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Abdul Qadeer Khan

born 27 April 1936), known as A. Q. Khan, is a Pakistani nuclear

physicist and a metallurgical engineer, who founded the uranium
enrichment program for Pakistan's atomic bomb project. Khan founded
and established the Kahuta Research Laboratories (KRL) in 1976,
serving as both its senior scientist and Director-General until he retired
in 2001. Khan was also a figure in other Pakistani national science
projects, making research contributions to molecular morphology, the
physics of martensite alloys, condensed matter physics, and materials

In January 2004, the Pakistani government summoned Khan for a

debriefing on his active role in nuclear weapons technology
proliferation in other countries after the United States provided evidence
of it to the Pakistanis. Khan formally admitted his responsibility for
these activities a month later. The Pakistani government dismisses
allegations that Pakistani authorities sanctioned Khan's activities.
After years of official house arrest during and following his debriefing,
the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on 6 February 2009 declared Abdul
Qadeer Khan to be a free citizen of Pakistan, allowing him free
movement inside the country. The verdict was rendered by Chief Justice
Sardar Muhammad Aslam. In September 2009, concerned because the
decision also ended all security restrictions on Khan, the United States
warned that Khan still remained a "serious proliferation risk".


AQ Khan, the more colorful, the more Strangelovian. Seen in the west as
a scientific rogue, a spy even, he is outspoken, critical of western values
and a man on a mission, and that mission is simply infusing Pakistan
with superpower pride.

While always pushing that agenda, Khan claims he is not as he seems,

telling a press conference in 2002 that he's "one of the gentlest people in
Pakistan... I feed birds and ants." And while rumors circulate that he
owns the "Hotshots" nightclub in Islamabad, Khan demurs, saying he
makes only $400 a month.
His words have been recorded and reported on for 20 years and he has
never wavered. His 2002 comments were typical: on one hand he
brandished the sword: "The armed forces are not under pressure any
more; they believe they are at equal footing with the enemy." Then, in
almost the same breath, he equated the success of Pakistan's billion-
dollar bomb with its more pressing concerns: "Now we can concentrate
on our education, and economic and social problems."

For more than a decade, Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb,
masterminded a vast, clandestine and hugely profitable enterprise whose
mission boiled down to this: selling to a rogues' gallery of nations the
technology and equipment to make nuclear weapons. Among Khan's
customers were Iran and North Korea--two countries identified by Bush
as members of the "axis of evil," whose nuclear ambitions present the
U.S. with two of its biggest foreign policy quandaries. At a moment when
the international community is focused on a potential showdown with
Iran, a TIME investigation had revealed that Khan's network played a
bigger role in helping Tehran and Pyongyang than had been previously
disclosed. U.S. intelligence officials believe Khan sold North Korea much
of the material needed to build a bomb, including high-speed centrifuges
used to enrich uranium and the equipment required to manufacture
more of them. Officials in Washington and at the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna say they suspect that Iran may have
bought the same set of goods--centrifuges and possibly weapons designs-
-from Khan in the mid-1990s. Although the IAEA says so far it has not
found definitive proof that Iran has a weapons program, its investigators
told TIME that Tehran has privately confirmed at least 13 meetings from
1994 to 1999 with representatives of Khan's network.

Who else did business with this merchant of menace?

The list of suspected nuclear clients is dizzying. Investigators believe that

as head of Pakistan's main nuclear-research laboratory, Khan travelled
the world for more than a decade, visiting countries in Africa, Central
Asia and the Middle East. According to a source in Pakistan's Defence
Ministry, U.S. officials are investigating whether Khan's network might
have sold nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.
The U.S. has submitted questions to Khan asking whether North Korea
and Iran sold such equipment to third parties. The ultimate fear: that
one of Khan's clients may pass along nuclear technology and expertise to
terrorist groups. Although the U.S. does not have concrete evidence that
Khan did business with al-Qaeda, there is reason to suspect such a link
exists. A few members of Pakistan's military and intelligence
establishment, which worked closely with Khan in his role as the
government's top nuclear scientist, are known to sympathize with Osama
bin Laden. The more investigators have learned about the reach of
Khan's network, the more alarmed they have become. Says a U.S. official
involved with analysing Iran's nuclear program: "You're dealing with a
supplier who didn't appear to have any qualms."
Despite the U.S.'s obvious interest in uncovering the scope of the nuclear
bazaar, neither the Administration nor the IAEA has been allowed to
interrogate Khan directly. Knowledgeable sources tell TIME that at a
meeting at the White House in December, Bush told Pakistani President
Pervez Musharraf that he believed Khan had not fessed up to all his
nefarious transactions. Musharraf agreed but refused to allow non-
Pakistanis to quiz Khan.

So who is Abdul Qadeer Khan, and what kind of threat does his illicit
enterprise still pose? When you piece together the details of Khan's
career, his business dealings and the covert operation that brought him
down, what emerges is a portrait of a brainy engineer who devoted his
life to the pursuit and proliferation of the ultimate weapon of mass
destruction. Born to humble beginnings, he became a globe-trotting
magnate who relished the luxury that fame and savvy brought him. But
colleagues say he was also driven by a devout faith and a burning belief
that Muslim possession of nuclear weapons would help return Islam to
greatness. Just how far Khan was able to spread that vision is a question,
says a former U.S. intelligence official, "that still keeps a lot of us up

Khan was born in 1936, in Bhopal, India, 11 years before the founding of
Pakistan. His youth was shaped by the communal violence that plagued
India after the end of colonization. He has told his biographer of
witnessing the massacre of Muslims by Hindus that followed the
partition of the old British colony in 1947. By the time he immigrated to
Pakistan in 1952, Khan had developed an interest in science and a
loathing for India.
In 1953, Khan enrolled in Karachi's D.J. Science College. But he soon
uprooted again, moving to Europe and earning degrees in electrical
engineering and metallurgy. After finishing his studies, he threw himself
into the burgeoning field of nuclear science in the Netherlands. With oil
prices soaring, interest in harnessing nuclear power for civilian energy
was high. In 1975, Khan took a job at the Dutch branch of a European
nuclear-research consortium, Urenco, which specialized in uranium
enrichment. Khan soon recognized that the centrifuges Urenco had
developed to enrich uranium for civilian use were powerful enough to
produce the fissile material needed for a nuclear weapon.

When he returned home in 1976, he displayed his talent for enterprise.

He brought with him the Dutch woman who would become his wife--and
extremely sensitive centrifuge designs, which the Dutch say he had
stolen from his nuclear employer. In the context of Pakistan's rivalry
with India, Khan's perfidy was considered an extreme form of
patriotism. Since India had a nuclear program, Pakistan needed one too.
Soon Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto appointed Khan to run
Pakistan's nuclear-research program, with the goal of developing a
weapon as soon as possible. "Pakistan's choice was either to reinvent the
wheel or buy it," says Samina Ahmed, South Asia project director for the
International Crisis Group in Islamabad. Khan decided to buy it.

There are two basic paths to producing bomb-grade material. One

involves reprocessing the plutonium contained in spent nuclear fuel, a
path taken by North Korea in the 1980s. But that method requires first
building a nuclear reactor, a costly and cumbersome endeavour. Khan's
experience in Europe steered him toward the cheaper option. Working
the contacts, he had made in Europe, he set out to acquire the rotational
machines, known as centrifuges, that enrich uranium into bomb-grade

Pakistan's bomb program took years to mature, but in 1998, on the back
of Khan's labours, the country detonated five underground nuclear
bombs. At a time of high tensions with India over the disputed region of
Kashmir, the event turned Khan into a national hero. His glowering,
wavy-haired portrait was hand-painted on the backs of trucks and buses
all over the country. He was twice awarded Pakistan's highest civilian
honor, the Hilal-e-Imtiaz medal. Celebrated in textbooks, he was
probably Pakistan's most famous man.

But Khan had a secret life. In hindsight, there were some obvious tip-
offs. Although still a civil servant in a poor country, he owned dozens of
properties in Pakistan and Dubai and invested in a Timbuktu hotel,
which he named after his wife. He donated $30 million to various
Pakistani charities and had enough money left over to buy his staff
members cars and pay for the university education of their children. He
had an ego to match his newfound fortune: after paying to restore the
tomb of Sultan Shahabuddin Ghauri, an Afghan who conquered Delhi,
Khan put up a portrait of himself next to the sultan's.

Friends noticed another transformation in Khan. He became more

religious after the successful nuclear tests in 1998. A Libyan source
familiar with Khan's transactions with the Libyan government says Khan
claimed he was selling nuclear technology to bolster the standing of
Muslims. "We Muslims have to be strong and equal to any other country,
and therefore I want to help some countries be strong," the source recalls
Khan saying. Ex-colleagues told TIME that following the U.S. attacks on
Afghanistan and Iraq, he railed against the West and its operations
against the Muslim community. After the U.S. imposed sanctions on
Pakistan for its nuclear test, Khan became convinced that the U.S. was
bent on destroying Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, its main weapon against
India's far mightier army.

Whether motivated by greed or ideology or both, Khan decided to go into

business for himself, even as he oversaw Pakistan's nuclear
development. Khan offered a one-stop shop for regimes interested in
producing nuclear weapons. He offered centrifuges--known as P-1, for
Pakistan, and later P-2, a more sophisticated version--as well as
machines that make centrifuges (critical to Khan's customers because
hundreds or thousands of them are needed to make highly enriched
uranium in quantities sufficient for a weapon). Utilizing a variety of
contacts in Europe, Asia and Africa, Khan built a network of factories
and salesmen that covered the globe. There was even a slick advertising
brochure promoting the group's wares.

In the early 1990s, Khan began meeting with representatives from an

assortment of outlaw regimes. A former Energy Minister in Islamabad
says Iranian officials approached Pakistan's army chief in 1991, offering
"around $8 billion" for access to Khan's technology. The offer was
rebuffed but, IAEA officials say, three years later Khan did establish
contact with the Iranians. A key member of the network has told
investigators that Iran bought centrifuges from Khan. The IAEA reports
that the Khan network also provided Iran with blueprints to
manufacture more P-1 and P-2 centrifuges. The Iranians say they wanted
the centrifuges for civilian purposes, a claim the U.S. doubts. Either way,
says a U.S. official, "Khan was vital" to the progress of Iran's nuclear

By 1995, with Khan's Iran connection established, another global pariah,

Libya, sought him out. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi had tried in the late
1980s to build his own nuclear program by importing German
technology and engineers, but the effort failed. To make its bombs, Libya
wanted to enrich uranium rather than produce plutonium in a reactor
because, says the official, "with a reactor, you cannot hide anything."
Khan's system was a perfect fit, and as the commercial relationship was
launched, Khan's underlings whetted Gaddafi's appetite with an
unexpected gift. Khan gave the Libyans a stack of technical instructions
for how to build a nuclear warhead. The material was wrapped in the
kind of plastic sheeting used by dry cleaners. Khan never told the
Libyans that it was a plan for a bomb, saying only "Here is some
information that will be useful for you in the future."

Gaddafi soon upped the ante. In 1997, Khan's Libyan contacts told him
they wanted P-1 and P-2 centrifuges and the equipment to build
hundreds more. The deal was worth $100 million. To fill the order, Khan
turned to old contacts in Western Europe and South Africa, in some
instances using the same people he had done business with in the 1980s.
Among the shadowy middlemen involved over the years were South
African Johan Meyer and German-- South African Gerhard Wisser, who
allegedly helped set up a processing facility that could be shipped whole
to Libya. Khan's crew tapped furnacemakers in Italy, lathemakers in
Spain, and Swiss middlemen who helped design parts for construction in
Southeast Asia. The network began sending Libya crateloads of
equipment, routing the ships through Europe and the Persian Gulf city
of Dubai before they reached their destination in Tripoli. It was an
audacious enterprise, given that Western spies were on the hunt for
illicit trading in weapons of mass destruction. But as far as Khan knew,
his pursuers were still in the dark.

Khan's base of operations became Dubai, with its easy transit

connections by air and its balmy beachfront climate. Dealmaking was
suitably informal. A key member of Khan's network told investigators
that Iranian contacts once dropped off in Khan's apartment two
suitcases containing $3 million in cash as a payment. From 1999 on,
Khan traveled to Dubai 41 times, the Pakistani government says. Khan
also kept a penthouse on posh al-Maktoum Road. When arranging a
shipment, he would set up in Dubai dozens of shell companies consisting
of nothing more than "a fax machine and an empty office," says a former
colleague. As soon as the deal was done, he shut the companies down.

For meetings with his underlings and potential customers, Khan favored
other exotic locales: Istanbul and Casablanca. Pakistani sources say
Khan used Dubai gold dealers to launder smuggling profits. At the height
of his power, Khan was worth as much as $400 million.

Khan's right-hand man, what an intelligence official calls the managing

director of his operation, was Buhary Sayed Abu Tahir, 44, a Sri Lankan
whom Khan first met in Dubai in the mid-'90s. Tahir idolized Khan,
mimicking him in sometimes expensive ways. In homage to the boss's
vintage fleet, Tahir tooled around Dubai in a luxury car. To Khan, Tahir
became indispensable. He divided his time between Kuala Lumpur (his
wife is Malaysian) and Dubai. Through his connections in Malaysia,
Tahir arranged for centrifuge components to be manufactured at a
publicly traded company called Scomi Precision Engineering. Back in
Dubai, he set up a cutout company called SMB Computers, which was a
front for Khan's proliferation business. Ultimately, components
manufactured at Scomi were sold via SMB to Libya as "used machinery"-
-part of the $100 million contract with Gaddafi's government.

Meanwhile, Khan expanded. He made contact with the North Korean

government as early as 1993, according to Pakistani investigators. In the
late 1990s he began shipping centrifuges and the means to make them--
"the whole package," as a U.S. intelligence official put it--in bulk to
Pyongyang, sometimes aboard Pakistani military cargo planes. Pakistani
officials say Khan has testified that the North Koreans were so
appreciative that in 1999 they took him on a private tour of their nuclear
facilities during his visit to Pyongyang. U.S. and IAEA investigators
believe that Khan also traveled to Saudi Arabia and Egypt and to such
African countries as Sudan, Ivory Coast and Niger. The purpose of those
trips remains unclear, but intelligence officials have hunches: Saudi
Arabia and Egypt are believed to be in the market for nuclear technology,
and many African countries are rich in raw uranium ore.

As he hopscotched across the globe, Khan had little reason to believe

that Western intelligence agencies were catching on to his activities. But
unbeknownst to him, they apparently had found a mole in the operation
who could lead straight to the boss.

When several Italian coast-guard cutters set out from the industrial port
city of Taranto on that country's southeastern coast on Oct. 4, 2003, they
had specific orders: to detain and board a German-flagged cargo ship
called the BBC China, then heading for Libya. The seizure had, in fact,
been arranged jointly by the CIA and MI6, the overseas arm of British
intelligence. When the agents boarded the BBC China, what they found
was anything but routine: five large containers, each carefully packed
with precision machine tools, tubes and other bombmaking equipment.
The containers amounted to part of a uranium-enrichment facility
manufactured in Malaysia by Tahir's Scomi operation.

The CIA had been tracking Khan since the late 1990s. "We were inside
his residence, inside his facilities, inside his rooms," former CIA Director
George Tenet told an audience last year. A Libyan source told TIME that
the Libyan government believes that the mole may have been Tahir,
Khan's trusted aide. "[The U.S.] made a compromise with him," the
source says. "He will be safe. They won't touch him, but he had to
cooperate." The source has told TIME that when the CIA finally
confronted Tripoli in late 2003 about its nuclear ambitions, the officers
played a tape of a 1997 Casablanca meeting that was attended by only
Khan, Tahir and two representatives of the Libyan government. The
source believes that Tahir was wearing a concealed microphone during
that meeting.

Tahir was arrested in Kuala Lumpur in May 2004 and held under a
Malaysian law allowing for the indefinite detention of individuals posing
a security threat. He has provided a wealth of information to local
investigators about the specifics of Khan's dealings, particularly with
Iran and Libya. The IAEA said last week that the Malaysian government
agreed for the first time to make Tahir available to IAEA investigators--
the next best thing to being able to talk to Khan himself.

Two days after the boarding of the BBC China off the waters of Taranto,
then U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage arrived in
Islamabad and confronted Musharraf, demanding that the Pakistanis
shut down Khan's network. "If I ever perspired," Musharraf said later, "it
was then." But Pakistani sources close to Khan say Musharraf backed
away from arresting the scientist out of fear that Khan would finger
senior members of the Pakistani military and security services as having
been complicit in nuclear trafficking. "Everyone got a cut," says a Khan
acquaintance, referring to high-ranking military officers connected with
the nuclear program. Khan's last public appearance came on Feb. 4,
2004, when he appeared on national television and confessed to running
the smuggling ring. The next day, to the outrage of many in Washington,
Musharraf pardoned him.

The quest to get more information out of Khan has been slow. At the
White House meeting in December, Musharraf told Bush that it was
impossible to know whether Khan has divulged all he knows, since he
tends to talk only when confronted with evidence. If the U.S. has specific
questions for Khan, Musharraf said, his men would follow it up. "I will
investigate," Musharraf assured Bush. The Administration gave Pakistan
a new dossier of queries for Khan, and a knowledgeable official says
Pakistan has since questioned Khan and reported back to Washington.

But many questions remain unresolved, including whether Khan sold

blueprints for building a nuclear warhead to Iran, as he did with Libya. If
true, such a finding would allow the U.S. to ratchet up its charges that
Tehran's nuclear research has a military purpose. What's more, sources
close to Khan Research Laboratories in Islamabad tell TIME that even
though its head has been removed, Khan's illicit network of suppliers
and middlemen is still out there. "Nothing has changed," one of Khan's
former aides says. "The hardware is still available, and the network
hasn't stopped." A recent probe of Khan's lab found that 16 cylinders of
uranium hexafluoride gas, a critical ingredient for uranium enrichment,
are missing, sources close to the lab say. And a Pakistani official says
some in Islamabad are vexed that the Swiss and German governments,
among others, have failed to arrest individuals implicated by Khan's

The man with the answers passes his days in Islamabad, his once
peripatetic lifestyle now confined to the interior of his villa. A close
friend says Khan's health is poor, and he is given to bouts of depression.
Although the man may fade into obscurity, the world is only beginning to
reckon with his legacy. It's still a seller's market in the nuclear bazaar.
And now there's room at the top.