Joshua PollackAQ Khan and India at CEIP

A fun time was had by all yesterday morning at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, DC,  where I presented my research on AQ Khan and his fourth customer. (Well, perhaps there might have been a few stony faces out there.) George Perkovich moderated. I’m grateful for all of his compliments, starting with the invitation itself.

There was an overflow crowd. It was a rare treat to see a classroom’s worth of middies in attendance — plus, if my eyes did not deceive me, one or two cadets.

For those who couldn’t make it, the video is now online. The whole thing runs just under an hour and a half, including the Q&A. See if you can’t spot the cameo appearance by Pollack the Elder!

Update | Jan. 25. Global Security Newswire’s Rachel Oswald has covered the event. Some highlights on the policy front:

Any serious suspicions by other governments that New Delhi conducted nuclear weapons technology deals with the Khan ring could negatively impact India’s chances of concluding new atomic trade agreements with nations such as Japan and Australia or winning membership to the exclusive Nuclear Suppliers Group, [Pollack] asserted….

Indian purchases of nuclear weapons technology on the black market would not necessarily constitute a breach of any international commitments, Pollack said. New Delhi is not a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and is still in the midst of an effort to join several other arms control regimes.

India’s reputation as country that does not engage in nuclear proliferation has been central to its negotiation of civilian atomic cooperation pacts with foreign governments that would otherwise have balked at trading with a nuclear-armed state that has not signed the NPT accord.

Should Japan or Australia put credence in the suspicions that India was Khan’s fourth customer, it could make the two countries — both strong proponents of nuclear nonproliferation — think twice about signing atomic pacts with India, Pollack said at the Carnegie event.

Tokyo and New Delhi are presently in advance negotiations for a trade accord that would allow Japanese civilian atomic technology to be exported to India (see GSN, Oct, 31, 2011). A key obstacle to date to the conclusion of a trade deal has been Japanese nonproliferation concerns.

In December, Australia’s ruling party decided to permit uranium export negotiations with India, a controversial decision that ended a decades-long Labor Party policy. In making the case for the reversal, the Australian government compared India’s sterling nonproliferation reputation to that of Pakistan (see GSN, Dec. 6, 2011).

It would be difficult for Canberra to uphold that distinction should it conclude that India was on the other side of some Khan network transactions, Pollack said. “Maybe the Australians should rethink their rationale.”

New Delhi is also seeking entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an elite 46-nation export control organization that promotes nonproliferation standards for atomic trade by all members (see GSN, July 18, 2011).

“If India has plants full of stolen centrifuge technology that it is not acknowledging, then that’s embarrassing” for the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s reputation, Pollack said, adding that the organization wants candidate countries to be “like-minded.”

He said the Indian Atomic Energy Department could put to rest suspicions of improper dealings with the Khan network by providing “credible disclosures about the origins of the uranium enrichment technology, if they care to deny it that is.”

“That’s what I’d like to see — some sort of representation from the Indians,” Pollack continued.

For an explanation of what I mean about the Australian rationale for dealing with India’s nuclear program but not Pakistan’s, see Defense Minister Stephen Smith’s remarks of December 8, 2011. In particular:

Pakistan does not have the same record [as India] so far as proliferation is concerned. There have been serious expressions of concern about proliferation in the past.

Indeed. But there is now, at a minimum, a cloud over the idea that India’s proliferation record is impeccable (setting aside the matter of CIRUS, of course).

One reason that Japan ought to be concerned about India’s potential connection to the Khan network is A.Q. Khan’s record in Japan. For decades, a Japanese trading company played an important role in supplying his network by acting as a straw buyer. Ring magnets, maraging steel, machine tools, and other supplies from Japan flowed into the network. Where did they all end up? Are any in India? If I were in the Japanese government, I would be acutely curious.

When discussing India’s bid for NSG membership, what was in the back of my mind was the American “food for thought” memorandum circulated to NSG member states last May. As it says:

Our interest in permitting the full membership of countries that have demonstrated responsible nonproliferation and export control practices and the ability and willingness to contribute substantially to global nonproliferation objectives is already reflected in the factors for consideration. Specifically, we refer to:

— “Be supportive of international efforts towards the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles,” and

— “Have in force a legally-based domestic export control system which gives effect to the commitment to act in accordance with the [NSG] guidelines.”


…The factors for consideration… that address a candidate’s obligation to have made a legally binding non-proliferation commitment, and have the ability to supply NSG-listed items stem from the group’s desire for “like-minded” partners. Given the exchange of highly sensitive technical data, commercial information, and frankness of the work of the NSG, the group wanted to ensure that the issue of participation in the NSG was focused on candidates that shared the same goals and commitments to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Food for thought, indeed.

Update | Jan. 26. A transcript of the event has become available.

Also, now that I’ve repaired the graphics in my slide presentation, you can view it here.

A few words about the pictures. Slide 31 shows just a label. But you can find the entire graphic in this ISIS report from 2008.

Slide 32 shows a table from this 2010 IPFM blog post. What I’d planned to say about it was roughly this: In recent years, Srikumar Banerjee, who was then the Director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and is now chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of India (AECI), has made occasional remarks about the Indian centrifuge program. Based on these remarks, Alexander Glaser, Zia Mian, and MV Ramana of IPFM compared the pattern of India’s centrifuge development to that of Pakistan, which has been based on four different early URENCO designs.

This just goes to show you that my ideas about India as Khan’s fourth customer are perhaps neither quite so original nor quite so outré as some may imagine. On the other hand, it’s possible to read too much into Glaser et al.’s comparison. As I stated at this point during the presentation, India’s centrifuge program was indigenous in origin. Along the way, it appears to have incorporated foreign-origin design information and equipment. But it does not necessarily involve any exact copies of foreign centrifuge designs. Both the differences between the G-2 and the centrifuge design of ca. 2006 and the need to modify the UF6-resistant flow meters (see slide 23) suggest as much.

Lastly, I should provide credit for the nice image on the final slide, which I used as punctuation. This is a detail from the article illustration by Jeremy Enecio. It comes from his blog.

Update | Jan. 31. Carnegie has posted a nicely formatted transcript.


  1. BJR (History)

    Congratulations on an excellent article and event. Do you plan to post your PPT slides on the web? I thought that they highlighted some of the additional evidence that you did not include in the article (and that adds to your case).

    • joshua (History)

      Thanks. For some reason, certain images didn’t appear in the slides. I need to fix the slides, but will probably post them here before long.

    • joshua (History)

      The slides are posted, along with a transcript. See above.

  2. kme (History)

    Sadly, the Australian policy change is all about domestic politics, not the actual merits. It was picked as a relatively “unexciting” (to the average punter) issue that nevertheless allowed the Prime Minister to demonstrate that she could push a controversial platform change through the ALP national conference.

    • joshua (History)

      If I may ask, what do you believe was the point of such a demonstration?

    • kme (History)

      As the first government without an absolute majority in Parliament for more than 60 years, they have been forced into constant negotiations with a small group of unaligned MPs. This has robbed the government, and its leader, of perceived authority.

      The ALP has also been dealing with a perception that significant power in the party is wielded by unelected factional leaders.

      Against this background, the National Conference was preparing to alter the party platform to endorse gay marriage, which ran counter to the Prime Minister’s publically stated position on that issue – this would have been widely seen as further undermining the PM’s authority. To counter this, it appears that the India Uranium deal was stitched up in order to give the PM a sorely needed win.

      That’s my view, anyway.

  3. RAJ47 (History)

    First time ever such a preposterous, outrageous untruth has been told.

    • joshua (History)

      Well, there’s a meaty critique.

      As I’ve told others, if you think hard enough, you can find an alternative explanation for each piece of evidence, which is why I have avoided expressing any profound certainty about the identity of Khan’s fourth customer. There are other potential candidates. But the evidence as a whole points to India. That may be outrageous. The interesting thing it’s that it’s actually not preposterous at all.

  4. John Hallam (History)

    The transcript does NOT appear to be available at all, and the link absolutely does not work at all.

    All it does is lead to the completely useless website of a firm that does transcripts, with no mention whatsoever of the event in question.

    I would have loved to have had the transcript, damnit.

    John Hallam

    • joshua (History)

      They seem to have pulled it down for some reason. But it may yet become available at I’l post it if does.

    • JohnLopresti (History)

      Mr. Hallam,
      Mr. Pollack evidently has repaired the link to the transcript, which now is functioning; it is the one at

    • joshua (History)

      Thanks for pointing that out. I’m not sure why it stopped and started working again.

  5. Anjaan (History)

    What ever be the truth of Dr A Q Khan’s fourth customer, the bottomline is, America’s national interests supercedes all the laws, agreements and treaties of the world. As long as the Americans think it suites their national interests, the Americans will make exceptions for any country, India in case of the nuclear deal.

    But interestingly, the Indians do not miss the point that after three decades of economic & Technology sanctions and nuclear aparthied against India, the Americans suddenly saw wisdom in a nuclear deal with India, which by the way came with a number of poison pill amendments, only after facilitating the Paki nukes to neutralize the Indian ones…… !! After all, the Americans can not ignore or scuttle a growing power in India for ever, if they have to stay relevant in Asia in the 21st century.

    India certainly is not carried away by such America gestures, custom designed to bring India into the NPT through the back door, while trying to grab India’s enormous market potential, and also trying to trap India into a number of binding defense agreements in garb of strategic alliance.

    The Americans may think they are smart, but the rest of the world is not dumb either ……..!

  6. Anjaan (History)

    I have only one question to the ” knowledgeable Americans and Pakistanis”, why was Richard Barlow, a CIA officer during the Reagan administration, gagged and persecuted for his whistle blowing on Paki nukes …… ? Why was Sibel Edmonds, the Turkish language translator in the FBI, ignored, and the revelations swept under the carpet ….. ?

    Obviously, it did not suite American national interests then, and truth was blocked from the American public.

    • joshua (History)

      What the primary source documents suggest is that the Reagan administration was caught between the needs of the Afghan-Soviet War and the needs of nonproliferation, but that nonproliferation remained a higher priority than is generally understood. Go and read.

  7. Olli Heinonen (History)

    It appears that there were Indian customers. What was the “Fourth Customer” ,which the network people were talking about,is still to be revealed. For that client preparations were under way when the network was busted. One of the tasks was a design for a buildings sufficient for ca 5000 centrifuges with some workshops. When you look at the status of the Indian program, it is hard to believe that they asked for such a work. It is more plausible that the design seen was a turn-key project for a beginner. Was this just someone’s dream on a drawing board or a project which had already started, remains to be seen.

    • joshua (History)


      That’s extraordinary. Thanks.


    • George William Herbert (History)

      That goes beyond extraordinary into disturbing.

      And, yes, would seem by its fundamental nature to be someone other than India, and someone wanting a fairly high-volume program.

      Syria and Myanmar come to mind, but the potential that it was someone else is rather disturbing. Saudi Arabia, for example…

    • joshua (History)

      There are some speculations about Saudi Arabia in Frantz and Collins, Fallout (2011).

      I have some other thoughts about this, but am not ready to share.

  8. joshua (History)

    Carnegie has posted a nicely formatted transcript.

  9. Olli Heinonen (History)

    George William Herbert, true. It is getting warm. Not a bad suggestion. Even in that order.

  10. Zee (History)
    • joshua (History)

      It’s from 2008.

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