NBC Weapons: Atomic Bomb Plans Still For Sale




September 14, 2008: The UN IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) has continued investigating Pakistani nuclear weapons scientist A Q Khan's illegal nuclear weapons technology smuggling organization. IAEA believes that Khan's group not only had a wider reach than previously thought, but is still in business.

Khan himself recently admitted that the Pakistani Army knew he was selling nuclear weapons secrets to Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Previously, he had insisted that he, and his small group of accomplices, had done it all themselves.

Back in 2003, the U.S. imposed sanction on a North Korean and Pakistani firm (Changgwang Sinyong Corporation and A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories) for illegally trading missile technology for nuclear weapons. Khan had been suspected of peddling nuclear secrets as far back as the late 1990s. In 2004, Khan finally admitted it. There was popular outrage in Pakistan at a local politicians suggestion that A Q Khan, who originally stole technology from the West and created Pakistans nuclear bombs, be questioned by foreign police for his role in selling that technology (as a private venture) to other nations (like Libya and North Korea). Khan was placed under house arrest after he confessed, and kept away from journalists, but was otherwise untouchable, because he was a national hero for creating the "Islamic Bomb." Popular demand eventually led to Khan being released from house arrest earlier this year.

But the IAEA continued to question Khan's customers, some of whom (particularly Libya) have been very cooperative. It is now known, for example, that most of the nuclear weapons documents provided were in electronic form. Thus the information could be easily copied and distributed. There's no way to track down how many copies there are or who has them. It is known that the documents are not in wide distribution, but it is likely that someone (especially in Iran and North Korea) has copies. But there are indications that the documents are still on the market.

It gets more interesting. The U.S. CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) concluded that the 2006 nuclear weapons test in North Korea was a failure. This came after analysis of air samples, seismic (using earthquake detectors) and spy satellite data. There was a nuclear explosion, of about one kiloton, but it was the result of a improperly constructed nuclear weapon. Sort of a very low grade nuclear weapon that vaporized, rather than detonated, most of its nuclear material. This sort of explosion is called a "fizzle" and was last seen in 1998, when a Pakistani nuclear weapons test produced a very similar result. What's interesting about this is that the group of Pakistani nuclear scientists (the Kahn group) who were secretly peddling nuclear weapons technology during the 1990s, were apparently selling a defective design. But the IAEA investigation revealed that the Khan group was offering several different designs. Exactly who got what is unclear, and the fizzle that North Korea detonated was either one of the primitive designs, or a poorly put together version of one of the better ones.

Khan received a pardon from Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, but was placed under house arrest and kept from the media. Musharraf was head of the army during the time that Khan and his cronies were peddling their nuclear secrets. Musharraf recently resigned as president, but the current government, controlled by opposition parties, does not appear eager to allow any more investigations of Khan inside Pakistan. Khan has not said that Musharraf knew specifically of the sale of Pakistani nuclear weapons secrets, or made any money from it. But someone had to be paid off to enable North Korean aircraft to load up with Pakistani nuclear weapons related equipment, and taking off for a flight home.

The high level of corruption in Pakistan has always worried Western nations, because of the fear of weapons, or technology, being sold. The Khan group simply demonstrated that these fears were real. The Pakistanis have sold them once, and it is feared they would do so again. If not the weapons themselves, then the technology to build ones that work. But the remaining Khan network may no longer be controlled by Pakistanis. Whoever does control this material would also have to be very careful. The CIA, and most of the major intelligence agencies on the planet, are looking for this sort of activity, and will pounce if they get wind of it.




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