The Man Who Sold the Bomb

How Pakistan's A.Q. Khan outwitted Western intelligence to build a global nuclear-smuggling ring that made the world a more dangerous place. The inside story

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    Gaddafi soon upped the ante. In 1997, Khan's Libyan contacts told him they wanted P-1 and P-2 centrifuges and the equipment to build hundreds more. The deal was worth $100 million. To fill the order, Khan turned to old contacts in Western Europe and South Africa, in some instances using the same people he had done business with in the 1980s. Among the shadowy middlemen involved over the years were South African Johan Meyer and German-- South African Gerhard Wisser, who allegedly helped set up a processing facility that could be shipped whole to Libya. Khan's crew tapped furnacemakers in Italy, lathemakers in Spain, and Swiss middlemen who helped design parts for construction in Southeast Asia. The network began sending Libya crateloads of equipment, routing the ships through Europe and the Persian Gulf city of Dubai before they reached their destination in Tripoli. It was an audacious enterprise, given that Western spies were on the hunt for illicit trading in weapons of mass destruction. But as far as Khan knew, his pursuers were still in the dark.

    Khan's base of operations became Dubai, with its easy transit connections by air and its balmy beachfront climate. Dealmaking was suitably informal. A key member of Khan's network told investigators that Iranian contacts once dropped off in Khan's apartment two suitcases containing $3 million in cash as a payment. From 1999 on, Khan traveled to Dubai 41 times, the Pakistani government says. Khan also kept a penthouse on posh al-Maktoum Road. When arranging a shipment, he would set up in Dubai dozens of shell companies consisting of nothing more than "a fax machine and an empty office," says a former colleague. As soon as the deal was done, he shut the companies down.

    For meetings with his underlings and potential customers, Khan favored other exotic locales: Istanbul and Casablanca. Pakistani sources say Khan used Dubai gold dealers to launder smuggling profits. At the height of his power, Khan was worth as much as $400 million.

    Khan's right-hand man, what an intelligence official calls the managing director of his operation, was Buhary Sayed Abu Tahir, 44, a Sri Lankan whom Khan first met in Dubai in the mid-'90s. Tahir idolized Khan, mimicking him in sometimes expensive ways. In homage to the boss's vintage fleet, Tahir tooled around Dubai in a luxury car. To Khan, Tahir became indispensable. He divided his time between Kuala Lumpur (his wife is Malaysian) and Dubai. Through his connections in Malaysia, Tahir arranged for centrifuge components to be manufactured at a publicly traded company called Scomi Precision Engineering. Back in Dubai, he set up a cutout company called SMB Computers, which was a front for Khan's proliferation business. Ultimately, components manufactured at Scomi were sold via SMB to Libya as "used machinery"--part of the $100 million contract with Gaddafi's government.

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