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Context of 'Mid-June 1998: A. Q. Khan Flies Uranium Enrichment Centrifuges to North Korea, US Soon Learns of This'

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Ruud Lubbers.Ruud Lubbers. [Source: ru(.nl)]After the BVD, a Dutch intelligence agency, informs the CIA that it intends to arrest A. Q. Khan over the passage of nuclear secrets to Pakistan (see Mid-October 1975), the CIA tells the Dutch to let Khan continue with his activities. Former Dutch Minister of Economc Affairs Ruud Lubbers will say, “The Americans wished to follow and watch Khan to get more information.” Lubbers questions this and the CIA tells him to block Khan’s access to the secrets, which the Dutch do by promoting him to a job where he no longer has access to sensitive data from the uranium enrichment company Urenco. Lubbers will later suggest that the real reason the US does not want Khan arrested is because of its interest in helping Pakistan, an enemy of Soviet-leaning India. Because Khan no longer has access to the sensitive data after his promotion, the CIA cannot find out anything by monitoring him. In addition, the promotion alerts Khan to the fact he may be under surveillance, and he flees to Pakistan in mid-December. Authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento will later comment: “What no one yet realized was that Khan had already absconded with the plans for almost every centrifuge on Urenco’s drawing board, including the all-important G-2 [centrifuge]. It would prove to be one of the greatest nuclear heists of all time.” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 54]

Entity Tags: Ruud Lubbers, Binnenlandse Veiligheidsdienst, Central Intelligence Agency, Abdul Qadeer Khan

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

Pakistan, China, and North Korea sign a formal technical assistance pact regarding some military systems. According to Jane’s Defence Weekly, the pact officially concerns missiles and guidance systems. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 249, 510] Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had recently visited North Korea to clinch an agreement under which the North Koreans would provide Pakistan with missiles that could carry nuclear warheads deep inside India (see December 29, 1993 and Shortly After), and this visit may have played a role in spurring the pact.

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

British Customs and Excise intercepts a shipment of maraging steel bound for Pakistan via Moscow at Gatwick Airport in London. The steel could be for use in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and was to be delivered to Kang Thae Yun, a North Korean official who facilitates nuclear co-operation between Pakistan and his government. When it investigates Kang, Customs and Excise discovers that he has also brokered a deal to buy maraging steel from the All-Russian Institute of Light Alloys in Moscow, and the purchase was made on behalf of Pakistan. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 279]

Entity Tags: All-Russian Institute of Light Alloys in Moscow, Kang Thae Yun, HM Customs and Excise

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

The US begins to send Pakistan a series of demarches complaining about its nuclear proliferation activities. The sending of the demarches follows the receipt of intelligence about nuclear deals between Pakistan and North Korea. North Korea’s plutonium program is in abeyance at this time, but it has begun a uranium enrichment project and the US is aware of this. However, according to State Department official Robert Einhorn, Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan is never mentioned in the demarches, at the CIA’s request. The CIA wants Khan’s proliferation network to continue to run and is worried that mentioning him in them would tip him off to what the CIA knows. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 280]

Entity Tags: Robert Einhorn, Abdul Qadeer Khan, Central Intelligence Agency

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

Western intelligence agencies learn that Kang Thae Yun, a North Korean diplomat who facilitates nuclear co-operation between his government and Pakistan, is involved in negotiations between the Pakistan-based Tabani Corporation and a Russian company that makes mass spectrometers, lasers, and carbon fiber. They also learn he is discussing a purchase of maraging steel, which can be used in a nuclear program, but this steel is for his own government. The knowledge spurs MI6 and the CIA to increase their efforts to find out whether the North Koreans have established a cascade to weaponize uranium using technology obtained from Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 279-180]

Entity Tags: UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Central Intelligence Agency, Tabani Corporation, Kang Thae Yun

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

The British intelligence service MI6 forms the opinion that Pakistani nuclear proliferator A. Q. Khan is using his North Korean connections in an attempt to purchase items for resale. The items include rare metals, magnets, and other difficult-to-source products. The purpose is to establish an export stock of goods that Khan can sell on to other countries. MI6 informs US intelligence agencies of its belief and the reasons for it (see 1997 and February 1998). [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 279-280]

Entity Tags: UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)

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

Pakistan conducts the sixth and last of a series of nuclear bomb tests that started two days earlier (see May 28, 1998). Samples taken by US aircraft over the site indicate that the test may have involved plutonium, whereas uranium bombs were used for the other five. After the US learns that the tests are witnessed by Kang Thae Yun, a North Korean involved in that country’s proliferation network (see Early June 1998), and other North Korean officials, it will speculate that the final test was performed by Pakistan for North Korea, which is better known for its plutonium bomb program. Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will comment, “In terms of nuclear readiness, this placed North Korea far ahead of where the CIA had thought it was, since [North Korea] had yet to conduct any hot tests of its own.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 278]

Entity Tags: Kang Thae Yun, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: US International Relations, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

A Korean diplomat’s wife named Kim Sa-nae is shot dead outside a guest house associated with Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan in Islamabad, Pakistan. Government officials claim it was a tragic accident and that she was simply caught in a crossfire resulting from a domestic dispute. However, the US discovers that the woman had been shot execution-style and was the wife of Kang Thae Yun, a North Korean who was the economic counsellor at its embassy in Pakistan. Kang is already on the US nuclear watch-list and, based on interviews conducted by the CIA, the US comes to believes that Pakistan’s ISI had her killed because she was preparing to pass on sensitive material about nuclear transfers between Pakistan and North Korea to Western contacts. This theory is supported by the fact that Kang represented the Changgwang Sinyong Corporation (CSC), also known as the North Korean Mining Development Trading Corporation, which had shipped No-dong missiles to Pakistan in 1994 (see January 1994). In addition, defectors have said that the most important job of North Korean embassies around the world is to help efforts to seek nuclear technology and this was Kang’s primary role in Islamabad, where he frequently visited Khan. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 276-277] Kang disappears from Pakistan around the time his wife’s body is flown home to North Korea (see Mid-June 1998).

Entity Tags: Kim Sa-nae, Kang Thae Yun, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, North Korean Mining Development Trading Corporation

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

Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan takes five pieces of luggage, including two large crates that nobody is allowed to check, to North Korea. The crates contain P-1 and P-2 centrifuges for enriching uranium, drawings, technical data, and uranium hexafluoride, which is needed to start the uranium enrichment process. Khan takes the goods on a plane belonging to Shaheen Air International, which makes regular flights between North Korea and Pakistan to facilitate nuclear technology transfers (see (1998 and Possibly After)). The stated purpose of the flight is to carry the body of Kim Sa-nae, a North Korean diplomat’s wife who was recently murdered in Pakistan (see Early June 1998). The diplomat, Kang Thae Yun, is said to be involved in North Korea’s nuclear proliferation attempts and disappears around the time of this flight. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 278]

Entity Tags: Shaheen Air International, Abdul Qadeer Khan, Kang Thae Yun

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

The White House convenes a small team of senior officials to look behind the nuclear program of North Korea, which appears to be attempting to start a uranium enrichment program, and focuses on Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan. Khan travels to Pyongyang several times a month and, according to authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, he is the “most visible common denominator” in Pakistan’s proliferation network and “a flag to be followed.” Levy and Scott-Clark point out that, although the US has been aware of Khan’s activities for over two decades (see November 1975), this is the “first serious attempt at interdicting the Pakistani operation.”
Experienced Officials Head Team - The officials include Robert Gallucci, President Clinton’s special envoy on ballistic weapons and WMD, who has been monitoring Pakistan’s nuclear program for 20 years and had helped negotiate an agreement with North Korea in 1994. Robert Einhorn, assistant secretary of state for non-proliferation, Karl Inderfurth, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, and Gary Samore, a senior director for non-proliferation at the National Security Council, are also on the team.
Problems - However, there are some initial problems. For example, the officials already have so much work that one will characterize it as a “five minute [info] dump on Khan.” Levy and Scott-Clark will comment: “There was a surfeit of material, much of it higgledy-piggledy, since over the years no organized overview had been taken of Pakistan’s illicit trade. Instead, a multiplicity of agencies in intelligence, defense, and foreign affairs had all assigned analysts to work on the Khan conundrum, stovepiping what they discovered, so no one agency knew everything.”
More than Missiles - The group soon receives evidence showing that the dealings between North Korea and Pakistan do not involve just missiles, but also uranium enrichment technology (see 1997, 1998, (1998 and Possibly After), February 1998, February 1998 or Shortly After, Early June 1998, and Mid-June 1998). Einhorn will later say: “In 1998 we began to get some information of North Korean-Pakistani deals that went way beyond missiles. There was a nuclear dimension to this arrangement. There were Pakistani and North Korean weapons specialists getting together, including people from KRL [Khan Research Laboratories]. There was a pattern to the interactions.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 278-280]

Entity Tags: Robert Gallucci, Karl Inderfurth, Catherine Scott-Clark, Adrian Levy, Gary Samore, Robert Einhorn

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

Aircraft operated by Shaheen Air International, an airline run by Pakistan’s Air Chief Marshal Kaleem Saadat, and Pakistani air force C-130 transporters make regular trips between North Korea and Pakistan. They carry technology the countries are exchanging for work on their missile and nuclear weapons programs. By January 1998, the US is observing at least nine flights per month between Islamabad and Pyongyang. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 278, 180] It is unclear how long these flights continue, although they presumably stop no later than when A. Q. Khan makes a public confession of his activities in 2004 (see February 4, 2004).

Entity Tags: Kaleem Saadat, Shaheen Air International

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

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.” [New York Times, 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).

Entity Tags: Pervez Musharraf

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

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]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency

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

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]

Entity Tags: Abdul Qadeer Khan, Pervez Musharraf, Ahmed Rashid

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

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