Author Douglas Frantz

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist discusses the START Treaty and explains why Pakistan is the world’s most dangerous nation.

Winner of several honors for investigative reporting, Douglas Frantz has been managing editor of the L.A. Times and a reporter for The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He was part of a team that was awarded the Pulitzer and is a two-time finalist for the prestigious prize. He's also the author of several books, including The Nuclear Jihadist and, his latest, Fallout, about the CIA's secret war on nuclear trafficking. Frantz holds an M.A. in journalism from Columbia University and is chief investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


Tavis: Douglas Frantz is an award-winning journalist and noted author who previously joined us here on this program for his book, “The Nuclear Jihadist.” His latest once again explores the nuclear question and is called “Fallout: The True Story of the CIA’s Secret War on Nuclear Trafficking.” Doug, good to have you back on this program, sir.
Douglas Frantz: Thanks very much, Tavis.
Tavis: Before I get into the text and some of the other issues, I note that your wife, Catherine Collins, is your co-author on this project. This is now, what, the sixth book you guys have done together?
Frantz: Exactly.
Tavis: So how is it having a wife as a co-author?
Frantz: It’s terrific. She’s smart. She’s much smarter than I am. She’s a better writer, a better researcher, and I’m just along for the ride.
Tavis: Yeah, well, I’m glad you’re here and, “Hi, Catherine,” wherever you are tonight. Let me do two things. I want to come to the book, “Fallout,” in a second. Let me take these issues separately because they are separate. The START treaty – a lot of politics, a lot of back and forth about that, Republicans at one point being obstinate about supporting it. It obviously got through.
President Obama pulled folk from the left and the right, high-profile Americans, to say how important it was to get this treaty ratified. But then, upon signing, the president said it will make us safer. Nobody argues that it wasn’t the right thing to do, I don’t think. The question is, though, is it really, in a world of nuclear terrorism, going to make us safer?
Frantz: Well, sure. Anything that reduces the number of nuclear weapons aimed at the United States by Russia makes us safer. Anything that reduces the number of nuclear weapons we aim at Russia makes the world safer.
So, yes, I think it’s a modest, but nonetheless significant, treaty that needs to be seen in a legacy of four decades of arms control agreements with the Russians to try and move us back gradually from nuclear Armageddon.
Tavis: It makes us safer, to your point, from that particular threat which is what it was designed to do, obviously. But in the larger context of a world where nuclear terrorism is on the rise, are we safer, period?
Frantz: Yes. Well, we’re safer – this treaty helps make us safer there, Tavis, because it increases our cooperation with the Russians and, through this cooperation, we’re able to help the Russians secure the loose nukes that they have spread throughout Russia and some of the former Soviet Union yet. It makes those tactical nukes that the Russians have in huge numbers. It puts them next up for negotiation for getting controls over them.
And it also shows the world that the two countries that have 90 percent of the nuclear weapons, the United States and Russia, are working together to scale back the threat. And that gives us a moral suasion as we tell countries like Iran, North Korea and other would-be proliferators out there that they have to give up their nuclear ambitions.
Tavis: I want to come back to some of those specific countries when we get into the text in a moment. One final question about this START debate. If you’re right, and I suspect you are, in your assessment of how important it was and that will in fact make us safer, why on this issue did the president have to work so hard to get it done then?
Frantz: Well, not only the president, but my boss, Senator John Kerry, had to work very hard.
Tavis: Why?
Frantz: Well, –
Tavis: – it seems the right thing to do.
Frantz: No reasonable person thought it was not the right thing to do. But what happened here was politics. It reared its ugly head. It’s not the first time we’re gonna see that happen in this new political era. It wasn’t the first time, and this was a serious attempt by certain members of the Republican Party to deny President Obama a major foreign policy victory and that was the only reason that they objected to this.
Fortunately, cooler minds on both the Democratic and the Republican side prevailed and we have this treaty which is an important building block going forward toward a safer world.
Tavis: All right, so that’s the START conversation and I appreciate you allowing us to better contextualize what that debate was all about.
Frantz: Glad to talk about it.
Tavis: To the book, “Fallout,” you call the book “Fallout” why specifically?
Frantz: Well, it’s a great nuclear term, of course, but this is the fallout that came from the first book that Catherine and I did, which you mentioned, “The Nuclear Jihadist.”
That book was really about the A. Q. Khan nuclear trafficking network and how this rogue Pakistani scientist helped his own country, Pakistan, build a nuclear weapon with stolen material and then how he went on to help Iran develop its nuclear weapons program. He helped North Korea develop its nuclear weapons program and then he was engaged in a full-scale effort to build an off-the-shelf nuclear weapons factory for Moammar Kadafi in Libya. That was the first book, in a sense.
This is the fallout from that where we look at what happened, how the CIA brought his network down, but what happened after they brought it down, and that’s not a good story there. It comes into the earlier questions you had about START and, you know, about the impact on our safety. Because it’s our view, Catherine’s view and my view, that the fallout from the takedown of the Khan network is dangerous and is, in a sense, radioactive for our future.
Tavis: Tell me more.
Frantz: Well, what happened was the CIA penetrated this Khan network very early on. They knew from 1975 what A. Q. Khan was up to. So for more than 30 years, they just sat back and they watched and they waited. There were debates within the intelligence community, within various administrations – this wasn’t just a George W. Bush administration problem – over when to act. They put off that day. They delayed and they didn’t close this network down until the end of 2003.
By then, what we’ve discovered in this book, is Khan had managed to distribute an enormous amount of the most dangerous nuclear technology not only to some of the world’s most dangerous regimes – Iran, North Korea, Libya – but also into various places and hiding places along the internet.
That’s the continuing danger here. That’s where the fallout is that the world is more vulnerable to nuclear terrorism because A. Q. Khan was allowed to operate so long.
Tavis: So the Obama administration does what about that now?
Frantz: Well, you know, the sad thing is that, much as I admire President Obama and his administration, they haven’t done very much.
A. Q. Khan was put under house arrest in February of 2004 as part of a deal with the Pakistani government. He acknowledged that he’d sold nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea and they pardoned him for his crimes and they put him under house arrest. Subsequently, that house arrest has been eased.
But the United States has never been allowed to question A. Q. Khan about everything he sold and about to whom he sold it. There’s strong circumstantial evidence that there’s a fourth customer out there for Khan’s materials.
Tavis: But isn’t Pakistan our ally?
Frantz: Well, some days Pakistan is our ally.
Tavis: Depends on what day it is [laugh]. I only ask that because – let’s put it this way. On the days that they are our allies, why then don’t we press them to cooperate with us to get to Mr. Khan?
Frantz: That’s a question that Catherine and I and many, many other people have been asking ever since A. Q. Khan was taken into custody in early 2004. The answer that we keep getting is that the situation is too politically sensitive in Pakistan.
A. Q. Khan remains a revered hero there, considered the father of the Islamic bomb. So no civilian government has the political clout to go in and challenge him and make him available. And we’re not talking about water boarding this guy. He’s in his 70s. But we are talking about having a serious conversation in which we try to get to the bottom of just how dangerous his network is.
One of the key elements of this book, Tavis, is that we expose here for the first time the extent of the nuclear weapons plans and the warhead plans and the other designs that A. Q. Khan sold to the world.
Tavis: Speaking of Pakistan, the two minutes I have left here, let me run through this right quick. What is, as we sit here today, the threat to this country from Pakistan specifically?
Frantz: Oh, it is enormous. I think that Pakistan is the world’s most dangerous country. And the threat is that Pakistan could fall into internal chaos and some fundamentalists could get control of the nuclear weapons there. Pakistan has 80 to 100 nuclear weapons.
Now the Pakistanis will tell you they’re under careful guard, but as we saw earlier in January with the assassination of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, by his own guard, you can’t trust very many people in Pakistani. So the security of those nuclear weapons is an enormous threat to the United States.
Tavis: Pakistan more dangerous than Iran?
Frantz: Absolutely. I believe Pakistan is more dangerous than Iran. There are groups like Lashka-e-Toiba, Al-Qaeda, and other militant groups that are thriving inside Pakistan. Some of them are aided and abetted by the Pakistan internal security service. So, yes, I think Pakistan is far more dangerous than Iran.
Tavis: And quickly, while it’s not a country, it obviously has its own operation, since you mentioned it, Al-Qaeda specifically, the threat to us from them.
Frantz: Well, I think the threat to us from Al-Qaeda has, in some ways, been inflated. I think Al-Qaeda today is a movement. It’s not an organization any longer. So I think, while we should try and stop Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and clearly they’ve expressed a desire to get nuclear material, and, if they have it, I’m sure they would detonate a nuclear device.
But I think the threat is much larger and it’s a threat that we have contributed to and helped create with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tavis: Alongside his wife and co-writer, Catherine Collins, Douglas Frantz has a new book out. It’s called “Fallout: The True Story of the CIA’s Secret War on Nuclear Trafficking.” Douglas, good to have you on the program. Thanks for the text.
Frantz: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
Tavis: Good to have you here.
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Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm