Jeffrey LewisUrs Tinner

The bird must be destroyed, feathers and all.

They fed us to the dogs.

Those were a pair of SMS messages, exchanged by accused middlemen Gerhard Wisser and Johan Meyer, after Libya came out of the cold and admitted to acquiring a clandestine centrifuge program from the AQ Khan network.

Tripoli’s acknowledgment, at least officially, followed by the sucessful interdiction of a German-owned ship—the BBC China—transporting to Libya centrifuges components manufactured by the Khan Network’s SCOPE factory in Shah Alam, Malaysia.

Then-CIA Director George Tenet told an audience at Georgetown University that the interdiction was the result of “operational daring” that pentrated the Khan network.

Paul mentioned that Ron Suskind, in The One Percent Doctrine reveals that operational daring in question was the successful effort by the CIA to flip Urs Tinner (above), a Swiss engineer who consulted for the SCOPE. The Malaysian police have released pictures of Tinner, his passport and work permit.

Suskind also sheds some light on Tenet’s use of the phrase “operational daring” to describe the penetration of the Khan network. Suskind writes that the CIA coordinated the interdiction of the BBC China with Tinner slipping out of Malaysia with his personnel file and hard disk carrying technical drawings—a so-called “double play.”

Looking back, however, I wonder: How did I miss Tinner’s role?

The German press reported in early 2005 that Tinner was a CIA informant, after German authorities arrested him and the US government apparently intervened to stop the prosecution of Tinner. Der Spiegel, in particular, had several stories about Tinner that suggested he was a CIA informant . Centrist Newsweekly Munich Focus nailed the BBC China connection in early 2005:

Tinner’s case is explosive because the high-tech mercenary apparently provided not only Libya, but also its archenemy, the United States, with sensitive information: in confiscated files of Tinner, investigators found reports that—according to an insider—“only make sense if they were written for an intelligence service.”

Investigators believe that Tinner served as an informer for the US intelligence service CIA or the US military intelligence service DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency). That would explain why US authorities stopped the German freighter “BBC China,” which had illegal cargo for Libya on board, in the Mediterranean in October 2003. The incident disclosed the Libyan nuclear program, which was terminated shortly afterward.

“The Double Game in the Nuclear Poker,” Emphasis added.

The existence of such rumors even made The Atlantic in January 2006.

That Tinner had slipped out of Malaysia, personnel file and hard disk in tow, was also reported by Der Speigel, in February 2005:

When, in November 2003, Urs Tinner left the country, the computer hard drive was also said to be missing, as well as his personal file. For the Malaysian authorities, the case is clear: Tinner wanted to disappear without leaving a trace; all this happened shortly after the cargo destined for Libya—six containers with centrifugal equipment, largely packed in wooden cases marked “Scope”—had been confiscated at the Italian port of Taranto in fall 2003.

Dahlkamp, et al, “Engineers of Death”

It would seem Suskind has succeeded in broadly confirming these accounts, although The One Percent Doctrine suffers from an appalling lack of citation that goes beyond, I think, the need to protect sources.

The book provides at least one detail as regards the Khan network that does not appear in previous press reports—a briefing in which then-Director of Operaitons Stephen Kappes and Tenet inform Bush and Cheney about the upcoming BBC China shipment and agrees to the “double play.”

So, looks like Tinner was our man in Havana, so speak.

One more thing: You bet I am using those opening lines in an upcoming article.

German News Stories from 2005
linking Urs Tinner to US intelligence

Juergen Dahlkamp, Georg Mascolo, and Holger Stark: “Engineers of Death” Der Spiegel, February 17, 2005

Juergen Dahlkamp, Georg Mascolo, and Holger Stark, “Nuclear Smuggling: the Bird Must Be Destroyed,” Der Spiegel, March 14, 2005

“The Double Game in the Nuclear Poker,” Focus, March 15, 2005.

T. Scheuer and M. Wisniewski, “German-Made Special Pumps For Uranium Enrichment Found Their Way From US Nuclear Facility at Los Alamos to Libya and Iran” Focus November 28, 2005.


  1. Andy (History)

    So, let me get this straight: the German government arrested Tinner for being a CIA agent, but not for conspiracy related to AQ Khan’s illegal transfers?

  2. Jeffrey Lewis

    No, he was arrested for the violating German export control laws. Let me see if I can dig around and find the legal documents.

  3. Stephen Young (History)

    Damn, Jeffrey, is it just me, or doesn’t Tinner bear a striking resemblence to you?

    Well, I mean, you’re much better looking, of course, but . . . damn.