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Pakistan's 'Father of Nuclear Program' Confesses Leaking Secrets


The man at the head of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, reportedly has confessed to transferring nuclear technology to Libya, Iran and North Korea.

Officials involved in Pakistan's two-month long probe into alleged proliferation say that Abdul Qadeer Khan has "accepted" he was involved in leaking nuclear secrets to underworld groups working for Iran, Libya and North Korea.

It is the first time North Korea has been named in the government's investigation.

The unnamed officials told a group of Pakistani reporters late Sunday that Mr. Khan in a written statement has said the proliferation took place between 1989 and 2000. He reportedly said the leaks happened without the knowledge of the government.

Six other people under investigation, including nuclear scientists, are also said to have confessed to leaking nuclear know-how outside Pakistan.

Political commentator and columnist Talat Hussain was among the few reporters who attended the briefing. He says the officials told them the National Command Authority will decide whether Mr. Qadeer Khan, a national hero, and the others will be put on trial.

"The decision about the fate of A.Q. Khan will be decided by NCA, which is the premier nuclear authority headed by the president of Pakistan," he said.

The probe was begun after the United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency in November warned Pakistan of possible nuclear leaks. The letter mentioned names of those who might have been involved in transferring nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea for personal profit.

President Musharraf is expected to address the nation soon after the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, which began Monday, to disclose the findings of the probe.

Mr. Qadeer Khan, known as the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons development program, could not be reached for comment.

His house in Islamabad is under 24-hour watch and his security has been increased since he was fired as a government adviser on Saturday.

Details of his large personal fortune and expensive lifestyle have been reported in the Pakistan media in the past several days.

Opposition parties and religious leaders have condemned the investigation of Mr. Qadeer Khan, and have called for a day of protest on Friday.

Some government critics say if nuclear secrets were traded, Mr. Qadeer Khan was acting at the behest of the Pakistani military, which was desperate to develop a nuclear bomb. They insist the investigation must be expanded to include senior military and intelligence officials, who may have known about Mr. Qadeer Khan's dealings abroad. The government officials said two former heads of Pakistan's military were questioned but denied having approved trading nuclear secrets.

Mr. Hussain says it is "inconceivable" that sensitive nuclear technology was transferred without the knowledge of top military officials in Pakistan.

"The issue, however, is that what was the loophole in the system that allowed Dr. A.Q. Khan to actually carry out this operation not just with on country but three countries, not just for a year but a period stretching over 11 years? That will become a big political issue in Pakistan in the coming days," said Mr. Hussain.

But Mr. Hussain says officials told them they do not intend to widen the investigation because they have gotten what they say is the whole gang.

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