| By Shyam Bhatia, Special to Gulf News | 11-02-2004

Reign of the nuclear 'emperor'

Even Mohammed Shahabuddin Ghauri, the 13th century ruler of Delhi from whom Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan claims descent would be astonished at the luxurious life style that Pakistan's disgraced nuclear scientist has enjoyed for the past 30 years. Khan has repeatedly boasted to friends and family of his royal connections, allegedly stretching back to Ghauri, after whom Pakistan has also named its ballistic missiles bought from North Korea.

But all the gold that Ghauri looted from his South Asian subjects are no match for the privileges and cash amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars that have slipped through Khan's fingers over the past 30 years. Some of the privileges allotted to him by the Pakistan government may now be revoked after Khan's televised confession last week that he authorised the export of nuclear weapons technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran. The script of the carefully prepared confession broadcast on Pakistani television was always expected to win the pardon that Khan pleaded for. Now, it remains to be seen how much of the scientist's wheeling and dealing in nuclear components that underpins his financial and real estate empire will be exposed to public scrutiny.

The "assets" of this uncrowned nuclear emperor have included a Pakistan Air Force-supplied C-130 transport aircraft that was available to Khan on a 24-hour basis to take him anywhere he wanted to in the world. In the early days, when this aircraft was first allocated, it was used to fly in parts of uranium centrifuges and other components deemed vital for Pakistan's expanding nuclear weapons programme. Over a period of time, this became Khan's personal aircraft. He used it to fly around the country to boost his image as Pakistan's saviour. The C-130 with its massive storage space was also used to fly antique furniture from Pakistan to embellish his latest property investment in Timbuktu, the Hendrina Khan Hotel, named after his South African-born wife. When one of his daughters was getting married, the C-130 crew duly obliged Khan once again by flying in a $400,000 tent made of Teflon from Florida. More than anything else it was this aircraft, Khan's private flying chariot, that upset some of the scientist's younger colleagues who were enraged that the "father" of Pakistan's bomb should misuse his position to enrich himself at his country's expense.

They systematically leaked information to journalists and selected members of the Pakistani opposition on the man whom admirers have likened to Albert Einstein, while others have compared to the former East German nuclear spy Klaus Fuchs. Among Khan's disillusioned colleagues are nine engineers from the Chashma nuclear power plant who have downed tools and simply disappeared to better paid jobs in other parts of the world. Families of these highly trained experts have revealed they often worked a 90-hour week for a pittance. Their salaries and working conditions were a joke compared to the regal life style of "emperor" Khan. Not for them the use of a private aircraft, the army of servants, or the bottomless pit of cash that the "father" of the country's nuclear programme has enjoyed so consistently and for so long.

Bhopal, Indian born Khan was 16 years old when he migrated to Pakistan in 1952, five years after independence, swearing at the local police as he crossed the land border at Rajasthan. This self-hating Indian emigrant explained himself in a subsequent interview published in Pakistan by telling how he had personally witnessed trains pulling into Bhopal railway station filled with the bodies of Muslims killed during Partition. He has claimed that it was these memories that propelled him across the border where he also plotted his strategy to extract revenge against the country he had abandoned. But first he had to get an education. Backed by Pakistani government scholarships, he first managed to obtain a place at the Techjnische Universitat in West Berlin. Later, between 1963-1967, he obtained a metallurgical engineering degree from the Technical University of Delft in Holland. Three years later he completed his studies with a Ph.d in metallurgy from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. His mentor at Leuven, Professor Martin Brabers, remembers him as competent, outgoing, charming and likeable. It was Brabers too who helped Khan get his first job after graduating and that, fortuitously, also gave him the key to unlock Pakistan's nuclear programme.

This first job was at the Physical Dynamics Research Laboratory in Amsterdam, a specialised engineering firm known as FDO, that was putting together an elite team for a special project jointly funded by the governments of Britain, West Germany and the Netherlands. Their Urenco consortium based in the town of Almelo in Holland was formed to break the US monopoly in producing highly enriched uranium nuclear fuel. Highly enriched uranium is also used for making nuclear bombs, so when Khan joined FDO, the company serving as consultants to the high-tech process, he found himself at the right place at the right time to get the secrets that Pakistan needed. Although much of the work was classified as restricted and confidential, Khan was given security clearance and access to the FDO "brain box" because he was married to a South African-born Dutch woman and had announced he planned to settle down permanently in the Netherlands. Financed by Pakistan's intelligence operatives in Europe, and trained by them as well, he systematically stole classified data and had it shipped back to Pakistan where it was used to replicate uranium enrichment technology at the Kahuta Research Centre near Islamabad. Pakistan was still licking its wounds from the 1971 war when Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was told that India was close to testing its first nuclear device. At a hastily convened meeting of top scientists in Multan, Bhutto asked who could help him get a nuclear bomb for Pakistan.

Step forward Dr. Khan, who happened to be back home on holiday from his work at the FDO "brain box" in Amsterdam.

An insight into how Khan operated was provided last week by a former Dutch colleague, Frits Veerman, who shared office space with Khan in Amsterdam, and whose book in Dutch called Atoomspionage gives his version of the whole scandal. Veerman, who was employed as a technical photographer by FDO has told Gulf News during an interview at his home in Amsterrdam how he saw classified blue folders filled with confidential papers lying about in Khan's home. It is Veerman's contention that Khan's marriage to a Dutch woman, Hendrina, and his mastery of three European languages, English, German and Dutch, facilitated his access to confidential data that would otherwise have been off limits to him. Just how dependant Khan had become on the blueprints and components he stole from his employers is revealed from some of the letters he wrote to Veerman soon after he fled to Pakistan from Holland in 1976, using the plea of contracting yellow fever when on holiday to justify his initial absence. Khan's departure may have been because his cover was blown or presumably the time was right to start constructing the centrifuge plant in Pakistan.

The letters start off innocently enough. "It is now almost a month since we have left the Netherlands and I am gradually beginning to miss the delicious chicken," he writes to Veerman in January 1976.

Later he adds, "I need a few things from my desk. Will you please take Henny to FDO on a Saturday morning so that she can take the required things. A carton box would be sufficient to take these things."

In a subsequent letter he writes,
"Dear Frits, very confidentially I request you to help us. I urgently need the following information for our research programme:
1. Etches of pivots:
(a) Tension - how many volts?
(b) Electricity - how many amperes?
(c) How long is etching to be done?
(d) Solution (electrolytic) HCL or something other is added as an inhibitor.
If it is possible, grateful for 3-4 etched pivots. I should be very grateful if you could send a few negatives for the pattern. You should be having negatives of these.

Frits, these are very urgently required, without which the research would come to a standstill."

Khan's activities had not gone entirely unnoticed. Some of his efforts were monitored at the time by Indian and other foreign agencies. Even the Dutch government obtained a judgement against him, a four-year prison sentence that was later overturned on a technicality because the summons had not been served at Khan's secret address in Islamabad. Veerman was not so lucky. While it remains unclear whether he helped Khan because of their friendship, Dutch authorities interrogated Veerman for a year. He was also held overnight in an Amsterdam jail under unspecified charges. Fortunately for Khan, he had a powerful protector in Pakistan's President and Chief of Army Staff General Zia ul Haq, who became a favoured ally of the United States after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. As the leader of a front-line state confronting Soviet aggression, the US had a hands-off policy where Pakistan was concerned. Khan's uranium cascades were always secondary to the more important task of confronting Moscow and pushing Soviet troops back across the Afghan border. To achieve these objectives the Americans at the time were prepared to overlook Pakistan's evolution as a nuclear weapons power. The status quo did not change when Pakistan first conducted a "cold" test in 1987, followed by a series of actual underground explosions in 1988.

It took the 9/11 tragedies for US policy-makers to take a fresh look at the men behind the by now fast proliferating Pakistan nuclear weapons programme. Suspicions hardened into certainty when US forces attacking Al Qaida bases in Afghanistan in the winter of 2001 encountered a clutch of Pakistani scientists - all A.Q. Khan protégés - briefing Osama bin Laden's senior advisers on nuclear weapons technology. Bin Laden did not have the infrastructure to make nuclear bombs in Afghanistan, but his Pakistani advisers seem to have briefed him about how to construct what is known as a "dirty" radioactive device, using stolen or bought material. A "dirty" bomb can spread radioactive material over a large area using a conventional bomb. Last year, under prodding from the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, in Vienna, the Iranian government conceded it had been assisted in its secret nuclear programme by Khan. In return, the Iranians gave him a villa and lucrative fishing rights in the Caspian Sea.

A year later, in January 2004, Libya confessed it too had a lucrative contract of mutual assistance with a group of Pakistani nuclear scientists headed by Khan. These revelations were topped by South Korea, which told Washington that Khan had been detected taking nuclear know-how - materials and designs - to North Korea. A nuclear North Korea - run by the erratic Kim Jong-il - would threaten US bases and personnel throughout the Far East. The Iranian and Libyan disclosures along with the threat to American lives is what finally provoked the US to move against Khan. Musharraf was told he needed to make an example of Khan or else. Once the government machine swung into action against Khan, information about the nuclear "emperor" started to pour in by the bucket-load from colleagues who resent his over bearing manner, his intemperate language, lavish spending and the innumerable secret trips to foreign destinations. His highest praise was reserved for countries like Libya whose officials have recently told how they paid Khan the equivalent of £50 million for the information he passed on about uranium centrifuges and Chinese-inspired nuclear warhead designs.

 

by DAVID ALBRIGHT and MARK HIBBS

 

(1) U.S. State Department, The Pakistani Nuclear Program. Washington: GPO, June 23, 1983. (Obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archive, Washington, D.C.)

(2) Simon Henderson, "Pakistan's Atomic Bomb," Foreign Report (Jan. 12, 1989).

(3) Bob Woodward, "Pakistan Reported Near Atom Weapons Production," Washington Post, Nov. 4, 1986.

(4) National Archives, U.S. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Policy: 1945­91. (To be published, 1992), document no. 0232.

(5) Mushahid Hussain, "Nuclear Issue: Ball is Now in Pakistan's Court," Nation (Lahore), Nov. 29, 1990.

(6) Report of the 2nd Chamber of the States-General (Parliament of the Netherlands), Session 1979­80, Report 16,082, no. 1­2, p. 26.

(7) A. Fareed Ameen, "The Mythical Bomb," Muslim (Islamabad), Aug. 5, 1986. Quoted in Shahid-ur-Rahman Khan, "Fear of U.S. Aid Cutoff Said to Have Deterred Pakistan's Bomb Program," Nuclear Fuel (Aug. 11, 1986).

(8) For a full explanation of this estimate, see D. Albright, F. Berkhout, and W. Walker, World Inventories of Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium (Stockholm: SIPRI, forthcoming 1992).

(9) Simon Henderson, "Pakistan Builds Second Plant to Enrich Uranium," Financial Times (London), Dec. 11, 1987.

(10) Testimony of Reinhard Heubner, Federal Prosecuting Attorney, Hanau District, before the Second Parliamentary Investigating Committee of the Deutscher Bundestag, Bonn, Germany, April 15, 1989, p. 60/25.

(11) Ibid., pp. 60/26­42.

(12) Mark Hibbs, "German Firms Exported Tritium Plant to Pakistan," Nuclear Fuel (Feb. 6, 1989).

Pakistan's bomb:
Out of the closet

As the Soviet Union breathed its last and Iraq's nuclear infrastructure was destroyed under U.N. auspices, the Bush administration redoubled its efforts to stem regional nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, on the Korean peninsula, and on the Asian subcontinent. At the end of 1991, with the Cold War at an end and nuclear disarmament efforts making progress in South Africa, Brazil, and Argentina, Western diplomats hoped that India and Pakistan also might be persuaded to abandon their nuclear ambitions. But this March India rejected a U.S. State Department initiative for a regional disarmament conference. And Pakistan, which in the past has offered to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) if India agrees to do so, signaled that if it attended a U.S.-sponsored nuclear disarmament conference its aim would be full diplomatic recognition as a de facto nuclear weapon state. Such an outcome is unacceptable to Washington.

Pakistani Foreign Secretary Shahryar Khan admitted in a February 7, 1992 Washington Post interview that his country had the components to assemble at least one nuclear bomb. Khan claimed he was revealing this information to bridge a "credibility gap" created by a previous Pakistani regime. But it is more likely that his admission was motivated by a desire to gain recognition of Pakistan's nuclear status, and perhaps the renewal of U.S. aid to Pakistan. In 1985, Congress made aid to Pakistan contingent on the president certifying that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear weapon; aid was halted in 1990 when President George Bush could no longer do so. Shahryar Khan's February announcement was certainly not news to experts who have tracked Pakistan's clandestine program. Many sources, including previously classified U.S. government documents, indicate that Pakistan has been pursuing nuclear weapons for more than 15 years, and that its seasoned uranium enrichment program is capable of producing enough weapon-grade uranium to build as many as six nuclear bombs per year.

Uranium

Pakistan began trying to enrich uranium in earnest in 1976, secretly establishing the Engineering Research Laboratories (ERL). According to a declassified 1983 State Department memorandum, gas centrifuge designs "were stolen by a Pakistani national" from the European technology holder, Urenco, the gas centrifuge enrichment consortium.(1) Most reports identify the agent as A.Q. Khan, a Pakistani metallurgist. The memo says that ERL had both acquired and produced components for gas centrifuges and for nuclear weapons. (In honor of Khan's contributions, ERL was renamed the A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories in 1981.) The centerpiece of Pakistan's enrichment program is the Kahuta gas centrifuge plant near Islamabad. This facility began operating in the early 1980s, but has been plagued by chronic delays. The 1983 State Department memo says, "We believe that the Pakistanis have experienced difficulty in making their centrifuge machines work and that the Pakistanis have not yet produced any significant quantities of enriched uranium." The memo also reports that Pakistan turned to China for help. The nature and the extent of Chinese assistance is unclear, but China may have helped Pakistan build centrifuges or cascades. One 1989 report stated that China had supplied enough weapon-grade uranium to make two nuclear bombs.(2) However, one U.S. official has said that this assistance is unconfirmed. He said that China might instead have helped by supplying unenriched uranium hexafluoride or "hex," the chemical form of uranium used in centrifuges. Pakistan obtained its own uranium hexafluoride production equipment from a German company in the late 1970s, but it could still have been experiencing difficulties in producing hex in the early 1980s. In return for its assistance, China is believed to have received Urenco technology from Pakistan. China has had a gas centrifuge research and development program since 1958. It is unknown if China has built a production facility.

In 1984, A.Q. Khan announced that Kahuta was producing low-enriched uranium, but would not enrich uranium above the five percent level. However, U.S. intelligence concluded by mid-1986 that Kahuta was producing highly enriched, weapon-grade uranium.(3) According to a 1986 memo prepared for Henry Kissinger, then a member of the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, Kahuta had the nominal capability to produce "enough weapons-grade material to build several nuclear devices per year."(4) But the memo did not indicate the actual amount produced. Before her visit to Washington in June 1989, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto reportedly stopped weapon-grade uranium production, a step which the U.S. government was able to verify.(5) But when Pakistan and India clashed over Kashmir in the spring of 1990, Pakistan resumed production and continued until some time in 1991, according to Shahryar Khan's February interview with the Washington Post. Despite a wealth of public information on the qualitative aspects of Pakistan's program, little precise information is available about the amount of weapon-grade uranium Kahuta can produce each year, or about the total amount it has produced so far. We can only estimate quantities by considering the types of centrifuges Pakistan is believed to have obtained in Europe, and by estimating the number it has operated at Kahuta.

Stolen centrifuges

According to a Western enrichment expert, the first Urenco centrifuge designs Pakistan built were probably based on two first-generation prototype centrifuges designed by Ultra-Centrifuge Nederland (UCN), the Dutch partner in the trilateral Urenco consortium. These machines, the CNOR and SNOR, featured aluminum rotors, connected by bellows. The bellows act to reduce vibrations caused by resonant frequencies at certain operating speeds. Rotors that spin faster than the first of these frequencies are called supercritical. Bellows in supercritical machines allow for longer centrifuges, and thus, more separation of uranium, but they are considered difficult to master. CNOR and SNOR machines have an estimated separative capacity of 2 to 5 separative work units (a standard measure) per year. Intelligence reports on the activities of Pakistani agents in the Netherlands in the 1970s concluded in 1980 that a small number of CNOR and SNOR machines were "spinning somewhere in Pakistan."(6) Other sources report that Pakistan had trouble getting these machines to work on a large scale and started replacing them with more reliable machines based on two German Urenco designs, the G-1 and G-2. First-generation centrifuges were also being replaced by improved production models at the UCN plant at Almelo during the early and mid-1970s. Dutch intelligence believes that Pakistan obtained design information for the newer centrifuges in part through Khan's efforts-in 1974 UCN asked him to translate classified design documents for the German centrifuges. According to the statement of a senior German official, Pakistani agents obtained centrifuge components and design information in Germany as well.

Following the 1991 Gulf War, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Urenco design information formed the backbone of Iraq's clandestine centrifuge program. German officials then speculated that the same unknown German sources who provided Pakistan with information on the G-1 and G-2 might have also passed the information to Baghdad. A G-1 centrifuge has a capacity of between 2 and 3 separative work units per year. The G-2s have an estimated capacity of 5 to 6 separative work units per year. The comparatively advanced G-2 machine is a supercritical centrifuge featuring two maraging steel rotor tubes connected by a maraging steel bellows. Because Pakistan encountered difficulties building and operating centrifuges, it installed considerably more machines than it has successfully operated. In 1986, Kahuta was reported to have 14,000 centrifuges (see June 1987 Bulletin). U.S. officials confirmed that Pakistan might have built that many, but they estimated that only about 1,000 were actually in operation. One official added that Pakistan's centrifuge "junk pile is sizable."

The estimate of 1,000 machines in operation is consistent with a 1986 report in the Muslim, a daily newspaper in Islamabad. The Muslim reported that Kahuta was "rumored to have 1,000 centrifuges, against a planned capacity of 2,000 to 3,000 centrifuges."(7) The 1983 memo asserted that Kahuta is "eventually to house several thousand machines." One U.S. official we interviewed in spring 1991 said that Pakistan was operating nearly 3,000 machines at Kahuta. Pakistan now has the manufacturing capability and know-how to increase the number of machines. But the official said that Pakistan was concentrating on developing more advanced machines and replacing older centrifuges rather than increasing the number in operation. We believe that most of Pakistan's centrifuges are based on the G-2 design, although a significant number of the machines could be based on less capable German and Dutch designs. Assuming a mix of types, each with a capacity of between 3 and 5 separative work units per year, Kahuta could produce about 9,000 to 15,000 separative work units per year. This is enough to produce about 45 to 75 kilograms of weapon-grade uranium a year, assuming that natural uranium is fed into the plant and that about 0.3 percent of the uranium 235 is left in the waste, or "tails." If Pakistan had sufficient uranium hexafluoride stocks, it could accept a higher rate of waste. With a 0.5 percent tails assay, Kahuta's annual production could be 60 to 100 kilograms of weapon-grade uranium. Assuming that a nuclear device requires about 15 kilograms, Kahuta has the capability to produce enough weapon-grade uranium for 3 to 6 devices a year. Kahuta, however, has not operated at nominal capacity for most of its history. By the end of 1991, Pakistan had probably produced between 100 and 200 kilograms of weapon-grade uranium, based on a variety of tails assays and separative capabilities.(8) This is enough material for roughly 6 to 13 nuclear explosive devices. Pakistan is building a second enrichment plant at Golra, about six miles west of Islamabad. A 1987 British report implied that "several thousand centrifuges" would be installed there.(9) According to a U.S. official, Pakistan has had problems getting equipment from abroad, and therefore progress in completing the facility has been slow and sporadic. Western intelligence reports suggest that Golra is being used to test a small number of advanced supercritical centrifuges before they are installed at Kahuta.

Reprocessing

One U.S. official interviewed in 1991 said that Pakistan had completed a small reprocessing plant called "New Labs" at the Pinstech complex near Rawalpindi. New Labs is based on blueprints delivered by France, with key equipment bought from a variety of suppliers. According to the 1983 State Department memo, New Labs would need several years to separate enough plutonium for a nuclear weapon. The memo adds, however, that New Labs seemed to be large enough to allow for expansion of its reprocessing capacity. Because Pakistan lacks a supply of unsafeguarded irradiated fuel, raw intelligence reports have claimed-and experts have speculated- that Pakistan has been trying to build a nuclear reactor that would generate significant amounts of plutonium. Recently, more information about Pakistani procurement was revealed in Bundestag committee hearings, which included the testimony of the prosecutor in the 1990 trial of German nationals who helped Pakistan to obtain illegal materials.(10) Rudolf Ortmayer, a German engineer convicted in 1990 of having illegally exported nuclear goods to Pakistan, testified before his trial that the piping he supplied in the late 1980s was "for construction of an indigenous primitive, pool-type reactor." The aluminum fuel-cladding material Ortmeyer supplied would not have been usable in Pakistan's existing reactors. Based on Pakistan's procurement of a wide array of related equipment, and the revelation of its program to produce large amounts of nuclear-grade graphite, the West German intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst, reported in late 1983 that Pakistan had probably begun to develop an indigenous reactor. It has still not been established that Pakistan is building a reactor for plutonium production. But Pakistan has had Chinese assistance in building a tiny research reactor that contains about one kilogram of Chinese-supplied weapon-grade uranium fuel that is under IAEA safeguards. Without a much larger reactor, Pakistan could separate only tiny amounts of plutonium from the small quantities of fuel it could legally withdraw from safeguards. A U.S. official believes that Pakistan probably did some experimental separation of plutonium.

Weaponization

Like Iraq, Pakistan was simultaneously developing the ability to produce fissile materials while trying to master weapon design and production. Its weapons design efforts began over 15 years ago, and they required substantial foreign assistance. The 1983 State Department memo says that "nuclear explosive design and development work began in Pakistan soon after the 1974 Indian nuclear test." The work was assigned to an organization within the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, which studied implosion hydrodynamics, neutronics, high explosives testing, and metallurgy. The 1983 memo says that Pakistan subsequently worked on an electronic triggering circuit for detonating the high explosives, and experimented with shaped charges. It concluded that "Pakistan has already undertaken a substantial amount of the necessary design and high explosives testing of the explosive triggering package, and we believe Pakistan is now capable of producing a workable package of this kind." A dummy core of natural or depleted uranium would be used to test the non-nuclear high explosive triggering or implosion package for a nuclear weapon. U.S. officials have said on many occasions since the early 1980s that Pakistan received a proven weapon design from China. It has been reported that the design was that used in China's fourth nuclear-weapons test in 1966 at Lop Nor. This test involved the detonation of a warhead carried by missile. If Pakistan received a copy of this design, then its warhead is probably much smaller than early Chinese aerial bombs and could operate under the more exacting conditions of delivery by missile.

In a recent interview, one U.S. official cautioned that receiving a "cookbook design doesn't mean that you can make a cake on the first try." It took Pakistan 10 years to enrich uranium, even with Urenco centrifuge designs and extensive knowledge about Urenco experts and suppliers. Pakistan would probably have required several years to build bombs after getting the design. Little is known about the particular Chinese design. A U.S. official said in a 1991 interview that it utilized a nearly solid sphere of weapon-grade uranium with a tiny hollow core, surrounded by a tamper and high explosives. Such a design would require about 15 kilograms of weapon-grade uranium. Pakistan also got bomb components and test equipment in Europe and the United States. According to the 1983 State Department memo, in late 1981 through 1982 European companies sold Pakistani procurement agents metal components that were "unambiguously identified as those of a nuclear device." Pakistani agents also tried to get precision lathes and associated equipment, specifically for the manufacture of bomb components. Following U.S. government protests, Pakistan shifted "from procurement of weapons components themselves to procurement of machinery necessary for their manufacture."

One of the more difficult problems in building a nuclear bomb is the neutron initiator, which starts the fission chain reaction at the right moment by injecting a spurt of neutrons. Recording a sharp neutron signal while testing an implosion package would provide confidence that the bomb would work. Pakistan would have several initiator options. All, however, require either an alpha-particle source-most likely polonium 210-or tritium. In the first type, polonium is mixed with beryllium at the right instant, and the alpha particles from the polonium 210 interact with beryllium to produce neutrons. A tritium initiator requires fusion of tiny amounts of tritium and deuterium, resulting in high-energy neutrons. Tritium initiators are generally considered more difficult to build than polonium-beryllium initiators. (Iraq was pursuing a polonium-beryllium initiator, probably for this reason.) But polonium-beryllium initiators have a great disadvantage. The half-life of polonium is only about 140 days; tritium has a half-life of 12 years. To keep weapons with polonium initiators functional would require a constant resupply of polonium. Pakistan's most probable source of polonium is safeguarded reactors, but producing polonium for nuclear weapons in civilian reactors would violate Pakistan's safeguards agreements with Canada, the IAEA, and the United States. And if Pakistan were caught, its ability to field usable weapons would be jeopardized.

One U.S. official said that the United States is satisfied that Pakistan has not created polonium in its safeguarded reactors. If not, then Pakistan has probably developed tritium initiators, even though they are considered more difficult to develop. China may have given Pakistan the design for a small tritum initiator. The initiator, located at the center of the weapon-grade uranium core, would require a design that could produce a more symmetric converging shock wave. In 1987, Pakistani agents smuggled 0.8 grams of pure tritium gas they had obtained from German parties who were convicted of illegally exporting tritium in 1990.(11) This would be enough tritium for a number of neutron initiators. Pakistan is probably looking at the development of more sophisticated fission bombs, boosted fission bombs, and perhaps hydrogen bombs. One of the Germans convicted in 1990 testified that his Pakistani clients were trying to obtain equipment and materials for an H-bomb program.(12) Declassified documents confirm that Pakistan has engaged in a long and increasingly sophisticated nuclear weapons program, and Pakistan's attempts to build a tritium production facility during the late 1980s may also have been motivated by a program to develop tritium-boosted fission weapons. Information from the trial of Ortmayer and others in 1990 suggested that Pakistan did not get all the equipment it needed to begin operating a tritium purification plant. But some equipment was supplied from Germany and was tested in Pakistan. Moreover, the testimony recorded that "plans and the know-how for the tritium facility were supplied" in 1987. However, without a proven design for a significantly more sophisticated fission weapon, a boosted fission weapon, or a thermonuclear device, it is doubtful that Islamabad could develop one without full-scale testing.

 

 

The letters of Abdul Khan

Abdul Q. Khan, the metallurgist who pioneered Pakistan's uranium enrichment and nuclear bomb development program, was able to get secret design information, materials, components, and manufacturing equipment from Europe's Urenco enrichment program and its supplier network nearly 15 years before Iraq began doing similar things. From 1972 through 1975, Khan worked at FDO, a Dutch engineering firm collaborating with Ultra-Centrifuge Nederland (UCN), the Dutch firm in the Urenco consortium. After Khan left FDO, he returned home, where he took charge of Pakistan's Engineering Research Laboratories. Faced with a primitive industrial infrastructure, Khan and his procurement agents set out to buy the components and the know-how they needed to build gas centrifuges. In the summer of 1976, Khan wrote to Frits Veerman, a technician and photographer working with the Dutch Urenco project; Khan had developed a close relationship with Veerman while working at FDO. After gaining Veerman's confidence, Khan sent a letter that was hand-delivered by a Pakistani embassy official. "I ask you in great confidence to help us," Khan wrote. He told Veerman that Pakistan "urgently" needed technical specifications for etching the highly sensitive spiral grooved pattern on the tiny hard metal ball a few millimeters in diameter that is part of the centrifuge's bottom bearing assembly. Khan also "very much wanted" photographic negatives of the design of the pattern. Khan pressed Veerman to get him three or four examples of photo-etched bottom bearing balls, and the same number of metal membranes and steel springs for the damping mechanism of the bottom bearing assembly of the CNOR centrifuge that UCN was working on [see figure]. "Frits," he wrote, "this is absolutely urgent since [without the membranes and springs] the entire research project has been halted." Khan told Veerman to contact Franz Frencken, another employee. "I was a good friend of his," Khan wrote. "Ask him if he would be interested in paying me a visit. I would have some technical work for him and a lot of photographic work for you. Why don't you both spend a vacation here [in Pakistan] and earn some money at the same time?"

A suspicious Veerman handed Khan's letter over to the company. Although Khan claimed that the information he wanted about bottom bearings was not sensitive, his 1976 letter to Veerman was used against him in November 1983, when he was sentenced in absentia to four years in prison for trying to steal uranium enrichment secrets from the Netherlands. His conviction was overturned in 1985 by an appeals court that ruled that the prosecutor's office had not properly delivered its summons to him. Khan also asked Urenco employees of Pakistani origin to help. According to a 1980 Dutch investigation, two Pakistani nationals employed as quality inspectors in the Dutch Urenco effort were "active helpers of Khan."

In 1977, A.Q. Khan wrote to Abdul Aziz Khan, an electrical engineer living in Canada, who was later involved in obtaining parts for the high speed inverters that power centrifuge motors. He asked him to come home to work on a "project of national importance" for which Pakistani scientists in Britain and the United States were being recruited.(1) A.A. Khan declined, but he agreed to collect technical literature in the United States and Canada and to come to Pakistan during his vacations to train young engineers working in the program.

In 1978, A.Q. Khan asked one of his agents, a Mr. Akhtar, to "send the names and addresses of Pakistani engineers" attending a Muslim engineers' conference in North America.(2) He said, "Now, let us see how many addresses and names he would bring from there." His efforts evidently bore fruit. In 1978, Khan wrote to A.A. Khan: "Slowly and gradually people are joining."

After the exposure of Pakistani activities in the late 1970s, Britain and the United States established more stringent embargoes on exports to Pakistan. Khan then lamented in one letter to A.A. Khan, "The Britishers are stalling it more than before. They are even stopping nails and screws." In another letter he added, "All our material has been stopped, everywhere they are delaying it. Now we will have to do some work ourselves." Khan's persistence has paid off. By the late 1980s A.Q. Khan and his colleagues were publishing articles in Western technical journals that demonstrated Pakistan's self-sufficiency in manufacturing and assembling centrifuges. One U.S. official said these articles not only show what Pakistan knows, they suggest that Khan is "boasting and displaying his ego."

One Pakistani article is the only study ever made public on constructing maraging steel bellows. Urenco considers public mention of the bellows a violation of its secrecy requirements. These flexible joints between rotor tubes are considered by centrifuge experts to be extremely difficult to make. One U.S. expert characterized the Pakistani knowledge of bellows displayed in the article as "relatively competent."

In 1987 Khan co-authored an article on balancing ultracentrifuge rotors which describes the process for rotor tubes connected by bellows. Balancing supercritical rotor tubes requires sophisticated equipment and is con- sidered more difficult than balancing single rotor tubes of the type Iraq was developing before the Gulf War. The stated purpose of the study is to "provide useful and practical information, as technical information on balancing of centrifuge rotors is hardly available because most of the work is shrouded in the clouds of the so-called secrecy."

-D.A., M.H.

Saddam secretly funded Pakistan A-bomb
Author: Pramit Pal Chaudhuri
Publication: The Hindustan Times
Date: December 26, 2002

Saddam Hussein was an active partner in Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme not just once, but twice. Iraq funded Pakistan's clandestine nuclear weapons project in the early 1980s in return for uranium-enrichment technology. A decade later, the two were back in bed. This time they were busy trading money for an A-bomb design. Pakistani nuclear spy, Abdul Qadeer Khan, stole the blueprints for a simple uranium-enrichment centrifuge made of aluminium from a Netherlands firm where he was working in the 1970s and 1980s. India became suspicious when the same technology then popped up in Iraq and was used by Baghdad from 1987 to 1989.

Citing Dutch media, the Indian embassy in the Netherlands sent a report to New Delhi in September 1991 quoting Khan's Dutch assistant, Frits Veerman, as saying: "Those lethal ultra-centrifuges in Iraq are purely Dutch. Khan first saw to it that Pakistan could grab them. Later his institute supplied blueprints to Baghdad." In the late 1980s an investigation by Indian intelligence concluded Iraq had helped fund Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme in return for the centrifuge technology. Besides cold cash, the report said, the two Sunni Muslim countries' shared an interest in containing revolutionary Shia Iran. Teheran was covertly funding Shia militants in both countries. K. Santhanam, head of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses and a person who tracked Iraqi-Pakistani nuclear cooperation in the 1980s, suspects Pakistan turned to Iraq because it needed outside money as its atom bomb project carried a $ 6 to 8 billion off-budget price tag. Islamabad, he points out, had earlier turned to Libya and the United Arab Emirates for money.

Analysts believe Iraq probably channelled money to Pakistan through the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, a now-defunct Pakistani bank later beset by scandals over its illegal money transfers. Indian sources say it is likely part of the payment was also in the form of petroleum shipments. Iraq and Pakistan eventually abandoned aluminium centrifuges as unreliable. Both were later to acquire maraging steel centrifuges from a renegade German scientist. The Iran-Iraq war, says Santhanam, forced Baghdad to put its nuclear weapons programme on a "maintenance budget" for much of the late 1980s. By 1990 Iraq was back in the black market for bombs. But this time it wanted the blueprint for a functioning nuclear warhead. Iraq already had a cumbersome, Hiroshima-type atomic bomb design. Saddam Hussein wanted a smaller bomb that could fit on the top of a Scud missile.

The man who offered to sell Iraq one was A.Q. Khan.

According to a report written in 1998 by West Asian expert Yossef Bodansky: "One of the Iraqi documents retrieved after the [1991] war includes a scrawled footnote describing an offer made to Iraqi intelligence by an unidentified Pakistani offering to establish contacts with 'senior figures in Pakistan's nuclear programme who were willing to help President Saddam Hussein's regime to manufacture a bomb." A memo found by UN inspectors from Section B15 of Iraqi intelligence to Section S15 of Iraq's nuclear weapons directorate was explicit. It said Baghdad has received a proposal from "Pakistani scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan" to help Iraq "manufacture a nuclear weapon."
Iraq admitted to the UN inspection regime that Khan made the offer, but insists it turned it down for fear it was a US sting operation. Pakistan, for its part, insists Khan never made the offer. Not many believe either claim.
Khan publicly denied he had ever "set foot on Iraqi soil." But B. Raman, ex-head of RAW's Pakistan desk, says one "reliable" source had informed Indian intelligence that Khan had gone to Baghdad at least once.

Western intelligence believes one of Khan's deputies acted as the primary middleman between the two countries. Santhanam says India had evidence that there was much "too-ing and fro-ing" between Baghdad and Islamabad on the nuclear front at this point. US proliferation expert Gary Milholin, who spoke with UN inspectors, says they were also certain that Baghdad accepted Khan's offer. A UN probe failed because Pakistan refused to cooperate. The UN was not allowed to meet Khan. Islamabad announced that it had held its own investigation and cleared Khan of any wrongdoing. No surprise, say Indian officials, as Khan has never been a nuclear freelancer. He has always acted as a nuclear courier at Islamabad's behest, they say.

In September this year Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote that Western intelligence sources had told him that they were certain "Pakistani nuclear scientists visited Iraq, and Iraqis visited Pakistan's safeguarded enrichment plant at Kahuta." What it is certain is that Iraq did get a smaller bomb design. Tellingly, say experts like Milholin, the new Iraqi design is one with a "flying tamper" - a device that helps compact a nuclear explosion. Such a tamper exists in Pakistan's most-recent bomb design. Indian and Western sources believe Pakistan hastily severed its nuclear trade with Iraq once the US went to war with Iraq over Kuwait. Baghdad did not benefit as much as it wanted to from its atomic alliance with Pakistan. It received a faulty centrifuge technology in the 1980s. And though the Pakistani nuclear design was functional, the UN inspections of the 1990s had destroyed Iraq's uranium- enrichment machines and its stock of enriched uranium. The bulk of the centrifuges the UN destroyed were made of maraging steel. Interestingly, the US accused Iraq in September this year of spending the last 14 months trying to buy thousands of aluminium tubes. Washington said the tubes were for centrifuges. This seems to indicate that Iraq, realizing buying maraging steel tubes would immediately arouse suspicion, tried to get some nuclear fodder using the older centrifuge technology it had bought from Pakistan in the 1980s. Baghdad may have hoped that the more innocuous aluminium tubes would slip through UN sanctions. Evidence of a double nuclear trail from Baghdad to Kahuta is clear but not clinching. But many in New Delhi believe Pakistan has reason to be worried at what dirty secrets will be found amid the rubble of a post-Saddam Iraq.

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ISBN 90-5087-027-9

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