Jeffrey LewisAP On Hasaka

For the past week or so, we’ve been discussing the Hasaka Spinning Factory — a textile factory in Syria that drew the interest of the IAEA (See: Hasaka Spinning Factory and Hasaka Spinning Factory Revisited).

Today, Desmond Butler and George Jahn at the Associated Press have published a very good story on the Hasaka Spinning Factory with one more piece of the puzzle.

The more I think about their story, the more I’d really like to use the toilet at the Hasaka Spinning Factory.  Allow me to explain.

Butler and Jahn have the final piece of the puzzle — the answer to the question “What interested the IAEA in the site near Al Hasakah?”  The facility layout is similar to documents for enrichment facilities found in Libya and Switzerland:

The investigator said the layout of the Al-Hasakah facility matches the plans used in Libya almost exactly, with a large building surrounded by three smaller workshops in the same configurations. Investigators were struck that even the parking lots had similarities, with a covered area to shield cars from the sun.

The story is sourced to “a senior diplomat with knowledge of IAEA investigations and a former U.N. investigator” — I’ll let you guess the identity of those two characters.

Last week I heard two different versions of the story — the Libya version and the Switzerland version.  Both, it seems, are the case — Butler and Jahn point to both “plans for a uranium enrichment facility that were seized during a Swiss investigation related to Khan” and “[a]nother set of the same plans [that] was turned over to the IAEA after Libya abandoned its nuclear program.”

As far as I can tell, Libya intended to build such a facility, but never did.  Site A in Libya (Al Hashan), where Libya initially installed its Khan-provided centrifuges, was, according to Doug Frantz and Catherine Collins, “in a nondescript, abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of Tripoli …” The centrifuges were later moved to Site B (Al Fallah) for storage.

Suddenly, however, this all makes sense.  The most remarkable detail in David Albright’s Peddling Peril was that “The architectural plans for the layout of the centrifuge plant [provided by the Khan network to Libya] were so complete they contained instructions on where to install toilet paper holders in the bathrooms.” Albright cited “Interview with a senior official close to the IAEA, 28 February 2004.”

So, there you have it. They IAEA has very detailed architectural information on the building Libya intended to build right down to the ticket dispenser in the John Crapper. We are now told that the facility in Syria has many similarities.  This is very interesting. It is also very funny.

The notion of a safeguards inspector, perched on the throne as it were, studying the placement of the toilet paper holder, is just priceless.

I can’t shake the idea of Herman Nackaerts, in some ridiculous costume, posing as a textile importer, sipping tea at the Hasaka Spinning Factory and then suddenly exclaiming in some sort of put-on accent: “Excuse me, I have to punish the porcelain.”

Ok, I actually thought of a lot funnier things for Nackaerts to say, but that’s the only one I am willing to publish.

All kidding aside, we really need to see the documents from Libya and Switzerland to see whether almost exactly to see what “almost” means.  But at least now we understand the nature of the interest in the building.


  1. krepon (History)

    Do you do stand up, too?

  2. Anon (History)
  3. blowback (History)

    If the Syrians are supposed to be going the plutonium route, why would they need an enrichment facility? After all, if the BoE was a reactor (for which there is little if any hard evidence) “designed” by North Koreans then it would almost certainly be a Magnox reactor (the only reactors it would appear the North Koreans have ever constructed themselves) and so would only ever need natural uranium. Why would a relatively poor country like Syria want to get involved with building a very expensive facility such as an enrichment plan when there is no need to since the North Koreans appear to also have a workable design for a plutonium device?

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Pakistan did both.

  4. Magoo (History)

    Pakistan did not do both simultaneously at the initial stages of it nuclear programme. The Uranium and Plutonium routes were staggered with a gap of well over two decades. Secondly, Khushab-1 had the economic benefits of Pakistan’s proceeds of its proliferation activities courtesy AQK, Aslam Beg et al, and generous bequests from Saudi Arabia and Libya. Blowback has a very relevant question that cannot be dismissed summarily.

    • shaheen (History)

      Blowback’s question is indeed relevant. But it does remain that at least four countries (Iraq, Iran, Syria, North Korea) did or are doing the same.

      IF Syria had or has plans for enrichment, there are two hypotheses:
      – It learned from Islamabad and Baghdad that “when the Pu route is blocked or appears uncertain, the wise rogue State embarks in the HEU one, if only as an insurance policy”.
      – Syria was / is working for the benefit of another country.

      The fact that it is a “relatively poor” country (to quote Blowback) is of course irrelevant. See the examples above.

    • kme (History)

      shaheen: There is another possible hypothesis (again, conditional on there actually having been a HEU program), which is that the Syrians started along the HEU route with the assistance of AQ Khan, but switched suppliers and technology to North Korea and Pu when the Khan network was disrupted.

    • Mansoor Ahmed (History)

      Pakistan pursued both routes as part of its efforts of master the complete nuclear fuel cycle, simultaneously during the 1970s and 80s. This program was implemented according to a long-term nuclear plan prepared by PAEC in May 1972 and approved by the then President Bhutto. This plan was adjusted and modified to replace safeguarded and imported fuel cycle facilities in the wake of India’s PNE and included plans for various plants comprising the HEU route, including Uranium Processing, Conversion and Enrichment.

      Pakistan also initiated the New Labs reprocessing plant project in the early 1970s which was completed by 1981. Between 1974-1980, PAEC completed the nuclear fuel fabrication plant at Kundian, uranium processing, conversion and metallurgy plants at Dera Ghazi Khan and initiated the centrifuge project for enriching UF6 at Kahuta in 1974.

      The fuel cycle was supplemented by projects related to nuclear weapon design, development and testing, theoretical design work initiated in Dec. 1972, and work on the bomb itself launched in March 1974 and on testing sites in 1976.

      PAEC completed this entire infrastructure by the early 1980s and carried out the first cold test of a working nuclear device on March 11, 1983, followed by two dozen more.

      The only missing link in the plutonium route by this time was an unsafeguarded production reactor at Khushab Complex (including heavy water and tritium plants) which was re-initiated (after being temporarily shelved in 1973) in 1984-85. Once Khushab-I was completed, New Labs was operationalized to separate plutonium.

      Theoretically, Pakistan could have reprocessed KANUPP’s fuel in the 1980s as technically Pakistan was ready for reprocessing by this time, but it did not do so for obvious reasons. Cold commissioning test runs at New Labs were conducted in 1986 using safeguarded spent fuel from KANUPP under the IAEA’s exemption clause and with the Agency’s approval for R&D purposes, signalling readiness to begin reprocessing, provided unsafeguarded spent fuel was available.

      Following Canada’s unilateral cut off of fuel for KANUPP in Dec. 1976, Pakistan started producing indigenous fuel for the reactor by 1978 and could have walked out of the safeguards agreement, which it did not and chose to continue safeguards on Pakistani fuel also.

      Secondly, there is no connection with proliferation of A Q Khan and using the proceeds for Khushab, which was run by PAEC under Munir Khan and was a rival organization, challenging A Q Khan’s claims of sole monopoly over Pakistan’s nuclear achievements.

  5. b (History)

    “a large building surrounded by three smaller workshops” plus a parking lot with some trees.

    I am nearly convinced that this makes an enrichment facility – NOT.

    How many such building configurations, a main production hall and three pre-/post production buildings, can be found in the Middle East and elsewhere? Hundreds? Thousands?

    The site is supposed to have had East-German spinning machines replaced by newer ones in the early 2000nds. The Germans should be able to verify that.

  6. Janet M. Simons (History)
  7. George William Herbert (History)

    Hmm. Anyone have coordinates for the Libya site?

    (pondering whether we can talk Google into letting us do a parametric search through Google Earth for other such facilities…)

    • Jeffrey (History)

      There is no Libya site — the building was never built. It exists only as a schematic and, I am told, prefabricated elements on pallets.

  8. AZ (History)

    @ Herbert. See Haaretz’s coverage of the Hasaka story They have posted a satellite image.
    I am amazed by the “scholarly” work on Hasaka. Everyone has quoted IAEA, but the Agency’s website is SILENT on the issue!
    Guys where did you pick the story from? Am I blind to notice the elephant in the room? I went through the complete IAEA Website but nada on Hasaka.
    So what’s the source of all this outrage? Anyone?

    • Anon (History)

      Did you read the link to Mark’s Q and A above? (not that I believe the hype)

  9. aks (History)

    Mansoor Ahmed, that sort of whitewashing might go down well with the home audience at, but not anyplace else.

    • Mansoor Ahmed (History)

      How is it white washing? These facilities exist on ground and are not the figment of anyone’s imagination. It is another matter that some may like to adhere to cheery picking regarding Pakistan’s nuclear history and ignore the ground realities which may not have been advertised as such.