The 'Fallout' Of The CIA's Race To Get Khan A new book by journalists Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins alleges that the CIA was so obsessed with getting information from nuclear trafficker A.Q. Khan's network, it waited too long to shut it down — and stood by while Khan and his associates spread dangerous nuclear technology around the globe.

The 'Fallout' Of The CIA's Race To Get Khan

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Few things are more chilling than the prospect of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorist groups or rogue states. Our guest, journalist Douglas Frantz, chronicles the CIA's penetration of the global nuclear arms trafficking network created by the Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan.

Frantz and his wife, journalist Catherine Collins, found that the CIA did a remarkable job of getting confidential sources in the Khan network but, they say, the agency waited far too long to shut down the operation, in effect watching while Khan and his confederates peddled nuclear technology to North Korea, Iran, Libya and possibly others. The CIA, they write, was addicted to information, not action.

Catherine Collins has been a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and has written for the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Douglas Frantz is a former managing editor of the L.A. Times and a former investigative reporter and foreign correspondent for the New York Times.

Their book is called "Fallout: The True Story of the CIA's Secret War on Nuclear Trafficking." Franz spoke yesterday with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies.


Well, Douglas Frantz, welcome to FRESH AIR. This is a fascinating story of how the CIA tracked the nuclear smuggling network of A.Q. Khan for years and, at various junctures, chose to let it operate and monitor it rather than move aggressively and shut it down. How early did the U.S. become aware of A.Q. Khan's work and then decide not to interfere?

Mr. DOUGLAS FRANTZ (Co-author, "Fallout: The True Story of the CIA's Secret War on Nuclear Trafficking"): You know, shockingly, Dave, the CIA became aware of what A.Q. Khan was up to in 1975. They could literally have stopped him in his tracks then, and it would have done an enormous amount to delay Pakistan building its own nuclear weapon, to delay the arms race on the South Asian continent and to stop Iran from getting to where it is on the nuclear front.

You know, so this is something that the CIA has been, in our view, guilty of for more than 30 years now. This is the second book that Catherine and I have written about the A.Q. Khan network. And this one, I think, is even more damning than the first one because it goes to the heart of what the CIA could have done and didn't do, and as a result how our international security is much more vulnerable now than it should have been.

DAVIES: Right, and just going back to that much earlier episode, that was when he was working - he was a Pakistani national working at a technical lab in the Netherlands, right?

Mr. FRANTZ: Yes, Khan had recently (unintelligible) a doctorate in metallurgy from a European university, and he'd gone to work for a consortium of British, German and Dutch governments, creating the newest centrifuge technology to enrich uranium for civilian nuclear plants in Europe. This was in the early to mid-1970s.

But the problem with enrichment, uranium enrichment, of course, is that the same technology that develops the fissile material to run electric generating plants, with a few minor adjustments, develops the same - the fuel for nuclear weapons.

And Khan, during his years at this plant in the Netherlands called URENCO, managed to steal the designs for all of these sorts of centrifuges and to steal a shopping list for all the companies that could provide the technology.

And while he was doing this, the Dutch security service got on to what he was up to and wanted to arrest him, and the Dutch government was embarrassed about the idea that they had a spy in their midst, and so they were dragging their heels, and the Dutch security service appealed to the CIA, thinking that the CIA would weigh in and persuade the Dutch government to stop this guy.

Instead, the CIA told the Dutch, let him go, we'll watch him. This was in 1975. You know, and in the subsequent years and decades, Khan became clearly the most dangerous proliferator in history.

DAVIES: Let's talk about this family that much of the book focuses on, the Tinners. Friedrich was the father, two sons, Urs and Marco Tinner. Who are they?

Mr. FRANTZ: Well, it's very interesting, I think. Friedrich Tinner, in the mid-1970s, worked for a German company making vacuum technology, and he was, by all accounts, a brilliant engineer. He patented several types of valves used in centrifuges.

Centrifuges are these cylindrical machines that spin up to twice the speed of sound and they're used to enrich uranium to create the highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.

And Tinner worked there. He got to know A.Q. Khan, when Khan was at URENCO in the Netherlands, and after Khan returned to Pakistan in 1975 and began helping Pakistan build its nuclear weapon, Friedrich Tinner was one of the people to whom he turned to buy the technology that Pakistan had to have.

Khan said, very, very wittily, I think, in the 1970s that Pakistan couldn't even build a good bicycle. And so he had to go out and buy all this technology on the black market. And Friedrich Tinner was one of his principal suppliers, and he provided him with the centrifuge technology that was instrumental in Pakistan building its own nuclear weapon.

Now, later down the road, Friedrich Tinner brought his two sons, Marco and Urs, into the family business. Virtually from the beginning of the Khan network, these three people became principal suppliers to the Khan network, not only for Pakistan's nuclear weapon but also for the nuclear program in Iran and the nuclear program in Libya and some of the same nuclear technology that went to North Korea.

DAVIES: All right, so one particularly enterprising CIA agent that you write about, Jim Kinsman, who goes by the code name Mad Dog, manages to recruit Urs Tinner to give information to the CIA about Khan's nuclear smuggling network. Tell us, how did he approach him? How did he develop that relationship?

Mr. FRANTZ: Well, the CIA - and first, I should say that Jim Kinsman is not his real name. That was his cover name. His nickname was Mad Dog. His cover name was Jim Kinsman. We don't use his real name in the book.

But Kinsman learned that A.Q. Khan had invited Urs Tinner to Dubai, where he was going to set up a plant to manufacture centrifuges for the Libyan project.

In 1997, Khan got this enormous contract with Libya to build Muammar Gaddafi a complete, from A to Z, nuclear weapons production facility in Libya. And this was obviously a secret, clandestine operation, and it was a program of enormous value to Khan. They would ultimately collect more than $100 million in money from Gaddafi.

But he wanted to set up his plant to manufacture the centrifuges first in Dubai because they had the technical infrastructure to do it. Libya certainly did not at that point and still doesn't today. And so Urs Tinner was invited down by Khan to help run, set up this centrifuge production facility in Dubai. And the CIA was monitoring the Khan operation so closely then that they knew when Urs Tinner arrived in 1999 in Dubai.

And so Mad Dog went down, and it was really a classic recruitment. He started chatting him up in a bar. He knew a little bit about some of Urs Tinner's troubled background, and so he was able to use that to coerce him into providing any information about what the Khan network was doing in Dubai, about what it was doing on behalf of Iran and Libya at that point. So it was really a classic recruitment by Mad Dog.

DAVIES: So Mad Dog, the CIA agent, he has information about Urs Tinner's past and uses it against him. What kind of information?

Mr. FRANTZ: He had some problems with his taxes in Switzerland. He had some problems with custody of his daughters. You know, some of that is a little murky, frankly. This is a book about sort of ongoing intelligence operations. So it was difficult, at various points, to get real clarity.

DAVIES: So he begins with leverage. I mean, Urs Tinner has some trouble. They build a relationship. He starts getting information. And he ends up paying him a lot of money, right? I mean, in some cases, as information comes in, picking up, you know, checks for fancy dinners, et cetera, in Dubai.

And another important part of the relationship, as you describe it, is his pledge to Urs, and eventually his brother and father, that this is dicey stuff, and if you get into trouble, we will protect you, right?

Mr. FRANTZ: Yes, yes, that's right. I mean, Mad Dog never spoke to us. He's one of those CIA agents who believes firmly in his oath, and he didn't speak to us. But we spoke to a lot of people who know him. Plus, we spoke to Urs Tinner.

And Urs told us that Mad Dog had, indeed, promised to protect him and later his father and his brother. And, you know, this is one of the pledges that the CIA agents make, I guess, to get people to cooperate with them.

You know, Urs Tinner took some risks, some physical risks, in cooperating, and he played an important role in bringing down the Khan network.

But there has to be a point, in our view, where you weight the need to protect your sources, the ability for the CIA to continue to go out and recruit new sources and your obligations to the law. And we believe, in this case, and the heart of this book really focuses on what happened once the Tinners' role in the Khan network was uncovered publicly and what happened then under the auspices of the CIA and of senior officials in the George W. Bush administration, to protect the Tinners and to protect CIA agents who had broken Swiss law in recruiting the Tinners, too.

DAVIES: So there's this period from 1999 to 2003, four years, where this close relationship develops between the CIA agent and Urs Tinner and ultimately his other members of his family. And they have this plant to build a centrifuge for enriching uranium in Dubai, doesn't work out, can't get the workforce they need. They move the whole operation over to Malaysia, and there's another confederate there, named Tahir(ph), right, that they work with.

And it turns out that a lot of this is to help Libya attain nuclear weapons, and probably a lot of it's going to Iran. And so a lot of important information about just how active this network is is getting up the channels through the CIA, through I'm sure the national security apparatus and to people in the White House.

And how did they react to this, I mean, the threat that Iran might be getting -might be much farther along in its nuclear program, that Libya could get a bomb? How did they evaluate and react to this information?

Mr. FRANTZ: Well, there was this ongoing debate, this tension, and it had been in existence for many years, but now they were very deep into the network by early to mid-2003, and they were really getting scared about all of the information that the Khan network was leaking out.

And the British in particular, MI-6, the British secret service, had been working pretty closely with the CIA throughout this tracking of the Khan network, and the British were putting a lot of pressure on the American government, saying act now. We can't let this get any farther down the road.

You know, on the other side, you have the CIA arguing, well, we need to know more. We need to make sure that when we act, we can shut down every single node of this worldwide network, and it was indeed a global network. They had operations, as you said, in Malaysia, in Dubai. They had operations in Europe. They had operations in South Africa. And they had operations, of course, in Pakistan.

So they wanted to get all of this, but in our view, and I think we document this, Catherine and I document this very well in the book, they waited too long. By the time they finally acted in 2003, an enormous amount of the world's most dangerous technology had been sold to the world's most dangerous regimes. And that, in our view, was a policy failure, a policy failure of enormous proportions, really.

DAVIES: Right, and it's a persuasive case. The other side of the argument, I guess, and you discuss this in the book, is there were important things that the CIA didn't yet know that it hoped it might learn. For example, was there a fourth customer beyond North Korea, Libya and Iran? Was there perhaps a terrorist group that the network was interacting with and perhaps preparing to sell technology with?

And I guess their thinking was, we've got good sources, if we keep at this, we'll find out where else it's gone, you know, whether al-Qaeda might be working on this.

Mr. FRANTZ: Yeah, that's a fair point. Certainly the world knows al-Qaida wants a nuclear weapon. I think, and most experts think, that it's highly unlikely that they'll build one from scratch the way Iran is doing now, the way Libya wanted to do, the way Pakistan and India did before it.

But they could certainly get the fissile material from some of the technology that A.Q. Khan was selling. And there's a persuasive case that extensive amounts of technology that A.Q. Khan put into this Pakistani pipeline of his is missing. It's gone missing and nobody really knows where it is today.

And so there was that concern that was driving the CIA to keep trying to get more and more information. But I think our point, when we circle back, Dave, is that they should have stopped it long before it got this far.

DAVIES: We're speaking with investigative reporter Douglas Frantz. He is the author, with Catherine Collins, of a book called "Fallout," about the CIA's efforts to track the A.Q. Khan nuclear smuggling network. We'll talk more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is investigative reporter Douglas Frantz. He is the author, with Catherine Collins, of a book about the CIA's tracking of the A.Q. Khan nuclear network. It's called "Fallout: The True Story of the CIA's Secret War on Nuclear Trafficking."

Well, during this, there was a four-year period when, you know, the CIA, as we were saying, had penetrated A.Q. Khan's nuclear smuggling network and let it operate while they continued to gather more information and monitor it.

But as an alternative to shutting them down, they decided at some point they would let them continue to operate but somehow sabotage some of the technology they were getting. How were they able to do that?

Mr. FRANTZ: Through our sources and through some published reports elsewhere, it's very clear that the CIA orchestrated the delivery of sabotaged nuclear equipment to both Iran and to Libya.

One of the key components that they sabotaged were vacuum pumps, which are critical to enriching uranium. And what the CIA did was they bought a batch of these vacuum pumps from a German manufacturer, and they had them sent to Los Alamos, the national nuclear laboratory in New Mexico. And there, a guy that the CIA referred to as the mad scientist altered these vacuum pumps ever so slightly so that when they reached a certain pressure point, they would explode and not work.

And these vacuum pumps then were put into the A.Q. Khan nuclear network through the Tinners, and they made their way to both Libya and to Iran. Similarly, there were some electric regulators that were manufactured in Turkey that were sabotaged by the CIA. They also showed up in Iranian and Libyan nuclear facilities.

And finally, the third and the most interesting one, the CIA gave Urs Tinner instructions on how to design very minute flaws into centrifuge parts that he was manufacturing in Malaysia for the Libyan nuclear project.

He had gone from Dubai - they tried to set up their factory there, and it just didn't work because they couldn't get the skilled labor. So they moved the factory to Malaysia, where they did, in fact, find skilled labor. They took over an existing factory.

And Urs Tinner was in charge of the technology for this plant, and so he took the plans and he made - he told Catherine in very great detail how he made very small alterations in these centrifuge components so that they wouldn't work.

DAVIES: So when these parts got shipped to Iran and Libya, of course, Libya never really developed its program. But I guess the question was, was it effective? Were the sabotaged parts that made it to Iran effective in undermining their program or did the Iranians figure out the flaws?

Mr. FRANTZ: Well, it's our belief, based on what we've been told and on the records we've seen and on reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency, that these flaws did cause slowdowns and delays in the Iranian facility. But all the indications are that the Iranians overcame these flaws and that they've certainly enriched enough uranium by now for at least two nuclear weapons with further enrichment.

You know, so I think what happened was there were some delays, there were some slowdowns but the Iranians are very clever engineers and they managed to figure out what was wrong.

And I think that's one of the reasons, Dave, that we've seen this Stuxnet virus introduced over the last few months into the Iranian nuclear facility, because they realized that the sabotage hadn't worked. And in fact, the sabotage, you could argue, backfired by providing Iran with these vacuum pumps, with these electronic regulators that they needed.

You know, and so we gave them, essentially, the technology. They figured out the flaws. So then we had to find, somebody had to find, another way to try and stop this Iranian nuclear program. And I think that's the origins of the Stuxnet virus.

DAVIES: So for four years, the CIA monitors this, and you have this wonderful phrase in the book. You say that the CIA was addicted to information, not action. And they would take forever to gather more information because that's what they're in the business of doing.

But at some point in 2003, the top policymakers decide that they will shut down the Khan nuclear trafficking network. Why then? What tipped the balance and made them decide it was time to shut it down?

Mr. FRANTZ: Well, I think they started to worry that Libya was getting too close to having an actual factory up and running. And I think they were worried that if - by this time, $100 million worth of nuclear technology had been sold to Libya by the Khan network.

Included in that technology were working plans for a nuclear warhead that would have been developed by China, and then A.Q. Khan had taken that over and given it to Libya in a bag from his tailor shop in Islamabad.

And I think there was concern in 2003 that Libya was getting too close. If they got beyond a certain point, there'd be no way to persuade Muammar Gaddafi that he had to back away from this program. He'd be too close to the finish line to be forced to back away. And so I think that was what finally caused them to go from inaction to action.

GROSS: Douglas Frantz and FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies will continue their conversation in the second half of the show. Frantz is the co-author of the new book "Fallout: The True Story of the CIA's Secret War on Nuclear Trafficking." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Im Terry Gross. Let's get back to the interview that FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies recorded with investigative journalist Douglas Frantz, co-author of the new book "Fallout: The True Story of the CIA's Secret War on Nuclear Trafficking."

The book is about how the CIA penetrated A.Q. Khan's nuclear trafficking network but, according to Frantz, waited too long to shut it down. The agency got a lot of its information from a Swiss family, the Tinners, who acted as moles within the Khan network.

DAVIES: So the CIA, they had the Tinner family working for them and providing a lot of information, and then they act to shut down the Khan network. What exactly did they do?

Mr. FRANTZ: Well, they seized a ship in October of 2003. The ship had left Malaysia and it was headed for Libya with five crates of centrifuge components, actually six crates - the CIA didn't know about the sixth one - with six crates of centrifuge components. They seized it in the Mediterranean Sea and they offloaded these crates and they used those crates to convince Muammar Gadhafi that he had to give up his nuclear program. And so in December 2003, Gadhafi went on television and announced that he was giving up his ambitions to build a nuclear weapon, and at the same time, Libya provided an enormous amount of detailed evidence to the CIA and to MI6 about the role played by the Khan network, by the Tinners, by people in South Africa, by people in Japan, by other people in Europe, people all over the world, in providing this technology to Libya. And so the CIA and other government organizations were able to use that information and try to bring about the arrests of the known participants in the Kahn network, with the exception of the Tinners, of course. The CIA was still trying to protect the Tinners, and so they were trying to keep them out of this mess.

DAVIES: Right. So they shut down a factory in Malaysia. They seize these parts. They get Gadhafi to shut down. But then there's the matter of A.Q. Khan himself. And you describe a fascinating moment at which George Tenet, the director of the CIA, meets with Pervez Musharraf, I think in the Waldorf Hotel in New York, right?

Mr. FRANTZ: Exactly.

DAVIES: What happens?

Mr. FRANTZ: Well, George Tenet pulls out, from his briefcase - they're sitting in the presidential suit - and he pulls out, from his briefcase, the plans from the nuclear facilities in Pakistan and he shows them to Musharraf. And he said look, this is what A.Q. Khan has been selling to Libya. These are your plans and he's been selling them to Libya.

And Musharraf said, in his biography autobiography - later, he said it was the most embarrassing moment of his life. And Tenet told him then, you have to stop this man now. This is the hard evidence. You can't duck any longer. And so Musharraf had to go back to Pakistan. And this was late 2003. Musharraf's power was never really strong, and this was four years into his dictatorship, and so things were a little wobbly for him.

A.Q. Khan, however, was a national figure. He was a revered figure in Pakistan because he was regarded as the father of the Islamic bomb. And so for Musharraf to go after Khan was a great political risk. He risked having the Pakistani street go up in arms over this. And so what they did was strike a deal, where A.Q. Khan would go on television and confess to selling nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya and in exchange he would be pardoned completely and placed under house arrest.

DAVIES: So under indefinite house arrest, do you believe that he has stopped his nuclear trafficking?

Mr. FRANTZ: Oh, yeah. I dont think A.Q. Khan is trafficking in nuclear weapons any longer. I think he's watched far too carefully. The house arrest has been eased and he's been able to travel around Pakistan. But he's a marked man and he's not going to be involved in this any longer. But, I think there are elements of his network that are still surviving. There were elements of his network that were identified in evidence that was destroyed by the Swiss government at the insistence of the CIA and, you know, therefore, there are names of people who participated in this network who - that will never be made public because of what the CIA did in the aftermath of shutting down the network.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Douglas Frantz. He is the author with Catherine Collins of the book "Fallout: The True Story of the CIA's Secret War on Nuclear Trafficking."

We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

If youre just joining us, we're speaking with investigative reporter and author Douglas Frantz. He is the author with Catherine Collins of a book about the CIA's tracking of the A.Q. Khan nuclear trafficking network. It's called "Fallout."

So we have a situation where in 2003, the United States shuts down what it can find of the nuclear trafficking network run by the Pakistani A.Q. Khan. He is in house arrest. People are rested around the country. Some operations are shut down. There's great concern that plans and documents may be floating around to unknown parties, perhaps because the CIA had waited so long.

But there's this matter of their sources in Switzerland, the Tinners. And it's very important for them to maintain the secrecy of that relationship. Why?

Mr. FRANTZ: Well, on the first and most important level, the CIA always wants to protect its sources and methods, you know, and that's perfectly understandable in most cases. You know, they want people who work for them to feel like theyll be protected.

The Tinners were paid an - we estimate it's around $10 million by the CIA for their services, you know, but the biggest payoff was a promise that the CIA would keep them out of trouble if their names surfaced in connection with the Khan network. And, in fact, there was this fellow, B.S.A. Tahir, who was Khan's logistics chief, and he was arrested in early 2004 as the network was coming down. He was arrested in Malaysia and he - the Malaysian police put out a statement, a 12-page statement of his, in which he sort of named a couple of dozen people who had been participants in the Khan network, and among them were Friedrich Tinner, and Marco and Urs Tinner.

And so the Swiss police in early 2004 saw that three of their citizens were involved in the Khan network. And these were not names out of the blue for them. Friedrich Tinner had been on the Swiss radar for a long time as a nuclear proliferator. He'd been - they tried to charge him a couple times and been unsuccessful.

You know, so here these names popped up in connection with the Khan network and the Swiss police began an investigation and they ran into a stone cold roadblock from the CIA and the U.S. government.

DAVIES: Right. It's a fascinating situation where the CIA has this secret operation, but once it blows up, pieces of it begin to become public and people start protecting their interests. The Malaysian government doesn't want their little operation to be seen as the center of it, so they point the finger at the guys in Switzerland. Others want to, you know, puff their chests and take credit so they point out how important the Tinners were, so information begins to come out.

And then you also have the investigation by the IAEA, The International Atomic Energy Agency, which - it wants to look into this. But its job is to stop nuclear proliferation so it wants to talk to these guys in Switzerland and it all begins to unravel. And so you have people in Switzerland say we want to prosecute these guys. We can't let them violate our laws. And the CIA - the U.S. does what?

Mr. FRANTZ: Well, they did two things: First of all, officially, they stonewalled them. They refused to reply to any requests from the Swiss attorney general for help in figuring out what the Tinners had done, for any help in helping, in allowing them to build a criminal case against them.

But second, and far more nefariously, the CIA, enlisted senior officials in the Bush administration, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and FBI Director Robert Mueller, and senior CIA officials to begin to put pressure on the Swiss government to stop this investigation, to kill the investigation of the Tinners. So, and the argument there from the U.S. was that this will jeopardize ongoing intelligence operations. Well, you know, that's a difficult hurdle to overcome. Nobody wants to be accused of damaging ongoing intelligence operations.

But that was only one of the motives. You know, the CIA also wanted to protect six of its own agents who had broken into Marco Tinner's house and office and who had recruited the Swiss citizens, and that's illegal in Switzerland. They violated Swiss law.

DAVIES: Right. And so you had this big debate over whether these, the Tinners, will be prosecuted. They've been arrested. Their offices has been searched and there is an enormous store of materials that the Swiss police have seized from the Tinners, and it has all of these plans for centrifuges and for nuclear weapons designs, as well as information about suppliers and billing and invoices and tracking and meeting and all this stuff. And the question is A, will these guys be prosecuted, and B, what will happen to all that information? What happened to it?

Mr. FRANTZ: Yeah. Yeah. Well, the U.S. - the first U.S. demand was that all the information be turned over to the United States government, and that was not going to work. The Swiss - there was no way the Swiss were going to do that. The Swiss are, we should remember, traditionally very neutral. And so that's one of the reasons they took this CIA violating their law by recruiting their citizens and breaking into property - that's one of the reasons they took it so seriously.

There are some countries where you can get away with that. Switzerland is not one of them. But there was nonetheless, there was a very strong fight within the Swiss government in which there were elements of the Swiss government that wanted to cooperate with the Americans because they were worried that Switzerland would be embarrassed by this. That the Americans, the threat, the veiled threat, delivered by Condoleezza Rice and other American officials, was that if you don't help us stop this and if you don't destroy this information, it's going to look like Switzerland is an obstacle to the worldwide counter proliferation fight. It's going to look like Switzerland wasn't doing its job to stop the Tinners for years and years.

You know, so there was an element in the Swiss government that wanted to go along with the Americans. And then there was another element that wanted to prosecute the Tinners and wanted to prosecute the CIA agents, and wanted to see this information become public so that the world would, in fact, know how dangerous things were.

DAVIES: So what happened to all that information in the end?

Mr. FRANTZ: Well, in February of 2008, they gathered all this information at that the Swiss federal police headquarters. The amount was truly staggering. There were hard drives from 90 computers. There were 6,000 CDs, hundreds of thousands of pages of those financial transactions you mentioned. There were designs for nuclear warheads. There were blueprints for enrichment plans. There was, in total, 1.9 tons of paper, 1.3 terabytes of digital information. It's an enormous amount.

It took two days in late February of 2008 to destroy this information. Under the watchful eye of this CIA station chief and of two people from the IAEA, the Swiss officials, they shredded the written material, they drilled out the hard drives, they smashed the hard drives, and then they took everything in vans to a commercial incinerator and they burned it, and they made it all go away and the CIA thought this was a big victory.

And we had a very interesting scene at the end of that destruction. The CIA station chief and the other Swiss officials are gathered in a room, the destruction is completed, and the Swiss police official who had led the investigation of the Tinners and of the CIA agents, spoke about the American pressure. And he said, this is a very sad day for me, today. I thought I lived in a democracy, yet in a real democracy the political decisions are kept away from the police investigations. This Switzerland is a banana republic now.

You know, so there was certainly heartbreak on one side, that Swiss law had been suborned.

DAVIES: If youre just joining us, our guest is investigative reporter Douglas Frantz. He is the author, with Catherine Collins, of a book about the CIA's tracking of the A.Q. Khan nuclear network. It's called "Fallout: The True Story of the CIA's Secret War on Nuclear Trafficking."

So the CIA and the American government were successful, it appears, in shutting down the prosecution of the Tinners, their sources, who had participated in nuclear trafficking. They got all this information destroyed.

But since your book was written, there have been new developments. I mean I guess a regional police official now may actually bring these folks to trial and - is that the case?

Mr. FRANTZ: Well, yes. It is the case. There's last, let's see, two weeks ago now, I think it was on December 23rd, Andreas Muller, who is a Swiss magistrate, announced that he had filed a 174 page report, with the Swiss attorney general, recommending charges against the three Tinners for selling nuclear equipment to Libya.

Now we have a lot about Andreas Muller in his investigation in our book. What Andreas Muller did was he came into this case a month after the evidence was destroyed and he began in the most dogged way imaginable, to try and reconstruct this case. They found 39 files that were mysteriously and rather miraculously left in a storage shed and hadn't been - in a storage shelf and hadn't been destroyed. He's been all around the world searching for additional information to try and re-create the case against the Tinners.

His mandate did not allow him, he was forbidden to investigate anything related to the CIA agents. But nonetheless, he has recommended that the attorney general bring a case against the Tinners.

If the Tinners go to trial - if this recommendation is filed and they go to trial, you know - all of this could come out in the open eventually which would be absolutely fascinating.

DAVIES: You know, another lingering question is whether or not the A.Q. Khan network had a customer, perhaps a government that we know about or a terrorist network. And you mentioned in the book that there are some indications that that may have happened. Can you give us a sense, is the material that's missing and unaccounted for that could have gone to some, you know, unknown actor?

Mr. FRANTZ: Yes. And yes. There is a considerable amount of material that's missing. There are tool and dye machinery - it's tool and dye machinery that can be used to build centrifuges. There are measuring equipment. There are about at least four crates worth of material that just disappeared. Nobody knows - nobody knows where they went. They packed up a whole shop in Dubai and closed up it overnight and that material disappeared. It didnt wind up in Malaysia. It just disappeared, you know, so its out there somewhere.

Is there another customer? Is it a state or is it an organization? We just don't know. I mean, you know, we offer some possibilities, a sort of list of usual suspects in the book. I mean Saudi Arabia has at times over the years dipped its finger in the possibility of a nuclear, developing nuclear weapons.

We know that Syria had, in fact, at least one nuclear facility under construction until it was bombed into oblivion by the Israelis into 2007. And there are indications that the Syrians have been continuing to dabble and that they have blocked the IAEA from thorough inspections there, you know. So there may be another customer out there. We just don't know.

And that's one of the reasons why its so, such an anomaly that the United States government has never insisted on questioning A.Q. Khan. Never. Weve given the government of Pakistan about $13 billion since 2001 and you would think that would buy us some access to A.Q. Khan to try and find out from the man who knows where that equipment went and exactly how much information he did sell to Iran and to other countries, but we've never asked the question.

DAVIES: Well, Douglas Frantz, it's been interesting. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mr. FRANTZ: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

GROSS: Douglas Frantz spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. Frantz is the co-author of the new book "Fallout: The True Story of the CIA's Secret War on Nuclear Trafficking."

You can read an excerpt on our website,

Coming up, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a retrospective box set of recording by composer and saxophonist Henry Threadgill, and a recent Threadgill release.

This is FRESH AIR.

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