Thursday, May 5, 2011

Diplomats caught near Kahuta nuke site - By Ansar Abbasi (The News, 5 May 2011)

Courtesy: Daily "The News", 5 May 2011
Diplomats caught near Kahuta nuke site
Ansar AbbasiISLAMABAD: A day before Osama was killed in Abbottabad, which earned shame for the whole nation except some excited rulers and exposed serious lapses in our security and defence systems, four western diplomats, including Britons and an American, were caught hiking in the prohibited surroundings of the restricted Kahuta atomic plant.
Interior ministry sources while quoting an intelligence report said that they were taking photographs of the area and carrying electronic gadgets including cameras and a laptop.
These sources said that they were intercepted, questioned and later escorted back to Islamabad by the Pakistan security officials with the clear warning that they were crossing the red-line. Their cameras were confiscated; however, they were not formally arrested or thoroughly probed after they proved their diplomatic status.

Interior Secretary Chaudhry Qamar Zaman, who is presently abroad, could not be approached. However, his Additional Secretary Asif Nawaz, who is currently looking after the ministry as its acting secretary, when approached was unsure if he saw such a report or not.
“Frankly I don’t recollect it. I might have disposed it in routine as fresh receipts are normally marked down and to the concerned agencies for necessary action,” he said. The FO spokespersons despite repeated efforts was not available for her response on the matter.
According to an informed interior ministry source, the ministry not only received the information from the Punjab home department but the ISI is also aware of it.
The UK High Commission spokesperson when contacted responded, “This was a recreational hiking trip in the hills south of Murree. The group cooperated fully with the authorities.” The UK HC though did not explain any further but a diplomatic source explained that out of three of the UK High Commission officials identified in the report, only one is a regular member of the mission.
According to the official report, four foreigners who were found in the forest area around Kahuta Atomic Plant on May 1 and intercepted in the afternoon included one US and three UK diplomats/officials. They include Ms Kilipna (or Kalitna) Merethy of the US Embassy while Mr Granyeer John Scort, Ms Exprece and Ms Angela Hyte were shown by the intelligence report as UK Embassy officials. Scort and Exprece were identified as having been associated with the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) wing of the embassy.
However, US embassy spokesperson Alberto Rodriguez when approached emailed to The News the following response: “A female American diplomat was hiking in the Murree area on Sunday, May 1. That person was accompanied by three other persons of British, Canadian and New Zealand nationalities. While hiking, the group was stopped and questioned by the police. They were stopped, we understand, because the caretaker of a local cell or radio tower was asked by the police to report anyone unfamiliar in the area. The US diplomat was asked for identification and complied with the request of the police officer to show her camera to him. The police official looked at the digital photos on the camera and subsequently returned the camera without deleting any pictures. The group was informed that they were hiking in a restricted area and were subsequently escorted to the outskirts of Islamabad. The group saw no signs or markers indicating that the area was restricted. The American diplomat fully complied with the appropriate travel procedures at the embassy. The group comprised various nationalities. The group was in Murree, as the police can attest to, not in Kahuta or near an atomic power plant. I urge you to go back to your source and verify the information that was provided to you, as I believe there are errors in fact that would put into question whatever other information you have received. I am sure with your contacts, you can easily verify everything I have said with the local police in the area.”
However, the Special Branch Punjab report received by the Interior Ministry from the Punjab Home Department say: “On 01-05-2011 at about 1240 hours, the field staff of Special Branch, Punjab, came to know about the presence of few foreigners in the forest area of Punj Pir, PS (police station) Kahuta taking photographs of the area. Kahuta Atomic Plant is visible from this area. They were also found carrying electronic gadgets including laptops. The matter was immediately brought in to the notice of Federal Intelligence Agency who also reached there and took the custody of the foreigners.” The report also contained the names of four foreigners as reflected earlier and identified as one American and three British.
Quoting the ISI report, the interior ministry source said that according to the ISI these four foreigners had gone there in a black Land Cruiser registration no Islamabad NS 857. They were intercepted initially by police around the restricted area of Kahuta atomic plant. When questioned, these foreigners were reported to have claimed that they were there for sightseeing.
Having unsatisfied with their response, the police is said to have called the security officials of the Special Planning Division, who questioned them, verified their identities and escorted them back to Islamabad only after a clear warning that they were found in the no-go area. Two of their cameras with which they had taken the photographs of the sensitive area were confiscated.
Although Pakistan has now innumerable nuclear sites, Kahuta Atomic Plant for being the first atomic site developed is globally recognised as one of the major nuke sites of Pakistan. There has been repeated efforts made by the western, American and Indian intelligence operators to spy on the Kahuta Atomic Plant but as yet not only this particular nuclear site but each and every nuclear installation of the country has been remained inaccessible and fully secure.
Only a couple of years back, some members of the US private company - DynCorp - reportedly containing CIA’s under cover operators were found involved in spying and several of them were disengaged from the places like Sihala Police College where they were apparently imparting training of police officials but were alleged to have been spying on Kahuta Nuclear facility.
The Pakistani authorities noted suspected activities of certain members of DynCorp, which under a contractual obligation between Pakistan and the US, as was agreed during Musharraf’s regime, was engaged in law enforcement training, security matters and air aviation cooperation here.
Some of the intelligence agencies including the ISI and IB had credible reports about the involvement of certain members of DynCorp in spying business. An intelligence agency had reported to the government in 2009 that three Americans alongwith a Pakistani had tried to trespass into restricted area of Kahuta Power Plant but the official security agency deployed at the check post got alerted and intercepted them when they crossed the check post and entered restricted area.
The Pakistani accompanying these Americans was a retired assistant director of the FIA, who while introducing himself as FIA officer had managed to free the Americans and returned. Through this trespassing, according to the official report, the Americans had tried to check the security arrangement for Kahuta Research Laboratories.
That very incident had played a vital role in moving out DynCorp men from Sihala Police college facility where they were allowed to train the police officials but were found in spying the country’s nuclear facility.


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