Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
June 15, 2008

CIA, Khan and the Nuclear Weapon Designs

The task of this piece on the front page of today's Washington Post is to establish the believe that Iran has a nuclear weapon design.

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 Swiss 'businessmen', Friedrich Tinner and his two sons, are alleged to have sold several nuke related stuff to Lybia and other countries.

There is more to the Tinner story, but for now let me concentrate on the date. The WaPo says the laptop has been discovered in 2006. But Tinner was under CIA control at least since the 2003 bust of nuclear related stuff on board of the 'BBC China'.

The German magazine Der Spiegel had a big story about this in March 2006:

Two circumstances could prove to be Lerch's undoing: first, the fact that the German ship "BBC China" was intercepted in October 2003 carrying a cargo of containers filled with nuclear technology headed for Libya and, second, that the incident prompted a panicked Gadhafi to disclose the names of all those who had supplied the Libyans with material and expertise for their nuclear program.
The authorities caught up with Gotthard Lerch, who Tahir calls his "main contractor," in Switzerland. They also arrested members of the Tinner family -- Friedrich Tinner and his two sons, Urs and Marco -- all on the suspicion of having built parts for Gadhafi's nuclear weapons program in return for 15 to 20 million Swiss francs.

Tinner was flipped by the CIA at least since the 'BBC China' event but likely even earlier. Another man taking part in the alleged smuggling was also turned by the CIA or has worked for the CIA all along.

Indeed it somehow seems like everybody involved in the issue was somehow related to the CIA.

The usual story is that the Pakistani scientist A.Q. Kahn was the one who ran a smuggling network. That may not be true at all. Khan denies having been involved in such. A new book asserts that it was then Prime Minister of Pakistan Bhutto who personally gave Pakistani nuclear secrets to North Korea in exchange for North Korean No Dong missiles for the Pakistani army.

A Dutch court somehow 'lost' legal files about the Khan case and the CIA likely had a hand in this too. The CIA also successfully pressed (link in German) the Swiss government to destroy information it had about the Tinner case. Tinner will thereby never be convicted.

Now please explain to me how people arrested in 2003 and flipped by the CIA at least since then managed to keep nuclear plans on a laptop that were somehow found only in 2006?

This whole story stinks from A to Z and no one should assume that anything put out about the issue by David Albright and WaPo is somewhat the truth. The whole 'Khan network' stuff, including some of the reports about it, are part of an intelligence operation.

Indeed as Der Spiegel wrote:

It is becoming increasingly clear that the CIA and Britain's MI6 infiltrated the Khan network and that they probably even recruited some of the main suspects. How else, for example, could one explain the fact that vacuum pumps manufactured by Germany's Pfeiffer Vacuum, ended up in both Libya and Iran? The company, after all, never sent any vacuum pumps to Libya or Iran -- but did send some to the US nuclear weapons research facility in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Also why would Khan peddle German vacuum pumps to other countries when his peronal company's main export product were vacuum pumps made in Pakistan?

By now I come to believe that the 'Khan network', if it ever existed as such at all, was throroughly penetrated as early as 1990. Iran may or may not have the design for a warhead. But if such design plans came through the 'Khan network', i.e. Tenner and others, they are likely to have U.S. fingerprints all over them.

Posted by b on June 15, 2008 at 13:44 UTC | Permalink


More from the NYT: NYT:

The plans appear to closely resemble a nuclear weapon that was built by Pakistan and first tested exactly a decade ago. But when confronted with the design by officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency last year, Pakistani officials insisted that Dr. Khan, who has been lobbying in recent months to be released from the loose house arrest that he has been under since 2004, did not have access to Pakistan’s weapons designs.
The Swiss have provided little information about exactly what they destroyed, but I.A.E.A. inspectors watched the destruction and American intelligence officials were deeply involved. “We were very happy they were destroyed,” one senior intelligence official said Friday. But he added that “what else is out there” remains a mystery. The Swiss destruction of the equipment came in response in the case of Urs Tinner, who has been in custody for more than four years but has not yet stood trial.

Two former Bush administration officials said they believed Mr. Tinner had provided information to the Central Intelligence Agency while he was still working for Dr. Khan, including some of the information that helped American and British officials intercept shipments of centrifuges on their way to Libya in 2003.

Posted by: b | Jun 15 2008 14:34 utc | 1

This is really interesting and I agree that nothing going on in the Khan network can be taken at face value - but I would not ascribe much meaning to the Pfeiffer pumps, unless they were some special models, because that brand of pump is found all over the world in public and private hands. The breathless mention of some being shipped to Los Alamos makes me think that the writer at Der Spiegel is either trying to be dramatic in a dishonest way, or is being fed nuggets by someone who wants attention focused squarely on US/UK.

Posted by: boxcar mike | Jun 16 2008 0:04 utc | 2

Gadhafi's redemption always looked a little too pat to me - for a number of years Gadhafi has been trying to bring Libya out of isolation, he needs modern western technology to keep his oil fields earning. Paying a couple of billion dollars as compensation for the Lockerbie bombing (most probably carried out by the Iranians) was cheap but spending $85M on some nuclear technology and then shopping yourself to a US that was desperate for a diplomatic success involving an "axis of evil" country was even cheaper. The money saved on compensation when the State Department failed to take Libya of the list of countries that sponsor terrorism more than covered it.

Posted by: blowback | Jun 16 2008 3:09 utc | 3

This is all you need to know about US

Commander of All the Armies
and Judge Over All the Earth
Well-Intentioned and Deserving
Christ II(TM), Select Committee

Join the Elite Team!

Posted by: Henry Putnam | Jun 16 2008 4:24 utc | 4

nizuk, where maya steps into the future? c'mon henry, what are you really trying to say?

Posted by: Lizard | Jun 16 2008 6:44 utc | 5

Wait! Is that Key Lay I see in that Nizuc beach cabana? No? Maybe it's hedge-fund crook Sam Israel...

Also see these, Search for hedge-fund swindler despite suicide note

Probe deepens in missing hedge fund manager

And from a couple of years ago (via DU):

Bayou and the Bush Cousin


A first cousin of President Bush is emerging as a peripheral player in the increasingly bizarre Bayou Management hedge fund scandal.

Sources say John P. Ellis, a former journalist turned investment banker, represented several companies in investment presentations to IM Partners, a side venture set up by Samuel Israel and Daniel Marino. Israel and Marino were the management team that ran Bayou and who federal prosecutors allege defrauded investors out of $300 million.

People familiar with the Bayou saga say Ellis, a personal friend of Israel for the past several years, helped arranged at least five investment deals for IM Partners while working as a managing director for GH Venture Partners, a New York City-based investment bank. In all, IM Partners, a Connecticut-based investment partnership, invested at least $25 million in deals handled by GH Venture.

There's no indication that Ellis or GH Ventures were direct or indirect investors in either Bayou or IM Partners. And, other than their common principals, there's no direct evidence that any relationship existed between IM Partners and Bayou, although both operated out of the same Stamford, Conn., office.

A former columnist for the Boston Globe, Ellis may be best known for his work as an electoral consultant for Fox News during the 2000 presidential election. It was Ellis' analysis of the Florida vote total that led Fox to declare Bush the victor before any of the other networks.

Ellis is the son of Nancy Bush. He is the nephew of former President Bush and a cousin of President George W. Bush.

Citizen: please be advised, the time is now 8:30 PM, please make your way to the front gates of the 'Serenity community' for your retinal scan and procedural pat down, escort out by 8:50. Have a happy night. See you again in the morning, at the Master gate again, at 5:30 AM. Remember to smile.

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Jun 16 2008 7:31 utc | 6

uncle, you provocateur...

Posted by: Lizard | Jun 16 2008 7:37 utc | 7

Thanks to b and all contributors, especially to blowback
with whom I am substantially in agreement, although I'm wonder about the
possibility of "rogue" CIA drug smuggling in the Lockerbie disaster. As usual, it's difficult to sort the disinformation from the information, but what does seem clear is that the "official story" of Lockerbie is pure disinformation, involving actions in Malta to muddy the investigatory waters and produce a Libyan involvement. An Iranian reprisal for the downing of their passenger jet IR655 is certainly plausible, however, and the 6 month delay from July 3 to December 21 in 1988 would be enough time to plan and carry out such a reprisal. Of course, it's quite possible that the two aspects are not "disjoint": the Iranians might have chosen that flight precisely to strike at those CIA "controlled deliveries" via the connection with Syrian drug-lord Monzer Al Kassar. The spooks (of various nationalities) have been far too active in creating a smoke screen in this case for anyone without first hand knowledge of the case to feel comfortable about the truth of the matter.

As b's text makes clear, any news about nuclear proliferation activities has to be taken with a kilo of salt: I personally have the impression that "western" intelligence agencies have a major role in that
market, partly to keep track of the major dealers, partly to palm off defective (surplus?) merchandise to would-be bomb-builders, and partly precisely to produce "evidence" of such proliferation which can then be used not only to justify appropriation for various countermeasures (with all the attendant $$'s and contracts) but also to foment even more
lucrative "small wars" justified as prevention of the spread of nuclear
weapons to "bad guys". Naturally, the actively involved in one aspect (Valerie Plame, for example) need not be participants or "witting" with respect to other "programs" (Lewis Libby(?) , for example). Indeed, it would seem that our limited knowledge of such matters arises largely from conflicts that arise because when the left-hand becomes aware of what the right-hand has been doing.

Posted by: Hannah K. O'Luthon | Jun 16 2008 7:41 utc | 8

Nice post, b.

FWIW, by $0.02 worth is posted

at TWN

Posted by: | Jun 16 2008 19:49 utc | 9

When I mentioned Monzer Al Kassar in #8 above, I wasn't aware that he had been arrested in Spain and has now been extradited to the U.S. , allegedly for selling arms to FARC (just as in the case of Victor Bout's arrest in Thailand). Putting together the arrests of Bout and Al Kassar, and R. Chichakli's alleged death or disappearance in Moscow last month gives one the impression that "people who know too much" are being brought to terms. I wonder if there are any other recent incidences of "arms dealers" who long were allowed a free hand being arrested on terrorism charges, and I also wonder what is behind these recent "successes" in the GWOT. Another question that has to be the order of the day in some circles is "Who will be the new "certified bad guys" of international arms dealing. We may safely assume that he (or she?) will not be affiliated with the Pentagon or CIA. As indicated, I, for one, am hoping that the puppetmasters will give us a "Dragon Lady" figure upon which we can vent our moral outrage. I suspect that Valerie Plame is no longer available to track down such a femme fatale, but since the cinematic possibilities easily surpass those associated with such films as "Syriana" or "Blood Diamonds", one may reasonably hope for a reprise of "North by Northwest", perhaps starring Penelope Cruz in the role of spy-chaser.

Posted by: Hannah K. O'Luthon | Jun 17 2008 6:04 utc | 10

There are sources alleging that the "advanced design" was not the Pakistan design, but the W-88, the larger of our Trident (submarine) warheads, of 475KT yield.

For a real world sense of how USA (in)security works, check out

this article
from the 1990's, when the Chinese was the designated enemy.

It would certainly explain why the documents were shredded (or at least alleged to have been shredded).

Posted by: erichwwk | Jun 19 2008 0:46 utc | 11

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