It’s hard to tell whether someone like Jeffrey Smith – who masquerades as a "reporter" for the Washington Post – is a true card-carrying member of the Anti-Everything-Nuclear crowd, who habitually conflate "nuclear" with "nuclear-weapons," or is merely a Likudnik toady.
Take Jeffrey’s latest column, where he "reports":
"The creator of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program boasted in a recent television interview that he and other senior Pakistani officials, eager to see Iran develop nuclear weapons, years ago guided that country to a proven network of suppliers and helped advance its covert efforts.
"A.Q. Khan, whom Washington considers the world’s most ambitious proliferator of nuclear weapons technology, told a television interviewer in Karachi, Pakistan, that if Iran succeeds in ‘acquiring nuclear technology, we will be a strong bloc in the region to counter international pressure. Iran’s nuclear capability will neutralize Israel’s power.’
"Although Khan has previously claimed nationalist and religious justifications for helping to spread sensitive technology, several experts said his latest statement was an unusually direct claim of broad, official Pakistani support for an Iranian nuclear weapon."
Metallurgist A.Q. Khan was largely responsible for the creation of a large-capacity second-generation gas-centrifuge uranium-enrichment capability at his laboratory in Pakistan and claims that by late 1984 he had produced enough almost pure Uranium-235 to make at least one nuclear weapon. But he never "created" or tested such a weapon.
Now, in a simple gun-type nuke, like the Little Boy we dropped on Hiroshima, a barely sub-critical projectile of U-235 is shot down a gun-barrel at a barely sub-critical target, thereby assembling – briefly – a supra-critical mass at normal density. Although almost trivially simple to make, a gun-type nuke is a very inefficient user of U-235, producing a limited, somewhat uncertain yield.
On the other hand, in an implosion-type nuke, a barely sub-critical mass [almost always Plutonium-239, since its critical mass and volume are so much less than U-235] is explosively compressed to many-times normal density, producing for a much longer time a many-times supra-critical mass. Reportedly, all of the nukes tested by Pakistan in 1998 were implosion-type nukes, at least some of them Pu-239, developed by another agency, not by Khan’s lab.
So, what did Khan actually say [.pdf] in that TV interview cited by Jeffrey Smith?
"[Interviewer]: You were accused of having transferred nuclear technology to North Korea.
"[Khan]: These are just accusations. I cannot comment on this topic at the moment."[Interviewer]: What about Iran?
"[Khan]: Iran was interested in acquiring nuclear technology. Since Iran was an important Muslim country, we wished Iran to acquire this technology. Western countries pressured us unfairly. If Iran succeeds in acquiring nuclear technology, we will be a strong bloc in the region to counter international pressure. Iran’s nuclear capability will neutralize Israel’s power. We had advised Iran to contact the suppliers and purchase equipment from them."
Elsewhere in the interview Khan says he didn’t transfer any nuclear technology to North Korea, but that President/General Musharraf may have. Khan claims all his dealings with North Korea were related to the transfer of ballistic missile technology to Pakistan for the restoration by Khan’s lab of the full range of the Chinese-supplied M-11 ballistic missiles.
Throughout the interview, it is clear that when Khan says "nuclear technology" he means uranium-enrichment technology. He never means "nuclear-weapons technology."
And when he says the Pakistanis wanted Iran to acquire "nuclear technology," but that Western countries kept them from obtaining it, he’s referring to the decade or so after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In the early 1990s, Russia had agreed to complete the nuclear power plants at Bushehr, whose construction had begun under the Shah, and to build a gas-centrifuge uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz.
Also in the early 1990s, China had agreed to provide Iran two 300 MW nuclear power plants and a uranium-conversion plant at Isfahan.
But in 1995, as a result of intense pressure by President Clinton upon Russia and China – and upon European suppliers of auxiliary equipment – Russia canceled the gas-centrifuge uranium-enrichment contract and China canceled the power plant contract.
In 1997, China also canceled the uranium-conversion plant contract.
The Russians continued to honor their contract to complete at least one of the 1,000 MW power plants at Bushehr. "Start-up" operations for that completed IAEA Safeguarded plant have now begun.
In that period, Pakistan had asked – but was not allowed – to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Comprised of 44 nuclear-supplier states – including China, Russia, and the United States – NSG members voluntarily agree to coordinate their export controls governing transfers of civilian nuclear material and nuclear-related equipment and technology to non-nuclear-weapon states.
But, since 1992, to be "eligible" for importing certain items from an NSG member, an importing state – irrespective of whether it is a NPT signatory or not must have in place a comprehensive IAEA safeguards agreement covering all its nuclear activities and facilities.
So what were the Pakistanis to do?
Well, establish their own clandestine – but not necessarily illegal – suppliers/users group.
When Pakistan held its first international arms bazaar in 2000, there was even available at the booth of Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) — which also manufactured ballistic missiles – a brochure for a second-generation ("Pak-2") uranium-enrichment gas-centrifuge, 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 – "nuclear technology," perhaps, but in no sense "nuclear-weapons technology" – were available for sale and had been approved for export by the Pakistan government.
Now, return to the recent TV interview of A.Q. Khan cited by Jeffrey Smith.
The interviewer asks Khan about CIA Director George Tenet’s visit to Pakistan not long after Bonkers Bolton and his Proliferation Security Initiative pirates had intercepted a ship carrying what Tenet claimed were components for gas-centrifuges, already illegally smuggled into Libya. (Tenet allegedly confronted Musharraf with "proof" that Khan had been conducting a black-market nuclear-technology "smuggling ring.") Kahn responds:
"According to Musharraf, Tenet had shown him drawings of Pak-1 centrifuges. Those drawings did not carry my name or that of my laboratory, but Musharraf claims that he knew the drawings belonged to me. Is he a technician to the extent that he could figure out a Pak-1 drawing?
"We had stopped the Pak-1 production in 1983 and switched over to Pak-2. Musharraf might have been an insignificant Colonel at that time, who could not enter the Kahuta plant. He did not have even an iota of what a Pak-1 drawing could have looked like, but, according to him, he knew it was Pak-1. So it is ridiculous for Musharraf to claim that it was a Pak-1 drawing."
Khan had been quite openly marketing his Pak-2 uranium-enrichment technology for several years and yet, here was "Slam-dunk" Tenet accusing him of selling his Pak-1 junk on the black market!
Well, as ridiculous as it sounded then and now, Khan was placed under house arrest, an "investigation" of Tenet’s charges was made, and shortly thereafter, Khan made a speech – in English – on Pakistani TV.
In spite of what you may have been told Khan "confessed" to, this is all that he did confess;
"The recent investigation was ordered by the Government of Pakistan consequent to the disturbing disclosures and evidence by some countries to international agencies relating to alleged proliferation activities by certain Pakistanis and foreigners over the last two decades.
"The investigation has established that many of the reported activities did occur, and that these were inevitably initiated at my behest.
"In my interviews with the concerned government officials, I was confronted with the evidence and the findings. And I have voluntarily admitted that much of it is true and accurate."
"Many of the reported activities did occur"?
What activities were reported? And which of them did occur? Which of them did not occur?
What were the findings of the investigators, of which many, but not all, were true?
Well, two things are certain.
First, immediately after Khan made his TV "confession," Musharraf issued him an on-TV blanket pardon for doing whatever it was Khan confessed to doing.
Second, Khan did not confess then, or in this latest TV-interview, to proliferating anything – much less nuclear-weapons technology – to Iran.
So, why did Jeffrey Smith – who masquerades as a "reporter" for the Washington Post – tell you that Khan did?