Nuke-smuggling network in demand

July 29, 2010

By Eli Lake – The Washington Times

Scientists, engineers and financiers involved in the A.Q. Khan nuclear-smuggling network are being contacted by several governments in an effort to lure these specialists out of retirement.

The development is raising concerns among U.S. intelligence agencies about the revival of the proliferation network that was thought to have been shut down years ago.

Two U.S. intelligence officials and other U.S. officials with access to intelligence reports said information compiled over the past seven months showed that agents from several foreign governments — including Brazil, Burma, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Sudan and Syria — pursued members of the network named after Abdul Qadeer Khan, the scientist considered to be the father of Pakistan‘s nuclear weapons program.

“They have propositioned them to get them to come out of retirement,” one senior U.S. intelligence officer said.

This official, however, stressed that the contacts observed in recent months did not necessarily reflect a state-level decision by countries such as Brazil and Nigeria regarding nuclear proliferation. “These could be people acting on their own,” this official said.

Another intelligence official cautioned that others in the intelligence community have disputed the assessment about whether governments have approached the remnants of the Khan network.

The A.Q. Khan network supplied “starter kits” for uranium enrichment, based on large numbers of centrifuges, to Iran, Libya and North Korea from the 1980s until it was shut down in 2003 and 2004. Mr. Khan has confirmed much of these charges in interviews.

Earlier this month, a classified analysis was distributed on the Defense Intelligence Daily — a compendium of intelligence products shared with senior executives in the military and the Pentagon — on evidence that elements of the Khan network may be reactivating. It did not answer that question conclusively. The report, however, did confirm the existence of new intelligence on the recruiting efforts.

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