The more we know about A. Q. Khan, hero of Pakistan, the more dangerous he
appears to be. RLCPlease see my “concerns” page:
My blog: http://rcanfield.blogspot.com/Forwarded Message:
From: “Zalmai M.”
Subject: The World; A High-Risk Nuclear Stakeout;
Date: Feb 27, 2005
> Los Angeles Times
> February 27, 2005
> The World; A High-Risk Nuclear Stakeout;
> The U.S. took too long to act, some experts say, letting a Pakistani
> scientist sell illicit technology well after it knew of his operation.
> By Douglas Frantz
> Nuclear warhead plans that Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan sold
> to Libya were more complete and detailed than previously disclosed,
> raising new concerns about the cost of Washington’s watch-and-wait
> policy before Khan and his global black market were shut down last year.
> Two Western nuclear weapons specialists who have examined the
> top-secret designs say the hundreds of pages of engineering drawings
> and handwritten notes provide an excellent starting point for anyone
> trying to develop an effective atomic warhead.
> “This involved the spread of very sensitive nuclear knowledge, and it
> is the most serious form of proliferation,” one of the specialists
> said. Both described the designs on condition that their names be
> withheld because the plans are classified.
> The sale of the plans is particularly troubling to some investigators
> because the transaction occurred at least 18 months after U.S. and
> British intelligence agencies concluded that Khan was running an
> international nuclear smuggling ring and identified Libya as a
> suspected customer, according to U.S. officials and a British
> government assessment.
> Interviews with current and former government officials and
> intelligence agents and outside experts in Washington, Europe and the
> Middle East reveal a lengthy pattern of watching and waiting when it
> came to Khan and his illicit network.
> The trail dated back more than 20 years as Khan went from a secretive
> procurer of technology for Pakistan’s atomic weapons program, which he
> headed, to history’s biggest independent seller of nuclear weapons
> equipment and expertise.
> For most of those years, Khan’s primary customers were Iran and North
> Korea. In 2002, President Bush said the countries were part of an
> “axis of evil,” in part because of nuclear programs nourished by Khan
> and his network.
> Despite knowing at least the broad outlines of Khan’s activities,
> American intelligence agencies regularly objected to shutting down his
> operations. And policymakers in Washington repeatedly prioritized
> other strategic goals over stopping him, according to current and
> former officials.
> Some officials said that even as the picture of the threat posed by
> Khan’s operation got clearer and bigger in 2000 and 2001, the
> intelligence was too limited to act on.
> Other officials said the CIA and the National Security Agency, which
> eavesdropped on Khan’s communications, were so addicted to gathering
> information and so worried about compromising their electronic sources
> that they rebuffed efforts to roll up the operation for years.
> “We could have stopped the Khan network, as we knew it, at any time,”
> said Robert J. Einhorn, a top counter-proliferation official at the
> State Department from 1991 to August 2001. “The debate was, do you
> stop it now or do you watch it and understand it better so that you
> are in a stronger position to pull it up by the roots later? The case
> for waiting prevailed.”
> Current and former Bush administration officials say the patience paid
> off. They say that in late 2003, combined U.S. and British
> intelligence on Khan finally yielded enough information to persuade
> Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi to relinquish his nuclear technology and
> turn over conclusive evidence used to shut down the Pakistani
> scientist, who by then had been removed as head of his nation’s
> primary nuclear laboratory.
> “A.Q. Khan is a textbook case of government doing things right,” John
> S. Wolf, then assistant secretary of State for nonproliferation, said
> when Kadafi gave up his nuclear equipment.
> Others say that the price of patience was too high, emphasizing that
> for years Khan fed the nuclear ambitions of countries that the U.S.
> says have ties to terrorism and pose major foreign policy problems.
> “I don’t see what was gained by waiting,” said George Perkovich, a
> nonproliferation expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International
> Peace in Washington. “Iran got centrifuge equipment and knowledge at
> the very least, and possibly a weapons design. We don’t even know what
> North Korea got.”
> An American diplomat in Europe was more blunt, saying, “It’s
> absolutely shocking that Khan spread nuclear knowledge while he was
> being watched.”
> As a global inquiry into Khan’s network enters its second year,
> investigators from several countries and the United Nations’
> International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna are trying to answer two
> vital questions — how much damage did Khan do and how did he stay in
> business for so long?
> The challenge has been made tougher by Pakistan’s refusal to allow
> outside investigators to question Khan, who is under house arrest in
> Islamabad, and because his network began systematically shredding
> papers and deleting e-mails in the summer of 2002, after realizing it
> was under surveillance.
> Investigators said the previously undisclosed destruction of records
> is making it harder to discover whether the network sold its deadly
> wares, including the warhead plans, to as yet unidentified countries
> or even extremist organizations. It also increases the chances that
> remnants of the ring will re-emerge. “Regrettably, they had a long
> time to destroy evidence,” said a senior investigator who had
> interviewed members of the network. “They knew they were being watched.”
> A detailed chronology of the long history of Khan and the spies who
> watched him, based on extensive interviews and hundreds of pages of
> public and confidential records, provides an unusual look at the
> inherent tension between gathering intelligence and taking action,
> which allowed the scientist and his network of engineers and middlemen
> to operate unchecked.
> Path to Deception
> Abdul Qadeer Khan, believed to have been born in India in 1935, moved
> with his family to Pakistan in 1952 in the aftermath of ethnic
> violence in India. He was a bright student whose studies took him to
> Europe, where he eventually received a doctorate in metallurgy.
> In May 1972, Khan started work for an engineering firm in Amsterdam
> that was a major subcontractor for Urenco, a British-Dutch-German
> consortium founded two years earlier to develop advanced centrifuges
> to enrich uranium for civilian power plants.
> Though he was supposed to work only with material labeled
> confidential, over the next 3 1/2 years Khan got access to top-secret
> dossiers on every aspect of the enrichment process, according to a
> lengthy report prepared last year by Dutch anti-nuclear activists.
> When he returned to Pakistan in December 1975 with his Dutch wife,
> Hendrina, and their two daughters, ostensibly for a holiday, he
> carried with him designs he had copied while working in the
> Netherlands, intelligence and law enforcement authorities said.
> His timing was excellent. Pakistan had fought wars in 1965 and 1971
> with neighboring India and the two countries were locked in a race to
> develop nuclear weapons.
> Khan mailed his resignation letter to Amsterdam and quickly assumed a
> primary role in the Pakistani government’s nuclear program, which
> would succeed in testing its first bombs in 1998 partly because of
> Khan’s skills.
> Initially, he served under the nation’s atomic energy commission, but
> he bristled at the constraints and won the right to work without
> official oversight.
> “He asked for and received autonomy and an unlimited budget,” said
> Feroz Khan, a retired Pakistani brigadier general and nuclear expert
> who is not related to A.Q. Khan. “There was no accountability.”
> Enriching natural uranium to weapons grade is a complicated process
> requiring huge arrays of slim cylinders called centrifuges and
> sophisticated machinery to regulate them as they spin at twice the
> speed of sound.
> Pakistan did not have the material to manufacture the delicately
> balanced centrifuges or much of the other equipment required, so Khan
> used his outsize budget to establish a clandestine procurement network.
> The first purchases were from companies associated with Urenco and
> were orchestrated through Pakistani embassies in Europe in 1976,
> creating what became known as the Pakistani pipeline.
> Alarm bells rang in 1978 after a British company sold Pakistan
> high-frequency electronic devices used in the enrichment process. The
> ensuing investigations pointed at Khan, according to media reports at
> the time.
> President Jimmy Carter cut off U.S. assistance to Pakistan in April
> 1979 when it was discovered that Khan had stolen plans from Urenco and
> was using them in Pakistan’s nuclear effort.
> But the U.S. sanctions were short-lived. The Soviet invasion of
> Afghanistan later that year pushed counter-proliferation concerns to
> the back burner and lowered the heat on Khan and Pakistan for the next
> decade. During that period, Islamabad was the principal conduit for
> huge amounts of U.S. aid to anti-Soviet fighters in neighboring
> The Dutch were unable to prove that Khan stole the designs, but in
> 1983 he was convicted in absentia of writing two letters seeking
> classified nuclear information. The conviction was overturned because
> he never received a proper summons.
> A former CIA agent who worked in the region said the Reagan
> administration had “incontrovertible” knowledge of Pakistan’s progress
> toward the bomb and Khan’s central role in procuring material, but
> chose not to act.
> The pattern and priorities had been established. Throughout the 1980s,
> the Reagan and Bush administrations sent $600 million a year in
> military and economic assistance to Pakistan for its help on
> Afghanistan, according to a report last month by the Congressional
> Research Service.
> Not until the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan did the first
> President Bush reimpose sanctions on Pakistan, in 1990, for developing
> atomic weapons.
> But U.S. intelligence had not lost complete sight of Khan. The CIA was
> told in 1989 that the Pakistani scientist was providing centrifuge
> designs and parts to Iran, said two former U.S. officials who read the
> Not for the first time, however, U.S. intelligence officials and
> policymakers underestimated Khan’s talent for spreading nuclear know-how.
> “We knew he traveled a lot, but we thought it was probably related to
> imports rather than exports,” said Einhorn, who read about the Iran
> link when he joined the State Department nonproliferation bureau in
> 1991. “We thought the Iran connection had fallen off during the 1990s
> and that Iran was mainly looking to Russia rather than Pakistan for
> its nuclear supplies.”
> In fact, Khan started providing material to Iran in 1987 and continued
> as its primary nuclear supplier for at least a decade, recent reports
> by the International Atomic Energy Agency state. As demand for his
> wares grew, he turned for help to many of the companies and engineers
> supplying Pakistan.
> Tapping Old Contacts
> The network was a sort of old boys club from Urenco. It included
> Dutch, German and Swiss members, former Urenco subcontractors who had
> gotten rich helping Khan turn Pakistan into a nuclear power.
> But rivalries developed within the group as orders from Iran slowed in
> the mid-1990s, and Khan, even as he ran Pakistan’s enrichment
> facilities, tried to expand his illicit sales to other countries,
> investigators said.
> “Some guys got along and some guys didn’t,” said an investigator who
> spoke on condition of anonymity. “A.Q. dealt with them individually.
> There were some group meetings, but there was never a meeting of all
> the major players at once.”
> Khan developed a particularly close friendship with B.S.A. Tahir, a
> Sri Lankan businessman who eventually turned his computer business in
> Dubai into the network’s operational base. The two men traveled
> together frequently and twice made the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca,
> Saudi Arabia.
> Khan visited at least a dozen countries in the Middle East and Africa
> in search of new customers for the network, but nuclear weapons proved
> a harder sell than he had imagined, investigators said.
> In 1997, he got a cold reception when he told an audience of
> scientists and military officers in Damascus that Syria should acquire
> its own nuclear weapons to counter Israel’s arsenal, said a former
> Syrian official who attended the talk.
> But that same year he appeared to strike it rich. At a series of
> meetings in Istanbul, Turkey, and Casablanca, Morocco, he made a deal
> to sell Libya a complete bomb-making factory for approximately $100
> This appears to have been the network’s biggest transaction, and it
> led Khan to take a risk and expand beyond the original participants
> and his own safe base in Pakistan.
> The Libya deal was taking shape just as Khan reaped enormous benefits
> at home. On May 28, 1998, the desert of southwestern Pakistan rumbled
> deeply as five nuclear weapons were detonated. It was Pakistan’s first
> nuclear test and it answered India’s detonation of three bombs two
> weeks earlier.
> Already a powerful figure, Khan basked in nationwide adulation as he
> was dubbed the father of the Islamic bomb, a title that many experts
> say exaggerated his role. Still, he boasted in an interview with a
> Pakistani magazine about evading efforts to stop him and exploiting
> Western greed.
> “Many suppliers approached us with the details of the machinery and
> with the figures and numbers of instruments and materials,” he said.
> “They begged us to purchase their goods.”
> Even with his role in making nuclear weapons now in the open, Khan
> continued to quietly make deals with other nations. In late 1998, U.S.
> intelligence picked up evidence that he was trading enrichment
> technology to North Korea in return for missiles capable of carrying
> nuclear warheads into India, a former senior U.S. official who read
> the reports said.
> The suspicions were added to a growing, highly classified chronology
> of Khan’s actions kept at the State Department, said another former
> senior official.
> In January 1999, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott raised the
> North Korean deal at a lunch in Islamabad with then-Pakistani Prime
> Minister Nawaz Sharif. He asked Sharif to stop the illicit trade in
> nuclear technology and end the deals with Pyongyang, Talbott wrote in
> his 2004 book “Engaging India.” A second U.S. official who attended
> the meeting corroborated the account.
> Though Talbott did not mention Khan by name, the second official said
> it was clear that Talbott was talking about Khan when he asked for a
> halt to the nuclear proliferation and the deals with North Korea,
> which intelligence data showed were being handled directly by Khan
> through his research laboratory in Pakistan.
> “It is true that Pakistan has important defense cooperation with North
> Korea, but it is for conventional military equipment,” Sharif replied,
> according to the second official. “Nothing nuclear is taking place.”
> Former Pakistani officials said the Americans never provided hard
> information that could have led to action against Khan, though critics
> argue that the scientist could not have conducted his business without
> at least a wink and a nod from Pakistan’s military establishment.
> “They were very vague warnings and there was no real evidence or we
> would have acted,” Feroz Khan, the former Pakistani brigadier general
> who is a visiting professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in
> Monterey, Calif., said in a telephone interview.
> The situation for Abdul Qadeer Khan began to deteriorate after Sharif
> was ousted in a coup in October 1999 by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the
> head of the armed forces.
> Aides to Musharraf said he tried almost immediately to assert control
> over the country’s nuclear establishment, including imposing the first
> audit requirements on Khan Research Laboratory, the government complex
> renamed after him that was his base of operations.
> Khan resisted and Musharraf ultimately forced him out as head of the
> lab, though he lavished praise on Khan at his retirement banquet,
> saying his team had “sweated, day and night, against all odds and
> obstacles, against international sanctions and sting operations, to
> create, literally out of nothing, with their bare hands, the pride of
> Pakistan’s nuclear capability.”
> The unprecedented restrictions at home coincided with increasing
> demand for centrifuges and other goods for Libya’s bomb-making
> factory. Khan responded by finding new sources of equipment in South
> Africa and Malaysia.
> Pakistan was known in U.S. intelligence circles as a “hard target,”
> which meant penetrating Khan’s inner circle and his facilities there
> was extremely difficult. Pakistani authorities were aware of U.S.
> interest in their nuclear facilities and took steps to protect them
> and their scientists.
> The shift to other locations for production created a new
> vulnerability that was quickly exploited by the U.S., most likely by
> eavesdropping on phone calls and monitoring e-mail.
> “We were inside his residence, inside his facilities, inside his
> rooms,” said George J. Tenet, the former director of the CIA,
> describing that period to an audience last year.
> A former U.S. intelligence officer said the CIA and National Security
> Agency were focused on the Khan network and collecting important
> pieces of the puzzle, but both agencies argued for caution out of a
> strong desire to protect sources and methods.
> “In the NSA’s case, we could be talking about the potential compromise
> of a collection system costing millions of dollars or a specific,
> crucial source that would be evident if the information were acted
> on,” the former officer said.
> The best public source of information for what intelligence agencies
> were learning at the time is a report issued in July by a British
> government commission. Two U.S. officials described the report as an
> accurate reflection of information shared between the CIA and its
> British equivalent, MI6.
> By April 2000, intelligence showed that Khan was supplying uranium
> enrichment equipment to at least one customer in the Middle East,
> thought to be Libya, the report says. Five months later, intelligence
> operatives learned that the network was mass producing centrifuge
> components for a major project.
> When the new Bush administration came into office in January 2001, the
> CIA briefed officials at the National Security Council on the dangers
> posed by Khan. The NSC officials recognized the threat as well as the
> need to get as much information as possible before acting, said two
> people involved in the talks.
> “The suspicion was that the intelligence guys were all about reporting
> and watching and they had to overcome that,” said Richard Falkenrath,
> an NSC staff member at the time. “The other question was, ‘What would
> we do about Khan, what would Pakistan tolerate?’ “
> Throughout 2001, the CIA and MI6 tracked Khan’s activities. A
> comprehensive assessment in March 2002 concluded that Khan’s network
> had moved its base to Dubai and established production facilities in
> A few months later, new information led the agencies to conclude that
> Khan’s network was central to a Libyan nuclear weapons program.
> By January 2003, the British were concerned that “Khan’s activities
> had now reached the point where it would be dangerous to allow them to
> go on,” the report says.
> Libyan officials later would tell the Americans and British that Khan
> had delivered the warhead plans to them in late 2001 or early 2002.
> Wolf, the former assistant secretary of State, said he was unsure
> whether the Americans or British knew about the plans until after the
> Libyans decided to give up their nuclear ambitions.
> Even as the danger mounted, there was a new constraint on action. The
> terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001,
> had restored Pakistan as a vital ally, and U.S. officials were
> reluctant to take any step that might jeopardize the fight against Al
> Qaeda and the Taliban.
> Unraveling the Network
> The endgame for Khan began in March 2003. Seif Islam, Kadafi’s elder
> son, approached an MI6 agent in London with an offer to talk about
> rumors that Libya possessed weapons of mass destruction, several
> officials briefed on the episode said.
> Intelligence agents from the CIA and MI6 held sporadic talks with the
> head of Libyan intelligence, Mousa Kusa, through the spring and
> summer. The U.S. and Britain wanted Libya to give up its chemical
> weaponry and nuclear technology, and Kadafi wanted assurances that in
> return economic sanctions hobbling its economy would be removed.
> In August, with the issue still unresolved, British intelligence got a
> tip about a shipment that would be leaving Khan’s factory in Malaysia
> for Libya. U.S. spy satellites tracked the shipment, and the vessel
> was eventually diverted by U.S. and Italian authorities to an Italian
> port, where five crates of delicate centrifuge components were unloaded.
> U.S. officials involved in the episode said the interception finally
> persuaded the Libyan leader to give up his weapons programs, a
> decision Kadafi announced on Dec. 19, 2003.
> As part of the deal, teams from the U.S., Britain and the
> International Atomic Energy Agency arrived in Libya in January 2004 to
> dismantle the 500 tons of nuclear equipment that Khan’s network had
> shipped there. The most sensitive material was loaded onto a U.S.
> military cargo plane that had been stripped of its identifying marks
> and flown nonstop to the national weapons laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
> Among the items on the plane was a sealed pouch containing the warhead
> designs, said people involved in the shipment.
> The two nuclear weapons specialists who examined the top-secret plans
> said the Libyans had handed them over in two plastic shopping bags.
> They said identifying marks had been removed but the designs were
> clearly for a warhead tested by China in 1966 and later provided to
> One bag contained about 100 production drawings for fabricating the
> warhead; the other held hundreds of pages of handwritten notes and
> unclassified documents from sources such as the U.S. Department of Energy.
> The notes, written in English by at least four people, were numbered
> sequentially and appeared to be the detailed records of a year-long
> seminar given long ago by Chinese experts to Pakistanis on how to
> build the warhead, the experts said.
> Even before Kadafi made his announcement, U.S. officials had
> confronted Musharraf with the Libyan evidence against Khan, leaving
> the Pakistani leader with little choice but to act.
> But Khan remained too popular — and Musharraf’s grip on power too
> tenuous — for a public arrest. Instead, Khan was placed under house
> arrest and made a brief televised confession on Feb. 4, 2004, and he
> was pardoned immediately.
> Since then, Pakistan has kept Khan outside the reach of investigators,
> leaving many questions about the proliferation network unanswered.
> In one troubling discovery, investigators and customs officials in
> Europe say they recently found signs that elements of the network had
> resumed work. This time, the client again is Pakistan, which
> investigators suspect is trying to get material for a new generation
> of centrifuges.
> “With Pakistan today, it’s hard to know how much they need, but
> already a couple of items have been stopped very recently, including a
> shipment of high-strength aluminum for centrifuges,” an investigator said.
> In the meantime, Congress has approved and funded a request for a
> three-year, $3-billion package of economic and military assistance to
> Pakistan, which remains a key ally in the Bush administration’s war on
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