Clandestine – Not Illegal

Gotthard Lerch, a German businessman specializing in the manufacture and sale of industrial vacuum systems, has been on trial, charged with violating German export-control laws by participating in a scheme to clandestinely supply Libya with “support systems” for a plant that could enrich uranium.

According to an article by Steve Coll in the current issue of the New Yorker, Lerch had earlier been acquitted of “misappropriating blueprints for centrifuge-plant support systems, in connection with suspected sales to Pakistan.”

Last week, the current charges against Lerch were thrown out of court by the presiding judge.

Lerch’s “participation” had allegedly begun in 1998 or 1999.

In attempting to salvage something of his reputation, in a 2004 address at Georgetown University, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet claimed;

“Last year in my annual World Wide Threat testimony before Congress in open session, I talked about the emerging threat from private proliferators, especially nuclear brokers.

“I was cryptic about this in public, but I can tell you now that I was talking about A.Q. Khan. His network was shaving years off the nuclear weapons development timelines of several states, including Libya.

Notice that Tenet didn’t claim that Khan had done anything illicit or illegal, either under Pakistani or international law.

But, metallurgist Khan – working at the time as a subcontractor to Urenco, the European uranium-enrichment consortium – had apparently sent back to Pakistan engineering drawings of Urenco centrifuges, lists of associated parts and components, and the suppliers thereof.

That was illicit; corporate espionage, a violation of Netherlands law.

Khan returned to Pakistan in 1978 and soon established a uranium-enrichment program at Kahuta, apparently based upon his Pak-1 gas-centrifuge, a modification of Urenco’s first generation design.

But Khan had trouble producing aluminum rotors which would pass the “spin” test. So, in the 1990s, Khan developed his Pak-2, a modification of Urenco’s second-generation design, which had steel rotors.

When Pakistan held its first international arms bazaar in 2000, there was available at the booth of the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) a Pak-2 brochure, as well as an associated 10-page catalog of specialty vacuum pumps, gauges, high-voltage switches, power supplies, and other equipment.

According to KRL representatives, all the listed items were available for sale and had been approved for export by the Pakistan government.

Apparently, “Slam Dunk” Tenet somehow obtained a copy of Khan’s marketing brochure and proceeded to check it out.

“First, we discovered the extent of Khan’s hidden network. We tagged the proliferators. We detected the network stretching from Pakistan to Europe to the Middle East to Asia offering its wares to countries like North Korea and Iran.

“Working with our British colleagues, we pieced together the picture of the network, revealing its subsidiaries, scientists, front companies, agents, finances, and manufacturing plants on three continents.

“Our spies penetrated the network through a series of daring operations over several years. Through this unrelenting effort, we confirmed the network was delivering such things as illicit uranium enrichment centrifuges.”

Now, a centrifuge is not “illicit.” Nor is selling or shipping a centrifuge to anyone – even clandestinely – “illicit” unless such shipment constitutes a violation of the laws of the exporting country.

And accepting delivery of a centrifuge is not “illicit” unless the importing country (a) is a signatory to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and (b) proceeds to enrich uranium with it for use in a nuclear weapon.

In December, 2003, Iran signed – and began to adhere to, immediately – a go-anywhere, see-anything Additional Protocol to its IAEA Safeguards Agreement.

In March, 2004, Libya followed suit.

According to ElBaradei’s March, 2004 report to the IAEA Board,

“Following the disclosure of its undeclared nuclear activities, Libya has granted the Agency unrestricted access to all requested locations, responded promptly to the Agency’s requests for information, and assisted the Agency in gaining a full picture of its nuclear programme… This active cooperation and openness is welcome, and will facilitate the Agency’s ability to complete its verification of Libya’s past nuclear activities.

As in the case of Iran, the Agency also requires the full cooperation of the countries from which the nuclear technology and material originated.”

So, what about Tenet’s claim that Khan’s network had shaved “years off the nuclear weapons development timelines of several states, including Libya”?

Well, after more than two years of full cooperation by suppliers and unrestricted access to both Iran and Libya, ElBaradei has yet to find any “indication” of a nuclear weapons development program, much less evidence that Lerch or Khan accelerated its non-existent schedule.

Read more by Gordon Prather

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.