Khan’s nuclear ring had advanced bomb design: NYT

June 15th, 2008 - 8:46 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf

New York, June 15 (IANS) Blueprints for an advanced nuclear weapon have been found on the computers belonging to the nuclear smuggling network run by Abdul Qadeer Khan, Pakistan’s disgraced nuclear scientist, but it is not clear whether they were sold to Iran or some other customers, the New York Times has reported. US and international investigators who found the electronic blueprints say the plans closely resemble a nuclear weapon built by Pakistan and first tested a decade ago. But when officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confronted Pakistani officials with the design last year, they were told that Khan did not have access to Pakistan’s weapons designs, the daily said Sunday.

Khan, though considered a hero in Pakistan for developing its nuclear programme to counter India’s, has been under loose house arrest since 2004. In recent months, he has been lobbying to be released. Washington, however, has warned the new Pakistan government against his release.

The international investigators have said that the weapons design was much more advanced than the blueprints discovered in Libya in 2003, when Col. Muammar el-Gaddafi gave up his country’s nuclear weapons programme.

Those blueprints were for a Chinese nuclear weapon dating to the mid-1960s, which Libya had obtained from the Khan network.

The latest design found on Khan network computers in Switzerland, Bangkok and some other cities is half the size and twice the power of the Chinese weapon. The e-design is easy to copy, making investigators wonder how many of its copies are already in circulation, the Times said.

Investigators have been alarmed because the trafficking by the Khan network in a tested, compact and efficient bomb design means that anybody with access to this technological information could build a weapon in much shorter time.

Among the missiles that could carry the smaller weapon, according to some weapons experts, is the Iranian Shahab III, which is based on a North Korean design.

Khan’s nuclear ring was busted in early 2004 and President George W. Bush claimed it at the time as a major intelligence coup for the US. Evidence has emerged since that the network sold uranium enrichment technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya, and may have done business with other countries as well.

The existence of the advanced bomb design began to become public after Switzerland announced a few weeks ago that it had destroyed a huge stockpile of documents, including a weapons design, found in the computers of the family of one Urs Tinner, who played a critical role in Khan’s operation for many years.

The Swiss government destroyed the documents to keep them from “getting into the hands of a terrorist organization or an unauthorized state”. Tinner has been held in custody for over four years, but has not been tried.

While he was still working for Khan, Tinner, a seeming double agent, had provided information to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that helped US and British officials intercept shipments of centrifuges on their way to Libya in 2003.

That interception forced Libya to turn its $100 million nuclear programme over to the US and IAEA officials.

For his part, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf forced Khan to issue a vague confession and placed him under house arrest. Khan has since recanted that confession in Pakistani and the Western media, claiming he made it only to save Pakistan embarrassment.

Officials of the IAEA, based in Vienna, finally cracked in 2005 the hard drives on the Khan computers recovered around the world. They found tonnes of material - orders for equipment, names and places where the Khan network operated. But the most important document was a digitized design for a nuclear bomb, one that investigators quickly recognized as Pakistani.

“It was plain where this came from,” one IAEA official was quoted as saying by the Times.

“But the Pakistanis want to argue that the Khan case is closed, and so they have said very little.”

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