Sunday, November 28, 2004

Nuclear Capability in a Box 

From Fox News, earlier this summer, just after the Senate Intelligence Committee delivered its report denouncing the Bush administration's stated reasons for the invasion of Iraq -- WMD's, yellowcake, etc. -- as so much bunk:
The White House has long portrayed Libya's pledge to abandon programs to develop weapons of mass destruction as affirmation of Bush's hard-line strategy on arms proliferation. It suggested the U.S.-led war in Iraq helped convince al-Qaddafi that he should act.
Well, you can scratch another feeble justification for the Iraq disaster: Qaddafi was a chin hair away from acquiring a prefab uranium-enrichment plant (manufactured, needless to say, by our old friend A.Q. Khan), and only gave up his nuclear ambitions when a shipment of centrifuges was intercepted, ultimately queering the whole operation. A medley of astonishments, courtesy of our distinguished colleague Rorschach at No Capital:
Authorities pursuing traffickers in nuclear weapons technology recently uncovered an audacious scheme to deliver a complete uranium enrichment plant to Libya, documents and interviews show.

The discovery provides fresh evidence of the reach and sophistication of Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan's global black market in nuclear know-how and equipment. It also exposes a previously undetected South African branch of the Khan network.

The startling dimensions of the plot began to emerge in September, when police raided a factory outside Johannesburg. They found the elements of a two-story steel processing system for the enrichment plant, packed in 11 freight containers for shipment to Libya.

South African officials have disclosed only that they discovered nuclear components. The Times has learned that the massive system was designed to operate an array of 1,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium.

Once assembled in Libya, the plant could have produced enough weapons-grade uranium to manufacture several nuclear bombs a year. Delivery of the plant would have greatly accelerated Libya's efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

Khan already had secretly shipped to Libya a supply of processed uranium fuel for the enrichment plant, according to later reports by international inspectors.

And some of the centrifuges for the plant were shipped separately from Malaysia. The interception of that cargo by U.S. and Italian authorities in October 2003 led to the Johannesburg raid and spurred Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi to renounce efforts to develop banned weapons . . . .

The questions confronting investigators include whether other countries sought Khan's help and whether tougher restrictions are necessary to prevent a repeat of what officials have called the most dangerous proliferation operation in history.
We know we don't need to remind you, but --
Under international pressure, Pakistan forced Khan to confess on national television that he had sold the country's nuclear secrets. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf pardoned Khan immediately. Investigators from the IAEA and the U.S. have not been allowed to interview the scientist, who is still revered in Pakistan.

As a result, investigators say they are still struggling to uncover the extent of the network.

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