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CIA Chief Says US, British Intelligence Uncovered Pakistani Nuclear Sales Network - 2004-02-05

The director of the Central Intelligence Agency says the activities of Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan were uncovered in large part by U.S. and British intelligence agencies. Mr. Khan was pardoned by President Pervez Musharraf for selling Pakistani nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

In a speech in Washington, CIA Director George Tenet said Mr. Khan's nuclear market was of enormous help to nations seeking to develop atomic weapons. But, Mr. Tenet said, the network's back has been broken.

"His network was shaving years off the nuclear development timeline of several states, including Libya," he said. "Now, as you know from the news coming out of Pakistan, Khan and his network have been dealt a crushing blow, and several of his senior officers are in custody. Malaysian authorities have shut down one of the network's largest plants. His network is now answering to the world for years of nuclear profiteering."

Mr. Tenet said U.S. and British intelligence agents had been tracking Mr. Khan and his network for years. "We tagged the proliferators," he said. "We detected the network stretching across four continents, offering its wares to countries like North Korea and Iran. Working together with our British colleagues, we pieced together the picture of the network, revealing its subsidiaries, its scientists, its front companies, its agents, its finances and manufacturing plants on three continents. Our spies penetrated the network through a series of daring operations over several years."

Mr. Tenet added that intelligence operatives were able to intercept deliveries of sensitive nuclear materials, such as illicit uranium-enrichment centrifuges.

Mr. Khan denied involvement by higher authority in government or the military, but most analysts have expressed considerable doubt about that claim.

Former CIA officer Raeul Gerecht says once the evidence turned up abroad, the trail inevitably led back to Abdul Qadeer Khan.

"What has happened is that they had combined unforeseen events, fortuitous events, and that is the discovery both in Iran and in Libya of incriminating evidence," he said. "And once that evidence got out there, and it became evident that Pakistan was a supplier, it was obvious that Khan was going to have to be involved."

Mr. Khan made a public confession of his activities on Pakistani television Wednesday and asked for clemency. He got it less than 24-hours later, when President Musharraf granted him a pardon.