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Context of 'April 1981: US Knows All about Swiss Firm’s Deliveries for Pakistan’s Nuclear Program'

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A set of aluminum tubes arrives at the docks in Dubai addressed to a company called Gulf Technical Industries (GTI), which is owned by Peter Griffin, a long-time A. Q. Khan associate. Griffin will later recall that he gets a call from his office manager: “He said he’d been advised by a shipping company there was a consignment of aluminum tubes that had just arrived at Dubai docks for GTI but he could not find any record of us having ordered them.” Griffin realizes immediately that the aluminum tubes may well be for use in a nuclear weapons program by the Khan network. He will comment, “I sensed right away it was [Bukhary Sayed Abu] Tahir,” an associate of both Khan and Griffin (see August 1997). Griffin calls Tahir, who admits the tubes are really for him, but that he has used the name of Griffin’s company for the delivery. Although Griffin and Tahir have an ongoing business relationship, Griffin is angry at being used, and says: “This is the end of it. If you do anything like this again I’ll take you to court in Dubai. Do you hear?” It appears that the tubes are for Libya’s illicit nuclear weapons program, and that, in Griffin’s words, he is being set up “as the fall guy” if anything should go wrong. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 366-367)

The A. Q. Khan nuclear proliferation ring sets up a new company in Malaysia to replace a plant in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, that was shut down. The Dubai plant, the Desert Electrical Equipment Factory, was closed down by the network the previous year due to a British customs investigation into the smuggling ring’s operations in Dubai (see Late March 2000). Under a contract with Khan associate Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, the new company in Malaysia manufactures centrifuge components for the Libyan nuclear program. (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 194-195)

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (left) and A. Q. Khan (right).Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (left) and A. Q. Khan (right). [Source: CBC]Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf denies that there is any nuclear cooperation between Pakistan and North Korea. He says, “There is no such thing as collaboration with North Korea in the nuclear arena.” He also calls allegations made by the New York Times that Pakistan had helped North Korea with its nuclear program and this was known to American intelligence “absolutely baseless.” (Sanger 10/20/2002; Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 339, 525) However, Pakistan, in particular nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan and the military, has been assisting North Korea’s uranium enrichment program for the best part of a decade (see, for example, August 1992, May 1993, Shortly Before December 29, 1993, December 29, 1993 and Shortly After, January 1994, Mid-1990s, November 19-24, 1995, 1996, Summer 1996, 1997, 1997, and November 2002).

The CIA informs Congress that North Korea’s uranium enrichment program is progressing: “The North is constructing a plant that could produce enough weapons-grade uranium for two or more nuclear weapons per year when fully operational.” Although it is clear that North Korea has acquired some centrifuges needed for such a facility (see Mid-June 1998), it is unclear whether it is actually under construction at this time and where the site might be. North Korea has the other parts of the process necessary to build a uranium bomb: half a dozen mines for yellowcake, a uranium processing facility with the capacity to process 300 kg of ore a day in Kusong, 30 miles west of the Korean nuclear power plant at Yongbyon-kun, and a uranium concentration facility in Namch’on, 30 miles north of the demilitarized zone. A uranium enrichment site with a cascade of at least 1,000 centrifuges would be the last element in the process. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 281, 517-518)

President Bush waives the last set of US sanctions against Pakistan. The US imposed a new series of sanctions against Pakistan in 1998, after Pakistan exploded a nuclear weapon (see May 28, 1998), and in 1999, when President Pervez Musharraf overthrew a democratically elected government (see October 12, 1999). The lifted sanctions had prohibited the export of US military equipment and military assistance to a country whose head of government has been deposed. Some other sanctions were waived shortly after 9/11. Bush’s move comes as Musharraf is trying to decide whether or not to support a US-sponsored United Nations resolution which could start war with Iraq. It also comes two weeks after 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was captured in Pakistan (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). (Collinson 3/14/2003)

Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, an associate of A. Q. Khan, sends an emissary to see one of his business partners, Peter Griffin, to tell him to destroy all records of his dealings with Tahir. Griffin and Tahir have been assisting Khan’s activities for some time, but their most recent transactions concerned equipment for Libya’s outlaw nuclear program (see August 1997). Griffin will later say: “A Dubai sponsor who had helped us start up a company arrived on my doorstep in France in November or December 2003. He just turned up out of the blue. He had an important message from Tahir in Kuala Lumpur. He wanted me to destroy all records of our business together. I rang Tahir and asked what was going on. He said, ‘I can’t say, I can’t talk to you. Just destroy everything.’ I said, ‘No, these documents are my only insurance.’” At this time Tahir is under investigation by Malaysian authorities for nuclear proliferation activities in their country (see December 2001), and this is apparently an attempt to get Griffin to destroy documents showing he did not know the equipment he helped Tahir procure was for Libya’s nuclear program. If Griffin destroyed the documents, Tahir would be able to place a greater part of the blame on him. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 365-366)

A. Q. Khan confesses on television.A. Q. Khan confesses on television. [Source: CBC]After A. Q. Khan’s nuclear proliferation network was caught selling nuclear technology to Libya, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is put in a difficult spot over how to deal with Khan. Khan is so popular in Pakistan that Musharraf would face considerable political fallout if Khan is declared a traitor or seriously punished. Khan is placed under house arrest in Pakistan. Then, on February 4, 2004, he apologizes in a carefully staged speech broadcast on Pakistani television. He says that he accepts full responsibility for all nuclear proliferation activities. He insists that neither the Pakistani government nor the Pakistani military was aware or involved in his nuclear network in any way. He asks for forgiveness. “It pains me to realize this, that my entire lifetime of providing foolproof national security to my nation could have been placed in serious jeopardy on account of my activities, which were based in good faith, but on errors of judgment related to unauthorized proliferation activities.” Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid will later comment, “Most experts accepted that Khan could not have carried out his business without the military’s support.” But US government officials immediately accept Khan’s apology and say that they believe Pakistan’s military had not supported his business. (Rashid 2008, pp. 289)

Gulf Technical Industries, a Dubai-based company used by the A. Q. Khan proliferation network to facilitate Libya’s nuclear weapons program (see August 1997 and July 2000), collapses. The reason is that the firm, owned by long-term Khan associate Peter Griffin, suffers adverse publicity following Khan’s public confession to his nuclear proliferation activities (see February 4, 2004). This leads its local sponsor to pull out and its bank to close its accounts, meaning the company has to close. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 529)

In the wake of Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan’s public apology for his role in nuclear proliferation on February 4, 2004 (see February 4, 2004), and the US government’s quick acceptance of that apology, it is clear the US expects more cooperation from Pakistan on counterterrorism in return. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says in an interview on February 19: “In a funny way, the A. Q. Khan [apology]… we feel it gives us more leverage, and it may give [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf a stronger hand, that Pakistan has an act to clean up. The international community is prepared to accept Musharraf’s pardoning of Khan for all that he has done, but clearly it is a kind of IOU, and in return for that there has to be a really thorough accounting. Beyond that understanding, we expect an even higher level of cooperation on the al-Qaeda front than we have had to date.” But there is no increased cooperation in the next months. Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid will later comment: “Musharraf had become a master at playing off Americans’ fears while protecting the army and Pakistan’s national interest.… [He] refused to budge and continued to provide only minimal satisfaction to the United States and the world. He declined to give the CIA access to Khan, and there was no stepped-up hunt for bin Laden.” (Rashid 2008, pp. 289-290)

British customs agent Atif Amin is amazed by comments made by George Bush about the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling network in a presidential debate with John Kerry, when Bush says that the network has been “brought to justice.” Amin had investigated the network several years previously and found out a good deal, but his inquiry had been shut down (see Late March 2000). Although Amin had been astonished that it had taken until 2004 to close the network, authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento will describe Bush’s comments as the “most galling moment” for Amin, as he is “sickened by the notion of Bush trying to get political mileage out of the affair.” Amin tells colleagues: “[The CIA and the British intelligence service MI6] knew exactly what was going on all the time. If they’d wanted to they could have blown the whistle on this long ago.” (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 195)

Abdus Salam, an associate of Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan, obtains US citizenship. Salam helped Khan acquire equipment for his nuclear activities in the 1970s and ‘80s (see Summer 1976 and Before September 1980), but moved to the US around 1982 (see December 31, 1982). Authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento will investigate why an associate of Khan’s was granted US citizenship, and will find that the first mention of him in immigration records dates from 1995, when he was granted work authorization, although this was more than a decade after he arrived in the country. Before getting citizenship, his immigration file contains only records of him entering or leaving the country on his British passport or alien residency card. There are no red flags and nothing about his business activities, which the two authors find “odd,” although accessible records only began in 1987. However, they find that in customs and immigration records Salam’s date of birth is a few days off, meaning that making a positive identification is difficult. In addition, his Social Security number is way off—it is actually for a completely different person with a different name and a long criminal record, including cocaine dealing. The authors think that it is unusual Salam was granted citizenship despite this “rather glaring discrepancy.” (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 114-115)

Former Canadian prosecutor Guy Gilbert alleges that a judge in a trial of three associates of Pakistani nuclear proliferator A. Q. Khan was “partial” to the defense. The allegation is made in an interview for a book by authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento; the trial ended with light sentences for two of the accused and the acquittal of the third (see Late 1980 or After). Gilbert will say: “I remember the address by the judge to the jury. He almost gave them [the case] on a silver fork.” Gilbert will also recall meeting the judge, Gerald Ryan, some time after the trial. “I said, ‘Gerry, don’t tell me that you think those guys did not export the parts to make the inverters.’ He said, ‘Of course, of course they did it.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘that’s not the way it came out when you addressed the jury.’” Gilbert will also say that he speaks to the defense lawyers in the case occasionally: “I tease them once in a while. I say, ‘You think these guys knew what they were doing?… I think you contributed to them [Pakistan] having the bomb today.’” (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 105-106)

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