U.S. Silence Impeding Swiss in Nuclear Case
Friday, May 26, 2006
Two years after the United States helped disrupt a notorious nuclear smuggling ring, the Bush administration has hobbled a Swiss effort to prosecute three of the alleged leaders by failing to share critical information, an American nuclear expert and Swiss law enforcement officials said yesterday.
Switzerland's federal prosecutor made at least four separate appeals for U.S. help over the past year, asking for access to documents and other evidence linked to the nuclear black market run by the Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. In that time, the Swiss have received no assistance, or even a reply, a spokesman for the prosecutor said.
"Swiss authorities are asking for additional assistance from U.S. authorities, but we haven't gotten an answer so far," Mark Wiedmer, press secretary for the Swiss attorney general's office, said in response to a reporter's inquiry. "We are confident the American authorities will provide the information we need."
The appeals were directed to the Justice Department, which has a bilateral agreement with Switzerland on sharing information in international criminal cases, and to the State Department's undersecretary for arms control and international security, according to officials knowledgeable about the requests. Calls to both agencies yesterday were not returned.
The problem was brought to light yesterday by a U.S. weapons expert who is advising Swiss prosecutors on the technical aspects of the Khan case. In testimony before a subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee, David Albright said the U.S. government had "ignored multiple requests for cooperation" in prosecuting members of the Khan network.
"The prosecutors have not received a reply, or even a confirmation that the U.S. government received the requests," Albright, a nuclear expert and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, told the panel. He said the lack of assistance "needlessly complicates" an investigation of great importance to both countries.
Swiss officials are seeking to bring charges against three businessmen who allegedly played pivotal roles in Khan's smuggling scheme. Swiss authorities have arrested Friedrich Tinner, a Swiss mechanical engineer, and his two sons, Urs and Marco, who are suspected of supplying the network with technology and equipment used in enriching uranium. Urs Tinner is also suspected of helping Khan set up a secret Malaysian factory that made thousands of components for gas centrifuges, machines used in uranium enrichment. Formal charges have not yet been brought against them.
Some of the components were en route to Libya by ship in December 2003 when they were intercepted by German and Italian officials in a raid that brought the smuggling ring to light. The United States, which provided key intelligence that led to the intercept, heralded the breakup of the Khan network as a major blow against nuclear proliferation.
In July 2004, President Bush viewed some of the components supplied by the Tinners during a visit to the Energy Department's Oak Ridge National Laboratory in eastern Tennessee. Bush called the Khan network "one of the most dangerous sources of proliferation in the world" and attributed the successful breakup to the efforts of "allies, working together."
Albright, in his testimony to the subcommittee on international terrorism and nonproliferation, said, "I find this lack of cooperation frankly embarrassing to the United States and to those of us who believe that the United States should take the lead in bringing members of the Khan network to justice for arming our enemies with nuclear weapons."