostage, or civilians put at risk. And so far, they have not directly joined the terror campaign that their Muslim and Arab friends from other countries have launched.” [pg. 533]

Three examples suffice to show that Afghans have been considerably active in transnational terrorism. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly drawn attention to the conflict in Kashmir, where Islamist militants operate out of ISI training bases in Afghanistan (and here). John Cooley, a journalist with decades of experience, specifically points to Afghan terrorism against both Muslims and Hindus in Kashmir. In Unholy Wars, Cooley states “As of September 1997, Indian troops [in Kashmir] had reported killing 302 mercenaries, including 118 Afghans and 106 Pakistanis. …Some 80 foreign guerrillas, mainly Afghans and Pakistnis, had been taken prisoner.” And Victory, a book celebrating the Reagan covert operations that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, describes members of the Reagan administration greeting with delight the news of mujahideen terrorism in Uzbekistan before the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

These are all factual instances that utterly contradict Crile’s assertion. More importantly, they all come from sources that were published and widely available before Charlie Wilson’s War went to press. Since Crile relied entirely on narrow and selective interviews with an extremely small cast of characters, his gullibility (if that’s what it is) is incredible.

Crile sprinkles other less strongly worded exonerations throughout the book. The above-quoted passage on page 533 is the most forthright statement of one of the threads of denial that weaves through Charlie Wilson’s War. The odd language of the absolute “never once” combined with the weasel-ish qualifications “what we identify as terrorism” and “so far, they have not directly joined the terror campaign” suggest that Crile is aware of the absurdity of what he is writing.

The CIA’s policy of “credible deniability” exonerates them on charges of “blowback” and arming Islamic terrorism. “The CIA had deeded to the Pakistan intelligence service, the ISI, the right to decide which mujahideen leaders would recieve the Agency’s weapons…” [pg. 198]

“Unlike the CIA and the U.S. government, which operated with a strict taboo against any Americans crossing into Afghanistan…” [pg. 199]

“Over the long years of the Cold War, a kind of unwritten understanding had emerged between the superpowers about rules of engagement in proxy wars. The implicit understanding in Afghanistan was that the United States would not taunt the Soviets with an overt demonstration of involvement.” [pg. 217]

The closest Crile comes to admitting CIA responsibility for the explosive spread of Islamist terrorism from the Afghan war is to label it an “unintended consequence” — that old chestnut of conservative apologists. In fact, the title of the epilogue dealing with the global spillover of Islamist terrorism is “Unintended Consequences” just in case there was any doubt about Crile’s intention and meaning.

The fiction of American uninvolvement with the mujahideen and the subsequent arming of global Islamist terrorism is knocked down as hypocrisy by Crile himself, when he describes Rep. Wilson upbraiding a Chuck Cogan, the CIA Near East division chief, in front of Gust Avrakotos for opposing giving the Oerlikon cannon to the mujahideen in 1983:

“‘Why?’ Wilson asked defiantly, pointing out that President Reagan was publicly acknowledging U.S. assistance to the Afghans.” [pg. 209]

This sentence clearly demonstrates Crile, Wilson and Avrakotos’ shared understanding that cover stories were convenient fictions and nothing more. Yet throughout the book, Crile repeatedly falls back on presenting cover stories as fact. This becomes particularly glaring where he describes the distribution of the Stinger missiles. Crile makes a big song and dance out of the tight controls the CIA initially placed (and then discarded) on the transfer of these high-tech anti-aircraft missiles to the Pakistanis and the mujahideen.

In fact, the Stingers were soon handed out so lavishly and with so little accounting that a global black market arose in selling the missiles to terrorists, drug mafias and rogue nations. Ever since the missiles were cast onto the waters of the global black market they have turned up in every corner of the globe despite the efforts of the U.S. government to recover them. Crile just ignores this development, leaving the reader with the impression that nothing ever went wrong with the Stinger program.

The “Arab Afghans” (the progenitors of Al Qaida) and the Taliban were distinct and isolated from the other mujahideen supplied and controlled by the CIA and ISI. “When viewed through the prism of 9/11, the scale of that U.S. support for an army of Muslim fundamentalists seems almost incomprehensible.” [Author’s note, pg. ix]

“Pakistan’s former intelligence chief, Hamid Gul, maintains that over the course of the jihad, up to thirty thousand volunteers from other countries had come into Pakistan to take part in the holy war. What now seems clear is that, under the umbrella of the CIA’s program, Afghanistan had become a gathering place for militant Muslims from around the world, a virtual Mecca for radical Islamists.” [pg. 521]

“The presumption at Langley had been that when the United States packed its bags and cut off the Afghans, the jihad would simply burn itself out.” [pg. 521]

For several years before the Soviet invasion, Western intelligence agencies had been very actively promoting Islamist radicals as a major proxy force to counter Soviet activities and undermine Soviet client states throughout the Muslim world. In the summer of 1979, Zbignew Brezinsky understood that radical Islam would be a U.S. problem in the future, even as he advised President Carter to authorize the covert operations that provoked the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Hamid Gul’s estimate of the number of foreign jihadis involved in Afghanistan is considerably less than the commonly and widely accepted figure of 40-60,000. Despite Crile’s use of the phrase “it now seems clear…”, the role of militant Islam was central to the funding and escalation of the Afghan war from the very beginning.

And as far as the “presumption at Langley” goes, by the time that U.S. funding of Pakistan’s proxy forces was finally cut off in 1993 — two years after the Soviet Union ceased to exist — Islamist terrorism was already a well recognized problem in Kashmir, Egypt, Somalia, the Phillipines, Sudan and numerous other hot spots throughout the Muslim world. And the funding was still flowing when the Islamist cell associated with Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman began planning the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. The peak for U.S. funding of the guerillas coincided with the peak period for foreign volunteers in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was this time, roughly from 1989 through 1992 that saw the establishment of Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaida, the Abu Sayyaf and other transnational Isamist terrorist groups.

These three whoppers share a common thread: they are CIA cover stories that Crile presents as fact. Gust Avrakotos is the primary source for each of them. They are his stories and Crile is sticking to them. And they are complete, utter and unquestionable falsehoods that Crile has no credible excuse for believing or repeating. Other distortions in the book serve purposes other than whitewashing the CIA’s role in promoting global terrorism.

Pakistan’s role in regional conflicts were entirely defensive and never involved Pakistani aggression against neighbors. Hence, the development of the Islamic bomb was entirely an issue of nuclear deterrence.

“Back in 1971, just before Wilson was elected to Congress, India, with its Soviet-equipped army, had invaded and defeated Pakistan in the Bangladesh war.” [pg. 101]

“All Pakistan military men live with a primal fear of their blood enemy, India… They reminded him [Wilson] that India had exploded an atomic bomb in 1974 and now had greatly expanded its nuclear-strike capability. The Soviets, they said, were pouring money into the Indian army and the Indians were engaged in menacing maneuvers on their borders.” [pg. 106]

“In each of its three wars with India, Pakistan had been overwhelmed by the far larger and more powerful Indian army. …On top of that, the Indians had the bomb. This was one of the reasons the Pakistanis were racing to build a bomb of their own, and it helps explain why they had been so quick to intervene so deeply in the Afghan war. …The Pakistanis were now playing a very dangerous game. …By becoming the indispensible link between the mujahideen and the West, the Pakisanis were able to lash out at India’s superpower patron, the Soviets. Afghanistan’s conflict had become the Pakistan army’s war of redemption…” [pg. 151]

“One thing all serious Pakistani politicans agreed on was the need for a nuclear deterrent. It was the only way, they believed, they could survive against a militarily superior India, which had already overrun the country in three previous wars.” [pg. 421]

All four of these passages are at variance with the known facts of the Indo-Pakistani wars over Kashmir in 1948, 1965 and the Bangladesh war of 1971. In all three conflicts, Pakistan was responsible for the larger share of aggression and escalation. Crile’s characterization of the 1971 Bangaladesh war as an invasion by India is rather like describing World War II as the invasion of Germany and Japan. Similarly, the Pakistani atomic program has been more directed towards nuclear proliferation than deterrence.

Charlie Wilson’s War gives the impression that India was sorme sort of Soviet satellite. In fact, the United States supplied most of the arms used by both sides in the 1971 war. It was only after Nixon’s rapprochement with China and clear U.S. signals of lessening support for India that India abandoned its long-standing policy of non-alignment and made overtures to the Soviet Union. This happened after the 1971 war with Pakistan.

So the notion of a Pakistani nuclear program as a deterrent to Indian aggression (nuclear or otherwise) is not only wrong, but dishonest. The Pakistanis were indeed playing a very dangerous game, but it was one that sought to expand Pakistani power throughout the region. How dangerous this game really was became evident in late 2001 when Islamist terrorists based in Pakistan attempted the mass assassination of members of the Indian Parliament. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, a new Indo-Pakistani war nearly occurred. One of the most dangerous aspects of that close call was the destabilizing effect of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Was the terrorist attack an attempt to trigger a nuclear war or was the Pakistani bomb a shield that enabled and encouraged the terrorist attack?

Crile never explores the politics of the race for the Islamic bomb, but he does suggest Afghan war was a means of obtaining American tacit approval and resources for Pakistan’s nuclear program. Wilson’s activities in support of the Islamic bomb are central to his relationship with Zia Al Haq. The heart of the story of Charlie Wilson and his war was the Islamic bomb.

The biggest whopper in Charlie Wilson’s War is the concealment of Charlie Wilson’s betrayal of America and his role as an agent of a treacherous and hostile foreign power. It would look like this if it was written as a jacket blurb: “The hidden story of a foreign intelligence operation that penetrated the CIA, corrupted Congress, swindled the White House, stole nuclear secrets and created the nuclear black market that gave weapons of mass destruction to the ‘Axis of Evil.’ It was an operation that makes the Russian atomic espionage rings of the 40’s and 50’s look like child’s play.”

But that’s not the story George Crile is selling. Besides, it’s hard to sell the movie rights to a story about the betrayal of America. What star would want to risk his career playing a turncoat who backed the wrong side in the war on terror?

The real story behind Charlie’s War

In the late 1970’s, the CIA was in upheaval. The excesses, blunders and outright disasters of the 1960’s and early 1970’s in Greece, Chile, Vietnam and many other places had culminated in the United States’ massive defeat in Vietnam. The Agency had presided over a nearly endless series of intelligence failures and was undergoing the only real shakeup in its history. The Shah of Iran was tottering on his Peacock Throne and nobody at Langley seemed to notice.

Iran was the responsibility of the CIA’s Near East Division (Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.) But all attention was focused on Afghanistan. Beginning with some disorders instigated by Shite radicals associated with Ayahtollah Khomeni in Iran, the United States engaged in a series of pointless provocations, with the CIA was working hard to provoke unrest and rebellion against the Marxist government in Kabul. They succeeded in causing enough disturbance to spook the Soviet Union into invading Afghanistan on Christmas Day, 1979.

Before the invasion, the Soviets had a military presence in Afghanistan, but a limited one. Thanks to the CIA’s blunder, the Soviets staged a massive invasion and occupation. Crile gives the impression that the Soviet invasion was some sort of master plan for the conquest of the entire region from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia. It was nothing of the kind. The U.S. had precipitated an Islamic rebellion in Iran and was backing other Islamic fundamentalists because they were “anti-communist.” The Soviets were not going to have the madness spread to their bordering client state in Afghanistan where it might incite Islamic revolts inside the U.S.S.R.. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was an act of panic brought about by the U.S. poking them with a very sharp stick.

Several years earlier, Pakistan had embarked on the process of building the Islamic Bomb.

They were encouraged in this by the United States as part of the Nixon Doctrine of persuading client states like Japan, Korea, Vietnam, the Phillipines, Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to take on more of the regional security tasks during the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. This policy launched a campaign of conventional and nuclear weapons proliferation, abrogation of the Bretton Woods agreement (on stabilizing international exchange rates) and a fundamental realignment of foreign policy. Most Americans only remember the “Vietnamization” aspect of the Nixon Doctrine.

One of the programs central to the Nixon Doctrine was a series of arms for oil deals with Iran, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. Some of these spiraled out of control in the Lockheed, McDonnel / Douglas and Koreagate scandals. The deregulated financial policy opened the door for a new realm of “hot money” banks like Nugan Hand and the Pakistani Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI.) BCCI would quickly become the backbone of the Pakistani nuclear technology transfer network. After the collapse of BCCI, the same network would begin flowing in the opposite direction by marketing nuclear arms technology to Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Libya.

So the Pakistanis were building a nuclear capability with the U.S. agreeably turning a blind eye.

The 1977 coup deposed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (the Prime Minister at the time of the Nixon Doctrine’s implementation) and paved the way for Zia Al Haq to become dictator. In 1979, Al Haq arranges the judicial murder of Bhutto on corruption charges related to the McDonell / Douglas scandal, among other things. The U.S. is shocked, shocked, I say, to discover Pakistan is building a uranium enrichment plant. In a fury of feigned outrage against the excesses of the Zia dictatorship, the U.S. cuts off Pakistan’s military aid at the same time the CIA is trying to start a rebellion in Afghanistan — thereby provoking a Soviet invasion of Pakistan’s neighbor.

Sound complicated? Crile never mentions any of these events as the prologue to the little morality play he’s selling in Charlie Wilson’s War. Instead, it’s all godless commies trampling the freedom-loving Afghans as part of an evil plot to invade the Mideast oil regions (which happen to be on the other side of Iran from Afghanistan.)

The Socialite and the Dictator

Crile’s Afghan fairy tale starts with an ultra-rightwing Huston socialite named Joanne Herring. By the late 1970’s Herring had been recruited by the Pakistanis. As their honorary consul in Huston, a role that she still plays, she became the agent of a foreign power.

Pakistani president Zia ul Haq was desperate to get the arms embargo lifted and prevent further interference with the Pakistani nuclear program. To do this, it was necessary to obtain political influence in Washington, D.C. Fortunately for the Islamic bomb, Pakistan had an agent, Joanne Herring, perfectly placed to recruit a dissolute and corrupt member of the House Military Appropriations Subcommittee, good ol’ Charlie Wilson.

Herring had little difficulty selling the credulous Rep. Wilson on jihad as a means of killing communists. But killing communists wasn’t the role Zia and the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had in mind for Wilson; it was just the bait. The real purpose of recruiting the high-living Texan was acquiring the atomic bomb.

And thus, Charlie Wilson’s war became the means for swindling the U.S. government into not just allowing, but indirectly funding, the development of the nuclear weapons most likely to used by Islamic terrorists, Iran, North Korea and Libya to attack the United States.

Nuclear Jihad from Texas

The following passages illustrate this central focus of Rep. Wilson’s relationship with the Pakistani Islamic bomb. They illustrate the limited and misleading discussion in the book regarding the centrality of the Islamic bomb to the relationship between Rep. Wilson and Pakistan:

“Wilson’s importance to Zia and Pakistan went beyond the extra money. Every year the Appropriations subcommittee members fought a battle royal over charges that Pakistan was actively pursuing an Islamic bomb. And every year Wilson, sometimes single-handedly, beat back those accusations. The fact is, Pakistan was working on the bomb, as Wilson, the CIA and almost everyone else knew. Furthermore, it was not about to stop.” [pg. 420. emphasis in original]

“The great unpredictable element in this entire mix, the unknown that threatened to unravel absolutely everything for Zia, was the matter of the bomb – or rather, the intense national effort then being mounted in Pakistan to build an Islamic bomb. If the American Congress were confronted with evidence that Pakistan was on the verge of having a bomb, there was no question it would trigger an immediate move to cut off all foreign aid.

“It was all quite unfair from Zia’s point of view. No one in the Reagan administration had any illusions about Pakistan’s bomb-building program. Even Zia’s democratic predecessor, Zulfikar All Bhutto, had been working on the bomb. Nor would it have escaped any of the Reaganites that once Pakistan had a bomb, it would use American F-16s if it ever wanted to drop one on India.

“The dirty little secret of the Afghan war was that Zia had extracted a concession early on from Reagan: Pakistan would work with the CIA against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and in return the United States would not only provide massive aid but would agree to look the other way on the question of the bomb.

“Zia understood, however, that if he were ever caught red-handed, the White House could not protect him from the wrath of Congress. That was where Wilson, with his seat on the Appropriations subcommittee, came in. By now Zia knew how critical this committee was to Pakistan’s fate. There had already been one close call in 1985, when a Pakistani agent had been caught in the United States trying to buy Kryton high-speed triggers, the switching devices used to fire nuclear weapons. …Ironically, the CIA had helped to bring on the crisis; part of its job was to expose Zia’s bomb-building efforts, and every station chief in Islamabad had given this a high priority.” [pg. 463]

“…In July [1987], just after Congress had passed legislation authorizing a new aid package to Pakistan, a man widely believed to be Zia’s agent, Arshad Pervez, was caught in Philadelphia trying to buy twenty-five tons of a specialty steel alloy vital to the building of a nuclear bomb.

“It was dramatically worse than the Kryton-trigger affair of 1985. This time there was a Solarz amendment on the books that would force the White House to stop all aid. There was no realistic way to avoid it: Congress was going to cut Zia off…

“…Wilson would later call his subsequent efforts to save Zia’s military aid, ‘my greatest achievement in Congress.’ Perhaps he remembers it this way because he is at heart a political artist and can assess the value of an accomplishment by the difficulty of the task. Everything else he had accomplished had been carried out in the shadows and behind closed doors. Here he had to operate publicly against a coalition of virtuous liberals. He had the thankless task to trying to defend the right of a Muslim dictator to break U.S. law in order to build all Islamic bomb while still qualifying for massive U.S. foreign aid. And he had to do it in the name of protecting a massive CIA killing-war.

“On the face of it, this was a lost cause. U.S. policy was firmly committed to nuclear nonproliferation. A law had clearly been violated. The president had no choice but to trigger the Solarz amendment and cut off Zia’s aid. Even if Reagan claimed a national security waiver, Congress was now committed to enforcing its own law.

“But Wilson would end up forcing his colleagues to abandon their pretense of ethical deliberation. For this lone issue, he would strip Congress down to a body that operates solely on the basis of power and horse trading. Here, he would call in every chit and, to the horror of his liberal friends, win.” [pgs 477-8]

But in these passages, Crile makes it very clear that the goal of pursuing the CIA’s proxy war in Afghanistan and killing Russian soldiers trumped the national security interests of the United States in preventing nuclear proliferation. Overall, the Islamic bomb’s role in Crile’s drama is one of misdirection and ultimately whitewash. The cover story was the ostensible belief the United States would be able to control Pakistan’s atomic program.

That delusion was publicly shattered in recent months when the Pakistani nuclear black market program to arm Iran, Libya and North Korea was finally exposed. The collaboration between Pakistan and the other countries had long been suspected.

Crile never mentions the repeated exposure of Pakistan’s covert nuclear sales to other countries during the period covered in Charlie Wilson’s War. Even the most cursory research would have uncovered it.

The question that must be addressed is Crile’s misrepresentation of the history of the Islamic bomb. It can’t be claimed that Crile was unable to discover these facts, since the book was written long after the disclosures of Pakistan’s nuclear black market program. But the misrepresentation is perfectly in accord with the interests of Crile’s sources and main characters in the book.


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