In a little noticed item, the Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. government has lifted sanctions on B.S. Abu Tahir, a key player in A.Q. Khan’s nuclear proliferation network. In its heyday, the Khan Network supplied nuclear weapon technology to Libya, Iran and North Korea—and those are only the ones that can be confirmed. Counter-proliferation experts believe Khan had other customers as well.
Tahir has long been a sensitive issue for the Malaysians. In 2004, as the Khan Network was exposed, President Bush called Tahir the group’s “chief financial officer and money launderer.” Tahir’s wife was partner in a company with the son of then-Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. The Khan Network set up a centrifuge component workshop in one of company’s factories, working on parts for shipment to Libya. Malaysia jailed Tahir for four years without charges and then let him go. Read the Malaysian police report on Tahir here.
Longtime Khan watchers are mystified by the U.S. move. In their book, “Fallout: The True Story of the CIA’s Secret War on Nuclear Trafficking,” journalists Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins note that Tahir is “a veteran of the nuclear underworld.” He knows where the bodies are buried and where the treasure is hidden. In Switzerland, by the way, the Tinner family—three engineers who played key roles in Khan’s nuclear smuggling network—are also roaming free. Back in Pakistan, Khan is a national hero, under government protection. Lately he has been promoting old cronies in his newspaper column. The Khan Network’s capacity for nuclear mischief may be greatly diminished but that kind of knowledge on the loose is a dangerous thing. Attention should be paid.