Research Roots in Holland
Dr. Khan's start came with India's first atomic
test in 1974, an event that so traumatized Pakistan that developing
its own weapon became the country's most pressing goal. "We will
eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own,"
said Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, then the prime minister. Dr.
Khan, a bright young Pakistani metallurgist working in the Netherlands,
lent his aid. From his perch at Urenco, a European consortium, he
possessed blueprints of the world's best centrifuges the hollow
metal tubes that spin very fast to enrich natural uranium into bomb
fuel. A set of thousands of centrifuges,
called a cascade, concentrates the rare U-235 isotope to make a potent
"I saw top-secret technical drawings in
his house," recalled Frits Veerman, a Dutch colleague who shared
an office with Dr. Khan. Dr. Khan stole the designs, Dutch investigators
found, and he fled back to Pakistan in 1976. He used the blueprints
and his knowledge to set up an enrichment project in Kahuta, near
Islamabad, that reported directly to the prime minister. He drew heavily
on Dutch lists of nearly 100 companies that supplied centrifuge parts
and materials. "They literally begged us to buy their equipment,"
Dr. Khan boasted in 2001 in a publication celebrating the 25th anniversary
of his Pakistani laboratory. "My long stay in Europe and intimate
knowledge of various countries and their manufacturing firms was an
Business executives and merchants, including
German, Dutch and French middlemen, flocked to Pakistan to offer price
lists for high-technology goods and learn what Pakistan needed. The
multilingual Dr. Khan led the acquisition effort. His shopping spree
spanned the world. "Africa was important because of the materials
needed," said a senior Pakistani official involved in the investigation
of Dr. Khan. "Europe was crucial for bringing in high-tech machines
and components. Dubai was the place for shipments and for payments.
"We were not the first beneficiaries of
this network. But the intensity of Pakistan's nuclear acquisition
effort did enlarge the market. Everybody knew that there is a buyer
out there, loaded with money and hellbent on getting this ultimate
weapon." Even in the early days,
the trade was no secret. Washington sent Germany dozens of complaints
about their leaky export-control system that let "dual use"
technology leave even though some was clearly intended for Pakistan's
nuclear program, said Mark Hibbs, a Germany-based editor of a technical
journal, Nucleonics Week. But many of those warnings were ignored,
Mr. Veerman said Dutch companies continued
to work with Dr. Khan after it was clear he was developing centrifuges
for a weapon. Dr. Khan even sent scientists to the Netherlands in
the late 1970's for centrifuge-related training. Eventually the flow
of technology reversed, two senior Pakistani military officials involved
in the probe of Dr. Khan said. "These contacts and channels were
later used for sending technology out of Pakistan by certain individuals,"
a military official said, "including Dr. A. Q. Khan."
Dr. Khan had three motives, investigators say.
He was eager to defy the West and pierce "clouds of the so-called
secrecy," as he once put it. He was equally eager to transfer
technology to other Muslim nations, according to a senior Pakistani
politician. "He also said that giving technology to a Muslim
country was not a crime," the politician said.
But another motive appears to have been money. As Dr. Khan's nuclear
successes grew, so did his wealth. He acquired homes and properties,
including a tourist hotel in Africa. A
family friend said Dr. Khan spoke of the centrifuge designs he perfected
as if the technology belonged to him personally, not to Pakistan.
A senior politician said that in meetings with Chaudry Shujat Hussain,
leader of a pro-Musharraf political party, Dr. Khan never spoke of
selling the technology, only of "sharing" it.
He started slowly. He simply ordered more parts
in the black market than he needed for Pakistan. At first, Western
intelligence agencies tracking Dr. Khan were perplexed. "In
the 1980's, I remember being told by officials that Khan was over-ordering
centrifuge parts and they couldn't understand why," recalled
Simon Henderson, a London-based author who has written extensively
about Dr. Khan. It eventually became clear that the extras went to
clients outside Pakistan.
Around 1987, Dr. Khan struck a deal with Iran,
which wanted to build 50,000 centrifuges of a type known as P-1, for
Pakistan-1, an entry-level model, Western investigators found. If
ever completed, a plant that size would let Tehran make fuel for about
30 atom bombs each year. As Pakistan's own technology became more
sophisticated, Dr. Khan sold old Pakistani centrifuges and parts,
Western investigators found, some contaminated with highly enriched
Iran appears to have acquired such second-hand
gear. "They were not happy to discover they overpaid for old
wares," said one American intelligence official. But for Iran,
it was a start. A Pakistani military
official involved in the investigation of Dr. Khan said foreign requests
for technology "came on paper, in person, through third parties,
in meetings with Khan himself."
The scientist then used the vast logistic system
available to him, which included government cargo planes, to ship
the components to middlemen, who cloaked the source. "The same
network, the same routes, the same people who brought the technology
in were also sending it out," said the military official. In
the final stages of his export career, Dr. Khan simply used his middlemen
to order large shipments of parts for foreigners, even if Pakistan
had no apparent role in the transaction and appeared to receive no
direct benefits, American investigators said.