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URENCO was a participant or observer in the following events:
A. Q. Khan starts work for an engineering company called Physical Dynamics Research Laboratory (FDO), which is based in the Netherlands. He obtains the job, evaluating high-strength metals to be used for centrifuge components, through a former university classmate and a recommendation from his old professor, Martin Brabers. FDO is a subcontractor for a company called Urenco. Urenco owns an enrichment facility and was established in 1970 by the governments of Britain, West Germany, and the Netherlands to manufacture top-quality centrifuges that can be used to produce highly-enriched uranium for use in power plants and nuclear weapons.
Khan Obtains Security Clearance - Khan obtains a security clearance with minimal background checks because he tells investigators he intends to become a Dutch citizen. However, he finds that security is lax and he has access to areas that should be denied him. For example, less than a week after he is hired, he visits the centrifuges, although he does not have clearance to see them. He obtains access to data about them and is also asked to help translate sensitive documents, as he has lived in various European countries and can speak several languages. Khan is allowed to take the documents home, even though this is a clear violation of security protocols. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 46-7]
Studied in Europe, Developed Network of Contacts - Prior to being hired by FDO, Khan had studied in Europe for some time. First he attended a series of lectures about metallurgy at the Technical University in West Berlin in 1962, then obtained a master’s degree in engineering from Delft Technical University in the Netherlands in 1967, and received his doctorate from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium in 1971. His studies in Europe will later turn out to be useful when he starts a nuclear smuggling ring. Authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento will comment, “Along the way the affable Pakistani had developed a wide range of contacts, including individuals who would later emerge as part of his smuggling network.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 22-25; Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 46-7]
After Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan agrees to help Pakistan obtain the technology to make a nuclear bomb (see Summer-Autumn 1974), he begins to steal secrets from a Dutch company he works for to help them. Khan is asked to help translate a top-secret report on the G2 centrifuge, a major advance in uranium enrichment technology. To this end, he is assigned to a high-security section of the company, but the strict security procedures are ignored and he has free access for 16 days to the company’s main centrifuge plant. He takes full advantage of the situation, noting down details of the various processes. Around this time, neighbors also notice that Khan is receiving late-night visits from French and Belgian cars with diplomatic license plates, presumably Pakistani contacts to whom Khan is passing the secrets. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 50-1]
Following the commencement of Pakistan’s uranium enrichment program (see After February 15, 1975), A. Q. Khan meets program head Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood in Belgium and then begins to steal an unprecedented amount of information from the company he works for, a European nuclear company called Urenco, to support the program. According to authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento: “Khan sent everything from centrifuge designs and technical literature to parts and lists of suppliers. He even sent blueprints of an entire uranium enrichment facility. In at least one instance, Khan sent [an associate] a discarded component from a uranium centrifuge.” He evens asks a photographer he shares an office with to photograph some centrifuges and components. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 53-4]
Frits Veerman, a photographer who works with Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan at the nuclear equipment manufacturer Urenco, becomes suspicious of Khan, and attempts to warn the company. Veerman becomes suspicious because Khan keeps asking him to photograph centrifuges and components, evidently so he can send the photographs back to Pakistan. When Veerman visits Khan’s house, he sees highly classified centrifuge designs lying around. He also meets other Pakistanis at the house, and will later learn they are agents working under diplomatic cover. His suspicions aroused, Veerman warns Urenco of this repeatedly. However, the company denies there is a problem and tells Veerman not to make allegations against a superior. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 54]
The BVD, a Dutch intelligence service, begins investigating A. Q. Khan over suspicions he is passing on nuclear secrets from the uranium enrichment company Urenco, for which he works, to Pakistan. The investigation starts because of two incidents. In the first, the Pakistani embassy in Belgium uses a report that appears to have come from one of Urenco’s owners to order specialized wrapping foil for centrifuges from Metalimphy, a French company. Metalimphy checks with Urenco’s owner, which says that the report belongs to it, and should not be in the Pakistanis’ hands. The BVD then learns that Khan was asking suspicious questions at a trade fair in Switzerland about atomic weapons. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 54]
A. Q. Khan. [Source: CBC]A Dutch court sentences A. Q. Khan to four years in jail after convicting him in absentia for espionage. Khan denies that he stole plans from URENCO, a maker of uranium enrichment centrifuges, when he worked there translating documents in the 1970s. Khan was employed by Physical Dynamics Research Laboratory, or FDO, a company that was sub-contracted by the URENCO consortium. [MSNBC, 2004; CNN, 2/5/2004]
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