A front page story in today's Washington Post says that A.Q. Khan's black market smuggling ring may have sold the blueprints for an advanced nuclear warhead.
An international smuggling ring that sold bomb-related parts to Libya, Iran and North Korea also managed to acquire blueprints for an advanced nuclear weapon, according to a draft report by a former top U.N. arms inspector that suggests the plans could have been shared secretly with any number of countries or rogue groups.
The drawings, discovered in 2006 on computers owned by Swiss businessmen, included essential details for building a compact nuclear device that could be fitted on a type of ballistic missile used by Iran and more than a dozen developing countries, the report states.
The computer contents -- among more than 1,000 gigabytes of data seized -- were recently destroyed by Swiss authorities under the supervision of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, which is investigating the now-defunct smuggling ring previously led by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.
But U.N. officials cannot rule out the possibility that the blueprints were shared with others before their discovery, said the report's author, David Albright, a prominent nuclear weapons expert who spent four years researching the smuggling network.
According to the Post, former CIA director George Tenet's 2007 memoir claimed that the agency had been extensively involved in tracking the Khan network for over a decade. That would mean that by 1997 the CIA was already aware of Khan's activities, but how much the agency knew is apparently open to question.
The extent of Khan's operation was not revealed until Libya decided to renounce its nuclear weapons program in December of 2003 and to invite U.N. inspectors in to oversee its decommissioning. That let the cat out of the bag. In January of 2004 A.Q. Khan was sacked from his position presidential adviser, and in February 2004 he made a televised confession to the Pakistani people about his nuclear black market dealings.
In light of these new revelations, I have to wonder at the continued insistence by Democrats that Saddam Hussein was not a threat that had to be addressed. In many large projects a key decision is whether to build or to buy. To insist that Saddam was not really a threat because the weapon stockpiles that we expected to find weren't there is to promote a false sense of security. Saddam could very well have been planning to buy the technology once the U.N. sanctions were lifted. It would have made more sense for him to do it that way.