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Context of 'March 2000: British Intelligence Warns Customs Investigator to Stay Away from Company Assisting Libyan Nuclear Weapons Program'

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Following a raid on Abu Bakr Siddiqui, a supplier for A. Q. Khan’s nuclear proliferation ring (see May 7, 1999), British customs examines the evidence it has seized and realizes that the investigation is not a simple case of Siddiqui exporting specialized metals without a license, but that they have opened a much larger can of worms. The investigation, known as Operation Akin, is led by Atif Amin, a British-born Muslim of Pakistani descent assigned to a special counterproliferation team, and they question Siddiqui twice, learning a lot more about the Khan network in the process. Customs also arranges that if a contact of Siddiqui, the Dubai-based businessman Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, enters Britain, he will be arrested. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 180-181]

Entity Tags: Abu Bakr Siddiqui, Atif Amin, Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, HM Customs and Excise

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Shortly before British customs agent Atif Amin is to leave for Dubai to pursue an investigation into the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring (see After May 10, 1999), he is warned off a particular company by the British intelligence agency MI6. According to authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento, the message comes through “liaison channels” and informs Amin that he should “steer clear” of a company called Desert Electrical Equipment Factory, even if the company comes up in his investigation. British customs are not investigating the company in connection with Khan’s operations, although its owner is reportedly a partner of Khan associate Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir in another company called SMB Computers. Libyan officials will later tell investigators that at this time Desert Electrical’s facilities are being used to manufacture centrifuge components and train Libyan scientists. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 181-182] The MI6 station chief in Dubai will warn Amin off another company involved in the smuggling ring (see March 2000).

Entity Tags: Desert Electrical Equipment Factory, Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, HM Customs and Excise, SMB Computers, Atif Amin, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Investigators Atif Amin of British customs and Alwari Essam of the Dubai police learn that the A. Q. Khan nuclear procurement ring has shipped ring magnets, key components for building centrifuges, from Pakistan to Libya, via Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The discovery is made when they visit a company called Deepsea Freight Services, a shipping agency that had been used by Abu Bakr Siddiqui, the subject of a British customs investigation, to ship goods from Britain to two Khan front companies in Pakistan, United Engineering and Trading Co. and Allied Engineering. The manager at Deepsea, K. Hafeez Uddin, shows the two investigators files about the traffic and they find documents about shipments of goods from Siddiqui in Britain to Dubai-based businessman Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, and then from Tahir to the Khan fronts in Pakistan. However, Amin then notices documents about shipments of the ring magnets from one of the front companies in Pakistan to Tahir in Dubai, and then on to Libya. The consignee for some of the ring magnet shipments is a company called Desert Electrical, a company the British intelligence service MI6 had warned Amin to avoid looking into (see March 2000). Amin asks to take the files, but Hafeez refuses permission, and also does not allow copies to be made, meaning the two investigators leave with no documentation. Hafeez will later make a series of contradictory statements about his business dealings with the Khan network, but a source on the British customs investigation will say, “The fact is that Deepsea received multiple shipments from Siddiqui and forwarded them on to Pakistan,” adding, “It also received multiple shipments from [Khan Research Laboratories]-related companies destined for Tahir’s front companies in Dubai.” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 186-7]

Entity Tags: Deepsea Freight Services, Allied Engineering, Alwari Essam, Atif Amin, United Engineering and Trading Co., HM Customs and Excise, K. Hafeez Uddin

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

British customs agent Atif Amin briefs the chief of station for the British intelligence service MI6 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, about the state of his investigation into the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring, but the station chief fails to disclose important information to Amin. Amin has found that Khan is not only procuring material for Pakistan’s nuclear program, but is also shipping centrifuge components to Libya (see Late March 2000). MI6 is already aware that Khan is moving material to Libya and has actually been monitoring these shipments in Dubai (see Second Half of 1999), but the station chief fails to mention this to Amin. In fact, MI6 had previously warned Amin to stay away from one of the companies involved in the shipments to Libya (see March 2000). Instead, the station chief insists that Amin narrate a detailed report of his investigation, which is then immediately sent to London. When writing down what Amin tells him, the station chief embellishes some of the facts, and Amin has to go through the report and have the embellishments taken out. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 189-190]

Entity Tags: UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Atif Amin

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

The British intelligence service MI6 tells Atif Amin, a British customs agent investigating the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, that the ring may attempt to kill him. However, Amin will later suspect that MI6 exaggerates these threats in an attempt to hamper his investigation. MI6 passes the news to Amin by having him woken at two o’clock in the morning at his Dubai hotel, and telling him to come down to the lobby, where he is met by the MI6 station chief and another customs agent.
Threats - At a table, the station chief leans over and whispers to Amin, “You’re at risk here,” and, when Amin seems not to understand the urgency of the threat, adds, “You’re in danger.” He also tells Amin, “You can’t stay here,” and: “You can’t keep doing what you’re doing. You have to get out.” The station chief then says he has received a telex from London that said Khan and his associates were discussing Amin and were angry about him. Apparently, physical reprisals had been mentioned, and, implying MI6 is monitoring Khan’s phone, the station chief says that the Pakistani scientist has called Amin—a Muslim—a “traitor” to the “cause.” The station chief adds, “These people are dangerous,” because: “They have assets in the local mafia they use for smuggling. They won’t hesitate to kill people.” He even suggests Amin might not be safe in his hotel and that he should move in with the other customs agent, Malcolm Nesbit. However, Amin does not regard the threats as serious and remains in his hotel.
Exaggerated - Later that day, Amin speaks to Nesbit on the phone and expresses the idea that the station chief may have been playing up the threat from Khan’s network. Nesbit agrees and suggests it is because Amin has stumbled across information showing that Khan is shipping nuclear technology to Libya (see Late March 2000). MI6 had been monitoring these shipments (see Second Half of 1999), had warned Amin off one of the companies involved (see March 2000), and had failed to disclose information about the Libyan shipments to him (see Late March 2000). Authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento will comment, “It seemed both Khan and MI6 shared an interest in shutting down Amin’s inquiry.” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 190-191]

Entity Tags: UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Malcolm Nesbit, Joseph Trento, Atif Amin, David Armstrong

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Euan Stewart, a senior official at British customs, talks to a high-level representative for the British intelligence service MI6 about a British customs investigation into the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling network in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. According to lead investigator Atif Amin, who Stewart later tells about the discussion, the MI6 official compliments customs on its work, “Your man’s turned over far more stones over there than we’ve managed in the last few years and he’s found lots of insects crawling around underneath.” This is apparently a reference to Amin’s discovery that the network is shipping centrifuge components from Pakistan to Libya via Dubai (see Late March 2000). MI6 has been monitoring Khan’s operations in Dubai and knows a lot about them, but did not know of these components. However, the MI6 official then says, “If I was you, I’d get my man out of there.” This is seemingly a reference to threats coming from the Khan network against Amin (see Late March 2000) and also MI6’s displeasure at the investigation (see March 2000 and Late March 2000). Authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento will explain: “But while Amin had turned up valuable intelligence, he had also created what MI6 and the policy makers who control it perceived to be a quandary: Should they act on the intelligence, disrupt Khan’s network, and expose Libya’s nuclear program, or should they continue their monitoring operation? They chose the later option. In fact, it would be another three years before MI6 and its American counterpart finally deemed the time right to take action—a move that would be accompanied by great fanfare and self-congratulation. In the meantime, Khan’s network had been allowed to continue peddling its dangerous goods.” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 192-193]

Entity Tags: UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), David Armstrong, Atif Amin, Joseph Trento, Euan Stewart

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

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