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Smugglers Had Design For Advanced Warhead
Albright, a former IAEA inspector in Iraq, has published detailed analyses of the nuclear programs of numerous states, including Iran and North Korea. His institute was the first to publicly identify the location of an alleged Syrian nuclear reactor that was destroyed by Israeli warplanes last September.
A design for a compact, missile-ready nuclear weapon could help an aspiring nuclear power overcome a major technical hurdle and vastly increase its options for delivery of a nuclear explosive. Such a design could theoretically help North Korea -- which detonated a nuclear device in a 2006 test -- to couple a nuclear warhead with its Nodong missile, which has a proven range of 1,300 kilometers (about 800 miles).
Iran also possesses medium-range ballistic missiles and is believed by U.S. government officials to be seeking the capability to build nuclear weapons in the future, although an assessment late last year by U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Iran had discontinued its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Weapons experts have long puzzled over whether Tehran might have previously acquired a weapons design from the Khan network, which sold the Iranian government numerous other nuclear-related items, including designs for uranium-enrichment equipment.
The computers that contained the drawings were owned by three members of the Tinner family -- brothers Marco and Urs and their father, Friedrich -- all Swiss businessmen who have been identified by U.S. and IAEA officials as key participants in Khan's nuclear black market. The smuggling ring operated from the mid-1980s until 2003, when it was exposed after a years-long probe by the U.S. and British intelligence agencies.
Khan, who apologized for his role in the smuggling network in a 2004 speech broadcast in Pakistan, was officially pardoned by President Pervez Musharraf without being formally charged with crimes. The Tinner brothers are in Swiss prisons awaiting trial on charges related to their alleged involvement in the network. They and their father are the focus of an ongoing probe by Swiss authorities, who discovered the blueprints while exploring the heavily encrypted contents of the Tinners' computers, the report said. Several published reports have asserted that Urs Tinner became an informant for U.S. intelligence before the breakup of the smuggling ring, but that has not been officially confirmed.
Switzerland shared the finding with the IAEA as well as the United States, which asked for copies of the blueprints, the report states. The IAEA has acknowledged that it oversaw the destruction of nuclear-design material by Swiss authorities in November 2007. However, IAEA officials would neither confirm nor deny the existence of a second weapons design or comment on Albright's report.
Albright, citing information provided by IAEA investigators, said the designs were similar to that of a nuclear device built by Pakistan. He contends in the report that IAEA officials confronted Pakistan's government shortly after the discovery, adding that the private reaction of government officials was astonishment. The Pakistanis "were genuinely shocked; Khan may have transferred his own country's most secret and dangerous information to foreign smugglers so that they could sell it for a profit," Albright said, relating a description of the encounter given to him by IAEA officials.
Pakistan has previously denied that Khan stole the country's weapons plans. Musharraf has not allowed IAEA experts to interview Khan, an engineer who is regarded as a national hero for his role in establishing Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. Khan, in interviews last month with The Post and several other publications, asserted that the allegations of nuclear smuggling were false.
Albright said it remains critical that investigators press Khan and others for details about how the blueprints were obtained and who might have them. Because the plans were stored electronically, they may have been copied many times, he said.