Jeffrey LewisSwiss Shred Tinner Docs; Khan Talks

I still can’t believe the Swiss shredded the evidence.

AP’s Hanspeter Haefliger reports that Swiss authorities, under the supervision of the IAEA, shredded many documents relating to the Urs Tinner-AQ Khan case:

The documents formed part of a case against three members of the Tinner family who are suspected of involvement in the nuclear smuggling ring of Abdul Qadeer Khan, a key figure in Pakistan’s atomic weapons program. Khan has admitted selling nuclear arms technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

[snip]

“There were detailed construction plans for nuclear weapons, for gas ultracentrifuges to enrich weapons-grade uranium as well as for guided missile delivery systems,” [Swiss Federal President Pascale] Couchepin told reporters in the Swiss capital, speaking publicly on the matter for the first time.

[snip]

The documents were destroyed under the observation of the U.N.‘s International Atomic Energy Agency, he said. The government in November ordered the files to be destroyed, but did not make the decision public at the time.

I guess this means that Urs Tinner ins’t going to trial. Which probably means he was working for the man.

George Tenet, writing in At the Center of the Storm, claimed that beginning in the late 1990s, the CIA gained access to the Khan network though “a series of daring operations over several years.”

I think, at this point, with no one actually like going to jail for running the AQ Khan network, I am pretty convinced that the entire network by 2003 was on the US payroll.

***

In related news, AQ Khan is celebrating Pakistan’s national “nuclear deterrence day” — you think I made that up? May 28 was the ten year anniversary of Pakistan’s nuclear tets — by exercising his new freedom to shoot his mouth off.

He seems to have given half a dozen interviews to AFP, ABC, Dawn’s Syed Irfan Raza, The Guardian’s Declan Walsh, IANS’ Muhammad Najeeb, Reuters’ Kamran Haider and Kyodo News — and those are just the ones I managed to track down.

Khan told Kyodo that the shredded Swiss documents would have proved that the suppliers played the central role in the Khan network:

In a written interview delivered through a family friend, Khan told
Kyodo News the information destroyed by the Swiss government would have gone “a long way” in proving his innocence of charges that he had supplied nuclear technology and information to North Korea, Libya and Iran.

“The documents revealed that all the information which I am accused of proliferating was available with the suppliers. It proved that the Western suppliers from Switzerland, Germany and South Africa all had complete details on nuclear weapons. They provided this technology to all who were willing to pay,” Khan said.

“Yes, the documents would have gone a long way in proving my
innocence,” he wrote.

Generally, the claim is that he was a scapegoat.

Comments

  1. Geoff Forden (History)

    Well, that is certainly the conspiracy theory side of things. On the other side, if there were documents with classified information (like weapons designs!) the defense would undoubtedly subpoena them just to make the threat of making them public. One could even argue that it was the Swiss government’s duty under the NPT to shred them. (Not that I like to see anybody from the AQ Khan network get off free. But what are you going to do?) The same thing happens in US spy cases and, I’m afraid, it is what we have to live with in a free society that also wants to keep some things secret.

  2. mark hibbs (History)

    During 2007 I had a meeting where I met a Western government nonproliferation official who had met Khan on numerous occasions over the years. He expressed the firm belief that Pakistan would never let him talk to the press again. “And if they do let him talk, you can be confident that he’s going to tell lies.”

  3. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Hey Mark, I just a bought a magnum of rose from Unti.

    When are you coming to town to help me drink it?

  4. Alex W. (History)

    Do the Swiss have graymail laws? I think one would have to know a bit more about how the Swiss deal with classified items in court before concluding it was done to avoid graymail problems. The US has had ways of dealing with classified nuclear evidence in the courts since the Rosenberg trial.

  5. RT (History)

    Mark,

    Khan has said on TV that all the actions he took were “authorized”

    Why would we believe that he us lying when every rational, logical analysis strongly suggests that many of his allegend individual actions were in fact carried out on behalf of the government of Pakistan.

    I know that the US government does not want to admit this but what do you think?

  6. Hass (History)

    Why assume that AQK is lying just because some “Western government official” says so? There’s obviously more to this story than “Bad AQK stole nuke secret”. Lets not forget that according to former Dutch PM Ruud Lubbers, the CIA pressured the Dutch to let Khan go, and then they ‘lost’ his court file too…

    Something is not right, we just don’t lose things like that,” judge Anita Leeser told Dutch news show NOVA late Friday. “I find it bewildering that people lose files with a political goal, especially if it is on request of the CIA. It is unheard of,” she added…A month ago former Dutch prime minister Ruud Lubbers said Khan was let go at the request of the US intelligence services. Leeser said that when she heard Lubbers, the disappearance of Khan’s files at the Amsterdam court’s archive fell into place for her. She has asked to see the Khan case files several years ago but they had disappeared from the archives. “Now I think somebody lost the files on purpose … I think that there was some political influence at play nationally and internationally,” she said.

  7. Oliver Meier (History)

    Not all may be lost. According to the German “Tagesspiegel”, there may be copies of the shredded files “in circulation”, though the article(www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/international/Schweiz-CIA;art123,2541745) provides no details. The paper also reports that the Swiss and South African authorities have been slow in providing material in relation to the court case against Gotthard Lerch, one of Tinner’s German colleagues.

  8. China Hand (History)

    A.Q.Khan may be helping grease the skids for Musharraf’s departure. His comments for local consumption centered on criticisms of Musharraf, stating both that Khan did nothing unauthorized and that the government reneged on its promises to him after he acted as the scapegoat. Since Khan is a national hero over there, it makes Musharraf look bad. Since the army controls Khan’s detention and his access to media and is now allowing Khan to go worldwide with his allegations and criticisms after holding him incommunicado for four and a half years, it looks like the army has turned away from Musharraf. And Khan’s statements make it difficult for the United States to continue to support Musharraf’s hold on the presidency if he’s openly accused of being a proliferator by somebody who should know the score.

  9. AWR (History)

    True to Mr Meier’s comments, all may not be lost. The destruction of the evidence, however, lamentable, leaves the information about links and how they worked in the IAEA’s hands. Believe me, they get precious little information of this type, and have only a nascent ability to track the variety of cut-outs, fake companies, and other tricks used to defeat the intel folks. It is also true that the mere provision of this info will help other countries target suspicious operations, like banks.

    BTW, did I see or dream that an Iranian bank fingered in illicit taffic was shut down in Europe? I hanen’t been able to find the cite for my files….

    Arch

  10. mlt (History)

    The story that goes around here in Bern is rather that the documents were shredded at the request of the US authorities.

    There was no request whatsoever from the IAEA and the documents were not as sensitive as portrayed. However, the story goes, Tinner was in fact a CIA operative and the documents were destroyed to hide that fact. The stroy is a bit sensitive because the destruction would have taken place to hide activities of the CIA on swiss territory. And a US representative was present to witness the destruction of the documents.

    And dont take it on me, I am just trying to reflect what is said here in the press and in the lobbies.

  11. Baltimoron (History)

    Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins in The Nuclear Jihadist explored the Khan-Tinner connection. Has anyone heard of any follow-up comments by these authors on this development?

  12. Gridlock (History)

    It’s not like the Swiss haven’t shown massive willingness to operate on behalf of UKUSA in the past (and the Germans for that matter), as with Crypto AG and Siemens.

    OT, the IAEA are en-route to Syria, and perhaps Al Kibar? Statement from El Baradei criticising Israel’s unilateral action (is it unilateral if Israel and the US were involved?).

  13. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    Should we call this The Wrath of Khan?

  14. J House (History)

    It is in the interest of the USIC/USG/Pak to have the public believe AQK was a rogue.
    Unfortunately, the USIC does know the truth about AQK/Pak govt and doesn’t want to upset the applecart re Pak ‘cooperation’ on the GWOT.
    The horse has long left the barn. What is the point?
    Short of Dana Priest waterboarding AQK, the public/media will never know the full details of Pak govt involvement and the USIC intends to keep it that way.

  15. Andy (History)

    Hass,

    This is, I think, the third time you’ve brought up Lubbers and the article about that Dutch judge here at ACW. I’ll summarize responses I gave you earlier thusly:

    Lubbers, who provides no evidence for his allegations, which are refuted by other Dutch officials, was head of the ministry in charge of URENCO when Khan got away. The CIA provides a convenient political scapegoat for his ministry’s lack of oversight.

    Secondly, as the article you cite indicates, the only basis for the judge’s comments are Lubber’s claims.

  16. hass (History)

    Andy, your insistence on characterizng Lubbers as a liar is tiresome. He’s out of office, he has no reason to CYA. And the file was indeed lost, Khan was indeed not prosecuted. Face it.

  17. Andy (History)

    Hass,

    Um, Khan was prosecuted and convicted, actually – a conviction later overturned on a technicality.

    As for Lubbers, regardless of his motivation there is zero evidence to support his contention – especially considering that others have disputed his account. What is tiresome is how often you trot out this evidence-free conspiracy as fact. It would be nice if you applied a tenth of the skepticism to this case as you do toward any assertion Iran has anything but purely peaceful nuclear intentions. Just sayin’.

  18. pkr (History)

    Today, June 5, the trial against Gottfried Lerch is beeing reopened in Stuttgart, Germany. He is accused of having provided pipings for cascades of centrifuges to Lybia and thus having violated export control laws etc. He is said to be part of the same proliferation ring as the Tinner family and a couple of German nationals living in South Africa. Gerhard Wisser, who was convicted to 18 years imprisonment in South Africa is obviously ready to testify in trial and cooperate fully – this was the condition under which he has been released on parole. Lerch had tasked him with manufacturing the pipings in SA. Maybe his testimony can shed some light on the whole operation. Addittionally, there are rumors being circulated in Swiss media, that the authorities there may have passed on files to the the German attorney general who is the prosecutor in this case. The defense counsel obviously wants to cite the Tinners as witnesses, too, but they have the right to refuse to testify and will probably make use of it as their cases are still pending.

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