Special to the tribune
Details of notorious Pakistani scientist AQ Khan’s personal role in selling deadly nuclear equipment to Libya have come to light following the discovery of secret files in Tripoli. The files are based on a successful CIA bugging operation that was carried out in the city of Casablanca in February 2002.
The basic point of that discussion had Khan discussing the sale of 10 tonnes of uranium as well as centrifuge enrichment equipment to Libya.
Notes made at the time have CIA official Steve Kappes commenting: “We, with all caution, recorded that incident and the meeting that went on between them and we have the full tape…’
He added: “The centrifuges and uranium enrichment point to one direction only and that is military and not peaceful purposes.”
The incriminating evidence from Casablanca provided the backdrop for subsequent talks between Kappes, a senior official from Britain’s MI6 security service, Mark Allen, who now works for BP, and Moussa Koussa, the then head of Libya’s foreign intelligence service.
Less than two years later in December 2003, Gaddafi was persuaded to publicly declare that Libya was now prepared to renounce its programme for developing weapons for mass destruction, including nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
Further information from the Libyans about how they - like Iran and North Korea - had benefitted from Pakistan’s rogue operation to sell nuclear hardware amounted to the final nail in Khan’s coffin.
In October 2003, US secret agents had seized the cargo of a ship, BBC China, that was carrying several containers of parts for Libya’s secret programme to make 10,000 uranium centrifuges based on Pakistan’s P-2 design.
It was this seizure combined with the revelations in Casablanca of a year earlier that prompted a formal investigation of Khan’s shady, illicit and international procurement network to facilitate the development of nuclear weapons for anyone who was prepared to pay for them.
In February 2004 Khan appeared on Pakistani television and admitted clandestinely supplying nuclearweapons technology to North Korea, Iran and Libya. He also offered his “deepest regrets” and “unqualified apologies” for what he had done. In his confession he revealed how, “During Gen. Zia’s rule, Benazir, her family, Gen. Imtiaz and Dr. Niazi were financially supported by Gaddafi. “
He added, “It was reliably reported that Gaddafi had given $ 200 million to the Z.A. Bhutto to launch our nuclear programme. This was confirmed by Khalid Hassan, Press Secretary to Bhutto, in the mischievous BBC film “Project 706 - The Islamic Bomb”. I believe that one set of the drawings and components given by me was given to the Iranians and the other to the Libyans.”
In this carefully doctored confession, Khan first admits meeting a Libyan called Magid or Mageed in Istanbul, followed by several subsequent meetings with another Libyan called Matooq.
Khan explained how, “The last time I met him was in Casablanca for half an hour (the meeting monitored by the CIA) at tea when we were going to Timbuktu…. Matooq neither gave me any detail of his work nor asked any questions. I was aware that Tahir was assisting him with the placing of orders according to the supplier’s quotations. It was business between user and supplier. The suppliers had all the drawings that we had originally given them as well as their own modified drawings and were, thus, in a position to supply the requested or suggested products, make their own suggestions and/or submit quotations.
‘Even when we met the last time, I was sure that the Libyans were unable to run any machine properly, not to talk of enrichment. Since I never visited their country or saw any film of their facilities, I did not know anything about their programme. I had heard that they had not even erected a single shed to do some preliminary work.”
In 2008, Khan retracted everything he had said, claiming that the earlier confession had been forced upon him. He described reports about how Pakistani nuclear technology was smuggled abroad as “western rubbish”, adding that negative reports about his personal life and role in exporting technology as “shit piles”.
The information coming out of Tripoli, however, is a damming indictment and re-confirmation of Khan’s role in selling nuclear weapons technology to Libya and other countries. It fully justifies his reputation as the “Merchant of Menace” and “the world’s most dangerous nuclear trafficker.” Small wonder that former CIA director George Tenet once described Khan as being “at least as dangerous as Osama bin Laden.”