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Context of 'June 13, 1978: A. Q. Khan Begins Correspondence with Canada-Based Associate Later Seized by Authorities'

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Abdus Salam, a procurement agent for the A. Q. Khan nuclear network, misdials a number for US-based machine tool giant Rockwell, instead calling the British agent of its power tool division, Scimitar, in Wales. Salam wants to buy $1 million in power tools and the person on the other end of the line, sales manager Peter Griffin, is surprised by the request, but happy to ship such a large order. This chance encounter will lead to an extremely long relationship between Griffin and Khan, with Griffin supplying a very large amount of equipment for Khan’s efforts. Griffin initially travels to London to meet Salam, who had been put in touch with Khan through a mutual acquaintance. Overcoming his initial wariness about the business, Griffin leaves Scimitar to set up a company called Weargate Ltd, which works with an electrical shop called Salam Radio Colindale to supply Khan’s needs. Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will later comment that Salam Radio Colindale is a “down on its luck electrical shop which proved terrific cover for such a discreet business,” and that it “would become one of dozens run by expat Pakistanis from similarly unassuming corner stores, supplying components to Khan.” (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 38-39) Griffin becomes a director of the company in 1977 or 1979, when it changes its name to SR International. However, he is not an owner of the company, which is held by Salam and his wife Naseem. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 38-39; Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 101)

Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan writes to fellow Pakistani scientist Abdul Aziz Khan and asks him to return to Pakistan to help with its nuclear weapons program, a “project of national importance.” Abdul Aziz Khan declines, but agrees to collect technical information in North America to help the program, and to travel to Pakistan during his vacations to help train scientists there. Abdul Aziz Khan will later go on to play a key role in a scheme to send US-made equipment used in centrifuges to Pakistan via Canada. (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 67)

Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan obtains 20 high-frequency inverters, a key piece of machinery for producing enriched uranium, from Europe. The inverters are ordered by a German contact called Ernst Piffl, based on Canadian literature apparently supplied by an associate of Khan’s named A. A. Khan. They are supplied by Emerson Industrial Controls, a British subsidiary of the US giant Emerson Electrical. Emerson had supplied the same equipment to a British nuclear plant, but does not raise the alarm over such equipment being shipped for Pakistan. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 53-54)

A. Q. Khan launches a worldwide recruiting campaign with ads in newspapers around the world to lure expatriate Pakistani scientists back home to help him with his nuclear weapons work. The campaign is the result of Khan’s prior failure to lure scientists, such as the Canada-based A. A. Khan (see 1977), to Pakistan, and is approved by Pakistani military dictator General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq. The ads promise large salaries and new homes in Islamabad. Applicants should contact their local Pakistani embassy and say they are applying to work at the Institute of Industrial Automation (IIA). Khan writes to A. A. Khan about the campaign and asks him to recommend people, which he does. The IIA address is the same as that used by Khan for deliveries of components for his nuclear work. For example, Henk Slebos, a European procurement agent, will later say he uses the address for deliveries. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 54, 471) Presumably, after A. A. Khan is arrested and his correspondence with Khan seized (see August 29, 1980), investigators learn that the address is linked to Khan’s operations.

A team of Pakistani scientists working at Kahuta Research Laboratories and led by A. Q. Khan produces more enriched uranium. “June 4 was a historical day for us,” Khan will later write in a coded letter to his associate A. A. Khan. “On that day we put the ‘Air’ [uranium hexafluoride] into the machine and the first time we got the right product [enriched uranium] and its efficiency was the same as the theoretical.” He will add: “We had to see our big bosses so that we could get some more money for the budget. When this news was given to them they were quite happy and congratulated us.” (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 53)

The A. Q. Khan network that is attempting to build a nuclear weapon for Pakistan conducts procurement operations in Germany. The existence of the German activities at this time will be revealed in a letter from Khan to a correspondent, the Canada-based scientist A. A. Khan, dated June 13, 1978 and later obtained by Canadian authorities. The German operations involve the company Siemens and Gunes Cire, a Turkish associate of Khan’s. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 53)

A. Q. Khan writes his first letter to a correspondent, the Canada-based Pakistani scientist A. A. Khan. In the letter, which is written in a code, A. Q. Khan mentions successful uranium enrichment in Pakistan (see June 4, 1978), procurement operations in Germany and Japan (see Before June 13, 1978, Spring 1978, and Before June 13, 1978), the delivery of equipment to his headquarters (see Before June 13, 1978), and the dispatch of a team member for training to the US (see Before June 13, 1978). The correspondence between A. Q. Khan and A. A. Khan will go on for some time and authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will describe it as “an intense and literary friendship, always expressed in handwritten Urdu script, the most sensitive thoughts of the man behind one of the world’s most clandestine program[s], wafting through the unsecured mail for anyone to intercept.” (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 53) The correspondence will be seized by Canadian authorities upon A. A. Khan’s arrest (see August 29, 1980).

A. Q. Khan and one of his suppliers, the British businessman Peter Griffin, agree that Griffin will provide more equipment for Khan’s work. The agreement follows a purchase of 20 inverters by Khan from another European supplier, Ernst Piffl (see Spring 1978). However, Khan comes to feel that Piffl cheated him over the price of the inverters and asks Griffin, through his company Weargate Ltd., to take care of future business instead of Piffl. Griffin has already been working with Khan’s purchasing network for some time (see Summer 1976). (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 54, 471) Piffl will be unhappy that he has lost the business and will alert a British member of parliament to what is going on (see July 1978).

British Energy Secretary Tony Benn announces an inquiry into the sale of British equipment to Pakistan for use in that country’s nuclear weapons program, and suspends such sales. The action results from a tip-off about operations run by Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan from a disgruntled former supplier. Ernst Piffl had supplied Khan with 20 inverters, but Khan was unhappy with the price and switched suppliers (see Before July 1978). Piffl then blew the whistle on the business, alerting Frank Allaun, an MP for the British Labour Party, that the components were for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons industry. Allaun, who is associated with the anti-nuclear movement, began to ask questions about the parts in parliament and Benn then decides to suspend sales and start an inquiry. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 54) The inquiry will report back in the fall (see November 1979).

Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan mentions inverters, a piece of equipment he needs for his nuclear weapons work, in a letter to an associate named A. A. Khan, who is based in Canada (see June 13, 1978). A. Q. Khan writes: “Perhaps you must have read in some newspapers that the English government is objecting about the inverters. Work is progressing but the frustration is increasing. It is just like a man who has waited 30 years but cannot wait for a few hours after the marriage ceremony.” The reference to the “English government” concerns the suspension of exports to Khan by Great Britain (see Before July 1978). (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 54) A. A. Khan’s papers will subsequently be seized when he is arrested by the Canadian authorities for assisting the export of nuclear-weapons-related items to Pakistan (see August 29, 1980), and this letter will presumably be among the papers the Canadians obtain.

A. Q. Khan writes a coded letter to his Canada-based associate A. A. Khan about his nuclear weapons research, saying that he is attempting to link together several centrifuges, creating a mini-cascade. This is an important step in building a nuclear weapon, as it is necessary in order to enrich uranium to weapons grade. A. Q. Khan also says that construction work is progressing on a larger facility at his main research site, Kahuta Research Laboratories, and adds that there is “mistrust and apprehension” in the air in Pakistan over the trial of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 56) A. A. Khan’s papers will subsequently be seized when he is arrested by the Canadian authorities for assisting the export of nuclear-weapons-related items to Pakistan (see August 29, 1980), and this letter will presumably be among the papers the Canadians obtain.

A. Q. Khan writes a coded letter to his Canada-based associate A. A. Khan about progress with his nuclear weapons research. “By the end of the year the factory should start working, and should start providing ‘cake and bread.’ There is a shortage of ‘food’ and we need these things very badly,’” he writes. The “factory” is Kahuta Research Laboratories, “cake and bread” are enriched uranium, and “food” is uranium hexafluoride, so A. Q. Khan is saying that he will soon start producing enriched uranium, but currently lacks the raw material to produce it to his satisfaction. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 57) A. A. Khan’s papers will subsequently be seized when he is arrested by the Canadian authorities for assisting the export of nuclear-weapons-related items to Pakistan (see August 29, 1980), and this letter will presumably be among the papers the Canadians obtain.

The British government places high-frequency inverters, equipment purchased by A. Q. Khan in Britain for his nuclear weapons work, on its export control list. This makes it practically impossible for Khan to obtain the parts in Britain. The move follows an official inquiry into the sale of British equipment to Khan (see July 1978). The inquiry found that a previous sale of inverters to Khan, arranged by British businessman Peter Griffin, was legal at that time. However, British Energy Secretary Tony Benn comments: “We acted in a way that was right and proper. But I have a sort of feeling it wasn’t effective, and that what President [actually Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali] Bhutto began and President [Muhammad] Zia [ul-Haq] continued is going to be, if it isn’t already, a nuclear weapon in Pakistan.” (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 55)

British businessman Peter Griffin is unable to obtain a license to export inverters to Pakistan, where they are wanted by his customer A. Q. Khan for nuclear weapons work. Griffin tries to obtain the inverters from Emerson Industrial Controls, which had previously supplied Khan with them through both Griffin and another intermediary (see Spring 1978). However, Griffin’s applications for an export license are refused twice. This is because the British government is now aware of the transactions and has placed inverters on its export control list (see November 1979). (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 55)

Acting on a tip-off from British authorities, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police monitors two officials working for the A. Q. Khan nuclear purchasing ring as they enter Canada. The officials are Anwar Ali and Imtiaz Ahmad Bhatti, of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. They come to Canada on diplomatic visas to purchase parts to make inverters—equipment that Khan needs to be able to produce weapons-grade uranium in Pakistan. The parts were formerly purchased in Britain, but that country is more aware of Khan’s attempts now, so he is forced to send people to Canada. Unaware of the close surveillance, Ali and Bhatti make contact with a local purchasing network of three naturalized Canadian citizens, Salam Elmenyami, Mohammad Ahmad, and A. A. Khan, who has been an associate of Khan’s since 1977 (see 1977). Over the next few weeks, the Canadians watch as the three men use a shopping list given them by Ali and Bhatti to buy resistors, capacitors, condensers, and other equipment through two electrical supply shops in Montreal. The gear comes from the US, from companies including General Electric, Westinghouse, RCA, and Motorola. The two shipping agents for moving it to Pakistan include Khalid Jassim General Trading, a Khan front organization operating out of the United Arab Emirates (see Before September 1980). The trio make at least 10 shipments of parts and equipment to Pakistan, with a total value of over half a million Canadian dollars. However, they are arrested in late August (see August 29, 1980). (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 103)

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrests a trio of purchasing agents working for the A. Q. Khan nuclear proliferation ring. The three men, Salam Elmenyami, Mohammad Ahmad, and A. A. Khan, had been under surveillance since July (see July-August 29, 1980). Almenyawi and Ahmad admit purchasing equipment, but say they did not know what it was for. Released the next day, A. A. Khan goes to Montreal railway station, where he removes a suitcase from a locker, takes some documents out of it, and rips them up. The documents will later be found and reassembled. One of them is a paper by an American scientist on the use of centrifuges for enriching uranium. A. A. Khan will tell investigators he was taking the article to another scientist. After ripping the documents up, he goes to the airport, but is arrested. The trio’s two contacts, Pakistani officials Anwar Ali and Imtiaz Ahmad Bhatti, will not be arrested at all. Bhatti will become a senior official at A. Q. Khan’s research facility in Pakistan; Ali will become chairman of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission in 2006. (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 103, 106) The three men will later be put on trial, but A. A. Khan will be acquitted and Almenyawi and Ahmad will receive light sentences (see Late 1980 or After).

Abdus Salam, a supplier for the Pakistani nuclear weapons program run by A. Q. Khan, moves from Britain to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 102; Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 56) Salam had supplied equipment for the weapons program from Britain, but the local authorities became extremely interested in his activities (see (Fall 1979)), forcing his relocation. (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 102) The move is performed in co-operation with the British businessman Peter Griffin, a close associate of Salam and Khan who also wants to leave Britain because of heavy interest in his work by the authorities. Salam and Griffin agree that Salam will move to Dubai first, with Griffin remaining in Britain to look after that end of Khan’s supply chain. Griffin will say that one reason for the move is that “UK exports to Dubai were not so heavily watched and from there could go anywhere.” (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 56) In Dubai, Salam serves as a director of a company called Khalid Jassim General Trading, apparently named after his local partner. When visited by a reporter for The Times of London in September 1980 (see September 1980), the company consists of a single room inside a small apartment and has only two office staff. (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 102)

Three purchasers working for the A. Q. Khan nuclear proliferation ring are put on trial in Canada. The three men, A. A. Khan, Salam Elmenyami, and Mohammad Ahmad, had been monitored by Canadian authorities (see July-August 29, 1980) and arrested in August 1980 (see August 29, 1980). They are charged with a variety of offences, including failing to get export licenses, exporting goods imported from the US without adding value, and violating a law that regulates nuclear sales to other countries.
A. A. Khan's Defense - Restrictions on hearsay evidence mean that prosecutors cannot fully reveal A. Q. Khan’s role in the purchasing ring, so A. A. Khan is able to explain away cryptic correspondence with A. Q. Khan seized upon his arrest. For example, A. Q. Khan referred to enriching uranium as “put[ting] air in the machine,” but A. A. Khan claims this is a reference to producing cooking gas. He also claims that components they purchased to make inverters—equipment necessary to enrich uranium—are actually for textile and food processing plants.
Testimony about Invertors Curtailed - In addition, a witness who works for the British arm of the company Emerson Electric refuses to provide details of the sale of inverters to Pakistan through third parties, meaning that only portions of his testimony are admitted to the jury. Chief prosecutor Guy Gilbert will say that if the jury had got this testimony, it would have provided a “clear demonstration” the exported parts would be used for building inverters.
Sentences - At the end of the two-month trial, Almenyani and Ahmad are convicted on one count of exporting goods without a proper licence and fined $3,000 (Canadian). The maximum penalty for this offense is a fine of $25,000 (Canadian) and five years in prison. A. A. Khan is acquitted entirely. In a reference to many other failed prosecutions of A. Q. Khan’s associates in the west, authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento will write that this result will “become familiar in the years ahead.” Gilbert will later allege that the judge deliberately favored the defense (see April 10, 2006). (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 105)

Former Canadian prosecutor Guy Gilbert alleges that a judge in a trial of three associates of Pakistani nuclear proliferator A. Q. Khan was “partial” to the defense. The allegation is made in an interview for a book by authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento; the trial ended with light sentences for two of the accused and the acquittal of the third (see Late 1980 or After). Gilbert will say: “I remember the address by the judge to the jury. He almost gave them [the case] on a silver fork.” Gilbert will also recall meeting the judge, Gerald Ryan, some time after the trial. “I said, ‘Gerry, don’t tell me that you think those guys did not export the parts to make the inverters.’ He said, ‘Of course, of course they did it.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘that’s not the way it came out when you addressed the jury.’” Gilbert will also say that he speaks to the defense lawyers in the case occasionally: “I tease them once in a while. I say, ‘You think these guys knew what they were doing?… I think you contributed to them [Pakistan] having the bomb today.’” (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 105-106)


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