Profile: David Armstrong
David Armstrong was a participant or observer in the following events:
Senator Stuart Symington. [Source: Bettman / Corbis]Legislation introduced by Stuart Symington, a Democratic senator from Missouri, is passed by the US Congress to set out the US position on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons technology. The legislation, which becomes known as the “Symington amendment,” bans US assistance to any country found to be trafficking in nuclear enrichment or reprocessing technology that is not governed by international safeguards. Authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento will later comment that this puts “both Pakistan [which is thought to be involved in such trafficking] and the Ford administration on notice that nonproliferation would now be taken seriously.” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 62]
Front row: Pakistani President Muhammad Zia ul-Haq (left) and President Carter (right). Zbigniew Brzezinski is in the center of the back row. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski writes a memo to President Jimmy Carter about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which has just begun (see December 8, 1979). Brzezinski focuses on fears that success in Afghanistan could give the Soviets access to the Indian Ocean, even though Afghanistan is a landlocked country. He suggests the US should continue aid to the Afghan mujaheddin, which actually began before the war and spurred the Soviets to invade (see 1978 and July 3, 1979). He says, “This means more money as well as arms shipments to the rebels and some technical advice.” He does not give any warning that such aid will strengthen Islamic fundamentalism. He also concludes, “[W]e must both reassure Pakistan and encourage it to help the rebels. This will require a review of our policy toward Pakistan, more guarantees to it, more arms aid, and alas, a decision that our security problem toward Pakistan cannot be dictated by our nonproliferation policy.” Carter apparently accepts Brzezinski’s advice. Author Joe Trento will later comment, “With that, the United States agreed to let a country admittedly in turmoil proceed to develop nuclear weapons.” [Trento, 2005, pp. 167-168] Trento and fellow author David Armstrong will add: “Once [Pakistan] became a partner in the anti-Soviet Afghan campaign and the Carter administration adopted a more lenient view of Pakistan’s nuclear activities, the [procurement] network [run by A. Q. Khan] expanded its operations dramatically. It would soon evolve into a truly global enterprise, obtaining the vast array of sophisticated equipment with which Pakistan would eventually build a bomb.” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 99]
The British security service MI5 attempts to recruit Peter Griffin, a key associate of Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan. Griffin, who has been working with Khan for some time (see Summer 1976), supplies him with equipment for Pakistan’s nuclear program. According to Griffin, he is offered £50,000 (about $100,000 at this time) to inform for the agency, but he tells them his “integrity [is] not for sale.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 55] Despite this apparent refusal, according to authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento: “Some US and European intelligence officials have suggested that Griffin, like others who have had dealings with A. Q. Khan, may have been cooperating with Western authorities, perhaps for a very long time. Asked by one of the authors in a June 2006 e-mail exchange whether he had provided assistance to any Western intelligence service, Griffin will offer a one word reply: ‘Later.’” However, Griffin will not subsequently enlarge on this. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 217]
Three purchasers working for the A. Q. Khan nuclear proliferation ring are put on trial in Canada. The three men, A. A. Khan, Salam Elmenyami, and Mohammad Ahmad, had been monitored by Canadian authorities (see July-August 29, 1980) and arrested in August 1980 (see August 29, 1980). They are charged with a variety of offences, including failing to get export licenses, exporting goods imported from the US without adding value, and violating a law that regulates nuclear sales to other countries.
A. A. Khan's Defense - Restrictions on hearsay evidence mean that prosecutors cannot fully reveal A. Q. Khan’s role in the purchasing ring, so A. A. Khan is able to explain away cryptic correspondence with A. Q. Khan seized upon his arrest. For example, A. Q. Khan referred to enriching uranium as “put[ting] air in the machine,” but A. A. Khan claims this is a reference to producing cooking gas. He also claims that components they purchased to make inverters—equipment necessary to enrich uranium—are actually for textile and food processing plants.
Testimony about Invertors Curtailed - In addition, a witness who works for the British arm of the company Emerson Electric refuses to provide details of the sale of inverters to Pakistan through third parties, meaning that only portions of his testimony are admitted to the jury. Chief prosecutor Guy Gilbert will say that if the jury had got this testimony, it would have provided a “clear demonstration” the exported parts would be used for building inverters.
Sentences - At the end of the two-month trial, Almenyani and Ahmad are convicted on one count of exporting goods without a proper licence and fined $3,000 (Canadian). The maximum penalty for this offense is a fine of $25,000 (Canadian) and five years in prison. A. A. Khan is acquitted entirely. In a reference to many other failed prosecutions of A. Q. Khan’s associates in the west, authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento will write that this result will “become familiar in the years ahead.” Gilbert will later allege that the judge deliberately favored the defense (see April 10, 2006). [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 105]
Abdus Salam, a member of the nuclear equipment purchasing ring run by Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan, sets up a business named International Reliance in Florida. The name is similar to a British-based business, Source Reliance International (a.k.a. SR International), in which Salam has been a partner and which has been active in the nuclear ring (see Summer 1976). Around the same time, Salam also establishes a number of other US businesses, including three import-export firms, two trading companies, two communications outfits, a computer retailer, two hospitality companies, a financial services enterprise, and several companies involved in indeterminate business. It is unclear if Salam is living in the US at this time or arrives some time the following year. Before coming to the US, he resided in Britain and then the United Arab Emirates, but leaves there around this time, apparently due to a business dispute (see 1982-1983). Authors Joe Trento and David Armstrong will write that given Salam’s involvement in proliferation activities in Britain and Dubai, “it seems reasonable to assume that the US authorities would have kept tabs on him once he arrived.” However, no information about any surveillance of or cooperation with Salam on the part of US authorities is definitively known. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 114]
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]
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]
Abu Bakr Siddiqui, a procurement agent for the A. Q. Khan network, receives what an individual familiar with the case describes as a “remarkably lenient” sentence for assistance he gave the network. The judge, George Bathurst-Norman, acknowledges that the crimes Siddiqui committed (see August 29, 2001) would usually carry a “very substantial” prison term, but says that there are “exceptional circumstances,” claiming that Siddiqui had been too trusting and had been “blinded” to facts that were “absolutely staring [him] in the face.” Siddiqui gets a twelve-month suspended sentence and a fine of £6,000 (about $10,000). Authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento will comment, “In a scenario eerily reminiscent of earlier nuclear smuggling cases in the United States and Canada, Siddiqui walked out of court essentially a free man.” They will also offer an explanation for the volte-face between conviction and sentencing, pointing out that there was a key event in the interim: due to the 9/11 attacks “Pakistan was once again a vital British and American ally. And, as in the past, it became imperative that Islamabad not be embarrassed over its nuclear program for fear of losing its cooperation….” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 194]
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]
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