February 9, 2004
Libya's A-Bomb Blueprints Reveal New Tie to Pakistani
By WILLIAM J. BROAD
nvestigators have determined that the nuclear weapon blueprints found in Libya from the Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan were of his own relatively crude type of bomb — not the more advanced models that Pakistan developed and successfully tested, American and European arms experts have said in interviews.
The analysis of the blueprints, which establish a new link between Dr. Khan and the underground nuclear black market now under global scrutiny, has heartened investigators in Europe and the United States because his design is seen as less threatening in terms of the spread of nuclear weapons.
"If you had to have a design circulating around the world, we'd be worse off if it was a design other than Khan's," said an American weapons expert who is familiar with the Libyan case.
However, European and American investigators said they feared that Dr. Khan and his network of shadowy middlemen might have peddled the weapon blueprints to other nations in deals that have not yet come to light. They also said the Libyan findings gave new credence to what was apparently an attempt by Dr. Khan more than a decade ago to sell a nuclear weapon design to Iraq.
Pakistani officials have focused their recent disclosures on Dr. Khan's illicit spread of equipment to enrich uranium to produce nuclear fuel, and have said little or nothing of the blueprints for a nuclear warhead that went to Libya, which are considered more sensitive. To the amazement of inspectors, the blueprints discovered in Libya were wrapped in plastic bags from an Islamabad dry cleaner.
"The Libyans said they got it as a bonus," an official said of the plans.
The centrifuge equipment and warhead designs from Dr. Khan's laboratories in Pakistan were discovered in Libya after the country's leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, agreed to dismantle his secret nuclear program, opening it to United States and United Nations nuclear officials.
Late last month, a 747 aircraft was chartered by the United States government for the sole purpose of carrying the small box with the warhead designs from Libya to Dulles airport near Washington. They are now undergoing analysis.
The American weapons expert said Western analysts, while relieved to find that the blueprint was of Dr. Khan's design, were not overjoyed. "A bad bomb is still a nuke," he said. "It can still do pretty terrible things to your city."
Dr. Khan is known in Pakistan as the father of the Pakistani bomb or the founder of its nuclear weapons program, but Western experts say the credit is not all his. A metallurgist, he is an expert at building centrifuges — hollow metal tubes that spin very fast to enrich natural uranium in its rare U-235 isotope, which is an excellent bomb fuel. His mastery of the difficult art proved vital to Pakistan's acquiring a nuclear arsenal.
But other Pakistani scientists, Western experts said, had far greater success in turning the enriched uranium into nuclear warheads.
To develop the armaments, the American expert said, Pakistan ran "two parallel weapons programs, one good and one bad; Khan ran the bad one." Dr. Khan's weapon was inferior in terms of such as things as size, power and efficiency. The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, the nation's official authority for nuclear development, ran the more successful program.
All Pakistan's atom bombs resemble designs that China tested in the late 1960's and passed on to Pakistan decades ago, European and American experts said. [color=blue size=0.5]Aha. AXK's Xerox copy turned out to be tissue paper, so Dragon supplied the real stuff</font>
So too, Pakistan's atom bombs all use a relatively advanced means to detonate bomb fuel known as implosion.
The weapon that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945 used a simpler detonation method known as a "gun-type system," in which conventional explosives sped a uranium projectile through a cannon barrel into a uranium target, creating a critical mass and a gargantuan blast.
By contrast, experts said, Pakistan's designs used the more advanced principle of implosion, as did the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. It works by having a sphere of conventional explosives squeeze inward to crush a ball of bomb fuel, creating the critical mass. Implosion uses much less fuel than detonations from the gun-type system, making the bombs far cheaper and lighter.
Even so, Dr. Khan's design is "vanilla flavored and very old in concept," a European weapons expert said.
Analysts said the Libyan episode gave new life to the case of a middleman claiming to represent Dr. Khan who in 1990, on the eve of the Persian Gulf war, offered to have the Pakistani help Iraq build its own nuclear weapon.
The case came to light in the mid- 1990's when United Nations inspectors came across documents relating to the middleman's offer. "He is prepared to give us project designs for a nuclear bomb," an Iraqi memo said of Dr. Khan. "The motive behind this proposal is gaining profits for him and the intermediary." But the investigators made little headway, largely because Pakistan furiously denied there had been any aid to Iraq and refused to allow Dr. Khan to be questioned.
Now, those denials have collapsed, bringing new interest. David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, said Iraqi documents, coupled with the Libyan developments, raised the possibility that Dr. Khan's network operated for more than a decade to offer atomic blueprints not only to Libya and Iraq but to countries like Iran, Syria and North Korea. Global investigators must now carefully examine that possibility, he said.