Friday, July 16, 2004


The Butler Report and "AQ Khan"

I promised yesterday to write about the AQ Khan network.

Abdul Qadeer Khan, known affectionately as "AQ," is identified as the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program. In the early 70s he worked for a Dutch-German concern involved in uranium enrichment. When he was asked by Pakistan’s then leader General Zia to come home to work on Pakistan’s uranium-enrichment program, he agreed to do so, but not before first stopping by his old office to pick up as many plans as he could stuff into his suitcase.

But I’m here to write about the Butler Report, which gives a significant portion of text to AQ Khan. Let’s start with the Table of Contents.

Chapter 2

2.1 Introduction 60-63 17
2.2 AQ Khan 17
2.3 Libya 20
2.4 Iran 22
2.5 North Korea 24
2.6 General Conclusions 107-109 26

Do you notice anything strange about this list? That’s right. AQ Khan is not a country.

Now if the report had been written by a U.S. Senate staffperson, I would take it to be an honest mistake, but the Brits usually have their geography down pat by the time they make their O-levels. This is not a mistake. It is an effort to avoid the word "Pakistan."

So let’s leap to a conclusion at the outset: The Butler Report is deceptive and weaselly. But then what did we expect?

And why did they cover AQ Khan?

Our terms of reference require us:
To investigate the intelligence coverage available on WMD programmes of countries of concern and on global trade in WMD, taking into account what is now known about these programmes

So here’s what they determined about the intelligence on “AQ Khan.” As you read, feel free to substitute the word “Pakistan” as appropriate, and take note of the dates.

65. During the 1990s, there were intermittent clues from intelligence that AQ Khan was discussing the sale of nuclear technology to countries of concern. By early 2000, intelligence revealed that these were not isolated incidents. It became clear that Khan was at the centre of an international proliferation network.

66. By April 2000, the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) was noting that there was an evolving, and as yet incomplete, picture of the supply of uranium enrichment equipment to at least one customer in the Middle East, thought to be Libya, and evidence linking this activity to Khan. By September 2000, it was pointing out that the network was expanding to mass-produce components for large-scale centrifuge cascades.

67. During 2001, the JIC continued to track AQ Khan’s activities. An assessment in March 2002 pulled together all the strands of intelligence on AQ Khan then available. The conclusions showed the wide spread of Khan’s network and that he had moved his base outside Pakistan and was now controlling it through his associates in Dubai. At the same time, intelligence showed that he had now established his own production facilities, in Malaysia. He was being helped in his activities by a network of associates and suppliers, including BSA Tahir (a Sri Lankan businessman operating out of Dubai).

68. By July 2002, the JIC had concluded that AQ Khan’s network was central to all aspects of the Libyan nuclear weapons programme. Since Khan had access to nuclear weapon designs and had been involved in the development of Pakistani missiles, the Government feared that he might not only pass on the technology for enriching uranium but that he might also enable his customers to build nuclear warheads for missiles. As intelligence continued to build up, the JIC assessed that this was the first case of a private enterprise offering a complete range of services to enable a customer to acquire highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.

69. ... By January 2003, the JIC was becoming particularly concerned at the progress Libya might be able to make as a result of the assistance it had received from the network.

70. Action to close down the network had until this stage been deferred to allow the intelligence agencies to continue their operations to gather further information on the full extent of the network. This was important to gain a better understanding of the nuclear programmes of other countries which Khan was supplying. But Khan’s activities had now reached the point where it would be dangerous to allow them to go on.

71. At the tactical level, action was taken to interdict supplies of components moving from Khan’s manufacturing facility in Malaysia to Libya.... In October 2003, the BBC China, a German-registered ship carrying centrifuge parts, was diverted to Italy as part of a carefully-planned intelligence operation in co-operation with the Italian and German authorities. On the basis of the material found on board the BBC China, in November 2003 the UK and US Governments approached the Malaysian authorities to investigate a Malaysian company run by BSA Tahir. According to the official Malaysian police report:

His [Tahir’s] involvement . . . started in 1994/1995. That year the [Pakistani nuclear expert] had asked B S A Tahir to send two containers of used centrifuge units from Pakistan to Iran. B S A Tahir organised the transshipment of the two containers from Dubai to Iran using a merchant ship owned by a company in Iran. B S A Tahir said the payment for the two containers of centrifuge units, amounting to about US$3 million, was paid in UAE Dirham currency by the Iranians. The cash was brought in two briefcases.

72. At the strategic level, action was taken in co-operation with President Musharraf of Pakistan to stop Khan from continuing his activities. Khan subsequently appeared on national television on 4 February 2004 to:

...offer my deepest regrets and unqualified apologies to a traumatised nation ...

and admitted that an investigation by the Pakistani government:

...has established that many of the reported activities did occur, and that these were inevitably initiated at my behest.

So what did the Butler Report conclude about all this?

74. The uncovering and dismantlement of this network is a remarkable tribute to the work of the intelligence agencies. As we looked at the reasons behind this success, several key points became apparent. First, a team of experts worked together over a period of years, overcoming setbacks and patiently piecing together the parts of the jigsaw. Although an element of luck was important in providing a breakthrough, this was not a flash in the pan. It was the result of a clear strategy, meticulously implemented, which included the identification of key members of the network and sustained work against their business activities. Secondly, there was close co-operation between UK and US agencies, with both sides working to the same agenda. But most importantly of all, there was strong integration in the UK between all the agencies. A decision was taken early on that at working level all information, however sensitive, would be shared.

75. There was also a high degree of co-operation between the agencies and policy-makers in departments. This enabled swift and effective action to be taken at the right time. The action was intelligence-led. The agencies uncovered the activities of the network. The development of policy and action to close it down followed:by interdicting shipments; seeking co-operation from the Pakistani authorities;taking action with the recipients of AQ Khan’s products, most notably Libya; and by encouraging legal action, where possible, against members of the network.

High praise, indeed.

But to get some perspective, we may need to go to India, which has a somewhat more jaundiced view on Pakistan.

In March of this year, reported,

The US knew of a network of nuclear proliferation from Pakistan for at least seven years before it was exposed, according to a report.

American, British and UN investigators found that a company in Pakistan was prepared to sell everything needed to make a nuclear bomb -- plans, equipment and fuel -- for $50 million, with no questions asked about how it might be used, it said.

The package was even advertised at a Pakistani arms show in 2000, where the company handed out brochures to visitors, including a reporter for a defence weekly.

"The company gave out two very glossy brochures, inside of which they promised to provide all of the components needed for a uranium-enrichment facility," ABC News quoted reporter Andrew Koch as saying.

Hmmh. In 2000? This was when the JIC “was noting that there was an evolving, and as yet incomplete, picture of the supply of uranium enrichment equipment to at least one customer in the Middle East.”

You have to wonder how complete a picture they needed.

As for AQ Khan’s confession, Mr. B. Raman, a retired Indian bureaucrat and now employed in a thinktank, writes

Pakistani sources claim that there has been another bombshell in the admissions of guilt made by Khan's colleagues and juniors, who are still under custody and questioning. They are reported to have stated that during his over 40 visits to Dubai in the last three years, he had met Iraqi intelligence officials who sought his help in having some of the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) material of Iraq airlifted from Syria to Pakistan for being kept in safe custody there to prevent their falling into the hands of the UN inspectors. Khan allegedly agreed to their request. According to them, in October, 2002, Khan had a Pakistani aircraft, which had gone to Iran to deliver some equipment, stop in a Syrian airport on its way back. It picked up the Iraqi WMD "material" and brought it to Pakistan for safe custody on behalf of Iraq. It is not clear what did they mean by material---only documents or something more?

Monday: More on "AQ Khan" and just how exculpatory is the Butler Report

Related post: The Butler Report - Bullet #1

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