A CIA agent, North Korea and Pak. bomb

Richard Barlow says that for exposing this clandestine network, he was made to live like a pauper

Updated - December 01, 2021 06:00 am IST

Published - June 16, 2018 10:34 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Pakistan launched Shaheen III, a surface-to-surface ballistic missile that can carry nuclear heads, in 2015.

Pakistan launched Shaheen III, a surface-to-surface ballistic missile that can carry nuclear heads, in 2015.

When he met the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, U.S. President Donald Trump remarked that the nuclear standoff with Pyongyang could have been dealt with long ago. Indeed, 30 years ago, Richard Barlow, an officer with the CIA detected the nuclear supply chain that ultimately would travel from the U.S. to Pakistan and further to North Korea. For exposing this clandestine network, Mr. Barlow says he was victimised and made to live like a pauper in a motorhome.


The project to unmask the Pakistani nuclear supply network in the U.S. began in 1986 when the CIA appointed Mr. Barlow as in charge of a project to find the people helping Pakistan’s nuclear weapons project in Kahuta. They began tracking any suspicious demand for dual-use material and technology from Pakistan. The CIA found a Canadian of Pakistani origin, Arshad Parvez, who frequently visited the steel makers in Pennsylvania. As surveillance on the visitor increased, the Department of Energy received a tip-off from Carpenter Technology, a steel-making company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The DoE reached out to Mr. Barlow with the information.

Operation sabotaged

Mr. Barlow said he mounted a sting operation to determine what the businessman was trying to access and the purpose behind it. Parvez had placed a large order for Grade 350 maraging steel, an alloy used to manufacture nuclear centrifuge. Field operatives who were being directed by Mr. Barlow were stunned when Parvez declared that the steel was meant for the “Kahuta client”.

However, sabotage of the counter-proliferation work began even as the sting operation was progressing. The real target of the operation, the “Kahuta client”, a retired Pakistani General Inam ul Haq, had powerful backers in the U.S. establishment. In the final meeting between Parvez and law enforcement agents at a hotel in Toronto, Canada, both Parvez and the client were to be arrested.

But, in the end, only Parvez was arrested; the Pakistani General was tipped off by two high-level State Department officials, Mr. Barlow alleges. Soon began a crackdown on his work, which cost him both his professional success and personal happiness, he say. His marriage failed. His life became a chain of confrontation with the powerful legislative lobby backed by the defence contractors, who were determined to stop him from influencing U.S. attitude towards Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

Why did the U.S. fail to stop spread of nuclear material to Pakistan and, in turn, to North Korea? “I could see down the road and see the big picture most of them couldn’t,” Mr. Barlow told The Hindu , explaining that the Cold War was high on priority in the Department of Defence and the top officials wanted to deal with the Soviet Union first and for that they required the help of Pakistan. In 1991, Mr. Barlow was back in the U.S. government as a consultant and investigated the legal aspects of the transfer of F16 aircraft to Pakistan under Benazir Bhutto. It was Benazir Bhutto who famously flew to North Korea with the nuclear blueprint in a quid pro quo for the missiles from North Korea.

He now lives on the verge of poverty, with the help of social security, in a motorhome with his dogs Prairie, Skye, Flash and Spirit.

Mr. Barlow is now contemplating an online campaign to seek crowd funding or public support for his future.

However, judging from the comments recently made by President Trump, Mr. Barlow said that the current U.S. administration might take a sympathetic view of his service and assist him in getting the pension denied to him. Apart from his recent utterances in Singapore, President Trump in his 2018 State of the Union address said, “I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this dangerous position.”

The former CIA official believes that the Reagan administration could have prevented the spread of nuclear weapons to North Korea and other countries, if only it had acted on the inputs.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.