he complete extent of Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan’s decades-long involvement in
the illegal transfer of nuclear materials and technologies is not known. The details are
submerged in Khan’s work over the past thirty years, which has included both the development
of Pakistan’s uranium enrichment capabilities and a complex international network of experts,
suppliers, and front companies that have aided Iran, Libya, North Korea, and potentially others.
Since we do not know exactly what Khan did, we cannot know when he did it. As more
information is released from those who have questioned Khan and his network partners, a more
complete image of the nuclear black market will emerge. This chronology summarizes what we
Khan Builds His Base in Pakistan
Pre-1985: Khan’s early exposure to European technology and supply chains allow him to establish and develop
uranium enrichment technologies in Pakistan. Knowledge of the technologies, and more importantly, the companies
from which to obtain the necessary components set the foundation for how the future proliferation network would
• Khan is born in Bhopal, which is part of British India. Khan will immigrate with his
family to Pakistan in 1952, several years after India and Pakistan are partitioned.
• Khan moves to Europe to complete his studies, first in West Berlin and later at the
Technical University in Delft, Holland, where he receives a degree in metallurgical
engineering in 1967.
• Khan receives Ph.D. in metallurgical engineering from the Catholic University of Leuven
• May – Khan begins work at Physical Dynamic Research Laboratory (FDO), a
subcontractor of Ultra Centrifuge Nederland (UCN). UCN is the Dutch partner in the
Urenco uranium enrichment consortium.
• 8 May - Within one week of starting work at FDO, Khan visits the advanced UCN
enrichment facility in Almelo, Netherlands to become familiar with Urenco centrifuge
operations and the aspects relevant to his own work to strengthen the metal centrifuge
components. Khan is not officially cleared to visit the facility, but does so many times
with the consent of his employers.
• Dutch intelligence begins to monitor Khan soon after he begins work at FDO, concerned
by a series of inquiries about technical information not related to Khan’s own projects.
• 18 May – India conducts its first nuclear test, a “peaceful nuclear explosion.”
• September – Khan writes to Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to offer his services and
expertise to Pakistan.
• Late – Khan is tasked by UCN at Almelo with translations of the more advanced
German-designed G-1 and G-2 centrifuges from German to Dutch, to which he has
unsupervised access for 16 days.
Late 1970s and Early 1980s
• American intelligence officials convince Dutch authorities on two occasions not to arrest
Khan for the purposes of monitoring his activities further.
• August – Pakistan begins buying components for its domestic uranium enrichment
program from European Urenco suppliers. S.A. Butt, a physicist in the Pakistani
embassy in Belgium, contacts a Dutch company to obtain high frequency inverters, which
are used to control centrifuge motors. Purchases accelerate in the following years and
many components are secured from companies in the Netherlands that Khan is familiar
• October – Khan is transferred away from enrichment work with FDO as Dutch
authorities become increasingly concerned over his activities. He is reportedly observed
asking “suspicious questions” at a nuclear trade show in Switzerland.
• 15 December – Khan suddenly leaves FDO for Pakistan with copied blueprints for
centrifuges and other components and contact information for nearly 100 companies that
supply centrifuge components and materials.
• Khan begins centrifuge work with the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC),
headed by Munir Ahmad Khan.
• July – After conflicts at the PAEC, Prime Minister Bhutto gives Khan autonomous
control over Pakistani uranium enrichment programs.
Khan founds Engineering
Research Laboratory (ERL) on July 31, which focuses exclusively on developing an
indigenous uranium enrichment capability.
• The PAEC continues nuclear research and experiments in both weapons and power
programs in competition with A.Q. Khan and will later develop Pakistan’s first generation
of nuclear weapons.
• ERL develops working prototypes of P-1 centrifuges, adapted from the German G-1
design Khan worked with at Urenco. Pakistan enriches uranium for the first time on
April 4 at Khan’s enrichment facility at Kahuta.
• April - Pakistan is cut off from economic and military assistance by the United States
after U.S. intelligence learns of the recently commissioned enrichment facility at Kahuta.
However, the strategic importance of Pakistan after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan
ensures that no meaningful sanctions will be imposed. This policy is consolidated
following the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.
• Khan acquires blueprints for the Chinese bomb that was tested in China’s fourth nuclear
explosion in 1966.
• Khan is, reportedly, approached by an unknown Arab country (possibly Saudi Arabia or
Syria) requesting nuclear assistance.
• 1 May – ERL is renamed A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) by President Zia ulHaq in recognition of Khan’s contributions to the operational enrichment facility at
• Khan is convicted, in absentia, in Dutch court for conducting nuclear espionage and
sentenced to four years in prison.
• Khan’s conviction is overturned based on an appeal that he had not received a proper
summons. The Dutch prosecution does not renew charges because of the impossibility
of serving Khan a summons given Pakistan security and the inability to obtain any of the
documents that Khan had taken to Pakistan.
The Network Flows Both Ways
Mid-1980s to mid-1990s: Khan’s early successes with the Pakistani uranium enrichment program are followed by
the more advanced design and technologies of the P-2 centrifuge, an adapted version of the German G-2 that can
spin twice as fast as the previous P-1 design. Khan is left with an excess inventory of P-1 components and begins
to purchase additional P-2 components that he will export through many of the same channels he had used to
import centrifuge components. Khan makes nuclear sales in this period to Iran and offers technologies to Iraq and
• Pakistan produces enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for a nuclear weapon. KRL
continues work on enrichment and is tasked with research and development of missile
• Khan, reportedly, begins to develop his export network and orders twice the number of
components necessary for the indigenous Pakistani program. This transition from
importer to exporter of centrifuge components is, apparently, completely missed by
western intelligence services who believe Khan is only working on Pakistan’s domestic
nuclear weapons program.
1986 to 1987
• Pakistan and Iran are suspected of signing a secret agreement on peaceful nuclear
cooperation. Allegedly, the deal includes a provision for at least six Iranians to be trained
in Pakistan at the Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology in Islamabad and the
Nuclear Studies Institute. Iranian scientists might also receive centrifuge training at
• Khan is suspected of visiting the Iranian reactor at Bushehr in February 1986 and again in
January 1987. These early interactions may have led directly to Khan’s assistance to Iran,
but the content of the visits is unknown.
• Khan and his network of international suppliers are reported to begin nuclear transfers to
Iran. The period of cooperation is thought to continue through 1995 when P-2
centrifuge components are transferred. The Pakistani government claims no transfers
occurred after the shipments of P-1 components and sub-assemblies from 1989 to 1991.
• German intelligence investigates potential Pakistani assistance to Iraq, and possibly Iran
and North Korea, with processes related to melting uranium.
• Khan is suspected of having made an offer to Iran to provide a package of nuclear
technologies, including assistance for the difficult process of casting uranium metal. The
price for the package is reported to be from the tens of millions to the hundreds of
• Khan is believed to make a centrifuge deal with Iran to help build a cascade of 50,000 P-1
In addition, Iran may have received centrifuge drawings through an
unknown foreign intermediary around this time.
• KRL begins to publish publicly available technical papers that outline some of the more
advanced design features Khan has developed. The papers include information that
would normally be classified in the U.S. and Europe and show that KRL is competent in
many aspects of centrifuge design and operation. The papers also include specifications
for centrifuges with maraging steel that can spin faster than earlier aluminum designs.
Later, in 1991, KRL publishes details on how to etch grooves around the bottom bearing
to incorporate lubricants. These technical developments are important for Khan’s P-2
• Iranian scientists are suspected of having received nuclear training in Pakistan.
• Iran is suspected of receiving its first centrifuge assemblies and components around this
time. The shipped components are likely older P-1 centrifuge components that Khan no
longer has use for in Pakistan. Through 1995, Khan is reported to have shipped over
2000 components and sub-assemblies for P-1, and later P-2, centrifuges to Iran.
• An Iraqi memo, found during inspections in 1995, indicates that Khan may have offered
significant nuclear assistance to Iraq in late 1990. He offered to sell Iraq a nuclear bomb
design and guarantee material support from Western Europe for a uranium enrichment
program. Khan stated that any materials needed from Europe could be routed through a
company he owned in Dubai and that a meeting with a friendly intermediary could take
place in Greece. However, Iraq is believed to have turned down the offer, suspecting it
to be a sting and no known follow-ups were made after the 1991 Gulf War. The
investigation in the 1990s was inconclusive in its efforts to determine the authenticity of
• Pakistan begins missile cooperation with North Korea. Within Pakistan, KRL is one of
the laboratories responsible for missile research and will develop the Ghauri missile with
North Korean assistance. This cooperation probably establishes the connections that
Khan could have used to transfer nuclear technologies. However, very little is known
about when any nuclear transfers began, what nuclear components might have been
obtained by North Korea, and whether or not the Pakistani government was privy to
1994 or 1995
• More advanced components for P-2 centrifuges are suspected to have arrived in Iran.
B.S.A. Tahir, a Sri Lankan business man and Khan’s chief lieutenant, told Malaysian
police that Iran paid approximately $3 million for these centrifuge parts.
The Network Expands
Mid-1990s to the Present: After initial nuclear transfers to Iran, A.Q. Khan appears to have expanded his
network of customers to include Libya and North Korea. Khan’s network was based on a complex structure of
international suppliers that shipped components unimpeded by ineffective controls. Details of Libya’s acquisition
trace the network to Malaysia, Singapore, Turkey, South Africa, Switzerland, South Korea, Dubai, and possibly
Khan appears to have been financially motivated and, reportedly, received over $100 million from sales to
Many details of the sales to Libya have been uncovered since late 2003, when it decided to come
clean about its nuclear program. However many aspects of the network remain mysterious, including network
sources for some necessary centrifuge components and details about suspected transfers to North Korea.
• Khan starts travel to North Korea where he receives technical assistance for the
development of the Ghauri missile, an adaptation of the North Korean No Dong design.
Khan makes at least 13 visits before his public confession in 2004 and is suspected of
arranging a barter deal to exchange nuclear and missile technologies, though the details of 6
any nuclear transfers remain unknown. Khan travels with military personnel from KRL.
These officials could have helped with the transfer of nuclear technology because
programs under the Ministry of Defense were exempt from normal export controls.
The military presence at KRL, including personnel who traveled to North Korea,
suggests that the Pakistani government might have been aware of Khan’s activities.
President Musharraf denies this claim.
• Khan is suspected to have met with a top Syrian official in Beirut to offer assistance with
a centrifuge enrichment facility.
• The Pakistani currency reserve crunch may motivate Khan to expand his nuclear network
with sales to North Korea. The crisis might have made a barter agreement attractive to
Pakistan to avoid defaulting on external debt. Visits of North Korean and Pakistani
officials accelerate following the crisis, but it is not known if these meetings include
discussions of nuclear transfers or deal exclusively with missile technologies.
• Khan begins to transfer centrifuges and centrifuge components to Libya. Libya receives
20 assembled P-1 centrifuges and components for 200 additional units for a pilot
enrichment facility. Khan’s network will continue to supply with centrifuge components
until late 2003.
• Khan is suspected of beginning nuclear transfers to North Korea around this time,
though the dates of the first transfers are highly uncertain.
Transfers to North Korea
are believed to have continued through 2003, but the Pakistani government claims these
transfers ceased in 2001. Over this period, Khan may have supplied North Korea with
old and discarded centrifuge and enrichment machines together with sets of drawings,
sketches, technical data, and depleted uranium hexafluoride.
• December – Several reports state that Pakistan's then-Chief of Army Staff General
Jehangir Karamat secretly visited Pyongyang.
Khan has claimed that Karamat was aware
of the deal between Pakistan and North Korea to exchange enrichment assistance for
Karamat, now Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States, says
that this information is incorrect. He says that he never visited North Korea and did not
have any knowledge of the proliferation activity.
• India detonates a total of five devices in nuclear tests on May 11 and 13.
• Pakistan responds with six nuclear tests on May 28 and 30.
• Pakistani government releases an advertisement of procedures for the export of nuclear
equipment and components. The ad lists equipment for sale, including gas centrifuges
and magnet baffles for enriching uranium.
Other advertisements from KRL are
reported to include an “unsubtle drawing” of a mushroom cloud and vacuum devices that
attach to centrifuge casings.
• June – Peter Griffin sets up Gulf Technical Industries in Dubai, which serves as a front
company for Khan’s network. B.S.A. Tahir will use Gulf Technical Industries as one of
his front companies to order centrifuge components from Malaysia.
• September – Libya receives two P-2 centrifuges as demonstrator models and places an
order for components for 10,000 more to build a cascade. Each centrifuge contains
around 100 parts, implying approximately 1 million parts total for the entire P-2
• Libya obtains 1.87 tons of uranium hexafluoride, the gas that is used to feed enrichment
centrifuges. The amount is consistent with that required for a small pilot enrichment
The source of the uranium hexafluoride remains uncertain. In 2004, evidence
emerges that North Korea might have supplied Libya with the material, which would be
the first discovered transfer of nuclear material from North Korea to an A.Q. Khan
network recipient. The evidence remains inconclusive, however, and authorities continue
to suspect that the uranium hexafluoride came from Pakistan.
• March – Khan is forced into retirement. Khan refuses the compensatory position of
“advisor to the chief executive” and is later given the ceremonial title of “Special Advisor
to the Chief Executive on Strategic and KRL Affairs.” However, neither Khan nor the
press use this title.
President Musharraf has admitted that Khan’s suspected
proliferation activity was a critical factor in his removal from KRL.
• Summer – American spy satellites detect missile components being loaded into a
Pakistani cargo plane outside of Pyongyang. Intelligence services assume the cargo to be
missile technology traded in direct exchange for nuclear technology, but no hard evidence
• December – B.S.A. Tahir signs a $13 million contract with Scuomi Precision Engineering
(SCOPE) in Malaysia for 25,000 aluminum centrifuge components. The components will
be shipped to front companies in Dubai, including Gulf Technical Industries and SMB
Computers. SCOPE representatives later acknowledge manufacturing parts for Tahir,
but believed that they would be used in Dubai oil and gas industries.
Late 2001 or Early 2002
• Libya receives blueprints for nuclear weapons plans. The plans are reported to be of
Chinese origin with Chinese notes in the margins.
There is reported to be a note on the
blueprints that “Munir’s bomb would be bigger,” possibly a reference to Munir Ahmad
Khan of the PAEC, who was in competition with A.Q. Khan to develop a Pakistani
• December – Shipments begin from SCOPE of aluminum centrifuge components. Four
shipments are believed to have been sent from Malaysia to Dubai before August 2003, en
route to Libya.
• Spring – The State Department announces some sanctions against KRL, citing illegal
missile transactions. The State Department also states that it has insufficient evidence to
issue sanctions for illegal nuclear transactions.
• April – German authorities intercept a ship in the Suez Canal with a large cargo of strong
aluminum tubing en route to North Korea. The tube specifications suggest that they are
intended for use as outer casings for P-2 centrifuges.
• October – The German cargo ship BBC China is intercepted en route to Libya with
components for 1,000 centrifuges. The parts were manufactured in Malaysia by SCOPE
and shipped through Dubai.
• December – Libya renounces its nuclear weapons program and begins the process of full
disclosure to the IAEA, including the declaration of all foreign procurements.
• 4 February – Khan makes a public confession on Pakistani television (in English) of his
illegal nuclear dealings. Khan claims that he initiated the transfers and cites an “error of
judgment.” He is pardoned soon after by President Musharraf and has been under house
arrest since. The Pakistani government claims that Khan acted independently and
• March – A container aboard the BBC China (the ship that was previously intercepted)
arrives in Libya with one additional container of P-2 centrifuge components. Colonel
Qaddafi reports the arrival to American intelligence and the IAEA. The Libyans warn
American officials that not all of the components from Libya’s orders had arrived and
some might still show up in the future.