Linda Gallini, one of the State Department’s leading experts on nuclear nonproliferation, stepped into an empty room at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria, and placed a call to Washington. A senior delegate to the iaea, she’d spent the past week strategizing how to keep dangerous materials out of the hands of rogue states and terrorists. But as dusk settled over the Danube that evening in September 2005, Gallini was more worried about what was brewing back home.
When she got her boss, deputy assistant secretary for nuclear nonproliferation Andrew Semmel, on the phone, he confirmed her worst fears. Carrying out a plan announced two months earlier by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, neoconservative political appointees were about to replace some of State’s most knowledgeable wmd experts with Republican loyalists. Gallini’s heart sank. “If that’s what they’re going to do, pretty much everyone else is going to leave,” she said. “Yeah,” she recalls Semmel telling her. “That’s what they want.”
As she resigned a year later, Gallini gave a series of interviews to Mother Jones, providing an insider’s view of how the Bush administration has gutted the nation’s expertise on wmd. Presidents come and go, but State Department staff like Gallini have long been the backbone of U.S. foreign policy—the “ballast,” as she puts it—that keeps political appointees grounded in reality. “Our job is to be the informed, helpful, supportive folks who guide them when they arrive clueless to the issues,” she explains. A soft-spoken mother of two, Gallini had been a particularly committed arms-control negotiator; during talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear program, she reminded her colleagues that as the adoptive mother of a Korean boy, she had “a personal interest in avoiding nuclear confrontation on the Korean peninsula.”
But such diplomacy was not what President Bush’s undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, John Bolton, had in mind. “A pall was cast over the office” when Bolton arrived in 2001, Gallini recalls. Bolton’s crew included Robert Joseph, who was reportedly instrumental in inserting the claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger into Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address. (He succeeded Bolton in 2005.)
Soon the offices charged with keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of North Korea and Iran became, in the words of a former State Department expert, “mere shadows of their former selves.” Many of the changes happened to target career diplomats and other experts suspected of disagreeing with the administration on Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs or not supporting its vendetta against Mohamed ElBaradei—the iaea chief who had refused to rubber-stamp the White House’s claims about Iraqi wmd. One political appointee sent out a help-wanted email listing loyalty to the White House as a key job qualification. (He later retracted the message.) “The advice of career professionals was suddenly taken as disloyalty,” says Gallini.
The new guard also had little use for the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, considered the world’s most successful arms-control agreement. Signed by all of the world’s nations except India, Israel, and Pakistan (North Korea withdrew in 2003), it empowered the iaea to control and monitor the spread of nuclear technology—all with a budget of only $350 million a year, less than that of the Washington, D.C., police department. The administration threatened to flout the treaty by planning to make plutonium pits for new weapons. (See “Failure to Launch,” page 58.) It also put the rest of the world on notice that, in effect, it would tolerate the npt only to the extent that it justified an aggressive stance toward Iran and North Korea. In 2004, Bolton and his team attended a two-week meeting on the npt. But instead of negotiating the issues on the agenda, one participant recalls, the American contingent “did a briefing where they said, blatantly, ‘We’re going to nail everybody on noncompliance, and that’s all we’re going to pursue.'”
Gallini, who was there, was appalled. “It was the first time I’ve ever been embarrassed to be on a U.S. delegation,” she says. “It was painful, and the first time in history that we failed to be a leader on the issue.”
Eventually, more than a dozen of the nation’s most experienced nonproliferation experts resigned or retired, including the venerable Dean Rust, a 35-year veteran known for his encyclopedic knowledge. Writing in Arms Control Today after his departure, Rust criticized those in the administration who’d assumed “seasoned wmd experts are only capable of ‘old think.'” The loss of institutional expertise, he continued, “will hamper the State Department’s role at home and abroad for years to come.”
In August 2006, Gallini retired in protest after three decades on the job. “It was unbelievably difficult,” she says. “Our job is to help [presidents] promote their agenda, whether we agree with it or not. But when I see an approach that is going to negatively affect our country and our interests, I’m going to bring it to their attention. And that was not welcome.”
That October, she hosted a farewell party for her former colleagues at her Virginia home. Nearly 100 guests attended, including much of the nation’s nonproliferation brain trust. They improvised songs and poems about their careers; the mood, recalls Gallini, was bittersweet. “Many of us worked together for 25 or 30 years and were like a family,” she says. “I’m still boggled by how much knowledge and expertise have been drop-kicked out the window for purely political reasons.”
Dropping The Bomb
Five ways the Bush administration has thwarted nuclear nonproliferation
Treaty Busting: Despite paying lip service to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the United States has quietly backed away from it. In May 2005, 153 countries met at the U.N. for a routine review of the treaty. Many sent a foreign minister or a top diplomat; the United States dispatched a mid-level Bolton ally.
Fallout: “[Bush appointees] have undermined the institutional structures, so that we are increasingly left only with the alternative to use force.” —Jonathan Granoff, Global Security Institute
The India Deal: In July 2005, President Bush and Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh announced that the United States would end sanctions against India for refusing to sign the npt and would supply it with nuclear technology. As part of the deal, which even John Bolton reportedly opposed, New Delhi would decide which facilities the iaea could monitor, and two reactors that can produce weapons-grade plutonium would not be inspected at all.
Fallout: “The India deal signals to the world that if you want strong commercial relations with the U.S., go ahead and develop nuclear weapons. It’s a message I’m confident Iran hasn’t overlooked. The North Koreans are probably thinking, ‘The Indians got rewarded—why shouldn’t we?'” —Linda Gallini, former nonproliferation official
Soviet Nukes: For three years, the Bush administration has proposed cuts to the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, a Pentagon-led effort to secure the massive former Soviet nuclear arsenal.
Fallout: “[Donald Rumsfeld] had it in his head that it was a wimpy thing to have the Pentagon involved in.” —Kenneth Adelman, former member of the Defense Policy Board
Back to Square One: In 1994, the Clinton administration and North Korea signed the Agreed Framework, freezing Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for oil and civilian nuclear technology. The deal fell apart in 2002. For five years after that, Bush talked tough about Kim Jong Il and North Korea tested its first nuclear bomb. Last October, North Korea and the United States announced a nukes-for-fuel deal that closely resembled the Agreed Framework.
Fallout: “My only regret is that we didn’t agree to this six years ago when we had the opportunity to do so, because we might not then have had the number of nuclear weapons and the nuclear tests that occurred.” —Former Democratic Senator George Mitchell
Lost in Transit: A Bolton brainchild, the Proliferation Security Initiative bets on legally murky high-seas police work to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, encouraging nations to board and inspect ships suspected of smuggling. No successful wmd seizures have been announced.
Fallout: “The psi by itself is a silly thing. The important thing is to catch wmd before they get on ships.” —Former top American nonproliferation official