Profile: Kahuta Research Laboratories (KRL)
a.k.a. Khan Research Laboratories
Kahuta Research Laboratories (KRL) was a participant or observer in the following events:
Pakistan’s Project 706, an effort to build nuclear weapons headed by Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan, begins work on a facility in Kahuta, about 20 miles southeast of Islamabad. The facility, later renamed Khan Research Laboratories, will be the chief site in Pakistan’s attempts to build a nuclear weapon. Khan believes the location is a big asset, as skilled employees will have access to good education and health care in Islamabad, and he will be close to the seat of the government. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 59]
A team of Pakistani scientists working at Kahuta Research Laboratories and led by A. Q. Khan produces more enriched uranium. “June 4 was a historical day for us,” Khan will later write in a coded letter to his associate A. A. Khan. “On that day we put the ‘Air’ [uranium hexafluoride] into the machine and the first time we got the right product [enriched uranium] and its efficiency was the same as the theoretical.” He will add: “We had to see our big bosses so that we could get some more money for the budget. When this news was given to them they were quite happy and congratulated us.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 53]
The Pakistani nuclear weapons facility Kahuta Research Laboratories, headed by A. Q. Khan, succeeds in starting a centrifuge cascade. This cascade is very important in the construction of a nuclear bomb, as it is necessary for enriching uranium to weapons grade. However, Khan cannot take full advantage of the cascade, as he does not have a regular supply of uranium hexafluoride. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 56-57]
Pakistani finance minister Ghulam Ishaq Khan (left) and A. Q. Khan. [Source: Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clarke]In 1981, the criminal BCCI bank sets up a charity called the BCCI Foundation. Pakistani Finance Minister Ghulam Ishaq Khan grants it tax-free status, and it supposedly spends millions on charitable purposes. Khan serves as the chairman of the foundation while also running the books for A. Q. Khan’s Kahuta Research Laboratories. Ghulam Ishaq Khan will be president of Pakistan from 1988 to 1993. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 126-127] BCCI founder Agha Hasan Abedi announces that he will donate up to 90% of BCCI’s profits to charity through the foundation, and he develops a positive reputation from a few well-publicized charitable donations. But the charity is actually used to shelter BCCI profits. Most of the money it raises goes to A. Q. Khan’s nuclear program and not to charitable causes. For instance, in 1987 it gives a single $10 million donation to an institute headed by A. Q. Khan. Millions more go to investments in a front company owned by BCCI figure Ghaith Pharaon. [Beaty and Gwynne, 1993, pp. 290-291] An investigation by the Los Angeles Times will reveal that less than 10% of the money went to charity. [Los Angeles Times, 8/9/1991] BCCI uses other means to funnel even more money into A. Q. Khan’s nuclear program (see 1980s).
A 2007 satellite image of the Khan Research Laboratories in Kahuta. [Source: GeoEye]Richard Barlow, an analyst working on Pakistan’s nuclear program who was released by the State Department in the early 1980s (see 1981-1982), is hired by the CIA’s Office of Scientific and Weapons Research (OSWR). Barlow re-analyzes the data and confirms his earlier conclusions—that Pakistan is pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program. Barlow learns about the trade in dual-use components—tools and equipment that can be used to make nuclear weapons, but also for other, non-nuclear purposes, meaning trade in them is hard to spot and regulate. One example of this is a California couple that exports dozens of high-speed cathode-ray oscilloscopes and special cameras to Hong Kong, where they are picked up by Pakistani agents. Barlow realizes that such a large number of oscilloscopes must be for nuclear weapons manufacturing, and also finds a link between the purchase and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC). Barlow will later comment, “There was tons of it and most of it was ending up in [Pakistan]. Pakistan had a vast network of procurers, operating all over the world.” Barlow also finds that the material is going to a secret nuclear facility near Islamabad, the Khan Research Laboratories, where sensors pick up high levels of enriched uranium in the air and in dust on [trucks] leaving the laboratories. [New Yorker, 3/29/1993; Guardian, 10/13/2007] Despite this, in order to prevent Congress from cutting of aid to the anti-Soviet mujaheddin, which flows through Pakistan, US authorities will repeatedly insist Pakistan is not working on a nuclear program (see August 1985-October 1990).
Khan Research Laboratories in Kahuta. [Source: CBC] (click image to enlarge)The CIA obtains a complete set of the floor plans for a Pakistani uranium-enrichment plant at Kahuta, 12 miles west of Islamabad, while the plant is under construction. The plans show that the hot, or radioactive, work areas at Kahuta had been built as many as five stories underground, to guard against a surprise Indian bombing raid. [New Yorker, 3/29/1993] The CIA will also obtain detailed information about what happens at the plant when it comes into operation (see (1987)).
After a uranium-enrichment facility in Kahuta, Pakistan, becomes operational and starts producing weapons-grade material for Pakistan’s nuclear program, the CIA finds a way to obtain “firsthand information, in detail,” about the work on nuclear weapons there. It is not known how the information is obtained. [New Yorker, 3/29/1993] The CIA previously obtained a complete set of floor plans for the facility (see Mid-1980s).
In the 1980s, ISI Director Akhtar Abdur Rahman was supervising a secret trade in which CIA weapons meant to go to mujaheddin fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan were sold to others by the ISI. The profits were then used to fund the Kahuta Research Laboratories, which A. Q. Khan was using to develop a Pakistani nuclear bomb (see 1980s). To disguise where the weapons were coming from, the CIA bought Soviet-made weapons on the black market then shipped them to the ISI. The ISI stored them at an arms depot in Ojiri, near the town of Rawalpindi. By 1988, the US finally demands an independent audit of the depot, after persistent reports of corruption. On April 10, 1988, several weeks before US inspectors are to arrive, the arms depot blows up. The explosion is so massive that it kills 100 and injures over 1,000. The Pakistani government will officially determine the explosion was an accident. However, Hamid Gul, who became ISI director in 1987 (see April 1987), conducts a secret audit for the ISI about the explosion and confirms that it was caused by sabotage to hide the massive theft of munitions. The US ambassador to Pakistan estimates that about $125 million worth of explosives are destroyed in the blast. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 131-132]
The Pakistani military sets up a control ring around Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) in Kahuta. The ring comes about following a conversation between Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Pakistan army chief Wahid Kakar (see Late 1993). Bhutto will later say Kakar tells her, “Why don’t we set up a command and control for KRL so the scientists can’t go in and out without passing through the army ring?” At the time she thinks this is a good idea, as the labs will be cut off from the outside world and the military will be in charge of the perimeter. KRL will therefore be “airtight” and the scientists will not have the opportunity to smuggle things out, which she has heard may be a problem. However, Bhutto, who is never trusted by Pakistan’s military, will later say that this solution “ultimately played into the military’s hands and weakened my own.” One reason is the person who is put in charge of the project: General Khawaja Ziauddin. Bhutto will comment: “I didn’t know him. It was only later I found out that he was connected to the ISI and the forces pitted against me.” Ziauddin is the nephew of General Ghulam Jilani Khan, a former ISI chief who had helped make Bhutto’s rival Nawaz Sharif. In addition, he is close to army chief General Aslam Beg and powerful former ISI boss General Hamid Gul. Ziauddin will go on to become a key player in Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation activities. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 198, 498]
Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan represents Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) at the Defense Services Asia conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will later obtain a copy of KRL’s brochure for the conference. It reads in part: “Keeping pace with the emerging demands of the competitive international defense products market, KRL ventures to offer its expertise in the shape of services and products not only to the domestic consumer but also to an international audience of friendly countries.… KRL has earned credibility not only in South East Asia but also in the Middle East and West Asia.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 261]
Customs officers in Hong Kong intercept a convoy from China carrying 200 crates of rocket-fuel propellant. The shipment is bound for Khan Research Laboratories, the heart of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons industry. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 261]
China sells Pakistan a special industrial furnace for moulding uranium, as well as advanced diagnostic equipment. The equipment is for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and is installed at Khan Research Laboratories in Kahuta by Chinese technicians. The US discovers the sale, and one of the officials who receives a report on it and passes this on is Gordon Oehler, the US national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction. However, the US takes no action against the Chinese over the transfer. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 259, 512]
According to Robert Einhorn, the assistant secretary of state for non-proliferation from 1999, at this time the US has a “human source within the KRL [Khan Research Laboratories] hierarchy.” Einhorn will say this in an interview with authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clarke in 2006. The source’s identity is not known. The US knows specific details of Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation activities, which are run by scientist A. Q. Khan. However, in order to keep the source’s identity secret, it chooses not to reveal what it knows in discussions with Pakistani officials about their nuclear proliferation activities (see 1998). [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 281, 515]
A five-day wedding celebration in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, provides an opportunity for key players in A. Q. Khan’s nuclear smuggling ring to get together and discuss moving some of their operations from Dubai to Southeast Asia and Africa. The groom is Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, a key facilitator for Khan who is to marry a woman named Nazimah, the daughter of his aunt and a Malaysian diplomat. Other key players who attend the meeting include European figures in the network Henk Slebos and Peter Griffin, Griffin’s wife Anna, Brigadier Sajawal Khan Malik, a Pakistani military official close to Khan, Farooq Hashmi and Mohammad Farooq, other Pakistani associates of Khan, and Dr. Riaz Chowhan, a general and Khan’s physician. Abdul Siddiqui, father of a London-based Khan associate, is also in attendance, as are 300 employees from a Dubai-based Khan front company called SMB Computers and 100 scientists from Khan Research Laboratories in Pakistan. Griffin will say that Khan keeps a low profile at the wedding, commenting, “He made no mention of the recent nuclear tests in Pakistan and kept in the background throughout the celebration.” Khan and his associates spend some time planning to relocate some of their operations, as their hub in Dubai is now well known to intelligence services (see Early 1998). Some elements are to be moved to Southeast Asia and some to Africa, and a new client list is also discussed. Intelligence agents working for Britain and the US also attend the wedding and learn of what Khan is planning. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 282-283]
Entity Tags: SMB Computers, Riaz Chowhan, Peter Griffin, Kahuta Research Laboratories, Henk Slebos, Abdul Qadeer Khan, Abdul Siddiqui, Anna Griffin, Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, Farooq Hashmi, Mohammad Farooq
Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network
Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud visits Pakistan and receives a tour of Khan Research Laboratories in Kahuta. Prince Sultan is accompanied on the tour by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The laboratories are the key facility in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 286]
A shipment of special aluminum for the A. Q. Khan network is seized in London by British customs. The shipment was arranged by Abu Bakr Siddiqui, a British-based supplier for the Khan network. Siddiqui’s company, Orland Europe Ltd., received the order in November 1998 from a Dubai-based facilitator for Khan’s network named Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, but it had originated with Mohammad Farooq, director of foreign procurement at Khan Research Laboratories.
Siddiqui Warned - Customs learned of the order thanks to a tipoff from the British intelligence agency MI6. Customs agent Maxine Crook and a colleague called on Siddiqui in January 1999 to inform him that the export of some metals required a license, and, if there was any doubt, it was best to contact the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to check if one was required for a specific transaction. Crook also told Siddiqui that he should contact the DTI if he again did business with three companies with which he had previously traded, and that Dubai was a well-known “diversionary point” for goods going to “countries of concern” related to the smuggling of components for nuclear programs. Finally, Crook told Siddiqui he should consult the DTI about the current order for the aluminum. After the visit, Crook sent Siddiqui a letter summarizing the main points of the visit, and Siddiqui acknowledged the letter.
Seizure - Siddiqui went ahead with the order without asking for a license anyway, and customs officials seize it on the docks in London. A search of his home and office yields records of millions of dollars’ worth of equipment that has been shipped to Khan over the last decade, a brochure describing the uranium enrichment process, a photo of Siddiqui and Khan together, and a magazine with an article on Khan in which he said he wanted to “buy whatever we can from the international market” to support Pakistan’s nuclear program. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 178-180]
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) minister for information, tours Pakistan. He meets with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan. He is also shown around Khan Research Laboratories, the main facility for producing nuclear weapons in Pakistan. According to the Pakistani newspaper Jasarat, the visit is directly linked to nuclear activities: “Prince Abdullah bin Zayed also asked Dr. Qadeer Khan what help he could give them. Dr. Qadeer replied that Pakistan would not present the atomic bomb or a missile on a platter but could train UAE manpower.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 286-287]
Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan says researchers at Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) are developing a revolutionary new satellite launch vehicle. The claim appears in public in an interview with Khan published in the Urdu-language Muslim newspaper. It appears to be conceived as a counter to a series of negative stories about Khan and KRL recently planted in publications by Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf, who wishes to weaken Khan’s public standing. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 307]
A. Q. Khan (left) and Pervez Musharraf (right). [Source: CBC] (click image to enlarge)After CIA Director George Tenet visits Pakistan and pressures the Pakistani government to take stronger action against the charity front Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN) (see Early October-December 2001), the CIA learns more about the organization. The CIA was previously aware that the two prominent nuclear scientists who co-founded UTN, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, had met with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and advised them on how to make a nuclear weapon (see Mid-August 2001). However, the CIA discovers that other nuclear scientists are also connected to UTN, including Mirza Yusef Beg, a former member of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), and Humayun Niaz, also formerly with the PAEC. At least two senior Pakistani military officers are also connected to UTN. All these men are brought in and questioned by US officials. But the CIA is unable to question two others connected to UTN, Muhammad Ali Mukhtar, a nuclear physicist who worked for the PAEC as a weapons expert, and Suleiman Asad, who worked at A. Q. Khan’s Kahuta Research Laboratories (KRL) in its weapons design division. The CIA reasons that these two scientists would be the type of nuclear bomb makers bin Laden was most interested in. However, the Pakistani government claims that the two are in Burma working on a top secret project and cannot be brought back to Pakistan for questioning. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 320-321] Shortly after 9/11, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf called one of the leaders of Burma and asked if the two scientists could be given asylum there. [New York Times, 12/9/2001] The CIA is also interested in talking to Hamid Gul, a former ISI director and UTN’s honorary patron, but Pakistan will not allow him to be questioned either, even though he had met with Mahmood in Afghanistan around the time Mahmood met with bin Laden and al-Zawahiri. As a result, the CIA is unable to learn just how much UTN could have assisted al-Qaeda with weapons of mass destruction. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 320-321]
Entity Tags: Suleiman Asad, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, Pervez Musharraf, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, Mullah Omar, Humayun Niaz, Hamid Gul, Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, Central Intelligence Agency, Muhammad Ali Mukhtar, Osama bin Laden, Kahuta Research Laboratories, Mirza Yusef Beg
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.