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Context of 'Early 2004: Dubai-Based Company Linked to A. Q. Khan’s Operations Collapses'

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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)

Two retired Pakistani Army officers travel to Britain for the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. They are Major Mohammed Sadiq Malik, a procurement officer, and Captain Fida Hussein Shah, an assistant administrative officer. When interviewed by British officials, they say that Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan is their project director. Khan is currently leading an effort to build a uranium bomb. They also say they will visit a company called SR International, which is a front for Khan’s technology procurement efforts linked to two of his associates, Abdus Salam and Peter Griffin (see Summer 1976). (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 101)

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).

A British company sends a metal finishing plant to Pakistan, but later comes to believe that the plant will be used in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. The plant is shipped through a company called SR International, a front for Pakistani procurement operations in Britain (see Summer 1976). The transaction will be reported in the Financial Times in December 1979. (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 101, 246)

British authorities begin surveillance of Abdus Salam, a businessman based in Britain who supplies equipment for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, in particular through his company SR International (see Summer 1976). The surveillance is apparently prompted by public controversy in Britain over the sale of components that are used in Pakistan’s nuclear program. According to the Pakistani book Long Road to Chagai, Salam is “kept under surveillance,” and a secret search of his office reveals “documents and drawings which were traced to the Urenco plant in the Netherlands,” where Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan used to work (see October 1974). The book’s author, Shahid Ur-Rehman, will say that this information “was revealed in background interviews by Dr. A. Q. Khan himself” and was confirmed by another source. (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 100, 246) Salam’s associate Peter Griffin is interviewed by British customs some time in the next year (see 1980).

British authorities intercept telexes between Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan and British businessman Peter Griffin, who has been supplying parts for Khan’s nuclear weapons program (see Summer 1976). Griffin will comment: “I would get my usual telex from Khan and the next day a telex from [British] Customs with lists of all the new things going on to the export control list, which coincidentally were all the things that Khan had just asked for.” (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 55)

The British security service MI5 attempts to recruit Peter Griffin, a key associate of Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan. Griffin, who has been working with Khan for some time (see Summer 1976), supplies him with equipment for Pakistan’s nuclear program. According to Griffin, he is offered £50,000 (about $100,000 at this time) to inform for the agency, but he tells them his “integrity [is] not for sale.” (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 55) Despite this apparent refusal, according to authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento: “Some US and European intelligence officials have suggested that Griffin, like others who have had dealings with A. Q. Khan, may have been cooperating with Western authorities, perhaps for a very long time. Asked by one of the authors in a June 2006 e-mail exchange whether he had provided assistance to any Western intelligence service, Griffin will offer a one word reply: ‘Later.’” However, Griffin will not subsequently enlarge on this. (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 217)

Times of London reporter Simon Henderson finds equipment needed for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program outside the office of a supplier in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The equipment, found in a hallway outside the office of Khalid Jassim General Trading, is in four boxes labelled “Mikron infrared thermometers.” The manufacturer, Mikron Instruments of New Jersey, had been told the instruments were for a cement factory in Sharjah, near Dubai. However, Mikron says the instruments can be used to measure the temperature of “moving objects without making contact and in conditions of extreme radiation,” which Henderson thinks makes them “ideal” for use in uranium enrichment centrifuges. Khalid Jassim General Trading and one of its owners, Abdus Salam, have been shipping parts to A. Q. Khan, head of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, for some time (see Summer 1976). (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 106-7)

Abdus Salam, a member of the nuclear equipment purchasing ring run by Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan, sets up a business named International Reliance in Florida. The name is similar to a British-based business, Source Reliance International (a.k.a. SR International), in which Salam has been a partner and which has been active in the nuclear ring (see Summer 1976). Around the same time, Salam also establishes a number of other US businesses, including three import-export firms, two trading companies, two communications outfits, a computer retailer, two hospitality companies, a financial services enterprise, and several companies involved in indeterminate business. It is unclear if Salam is living in the US at this time or arrives some time the following year. Before coming to the US, he resided in Britain and then the United Arab Emirates, but leaves there around this time, apparently due to a business dispute (see 1982-1983). Authors Joe Trento and David Armstrong will write that given Salam’s involvement in proliferation activities in Britain and Dubai, “it seems reasonable to assume that the US authorities would have kept tabs on him once he arrived.” However, no information about any surveillance of or cooperation with Salam on the part of US authorities is definitively known. (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 114)

Abdus Salam, a member of the nuclear proliferation ring run by Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan (see Summer 1976 and Before September 1980), has multiple dealings with the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) while residing in the US.
"No Payments" - Julio Bagiardi, one of Salam’s partners in a chain of retail stores, will say: “All he wanted to do was make a lot of deposits at the same bank. He insisted on keeping [all his deposits] at BCCI.” Salam is also “very forceful” in persuading Bagiardi and the other partners to do the same. If they do so, according to Salam, they will have access to “unlimited” cash and, if they make daily deposits, “it would never be a problem if we needed to get money.” In addition, “they [would] never have to pay nothing back,” as there would be “no payments.” Bagiadri will add that Salam “knew somebody” at the bank. David Reed, another partner in the retail stores, will confirm Salam had an account with the bank.
Unusually Generous Overdraft Loan - One transaction is the granting in 1989 of an overdraft, arranged with support from the branch in Park Lane, London. That branch’s manager recommends that its Tampa branch make a loan to Salam, but instead it grants him a “virtually unsecured” $120,000 overdraft line. The overdrafts are usually for customers with substantial account balances, so it is unclear why one is given to Salam, whose balance is “very skimpy,” according to sources for authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento. The line is later moved to one of Salam’s companies, Centaur Impex, backed only by a personal guarantee from Salam and Centaur’s assets. By this time BCCI is in serious trouble and the line is transferred to the Miami branch, which sues Salam for non-payment of the balance, around $50,000. Armstong and Trento’s sources will say that the fact that Salam “had the influence to obtain such a loan without any meaningful collateral” is “very curious,” adding that it “suggests that he may have had influence among highly placed people within BCCI and/or Pakistan.”
"No Recollection" of Salam - When Armstrong and Trento investigate the relationship between Salam and BCCI for a 2007 book, they will have difficulty obtaining information. The court has destroyed records, the lawyers say they have too, BCCI’s liquidators are unable to provide any information, prosecutors and investigators involved in proceedings against BCCI say they knew nothing about Salam, and the various officials of the bank where Salam deposited his money every day for years “either would not return phone calls, denied knowing who Salam was, or claimed that, while the name did ‘ring a bell,’ they could recall no specifics about their former client.” (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 108-111)

Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, a key associate of Pakistani nuclear proliferator A. Q. Khan, calls British businessman Peter Griffin to inquire about purchasing various machines for a workshop to be set up in Dubai. Griffin will later say he asks Tahir, “Is it nuclear?” but Tahir replies it is not. Tahir apparently tells Griffin the machines are for the Libyan National Oil Company, which wants to replace burnt-out machinery—a workshop in Dubai could manufacture spare parts without being troubled by sanctions. Griffin will say, “I saw no problem with that and sent over a container-load of catalogs, all the usual stuff for a standard machine shop.” Nothing will happen with the deal, which will turn out to be related to Libya’s nuclear program, until 1997 (see August 1997). (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 366)

An audit of SMB Distribution, a Dubai-based company owned by Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, finds a series problems in its accounts. The audit is conducted by Peter Griffin, like Tahir an associate of A. Q. Khan’s, at Tahir’s request. Based on an interview of Griffin, authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will say that Griffin discovers “major discrepancies between what was being bought and sold” by the company. This will lead Griffin to be suspicious of SMB Distribution, but he will continue to do business with Tahir (see, for example, July 2000). (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 368)

Peter Griffin, a British businessman who has been working with the A. Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network for two decades (see Summer 1976), sets up a company called Gulf Technical Industries (GTI) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The company’s establishment is a result of an order one of Khan’s other associates, Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, has told Griffin he will place with him. Tahir first mentioned the order, said to be worth $10 million, in 1994 (see May 1994), but nothing had come of it then. Tahir now says that the deal, which he claims is for a machine shop to produce spare parts for the Libyan National Oil Company, is back on. As a result of Tahir’s inquiry, Griffin moves back to Dubai with his wife Anna and starts the company up. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 366)

Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan takes five pieces of luggage, including two large crates that nobody is allowed to check, to North Korea. The crates contain P-1 and P-2 centrifuges for enriching uranium, drawings, technical data, and uranium hexafluoride, which is needed to start the uranium enrichment process. Khan takes the goods on a plane belonging to Shaheen Air International, which makes regular flights between North Korea and Pakistan to facilitate nuclear technology transfers (see (1998 and Possibly After)). The stated purpose of the flight is to carry the body of Kim Sa-nae, a North Korean diplomat’s wife who was recently murdered in Pakistan (see Early June 1998). The diplomat, Kang Thae Yun, is said to be involved in North Korea’s nuclear proliferation attempts and disappears around the time of this flight. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 278)

The White House convenes a small team of senior officials to look behind the nuclear program of North Korea, which appears to be attempting to start a uranium enrichment program, and focuses on Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan. Khan travels to Pyongyang several times a month and, according to authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, he is the “most visible common denominator” in Pakistan’s proliferation network and “a flag to be followed.” Levy and Scott-Clark point out that, although the US has been aware of Khan’s activities for over two decades (see November 1975), this is the “first serious attempt at interdicting the Pakistani operation.”
Experienced Officials Head Team - The officials include Robert Gallucci, President Clinton’s special envoy on ballistic weapons and WMD, who has been monitoring Pakistan’s nuclear program for 20 years and had helped negotiate an agreement with North Korea in 1994. Robert Einhorn, assistant secretary of state for non-proliferation, Karl Inderfurth, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, and Gary Samore, a senior director for non-proliferation at the National Security Council, are also on the team.
Problems - However, there are some initial problems. For example, the officials already have so much work that one will characterize it as a “five minute [info] dump on Khan.” Levy and Scott-Clark will comment: “There was a surfeit of material, much of it higgledy-piggledy, since over the years no organized overview had been taken of Pakistan’s illicit trade. Instead, a multiplicity of agencies in intelligence, defense, and foreign affairs had all assigned analysts to work on the Khan conundrum, stovepiping what they discovered, so no one agency knew everything.”
More than Missiles - The group soon receives evidence showing that the dealings between North Korea and Pakistan do not involve just missiles, but also uranium enrichment technology (see 1997, 1998, (1998 and Possibly After), February 1998, February 1998 or Shortly After, Early June 1998, and Mid-June 1998). Einhorn will later say: “In 1998 we began to get some information of North Korean-Pakistani deals that went way beyond missiles. There was a nuclear dimension to this arrangement. There were Pakistani and North Korean weapons specialists getting together, including people from KRL [Khan Research Laboratories]. There was a pattern to the interactions.” (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 278-280)

Aircraft operated by Shaheen Air International, an airline run by Pakistan’s Air Chief Marshal Kaleem Saadat, and Pakistani air force C-130 transporters make regular trips between North Korea and Pakistan. They carry technology the countries are exchanging for work on their missile and nuclear weapons programs. By January 1998, the US is observing at least nine flights per month between Islamabad and Pyongyang. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 278, 180) It is unclear how long these flights continue, although they presumably stop no later than when A. Q. Khan makes a public confession of his activities in 2004 (see February 4, 2004).

Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, a Malaysia-based associate of A. Q. Khan, pays $2 million into the account of Gulf Technical Industries (GTI), a Dubai-based company run by another of Khan’s associates named Peter Griffin. According to Griffin, Tahir told him the money was to pay for a workshop to manufacture spare parts for the Libyan oil industry (see August 1997), although in reality it is to pay for components for Libya’s nuclear weapons program. The workshop is understandably not built and Tahir regularly calls Griffin to ask him to transfer money to different accounts. Griffin will comment: “He’d say, ‘I promised to send some money, can you send it for me to [Gotthard] Lerch, to Gunes [Cire, both associates of Khan], to Nauman Shah [Khan’s son-in-law]?’” Griffin apparently does not ask any questions about the payments, of which there are at least nine. He will recall: “I did point out to Tahir at one stage that this money was coming out of the Libyan National Oil Company cash. He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll pay you back,’ and he did. The only problem, as I realized to my cost later, was I had no paperwork for these deals. Nothing to protect myself with.” Griffin is suspicious, but having known Tahir for years, not unduly so: “I was asked later if it had not appeared unusual to use money set aside for one thing to pay off another, without making any official receipts. But I said: ‘Tahir was a good friend. It was like a mate asking to borrow a fiver.’ But since there was nothing in writing I could not prove that Tahir had lied to me. I was disappointed. I’d known Tahir since he was a kid.” (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 366-367)

Peter Griffin, an associate of A. Q. Khan’s who has been doing business with him for decades (see Summer 1976), decides to return to Europe. Griffin has spent the last several years in Dubai running a company called Gulf Technical Industries, which has been used for Khan’s assistance to Libya (see (July or August 2000) and July 2000). However, Griffin now decides to leave Dubai and return to Europe, where he takes up residence in a villa in France. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 365, 368)

A set of aluminum tubes arrives at the docks in Dubai addressed to a company called Gulf Technical Industries (GTI), which is owned by Peter Griffin, a long-time A. Q. Khan associate. Griffin will later recall that he gets a call from his office manager: “He said he’d been advised by a shipping company there was a consignment of aluminum tubes that had just arrived at Dubai docks for GTI but he could not find any record of us having ordered them.” Griffin realizes immediately that the aluminum tubes may well be for use in a nuclear weapons program by the Khan network. He will comment, “I sensed right away it was [Bukhary Sayed Abu] Tahir,” an associate of both Khan and Griffin (see August 1997). Griffin calls Tahir, who admits the tubes are really for him, but that he has used the name of Griffin’s company for the delivery. Although Griffin and Tahir have an ongoing business relationship, Griffin is angry at being used, and says: “This is the end of it. If you do anything like this again I’ll take you to court in Dubai. Do you hear?” It appears that the tubes are for Libya’s illicit nuclear weapons program, and that, in Griffin’s words, he is being set up “as the fall guy” if anything should go wrong. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 366-367)

The A. Q. Khan nuclear proliferation ring sets up a new company in Malaysia to replace a plant in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, that was shut down. The Dubai plant, the Desert Electrical Equipment Factory, was closed down by the network the previous year due to a British customs investigation into the smuggling ring’s operations in Dubai (see Late March 2000). Under a contract with Khan associate Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, the new company in Malaysia manufactures centrifuge components for the Libyan nuclear program. (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 194-195)

Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, an associate of A. Q. Khan, sends an emissary to see one of his business partners, Peter Griffin, to tell him to destroy all records of his dealings with Tahir. Griffin and Tahir have been assisting Khan’s activities for some time, but their most recent transactions concerned equipment for Libya’s outlaw nuclear program (see August 1997). Griffin will later say: “A Dubai sponsor who had helped us start up a company arrived on my doorstep in France in November or December 2003. He just turned up out of the blue. He had an important message from Tahir in Kuala Lumpur. He wanted me to destroy all records of our business together. I rang Tahir and asked what was going on. He said, ‘I can’t say, I can’t talk to you. Just destroy everything.’ I said, ‘No, these documents are my only insurance.’” At this time Tahir is under investigation by Malaysian authorities for nuclear proliferation activities in their country (see December 2001), and this is apparently an attempt to get Griffin to destroy documents showing he did not know the equipment he helped Tahir procure was for Libya’s nuclear program. If Griffin destroyed the documents, Tahir would be able to place a greater part of the blame on him. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 365-366)

A. Q. Khan confesses on television.A. Q. Khan confesses on television. [Source: CBC]After A. Q. Khan’s nuclear proliferation network was caught selling nuclear technology to Libya, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is put in a difficult spot over how to deal with Khan. Khan is so popular in Pakistan that Musharraf would face considerable political fallout if Khan is declared a traitor or seriously punished. Khan is placed under house arrest in Pakistan. Then, on February 4, 2004, he apologizes in a carefully staged speech broadcast on Pakistani television. He says that he accepts full responsibility for all nuclear proliferation activities. He insists that neither the Pakistani government nor the Pakistani military was aware or involved in his nuclear network in any way. He asks for forgiveness. “It pains me to realize this, that my entire lifetime of providing foolproof national security to my nation could have been placed in serious jeopardy on account of my activities, which were based in good faith, but on errors of judgment related to unauthorized proliferation activities.” Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid will later comment, “Most experts accepted that Khan could not have carried out his business without the military’s support.” But US government officials immediately accept Khan’s apology and say that they believe Pakistan’s military had not supported his business. (Rashid 2008, pp. 289)

Gulf Technical Industries, a Dubai-based company used by the A. Q. Khan proliferation network to facilitate Libya’s nuclear weapons program (see August 1997 and July 2000), collapses. The reason is that the firm, owned by long-term Khan associate Peter Griffin, suffers adverse publicity following Khan’s public confession to his nuclear proliferation activities (see February 4, 2004). This leads its local sponsor to pull out and its bank to close its accounts, meaning the company has to close. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 529)

In the wake of Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan’s public apology for his role in nuclear proliferation on February 4, 2004 (see February 4, 2004), and the US government’s quick acceptance of that apology, it is clear the US expects more cooperation from Pakistan on counterterrorism in return. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says in an interview on February 19: “In a funny way, the A. Q. Khan [apology]… we feel it gives us more leverage, and it may give [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf a stronger hand, that Pakistan has an act to clean up. The international community is prepared to accept Musharraf’s pardoning of Khan for all that he has done, but clearly it is a kind of IOU, and in return for that there has to be a really thorough accounting. Beyond that understanding, we expect an even higher level of cooperation on the al-Qaeda front than we have had to date.” But there is no increased cooperation in the next months. Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid will later comment: “Musharraf had become a master at playing off Americans’ fears while protecting the army and Pakistan’s national interest.… [He] refused to budge and continued to provide only minimal satisfaction to the United States and the world. He declined to give the CIA access to Khan, and there was no stepped-up hunt for bin Laden.” (Rashid 2008, pp. 289-290)

Abdus Salam, an associate of Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan, obtains US citizenship. Salam helped Khan acquire equipment for his nuclear activities in the 1970s and ‘80s (see Summer 1976 and Before September 1980), but moved to the US around 1982 (see December 31, 1982). Authors David Armstrong and Joe Trento will investigate why an associate of Khan’s was granted US citizenship, and will find that the first mention of him in immigration records dates from 1995, when he was granted work authorization, although this was more than a decade after he arrived in the country. Before getting citizenship, his immigration file contains only records of him entering or leaving the country on his British passport or alien residency card. There are no red flags and nothing about his business activities, which the two authors find “odd,” although accessible records only began in 1987. However, they find that in customs and immigration records Salam’s date of birth is a few days off, meaning that making a positive identification is difficult. In addition, his Social Security number is way off—it is actually for a completely different person with a different name and a long criminal record, including cocaine dealing. The authors think that it is unusual Salam was granted citizenship despite this “rather glaring discrepancy.” (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 114-115)


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