The Black Market for Nuclear Weapons

The nuclear physicist Abdul Qadeer Khan is considered to be the father of the nuclear program of Pakistan, and in Pakistan he is treated like a national hero. Note that Pakistan is the only Muslim country that is a nuclear power, and it was helped by its ally China to develop its nuclear program. During the Soviet era China and Pakistan were facing India and the Soviet Union as their rivals, and the Soviets were helping India with her nuclear program, while China was helping Pakistan.

In 2004, following US pressures on Pakistan, Khan admitted that he had sold nuclear technology and equipment to North Korea, Iran and Libya. Khan was jailed in Pakistan, but he was later released and changed his position, saying that he has been used as a scapegoat. Pakistan never allowed US officials to question Khan, saying that all relevant details had already bee given to the US by the Pakistani authorities. See Guardian “Pakistan releases ‘father’ of nuclear bomb from house arrest”, February 2009.

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As you can read at the following New York Times article, Khan had set up the largest network in the world for selling nuclear technology and equipment in the black market. See New York Times “In U.S.-Libya Nuclear Deal, a Qaddafi Threat Faded Away”, March 2011.

I think it is reasonable to assume that it would have been impossible for Khan to set up this nuclear network in the black market without the support of some members of the Pakistani government and the Pakistani army. Moreover it does not seem to be a coincidence that it was in 2004 that Khan confessed that he was selling nuclear technology and equipment to Libya, Iran and North Korea. Note that in 2003, after the US attack on Saddam Hussein and Iraq, the Libyan socialist dictator Muammar Qaddafi had agreed to abandon his nuclear program, and to pass his nuclear equipment to NATO countries. And he actually did that in 2004.

According to the New York Times article, most of Qaddafi’s equipment was bought from Khan’s nuclear network. And the same year Qaddafi gave his nuclear equipment to NATO, and after the US pressure on Pakistan, Khan confessed that he was selling nuclear technology to Libya and he was imprisoned. All these must be connected.


“Pakistan releases ‘father’ of nuclear bomb from house arrest”, February 2009

1st and 2nd Paragraph

Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani scientist accused of selling nuclear secrets, was today freed from five years of house arrest by a court and immediately declared that he can now “lead a normal life”.

Khan, lionised as the “father” of Pakistan’s atomic bomb, confessed in 2004 to selling nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya. He was immediately pardoned but detained in his home.

5th, 6th, 7th Paragraph

Khan was detained in early 2004 after making a televised confession to nuclear proliferation, following intense international pressure on Pakistan. His nuclear trading network had been discovered by western intelligence agents.

A national hero in Pakistan for spearheading the country’s nuclear weapons programme, Khan subsequently retracted his confession.

He said that, aside from having to maintain guards around him, he had been freed with the “blessing” of the government, which had been “very helpful”.

11th Paragraph

Pakistan has prevented foreign investigators from questioning Khan, insisting it has passed on all relevant information about nuclear proliferation. That bar is likely to remain.

“In U.S.-Libya Nuclear Deal, a Qaddafi Threat Faded Away”, March 2011

9th, 10th Paragraph

The cache of nuclear technology that Libya turned over to the United States, Britain and international nuclear inspectors in early 2004 was large — far larger than American intelligence experts had expected. There were more than 4,000 centrifuges for producing enriched uranium. There were blueprints for how to build a nuclear bomb — missing some critical components but good enough to get the work started.

The whole package of goods came from a deal the Qaddafis struck with Abdul Qadeer Khan, one of the architects of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, who built the world’s largest black-market network in nuclear technology. The $100 million to $200 million that the Central Intelligence Agency later estimated that Libya spent on the nuclear project has never been recovered. For their part, the Libyans could never get the system working; many of the large centrifuges were still in their wooden packing crates when they were turned over.


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