'Father of the Islamic bomb'
A.Q. Khan brought the nuclear bomb to the Muslim world – while the West looked the other way.
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After studying in Germany and marrying a Dutch woman, Khan got a job working for a Dutch company that designed centrifuges for uranium enrichment – a process used to generate nuclear energy, but also the most easily concealed way to fill a nuclear warhead.Skip to next paragraph
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When, in 1974, India tested an atomic weapon, Khan felt his country would no longer be safe without one. So from under the noses of his colleagues, he stole blueprints, photos, and lists of materials suppliers. He packed all these, and his wife and daughters, and moved back to Pakistan to build the nation a bomb.
He did so in record time, against the predictions of Western experts, who thought Pakistan – which Khan himself described as a "country which could not make sewing needles, good and durable bicycles or even ordinary durable roads" in the early years of his weapons program – was incapable of mastering uranium enrichment technology. Khan proved them wrong.
But he didn't stop at a Pakistani bomb. As his greed and ambitions grew, Khan became what Frantz and Collins call "a nuclear Wal-Mart," peddling those secrets that had made him a national hero to other states anxious to join the "nuclear club." Stealing from work, he sold materials and plans to Pyongyang, Tehran, and Tripoli.
Even when evidence of Khan's work was indisputable, US officials calculated that it would be better to watch and wait than to antagonize a sometime-ally like Pakistan into prosecuting him.
There were a few lonely souls who tried to block Khan's way, and they are an important part of Frantz and Collins's story.
Richard Barlow, a promising young Central Intelligence Agency analyst, sounded the alarm on Khan and was run out of Washington for his temerity. Leonard Weiss, an alarmed Senate staffer, fought for decades for stronger counterproliferation measures. But such men were the exception.
The book's brightest spot is an account of the demise of Libya's nuclear ambitions. Leader Muammar Qaddafi underwrote the development of Khan's bomb in Pakistan with the understanding that his own nation would benefit.
But after Sept. 11, 2001, "[Qaddafi] recognized that international terrorism had taken a brutal turn, and he risked being crushed by the American response unless he quickly altered his ways."
Anxious, too, for the lifting of international sanctions, he cut a deal with US and British diplomats and abandoned his nuclear weapons program.
Overall, though, "The Nuclear Jihadist" leaves little room for optimism. In lively prose and well-chosen detail, it enumerates the dangers our world now faces thanks to Khan and those who abetted him. What's less clear is where we should go from here.