Jeffrey LewisKRL Junk Orders

Mark Hibbs reveals that Pakistan’s Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) hid orders for prohibited centrifuge components within larger “junk” orders, in hopes of diguising the sensitive item or overhwhelming export control authorities:

After the late 1970s, when intelligence agencies in the Urenco countries—Germany, the Netherlands, and the U.K.—confirmed that Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan had been trying to supply Pakistan’s fledgling uranium enrichment program by contacting firms used by Urenco in outsourcing engineering services and purchasing equipment, members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) began identifying procurement channels and equipment sought by the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) and affiliated procurement organizations. Those organizations then “resorted more and more to ordering large amounts of junk to hide the stuff they were really trying to get,” one government analyst said last month.

In some cases, officials said, KRL began by ordering from foreign suppliers a small number of items it needed for centrifuge-building together with similar, but not identical, items. That tactic hid the sensitive goods and established a record of credibility with customs agencies in countries where the goods were shipped. “Once the initial shipments got through customs, KRL would then just order the items they wanted,” one official said.

Hibbs reports that these techniques were used to acquire ball bearings and tubes for centrifuges. In the latter case, Khan ordered a number of useless lengths of tubing:

Intelligence documents elaborate that in some cases Khan specified to selected German and Dutch firms a tube length of 500 millimeters. When ordering the tubing, however, Khan requested that suppliers also provide tubes cut to a variety of lengths in “multiples of 60 millimeters” longer and shorter than 500 mm, in addition to the 500-mm tubes. In other cases, tube lengths of 420, 480, 500, and 540 mm were specified by Khan.

According to Western officials, there was no apparent use in Pakistan’s centrifuge program for tubes slightly longer or shorter than 500 mm. No effort was made by Pakistan at this time, officials said, to experiment with the rotor tube length.

See: Mark Hibbs, “KRL hid purchase of sensitive goods in orders for ‘junk,’ records say” Nuclear Fuels 30:24, November 21, 2005, 7.


  1. Siddharth

    Any thoughts on this conundrum: The U.S. has the Iran Nonproliferation Act, 2000, which it has used to sanction some 20-odd individuals and entities—mainly Chinese, Moldovan etc etc. The list includes two Indian nuclear scientists, one of whom had never even been to Iran, as well, now, two Indian chemical companies that legally exported chemicals the Indian government says are harmless and legal. But why hasn’t the USG imposed sanctions on the man at the centre of this whole mess, which is Dr A. Q. Khan hisself?

  2. Scott Gearity (History)

    Khan Research Laboratories is on the US Commerce Department’s Entity List—a sort of general purpose proliferation blacklist (see That means nothing of US origin may be exported to KRL without a license. It’s a pretty tough measure.

    I don’t know why Khan hasn’t found himself on the receiving end of INA sanctions (yet) since there need only be “credible information” that one assisted Iran’s NBC or missile programs. One reason might be that the legislation only applies to activites which have occurred since 1999. Perhaps Khan’s relationship with Iran predates this sanctions program.

    Does anyone know which chemicals the Indian firms supplied to Iran?

  3. Michael Deal (History)

    Sanctions against Khan & Co. are problematic given his popularity with the Paki public and our “alliance” with the Paki government in the “war” against terrorism. The investigation against H. Khan, allegedly the buyer of spark-gap triggers from an Israeli smuggler, and which has received more attention by in the Financial Times than in the U.S. media, demonstrates that (a) the USG is pulling its punches against A.Q. Khan, which (b) may not be a big deal because the Pakies aren’t going to extradite anybody anyway.

    Let’s face it, trying to slow foreign acquisition of a 60 year old nuclear technology by export controls is virtually impossible.