Hindu Vivek Kendra
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2 Pakistanis Linked to Papers on Anthrax Weapons

2 Pakistanis Linked to Papers on Anthrax Weapons

Author: Douglas Frantz with David Rohde
Publication: The New York Times
Date: November 28, 2001

Islamabad, Pakistan, Nov. 27 - Pakistan said today that it had detained two retired nuclear scientists after the recent discovery in offices they had used in Afghanistan of documents describing ways to use anthrax as a weapon and other suspicious material.

The scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudry Abdul Majeed, were first questioned in October after American intelligence officers expressed concern about trips the two had made to the Afghan capital, Kabul. They were interrogated about their ties to the Taliban.

After he retired from Pakistan's Atomic Energy Agency in 1998, Mr. Mahmood founded a private relief organization, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, that operated in Afghanistan.

Documents from the organization's Kabul offices examined by The New York Times have been found over the past several days describing the history of anthrax and a Pentagon program to immunize all members of the United States military against anthrax attacks.

Also found were a box of gas masks, a diagram showing a plane shooting down a weather balloon and promotional material from militant Islamic groups. These findings were first reported last week in the British daily The Evening Standard.

Plans for building a balloon and what appeared to be a rocket were found on a piece of paper along with empty steel tubes and parts of a rocket-propelled grenade. A container of helium sat on a work bench.

The diagrams of the balloons seem to show a possible method for slowly dispersing some type of biological or chemical agent from the air. Words scribbled in the diagram appear to say "cyanide."

One diagram found in the Kabul offices show four balloons flying together in tandem with a box around them. The box appears to show how the agent would be dispersed across a wide area.

The house, like others in the Afghan capital apparently used by Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, Al Qaeda, seems to have been hastily abandoned when the Taliban fled Kabul two weeks ago. It is not clear who may have been in the house since then.

Referring to the scientists, Maj. Gen. Rashid Qureshi, the top Pakistani military spokesman, said today in Islamabad: "Both of them are under detention." He declined to elaborate, but officials said the new detentions related to the discoveries in Kabul.

The first arrest of the scientists last month was linked to American suspicions that Pakistan's nuclear weapons technology could have found its way into the hands of Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda or the Taliban.

An American intelligence official said today that the first interrogation of the two Pakistani scientists has resulted in an assessment that Mr. Mahmood and Mr. Majeed did not know enough to help build a nuclear weapon. "These two guys were nuclear scientists who didn't know how to build one themselves," the American official said. "If you had to have guys go bad these are the guys you'd want - they didn't know much."

Neither of the Pakistani scientists has been charged with any wrongdoing. Their families have said they are innocent and that their interest in Afghanistan was humanitarian. The families have written to government officials protesting their interrogation and earlier detention.

They had been released after the initial questioning in October, but remained under loose house arrest. The new detentions indicate that concern about their activities in Afghanistan have intensified.

Mr. Mahmood and Mr. Majeed worked for the relief organization, whose official purpose was to upgrade roads, build flour mills and carry out other projects to assist Afghanistan. Both spent a considerable amount of time in Afghanistan.

Maj. Gen. Qureshi, the military spokesman, said of their new detention: "When we have completed the investigation, I'm sure the details will be coming out."

The diagrams in the Kabul offices of the relief organization were detailed. One had an arrow pointing to a balloon and the word "wireless" written next to it, suggesting that some type of communications device might be used as a trigger. Other diagrams had the word "SAM-7" and "Stinger" written near the balloon, suggesting that the two types of anti-aircraft missiles could be fired at the balloon to get it to release it contents.

Nearly all of the information found about anthrax in the house came from the United States military. The copies of the military paper describing the anthrax immunization program and expansion of anthrax vaccine production in Michigan were all from original documents, not documents downloaded from the Internet.

Someone had written a half dozen stars across the top of the Michigan study, suggesting that they found it valuable.

Whoever was conducting the research also effectively mined United States military Web sites for information. Copies of a printout of the first page of a military Web site devoted to better informing Persian Gulf war veterans with related illnesses were found in the house.

The site offers highly detailed descriptions of how Anthrax can be used as a weapon and spread through artillery shells, airplanes and trucks. It lists what size of anthrax dose kills people who have been immunized, and refers readers to more detailed academic studies on anthrax.

The house used by Mr. Mahmood's organization, one of three adjacent structures occupied by Pakistani scientists in the Wasi Akbar Khan section of Kabul, the city's wealthy diplomatic corner, it is an unremarkable two-story cinderblock home.

Books and toys suggest that children recently lived in the house. A young girl's second-grade English literature workbook lay on the living room floor surrounded by mounds of abandoned clothing. There was no hint of the effort underway in the workroom upstairs. Mr. Mahmood was a director-general of nuclear power plants for the Atomic Energy Agency and Mr. Majeed was once director of uranium-enrichment laboratories.

Pakistani officials said earlier that neither man was affiliated with its nuclear weapons program. President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan repeated the denial in a television interview on Monday.

But Pakistani newspapers have reported that Mr. Mahmood was involved in developing the atomic bombs Pakistan tested in its western desert in May 1998. Western intelligence agencies estimate that Pakistan has a stockpile of about 20 nuclear weapons.

Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, a team of American law enforcement and intelligence officials raised the safety of Pakistan's nuclear weapons in discussions in Islamabad with Pakistani officials.

The papers and blackboard drawings found in a Kabul house appear to describe the Taliban's notions for dispersing biological and possibly chemical agents by balloons and other methods. Those concepts are backed up by rudimentary calculations and information from Department of Defense Web sites and at least one report prepared for the United States military on anthrax vaccines.

The report, prepared by Science Applications International Corporation, a private research firm with contracts with the Pentagon, was not classified, said Zuraidah Hashim, a spokeswoman for the firm, in Frederick, Md. It was titled "Renovation of Facilities and Increased Anthrax Vaccine Production at the Michigan Biologic Products Institute."

"This report was not a how-to manual of any kind," Ms. Hashim said. "It was not a report that gave instruction of how to produce anthrax or anthrax vaccine." Instead, Ms. Hashim called it "an evaluation report" on the institute's vaccine program.

The papers also contained copies of Web pages with information on anthrax. An internet search on phrases on the pages quickly led to Department of Defense and other sites with relatively detailed information on anthrax and biological weaponry.

One page correctly explains the difference between cutaneous, gastrointestinal and inhalation anthrax and shows a photograph of former Defense Secretary William S. Cohen at a press conference holding a five-pound bag of sugar, which the caption indicates is the amount of anthrax needed to destroy half the population of Washington, D.C.

The drawings on a wallboard are more difficult to interpret, but they appear, in part, to illustrate the dispersal of an agent by balloons. Why the Taliban considered that concept is unknown, but terror experts said it was far from an ideal method.

For one thing, said Dr. Ashok Gadgil, a biological terror expert and senior staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, agents released outdoors would be so widely dispersed as to be useless in many circumstances. Pinpoint release of the agents over, say, a city, would be difficult with a balloon.

"It's a very poor way to release something that you hope to release at a particular urban site," Dr. Gadgil said. "It doesn't sound like a very good game plan."

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