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The Evil Behind the Axis?

A scientist who built Pakistan's nuclear bomb may have helped North Korea, Iraq and Iran. The national hero denies he's 'a madman.'

January 05, 2003|Maggie Farley and Bob Drogin | Times Staff Writers

A letter from the International Atomic Energy Agency to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 1997 details interviews with agents from Mukhabarat, Baghdad's secret service, who described Iraq's clandestine nuclear program, code-named the Petrochemical-3 project. The agents said that "PC-3 had adopted a policy of avoiding foreign assistance, believing that the risk of exposure (e.g. through 'sting' operations) far outweighed the likely technical benefits."

In 1998, Pakistan's government investigated the middleman's letter at the IAEA's request and declared the offer a fraud. The nuclear agency concluded that charges of Pakistani proliferation were "inconsistent with the information available," but it listed the memo as a key unresolved issue in a 1999 U.N. report on Iraq's arms programs. Iraq's recent 12,000-page arms declaration referred twice to the "unsolicited offer."

"The memo was taken quite seriously," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington and a former nuclear weapons inspector in Iraq. "There's this pattern of leakage out of Pakistan. These people broke almost every country's law to get their own nuclear components."


Nuclear Chief's Ouster

In March 2001, Musharraf removed Khan as head of Pakistan's nuclear programs and named him a presidential advisor -- a move that nation's nuclear hero heard about on television and at first refused to accept.

However, U.S. officials suspected that the exchanges with other nations continued, especially after U.S. spy satellites spotted Pakistani military cargo planes picking up missile parts in North Korea last July. The North told U.S. officials that the parts were for surface-to-air missiles, not for a missile that could deliver a nuclear weapon.

In June 2001, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage all but named Khan when he expressed concern that "people who were employed by the nuclear agency and have retired" might be spreading nuclear technology to North Korea.

After North Korea confessed last fall that it had resumed its nuclear weapons program, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell again confronted Pakistan's president about illegal assistance.

"Musharraf assured me, as he has previously, that Pakistan is not doing anything of that nature," Powell said, though he noted that they did not speak of Pakistan's past contacts with North Korea. "The past is the past. I am more concerned about what is going on now. We have a new relationship with Pakistan."

However, a senior U.S. official says the Bush administration keeps a wary eye on the retired scientist as he oversees philanthropic groups, runs seminars and feeds stray animals in his neighborhood.

"How can you stop the transfer of intellectual property?" the official said. "The potential for sharing is always there."

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