WASHINGTON, Feb 17: The director of the Central Intelligence Agency on Wednesday told the US Senate that the Bush administration had 'pressed' Pakistan to allow an American representative direct access to Dr A.Q. Khan but he would not say if the access was given or denied.
Director Porter Goss, who was testifying before the Senate select committee on intelligence along with the heads of other US intelligence agencies, said he would be careful not to use the word 'pressed' in a general term.
"I want to be very careful how I answer your question," Mr Goss told Olympia Snowe, a Republican senator from Maine who wanted to know if the US administration had 'pressed' Pakistan to allow a US representative to directly question Dr Khan for determining the extent of his network's activities.
"I can tell you that there is continuous attention to this matter, and I believe that it is being done with the necessary urgency and fortitude to make sure our interests are completely understood," Mr Goss replied.
The CIA chief said that while seeking Pakistan's cooperation in retrieving information from Dr Khan, the US administration also kept in mind the problems Islamabad faced in dealing with the issue.
It was the committee's chairman, Senator Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas, who first raised the issue during the hearing which focused on the war in Iraq and the US efforts to fight terrorism.
While saying that Dr Khan had passed secrets and equipment to a host of 'rogue nations,' Mr Roberts acknowledged that Pakistan had cooperated in US efforts to stop this activity and had "placed Mr Khan under house arrest".
He then asked Mr Goss and Admiral James Loy, acting secretary, Department of Homeland Security, to explain what was the current status of the Khan network - had it been shut down and if there were other non-state actors that were 'potential Khans'.
"Yes," said Mr Goss when Senator Snowe asked him if he could characterize Pakistan's cooperation as sharing information. The senator then referred to a recent article in Time magazine which quoted a source close to the Khan Research Laboratories in Islamabad as saying, "Even though its head has been removed, Khan's illicit network of suppliers and middlemen is still out there."
Mr Goss told Mr Snowe that he could answer the question to his satisfaction in about two minutes in a private conversation. Explaining the US position, he said there was an understanding that Dr Khan enjoyed a celebrity status in his country because he was the man who brought them the bomb.
The CIA director linked Pakistan's possession of the nuclear bomb with Iran's desire to have one. "In my view, there is an inclination, a very strong inclination by present conservative leadership of Iran, to make sure that they can live up to the same level as some of their neighbouring countries," he said. "And some of those neighbouring countries - indeed, Pakistan comes to mind - have the bomb."