RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. We've known for some time that a Pakistani scientist sold nuclear technology outside his country. It was not widely known until now that the sales of A.Q. Khan went quite this far. A weapons expert says the Khan network may have sold blueprints for a sophisticated nuclear bomb. The customers may have been Iran or North Korea or even terrorist groups. That news comes from David Albright, a former arms inspector for the United Nations. He says Khan and his partners obtained detailed designs for a small but powerful weapon. And we have more this morning from NPR's Tom Gjelten.
TOM GJELTEN: The bomb blueprints were discovered in 2006, but their existence has only now been made public. They were found on computers belonging to three Swiss businessmen under investigation for their ties to a smuggling ring directed by A.Q. Khan. He's the Pakistani engineer who's under house arrest for having sold nuclear secrets to Libya and other countries.
David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, has been following the A.Q. Khan case for several years. It originally appeared Kahn was only peddling an outdated Chinese bomb. But when investigators from the IAEA - or International Atomic Energy Agency - examined the computer files, according to Albright, they found plans matching a nuclear weapons developed by Pakistan in the late 1990s.
DAVID ALBRIGHT: They figure that Kahn took something from his own country's nuclear arsenal, which is treason under anybody's laws, and was willing to sell it to other countries or other persons.
GJELTEN: The Pakistani government claims it shut down A.Q. Khan's smuggling network in 2004, but U.S. officials have recently hinted that elements of the network may still be active. David Albright says the files found on the Swiss computers suggest the black market activity that originated with A.Q. Khan went on even after Kahn himself was put under house arrest.
ALBRIGHT: You see a collection of 50 people involved in this. And these are people who are in the - for many of them they're in the business of buying and selling. They're middlemen. They're traitors. They work in secret often. And so you have to worry that many of these people that really have not been the subject of investigations or public attention just continued. Waited a while and then continued. There's no sense that this whole operation really shut down.
GJELTEN: The big question raised by the discovery of the bomb blueprints is whether Iran got the plans. The U.S. intelligence community reported last December that Iran five years ago apparently suspended research into the design of a nuclear warhead. David Albright says if Iran at that point had the blueprints for a sophisticated device, it may have felt it could afford to hold off on further weaponization research. But Albright emphasizes that there's no evidence Iran actually acquired those bomb blueprints.
Investigators for the IAEA have been studying documents on an Iranian laptop recovered by the CIA. But Director General Mohammed Al-Baradei told the IAEA board last month that not much has been found on that laptop, only a document suggesting the Iranians were working on a uranium metal design possibly for a nuclear weapon.
MOHAMMED A: The agency currently has no information apart from the uranium metal document on the actual design or manufacture by Iran of nuclear material components or of other key components of a nuclear weapon.
GJELTEN: It's also conceivable the bomb blueprints found on the Swiss computers were sold to terrorists or to anyone with the cash to buy them. David Albright notes that the bomb design was in electronic form and therefore could've been reproduced many times.
ALBRIGHT: You're left with a very unsettled feeling that they may have hidden some, others may have gotten it and have it now, and that you have in the black market electronic detailed nuclear weapons designs that could be of interest to a lot of people.
GJELTEN: In a speech yesterday here in Washington, the intelligence chief for the U.S. Department of Energy, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, declined to comment on the A.Q. Khan case. But he warned that the United States and its allies, quote, "have not done enough to keep nuclear material out of the hands of terrorists."
Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.