WASHINGTON An international smuggling ring may have secretly shared blueprints for an advanced nuclear weapon with Iran, North Korea and other rogue countries, The Washington Post reported Sunday.
The now-defunct ring led by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan is previously known to have sold bomb-related parts to Libya, Iran and North Korea. A draft report by former top U.N. arms inspector David Albright says the smugglers also acquired designs for building a more sophisticated compact nuclear device that could be fitted on a type of ballistic missile used by Iran and other developing countries, according to the Post.
The drawings were discovered in 2006 on computers owned by Swiss businessmen; they were recently destroyed by the Swiss government under the supervision of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency to keep them out of terrorists' hands. But U.N. officials said they couldn't rule out that the material already had been shared.
"These advanced nuclear weapons designs may have long ago been sold off to some of the most treacherous regimes in the world," Albright wrote in the draft report, which was expected to be published later this week, the Post reported.
A spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, Nadeem Kiani, did not rebut the report's findings. "The government of Pakistan has adequately investigated allegations of nuclear proliferation by A.Q. Khan and shared the information with" the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, Kiani told the Post. "It considers the A.Q. Khan affair to be over."
Traveling with President Bush in Europe, national security adviser Stephen Hadley said he had not read accounts of the Albright report, "But obviously we're very concerned about the A.Q. Khan network, both in terms of what they were doing by purveying enrichment technology and also the possibility that there would be weapons-related technology associated with it."
In Vienna, a senior diplomat said the IAEA had knowledge of the existence of a sophisticated nuclear weapons design being peddled electronically by the black-market ring as far back as 2005. The diplomat, who is familiar with the investigations into the A.Q. Khan network, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly on the issue.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei had made it public knowledge back then and had expressed concern about who potentially had come in possession of the information.
The diplomat referred a reporter to a transcript of a panel discussion on Nov. 7, 2005, where ElBaradei spoke of at least one weapons design being copied by the Khan network onto a CD-ROM "that went somewhere that we haven't seen" and added, "That gives you an indication of ... how much the technology had (been) disseminated."