Smugglers Had Design For Advanced Warhead
Sunday, June 15, 2008
An international smuggling ring that sold bomb-related parts to Libya, Iran and North Korea also managed to acquire blueprints for an advanced nuclear weapon, according to a draft report by a former top U.N. arms inspector that suggests the plans could have been shared secretly with any number of countries or rogue groups.
The drawings, discovered in 2006 on computers owned by Swiss businessmen, included essential details for building a compact nuclear device that could be fitted on a type of ballistic missile used by Iran and more than a dozen developing countries, the report states.
The computer contents -- among more than 1,000 gigabytes of data seized -- were recently destroyed by Swiss authorities under the supervision of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, which is investigating the now-defunct smuggling ring previously led by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.
But U.N. officials cannot rule out the possibility that the blueprints were shared with others before their discovery, said the report's author, David Albright, a prominent nuclear weapons expert who spent four years researching the smuggling network.
"These advanced nuclear weapons designs may have long ago been sold off to some of the most treacherous regimes in the world," Albright wrote in a draft report about the blueprint's discovery. A copy of the report, expected to be published later this week, was provided to The Washington Post.
The A.Q. Khan smuggling ring was previously known to have provided Libya with design information for a nuclear bomb. But the blueprints found in 2006 are far more troubling, Albright said in his report. While Libya was given plans for an older and relatively unsophisticated weapon that was bulky and difficult to deliver, the newly discovered blueprints offered instructions for building a compact device, the report said. The lethality of such a bomb would be little enhanced, but its smaller size might allow for delivery by ballistic missile.
"To many of these countries, it's all about size and weight," Albright said in an interview. "They need to be able to fit the device on the missiles they have."
The Swiss government acknowledged this month that it destroyed nuclear-related documents, including weapons-design details, under the direction of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency to keep them from falling into terrorists' hands. However, it has not been previously reported that the documents included hundreds of pages of specifications for a second, more advanced nuclear bomb.
"These would have been ideal for two of Khan's other major customers, Iran and North Korea," wrote Albright, now president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security. "They both faced struggles in building a nuclear warhead small enough to fit atop their ballistic missiles, and these designs were for a warhead that would fit."
It is unknown whether the designs were delivered to either country, or to anyone else, Albright said.
The Pakistani government did not rebut the findings in the report but said it had cooperated extensively with U.N. investigators. "The government of Pakistan has adequately investigated allegations of nuclear proliferation by A.Q. Khan and shared the information with IAEA," Nadeem Kiani, a spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, said yesterday. "It considers the A.Q. Khan affair to be over."
A CIA official, informed of the essential details of Albright's report, said the agency would not comment because of the extreme diplomatic and security sensitivities of the matter. In his 2007 memoir, former CIA director George Tenet acknowledged the agency's extensive involvement in tracking the Khan network over more than a decade.