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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Apocalyse Vendor 

You may recall Mr. Bush's bizarre assertion during the presidential debates that "the A.Q. Khan network has been brought to justice" -- "justice" in this case being defined as a full pardon from President Pervez Musharraf, offered in exchange for Khan's agreement not to implicate other prominent Pakistani officials in the peddling of black-market nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea, Malaysia, and Libya. Out of deference to Musharraf, the U.S. has never insisted on questioning "the father of the Pakistani bomb" about exactly what he sold to whom. But, as Seymour Hersh reported back in March:
A Bush Administration intelligence officer with years of experience in nonproliferation issues told me last month, “One thing we do know is that this was not a rogue operation. Suppose Edward Teller had suddenly decided to spread nuclear technology and equipment around the world. Do you really think he could do that without the government knowing? How do you get missiles from North Korea to Pakistan? Do you think A.Q. shipped all the centrifuges by Federal Express? The military has to be involved, at high levels.” The intelligence officer went on, “We had every opportunity to put a stop to the A. Q. Khan network fifteen years ago. Some of those involved today in the smuggling are the children of those we knew about in the eighties. It’s the second generation now.”
According to a newly-released CIA report, that small oversight may have extremely disheartening consequences:
A new report from the Central Intelligence Agency says the arms trafficking network led by the Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan provided Iran's nuclear program with "significant assistance," including the designs for "advanced and efficient" weapons components.

The unclassified version of the report, posted Tuesday on the agency's Web site, www.cia.gov, does not say explicitly whether Mr. Khan's network sold Iran complete plans for building a warhead, as the network is known to have done for Libya and perhaps North Korea. But it suggests that American intelligence agencies now believe that the bomb-making designs provided by the network to Iran in the 1990's were more significant than the United States government has previously disclosed.

In a recent closed-door speech to a private group, George J. Tenet, the former director of central intelligence, described Mr. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, as being "at least as dangerous as Osama bin Laden" because of his role in providing nuclear technology to other countries. A tape recording of the speech was obtained by The New York Times.

Until now, in discussing Iran's nuclear program, American officials have referred publicly only to the Khan network's role in supplying designs for older Pakistani centrifuges used to enrich uranium. But American officials have also suspected that the Khan network provided Iran with a warhead design as well.

The C.I.A. report is the first to assert that the designs provided to Iran also included those for weapons "components."

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