2004 April 13 Tuesday
A.Q. Khan Saw Nuclear Weapons In North Korea In 1999

David Sanger of the New York Times reports that Pakistani nuclear weapons developer A. Q. Khan was shown nuclear weapons while on a visit to North Korea in 1999. (same article here)

Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani scientist who sold nuclear technology around the world, has told his interrogators that during a trip to North Korea five years ago he was taken to a secret underground nuclear plant and shown what he described as three nuclear devices, according to Asian and U.S. officials who have been briefed by the Pakistanis.

Of course we have no way of knowing whether the devices that Khan saw are real functional nuclear weapons. But what Khan has revealed supports the idea that North Korea has managed to purchase a lot of the pieces it needs to make nuclear weapons. Khan says he began shipping equipment and designs to North Korea in the late 1980s.

Pakistan admits to sharing information from Khan's interrogation but won't reveal what the Pakistani government is telling other countries.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said Tuesday that Pakistan had shared information arising from its investigations of Khan to other countries, but he did not elaborate.

"We have investigated scientists. We are in touch with the world," he told a press conference in Islamabad.

The Pakistanis are suspected of holding back many crucial details that are being revealed by the interrogations. The US is not allowed direct access to Khan. Khan may have been dealing with more countries than just North Korea, Iran, and Libya. If North Korea had 5 nukes in 1999 then how did they get enough uranium or plutonium? Is there a large enough international black market for nuclear material that North Korea was able to purchase enough to make bombs?

A number of other countries might have purchased nuclear technology from Khan's group.

Paris-based expert Bruno Tretrais says: "I would not be surprised if at least one other country was involved, like Syria, Egypt or Algeria."

If Egypt is involved then that might be hushed up. It is likely that the Bush Administration is not eager to see evidence of Egypt's purchase of nuclear technology made public.

This latest report serves as a useful reminder that nuclear proliferation control is not receiving the amount of attention it deserves. Current US policy toward North Korea is unlikely to stop North Korea's continued efforts to develop nuclear weapons. However, to the extent that these revelations make it harder for the governments of China, South Korea, and Japan to ignore the problem it is more likely that the US will get cooperation for tougher sanctions and pressure on North Korea. Still, even these revelations are unlikely to push China to make life tougher for Kim Jong-il and the Pyongyang regime.

Another aspect of this story that so far as gone unappreciated in the press is that A. Q. Khan is only a metallurgist and his real claim to fame is as a technology broker and manufacturing outsourcer. Khan is not of the intellectual caliber of, say, Enrico Fermi, Robert Oppenheimer, Richard Feynman, and the other geniuses who originally solved the manufacturing and design problems for the first American nuclear weapons during World War II. What is the significance of this fact? It is possible for non-geniuses to steal and buy technology to put together nuclear weapons programs. This is demonstrated by Khan's theft of centrifuge design information from European Urenco consortium, his purchase of parts from Europe, his purchase of parts elsewhere, and also Pakistan's acquisition from China of a nuclear weapon design and Khan's sale of that design to one or more other nations.

Investigators have discovered that the nuclear weapons designs obtained by Libya through a Pakistani smuggling network originated in China, exposing yet another link in a chain of proliferation that stretched across the Middle East and Asia, according to government officials and arms experts.

Khan operated like any American enterprise that outsources various functions all around the world. Khan used a British citizen to coordinate outsourcing training of Libyans to a site in Spain.

One operative named as working for Khan is Peter Griffin, a Briton whom Tahir alleged designed the Libyan workshop and sent eight Libyan technicians to Spain to learn how to use lathes for centrifuge parts.

According to the report, two others were Freidrich Tinner, a Swiss engineer whom Khan met in the 1980s, and his son, Urs Tinner, 39, who allegedly worked with Tahir in getting Malaysian company Scomi Precision Engineering, or SCOPE, to produce centrifuge parts.

Khan used a Sri Lankan outsourced some of his manufacturing to Malaysian company Scomi Precision Engineering.

Malaysia confirmed that it has no plans to arrest or take any other action against a man who has confessed to a key role in a conspiracy to sell nuclear weapons technology to rogue states.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told a news conference that Buhary Syed Abu Tahir, a Sri Lankan who holds permanent residence in Malaysia, had "not violated any regulations" according to the police.

Note the ease with which technology can spread and how easy it is to outsource manufacturing and training. With enough money even people with limited scientific skills can organize and stock nuclear weapons manufacturing facilities and train nuclear weapons manufacturing workers.

Khan is billed as father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. He was more like chief purchasing agent for nuclear weapons technology. He helped spread nuclear weapons technology even further through his broker role selling technology, parts, and training to other countries.

For more on this see my previous post on Libya, Pakistan, and nuclear weapons technology sales. Also see the Wikipedia entry on Khan.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 April 13 01:10 PM  US Foreign Weapons Proliferation Control

M.Robinson said at July 26, 2005 8:24 AM:

The writings of a news coloumnists in a USA newspapers must mean its the gospel truth!
It was the USA who gave us british the designs for thermonuclear weapons.
It was the french who gave the bomb designs to the Isreali's(the USA currently protects Israel from IAEA and UN security council sanctions)
russians helped the Indians in their quest for nuclear and missile program
The chinese gave assistance to the Pakistani's.
Proliferation has been going on for a while, and has been carried out by parties of all persuasion.
Please try to write more truths and less half truths and dowright lies.

The US is the only one to use nuclear weapons AGAINST CIVILIANS.
the US is currently in the process of producing miniaturised nuclear weapons. Hey its MORALLY right for the USA to posses WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION, but any one else going down the same road will see the USA using the UN to deny access to such weapons.

Nuclear weapons are a menace to humankind.

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