Jeffrey LewisThe Fourth Customer

Douglas Frantz of the Los Angeles Times reports that a shipment of components for advanced centrifuges, bound for Libya, may have been diverted to an unknown country:

Critical components and specialized tools destined for Libya’s nuclear weapons program disappeared before arrival in 2003 and international investigators now suspect that they were diverted to another country, according to court records and investigators.

Efforts to find the missing equipment have led to dead ends, raising what investigators said was the strong likelihood that the sophisticated material was sold to an unidentified customer by members of the international smuggling ring that had been supplying nuclear technology and weapons designs to Libya.

This got a big splashy headline, but the Los Angeles Times is about a year behind of ACW’s own Paul Kerr who—in the July/August 2004 issue of Arms Control Today—wrote:

Furthermore, an IAEA official told Arms Control Today June 21 that Libyan officials have said that they had not received some of the centrifuge components that they ordered. This means that Libyan officials were duped by Khan’s suppliers, the materials were “returned to sender,” or a third party has them, a Department of State official said June 18, adding that the matter is still being investigated.

Oh, yeah, and a little paper called the Washington Post mentioned the story in October 2004. Bart Gellman and Dafna Linzer wrote:

Iran was Khan’s first customer, North Korea his second and Libya his undoing. What troubles U.S. and British officials today is the evidence of a fourth customer yet unknown.

One key clue is a ship that never arrived. Not long before Libya’s disarmament, scientists in Tripoli placed an order for additional centrifuge parts. Because Khan’s network operated through intermediaries, the Libyans do not know who was going to make the components, or where. Investigators in Washington, London and Vienna said they have been unable to learn.

But, hey, congrats on your big story there, Doug.

All kidding aside, Frantz helps fill in the details with some quality reporting. He doesn’t, however, speculate about the identity of the fourth customer.

There are many guesses about the fourth customer’s identity. Time magazine reported that Khan traveled to both Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Syria sometimes makes the list, too. The Pakistanis, in public, are denying all this.

Paul Adds:

From the March ACT:

The [IAEA’s] Egypt probe is part of a broader inquiry into whether a number of other countries—Morocco, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria—were involved in the network, the diplomat said. The network’s known customers include Iran, Libya, and North Korea.


  1. AHM (History)

    According to Sanger and Broad
    (Sanger, David E. and Broad, William J. “As Nuclear Secrets Emerge, More Are Suspected,” NYT, Dec 26 ‘04), the list of countries Khan visited was:

    Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Ivory Coast, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates.

    Better watch out for that Ivorian bomb. Actually, the division of these into “likely buyers” and “likely suppliers of parts/uranium” narrows it nicely.