- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 25, 2003

A Saudi nuke?

Arnaud de Borchgrave, when he was editor in chief at The Washington Times, was the most demanding boss I ever worked for, almost impossible to satisfy no matter what we did.

But he also conducted himself with charm and professionalism, calling upon his many years of experience meeting and interviewing heads of state around the world.

And who can fail to admire a man who, at an age when he might well stay home and write memoirs, still is running off to the ends of the earth in search of news?

One of Mr. de Borchgrave’s favorite corners of the globe is South Asia, where he has traveled regularly over the years for both this newspaper and his current main employer, United Press International.

The U.S.-led war against Taliban forces in Afghanistan had barely begun when we received our first dispatch from Mr. de Borchgrave datelined from the Khyber Pass.

Weeks later, during the battle at Tora Bora, our editor at large was filing stories from the tribal areas just across the frontier in Pakistan — an area that was totally off-limits to foreigners and had not been reached by any other Western reporter.

Mr. de Borchgrave, obviously, has very good contacts in Pakistan. So when we received his dispatch on Monday saying Pakistan had agreed to give nuclear weapons technology to Saudi Arabia, we sat up and took notice.

We had already noticed that Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was in Pakistan, and had wondered what sort of business would have taken him to Islamabad.

But the sourcing on Mr. de Borchgrave’s report was not all we might like on a story of that importance; it came from only one individual described in the unedited story as “a ranking Pakistani source known to this correspondent for over a decade as a knowledgeable insider.”

Even the most reliable of sources have their own motives for passing on information of this kind, and they occasionally lie. On the other hand, Mr. de Borchgrave obviously had a long track record with this source and has been in the game long enough not to be easily taken in.

A little research

We asked reporter David Sands to do a little extra research and he quickly came up with some material that made us feel more comfortable.

Most significant was a recent policy paper by Simon Henderson for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which cited a couple of previous visits to Pakistani nuclear facilities by ranking Saudi princes, and a formal diplomatic complaint over one such visit by the United States in 1999.

Mr. Henderson also wrote that President Bush had confronted Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf over its nuclear assistance to Saudi Arabia during a meeting at Camp David this past summer.

That report, and a few other indications, satisfied us that the story was properly supported. We held it back for one day while we completed the research and inserted it into the story, and ran it on the front page on Wednesday morning.

Then we went looking for the reaction.

The Pakistanis and the Saudis, not surprisingly, were categorical in their denials — which we reported. But the State Department was much more nuanced, saying not that the story was untrue but that it had not seen “any information to substantiate [the] rather bald assertions.”

A publication called Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily meanwhile was out with its own report on the same day as ours, saying Pakistan “has reached a secret but definitive agreement to station nuclear weapons on Saudi soil.”

And Israeli radio and the New York Post that day quoted Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi, the Israel Defense Force’s senior intelligence officer, telling an Israeli parliamentary committee that Prince Abdullah had gone to Pakistan to purchase nuclear warheads for installation on Saudi land-based missiles.

We tied all of that together and ran another story Thursday.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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