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Profile: Atif Amin
Atif Amin was a participant or observer in the following events:
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]
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).
After arriving in Dubai to investigate the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring, British customs agent Atif Amin meets the chief of the British intelligence agency MI6’s station in the United Arab Emirates. Amin briefs the station chief on the investigation he plans to conduct, and gives him a list of companies he intends to visit. The station chief asks to be kept up-to-date, but the only concern he expresses is that Amin should, in the words of authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento, “not get too close to one of the institutions on the list, Habib Bank.” The bank was used by one of Khan’s suppliers, Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, to send payments to another, Abu Bakr Siddiqui. It is unclear why the station chief makes this request. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 182] MI6 had previously asked Amin to stay away from another of the companies involved in the smuggling ring (see March 2000).
A joint investigation by British Customs agent Atif Amin and Dubai police lieutenant Alwari Essam uncovers links between the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring and “high-ranking Dubai officials.” This occurs in the first two weeks of the investigation, which the authorities in Dubai had tried to hamper (see August 1999-March 2000). The two investigators are able to uncover the links because they are following leads uncovered by Amin in Britain, and the two agents check out a number of businesses whose names have previously come up in the inquiry in Dubai. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 183]
British customs agent Atif Amin, who is investigating the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring in Dubai, periodically briefs the local station of the British intelligence agency MI6 on how his investigation is proceeding. He tells MI6 that he has discovered new front companies and apartments used by Khan during his trips to Dubai. According to authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento: “But MI6 offered Amin no useful information or assistance. The general sense, according to a source familiar with the briefings, was one of displeasure that the inquiry was taking place at all.” However, the station chief does tell Amin that the Khan network is aware of the investigation, but does not think it will turn up much. Presumably, MI6 obtains this information from communications intercepts. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 184]
During the course of an investigation into A. Q. Khan’s nuclear smuggling ring, British customs agent Atif Amin and Dubai policeman Alwari Essam visit a plastic bag manufacturer called Green Crest Industries (M.E.) Ltd. in Dubai. According to Amin, the visit is made because an entry in a suspect’s phone book listed a Dubai phone number for Khan that is registered to Green Crest. In addition, apartments and post office boxes rented for Khan by an associate named Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir appear to be linked to Green Crest. However, the manager and several other employees all deny any knowledge of Khan. At that point, another employee wanders past and says in Punjabi: “Sure we do. He has a flat and he comes here all the time.” Amin, who speaks Punjabi, understands the remark, as well as the manager’s sharp reply. The atmosphere turns hostile and the two investigators leave. Authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento will later talk to the company’s owner, Shaik Muhammad Farooq, who has a long history of dealings with Khan (see Late 1970s-1980s). Farooq will say that Green Crest had “absolutely no relationship” with Tahir, except that they had once swapped apartments in a Dubai building. However, when Farooq is asked later whether Khan ever visited Green Crest, he will curiously contradict himself as he replies: “He never visited our factories. He never visited our office. He never visited. Except sometimes he is there and he is inviting a lot of people including other businessman for dinner or so otherwise no. Absolutely baseless… I’m 100 percent sure he never visited us.” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 184-5]
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]
Immediately after an investigation by Atif Amin of British customs and Alwari Essam of the police in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, finds that Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan is shipping centrifuge components to Libya (see Late March 2000), Essam’s superiors impose heavy restrictions on the inquiry. There is a “widespread commotion” at police headquarters when they arrive back from conducting a key interview and they are confronted by a group of police officers. The two men are split up and Essam receives a 40-minute talk from his police bosses and Dubai’s internal security service telling him that what he and Amin have been doing has to stop. He is accused of helping Amin “reveal A. Q. Khan in Dubai,” and asked why Amin wants to know where Khan stays in Dubai. The security service even suggests that Amin is really an MI6 agent plotting to assassinate the Pakistani. New limitations are imposed on their inquiry:
They cannot conduct interviews in the field, but witnesses and suspects have to be invited to police headquarters, and may decline to come. Amin will be allowed to submit questions, but will not be allowed to perform the interviews himself. However, if the interviews are to be used in a British court case, Amin has to perform them himself under British rules of law;
If Atif wants materials or records, he cannot go and get them himself, but must ask the Dubai police to do so;
In addition, Amin must give the Dubai police all the documents he has collected during the investigation, including those from the British section of the inquiry.
Amin is understandably angry at the restrictions, which will make it impossible to conduct a meaningful inquiry, but, as there is little he can do at this time, he decides to continue and try to get the restrictions lifted. He asks the Dubai police to get him a file containing documents about shipments from Khan front companies in Pakistan to Libya, but, when the file arrives, the Libyan documents have been removed and the file is noticeably thinner. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 187-9]
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]
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]
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]
British customs recalls one of its agents, Atif Amin, from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where he was investigating the A. Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network. Amin learns of his recall in a phone call from his acting boss, who tells him to “[g]et your ass on the next flight to London.” Amin protests, saying that threats that have apparently been made against him by the network are not as bad as is being made out (see Late March 2000), and that he could stay at the British embassy, rather than a hotel. However, his boss says that the orders have come from above and there can be no discussion. Amin had been about to interview a key Khan associate, Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, but is forced to return home before doing so. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 191-192]
British authorities continue to be concerned that the A. Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network may take action against a British customs agent named Atif Amin, who had headed an investigation into the network. Members of the network had previously discussed taking action against Amin when he was in Dubai (see Late March 2000), and this had led to his investigation being curtailed (see Late March 2000). Discussions between network members are overheard by the British intelligence agency MI6, which passes the information on to British Customs. Customs talks to Amin about improving security around his home and investigates network members based in Britain who may pose a threat to him. However, the risk appears to be minimal while he remains in Britain. On the other hand, Khan associates attempt to locate members of his extended family still living in Pakistan, and Khan apparently vows to take action against Amin if he ever comes to Pakistan. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 192]
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]
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