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CIA Resisted Arrest of Nuke Tech Broker Khan
U.S. agency suspected of stealing Dutch court documents
Ludwig De Braeckeleer (ludwig)     Print Article 
Published 2006-04-06 16:29 (KST)   
Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan has been demonized for selling nuclear technology around the world. In the post 9/11 era, the activities of his network raise fears that a terrorist group could manage to acquire and detonate a nuclear bomb in a major city.

Although preventing nuclear proliferation is presented as a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, recent revelations indicate that the U.S. government helped Kahn to escape justice. On top of that, the CIA is suspected of trying to cover up this enormous mistake.

On Feb. 4, 2004, Khan, speaking in English on Pakistani national television, admitted "sharing" nuclear technology with other countries. Through a worldwide smuggling network, Khan has sold the technology of ultracentrifuges.(1) Khan used a factory in Malaysia to manufacture key parts for centrifuges. One of his collaborators, B.S.A. Tahir, ran a front company in Dubai to ship centrifuge components to Libya, North Korea, Iran and possibly other countries.

Khan was born in Bhopal, India, in 1932. His family immigrated to Pakistan in 1952. A decade later, he moved to Europe to complete his studies. After attending courses at West Berlin University, he enrolled at the Technical University in Delft, Holland, where he received a degree in metallurgical engineering in 1967. Five years later, Khan received a doctorate in metallurgical engineering from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium.

In May 1972, Khan joined the Physical Dynamic Research Laboratory, a subcontractor of Ultra-Centrifuge Nederland. His first assignment was to investigate various possibilities to strengthen the metal centrifuge components that are exposed to severe stress during operation.

Just a few days after his arrival at the Physical Dynamic Research Laboratory, Khan visited the advanced enrichment facility in Almelo, Netherlands. There, he became familiar with the aspects of Urenco centrifuge operations relevant to his own work. In fact, Khan had not been cleared to visit the facility. Nevertheless, he did so on several occasions. No one seemed to bother.

In late 1974, he was charged with the task of translating the more advanced German-designed centrifuge documents from German to Dutch. For two weeks, he had unsupervised access to highly classified documents.

On May 18, 1974, India conducted its first nuclear test. In September, Khan wrote to Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to offer his expertise. In August 1975, Pakistan began buying components for its nuclear program from European Urenco suppliers. A physicist in the Pakistani embassy in Belgium, S.A. Butt, contacted a Dutch company to obtain electronic equipment, which are used to control centrifuge motors.

The purchases of many centrifuge components from Urenco suppliers and Khan's behavior raised suspicion, as he inquired about technical information not related to his own projects. In October 1975, Khan was relieved from enrichment work with the Physical Dynamic Research Laboratory as Dutch authorities become increasingly concerned over his activities.

Near the end of the year, Khan figured out that he was being watched. On Dec. 15, he suddenly fled the Netherlands for Pakistan, carrying in his handbag containing copies of the ultracentrifuge blueprints and contact information for nearly 100 subcontractors and suppliers of Urenco.

Khan was convicted in absentia in November 1983 by Judge Anita Leeser. The Dutch court sentenced him to four years in prison for attempting to obtain classified information. Two letters that he wrote to a former colleague reveal that Khan was asking for detailed information about ultracentrifuge components. On an appeal, the verdict was quashed because of procedural errors. The Dutch government elected to pursue the matter no further.

Over the last few months, this story has taken a new twist. Ruud Lubbers, a former Dutch prime minister, revealed in August that the Netherlands was prepared to arrest Khan 30 years ago. Dutch authorities came close to arresting Khan twice, first in 1975 and later in 1986, but the CIA requested that they let him act freely. This revelation is embarrassing to both the CIA and Dutch minister of Justice P.H. Donner who was previously asked about possible CIA action concerning Khan, and told parliament that, "Nothing of the kind has happened. The CIA had nothing to do with it."

Dutch intelligence had suspicions that Khan was stealing nuclear secrets in the Netherlands. They began to monitor him as soon as he arrived at the Physical Dynamic Research Laboratory. However, according to Lubbers, the country's security agency asked the Ministry of Economic Affairs in 1975, then headed by him, not to act against Khan.

"I think the American intelligence agency put into practice what is very common there; just give us all the information. And do not arrest that man; just let him go ahead. We will have him followed and that way we can gain more information," Lubbers told VPRO Argos Radio in an interview.

The CIA's pressure against the Dutch authorities and its handling of Khan's activities resulted in a disaster. Khan skilfully outplayed the CIA, maneuvered around the international export controls of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and acquired all the equipment needed to the fabrication of the A-bomb.

Khan will later recall: "My long stay in Europe and intimate knowledge of various countries and their manufacturing firms was an asset. Within two years we had put up working prototypes of centrifuges and were going at full speed to build the facilities at Kahuta."

Lubbers said that, while he was Prime Minister in 1983, Dutch authorities could have reopened the case after the verdict was quashed. Once again, the Dutch authorities did not so because of U.S. pressure.

"The man was followed for almost 10 years, and, obviously, he was a serious problem. But again I was told that the secret services could handle it more effectively," Lubbers said. "The Hague did not have the final say in the matter. Washington did."

The State Department declined to elaborate about Lubber's remarks.(2)

"It is not something that I feel we really have anything to say about because it deals with events long in the past. It deals with intelligence matters and for those reasons, I don't have anything to say about it." said U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli.

Lubbers suspects that Washington allowed Khan's activities because Pakistan was a key ally in the fight against the Soviets. At the time, the U.S. government funded and armed mujahideen such Osama bin Laden. They were trained by Pakistani intelligence to fight Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Anwar Iqbal, Washington correspondent for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, told ISN Security Watch that Lubbers' assertions may be correct.

"This was part of a long-term foolish strategy. The United States knew Pakistan was developing nuclear weapons but couldn't care less because it was not going to be used against them. It was a deterrent against India and possibly the Soviets," Iqbal said.

On Sept. 10, 2005, this story takes yet another twist. The Amsterdam court, which sentenced Khan to four years in prison in 1983, has lost Khan's legal files. The court's vice-president, Judge Anita Leeser, suspects the CIA had a hand in the documents' disappearance.

"Something is not right, we just don't lose things like that," she told Dutch news show NOVA. "I find it bewildering that people lose files with a political goal, especially if it is on request of the CIA. It is unheard of."

She had asked to see Khan's case files several years ago but they disappeared from the archive.

Lubbers admitted that succumbing to CIA pressure was a mistake but emphasized that in the cold war era, "you had to listen to the Americans." Lubbers also claimed that Khan continued to "slip in and out of Holland illegally" and the CIA knew about it. Regrettably, the fact that the CIA forbade the Dutch secret service to arrest Khan allowed him to become, in the words of President George W. Bush, the "primary salesman of an extensive international network for the proliferation of nuclear technology and know-how." Khan is blamed for selling nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya, but the CIA bears a significant share of the responsibilities for the worst case of nuclear proliferation in history.
(1) Ultracentrifuges are fast rotating devices used to enrich uranium. Natural uranium contains 0.7 percent of 235U can be enriched to 3 percent which is suitable to fuel a civilian nuclear reactor. It may also be enriched to very high level for the making of nuclear bomb.

(2) Daily Press Briefing. Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman, Washington, DC. August 9, 2005. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2005/50931.htm

This story was first published in the Canada Free Press, March 23, 2006.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ludwig De Braeckeleer

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