Remembering A.Q. Khan, the Man Who Gave the World Its Nuclear-Proliferation Problems

November 3, 2021 | Anthony Ruggiero and Andrea Stricker
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On October 10, A.Q. Khan died in Islamabad of complications related to a coronavirus infection. More than any single individual, he contributed to the acquisition of advanced nuclear technology by dangerous and unstable nations. Anthony Ruggiero and Andrea Stricker write:

In the early 1970s, Khan, a metallurgical engineer, exploited his employment at a Dutch company . . . to steal restricted gas-centrifuge-design drawings and documents. Khan later returned to Pakistan to lead Islamabad’s illicit procurement efforts to acquire components and materiel for a centrifuge program, taking advantage of weak European and Japanese export controls on nuclear dual-use equipment to achieve his goal. Khan’s efforts allowed him to rise in prominence within the nuclear weapons complex and, later, in Pakistani society.

Khan reportedly led Islamabad’s successful effort to develop atomic bombs fabricated with highly enriched uranium by 1984. Khan also realized that selling Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities to other countries would turn a handsome profit.

The A.Q. Khan nuclear-proliferation network relied on numerous corrupt companies, manufacturers, engineers, and businessmen worldwide. Khan and his agents grew key nodes of the network in Malaysia, South Africa, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. The black-market ring used offshore manufacturing businesses, shell companies, opaque shipping methods, and illicit banking to facilitate the transactions.

By the time the United States and Europe endeavored to close down the Khan network in 2004, it had sold substantial nuclear equipment and assistance to Iran, Libya, and North Korea, and had reportedly approached others.

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