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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    Two days after the boarding of the BBC China off the waters of Taranto, then U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage arrived in Islamabad and confronted Musharraf, demanding that the Pakistanis shut down Khan's network. "If I ever perspired," Musharraf said later, "it was then." But Pakistani sources close to Khan say Musharraf backed away from arresting the scientist out of fear that Khan would finger senior members of the Pakistani military and security services as having been complicit in nuclear trafficking. "Everyone got a cut," says a Khan acquaintance, referring to high-ranking military officers connected with the nuclear program. Khan's last public appearance came on Feb. 4, 2004, when he appeared on national television and confessed to running the smuggling ring. The next day, to the outrage of many in Washington, Musharraf pardoned him.

    The quest to get more information out of Khan has been slow. At the White House meeting in December, Musharraf told Bush that it was impossible to know whether Khan has divulged all he knows, since he tends to talk only when confronted with evidence. If the U.S. has specific questions for Khan, Musharraf said, his men would follow it up. "I will investigate," Musharraf assured Bush. The Administration gave Pakistan a new dossier of queries for Khan, and a knowledgeable official says Pakistan has since questioned Khan and reported back to Washington.

    But many questions remain unresolved, including whether Khan sold blueprints for building a nuclear warhead to Iran, as he did with Libya. If true, such a finding would allow the U.S. to ratchet up its charges that Tehran's nuclear research has a military purpose. What's more, sources close to Khan Research Laboratories in Islamabad tell TIME that even though its head has been removed, Khan's illicit network of suppliers and middlemen is still out there. "Nothing has changed," one of Khan's former aides says. "The hardware is still available, and the network hasn't stopped." A recent probe of Khan's lab found that 16 cylinders of uranium hexafluoride gas, a critical ingredient for uranium enrichment, are missing, sources close to the lab say. And a Pakistani official says some in Islamabad are vexed that the Swiss and German governments, among others, have failed to arrest individuals implicated by Khan's testimony.

    The man with the answers passes his days in Islamabad, his once peripatetic lifestyle now confined to the interior of his villa. A close friend says Khan's health is poor, and he is given to bouts of depression. Although the man may fade into obscurity, the world is only beginning to reckon with his legacy. It's still a seller's market in the nuclear bazaar. And now there's room at the top. --With reporting by Ghulam Hasnain/ Karachi, Sayed Talat Hussain/ Islamabad, Timothy J. Burger and Elaine Shannon/ Washington, Scott MacLeod/ Tripoli, Andrew Purvis/ Vienna, Simon Robinson/Johannesburg and Nahid Siamdoust/ Tehran

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