DATE September 11, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: BBC's Gordon Corera talks about his book "Shopping for
Bombs: Nuclear Proliferation, Global Insecurity, and The Rise and
Fall of the A.Q. Khan Network"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
The former CIA director George Tenet reportedly described A.Q. Khan as "at
least as dangerous as Osama bin Laden," a label my guest Gordon Corera says is
richly deserved. Corera is the author of a new book about Khan called
"Shopping for Bombs." Khan is a hero to many in Pakistan, where he's
considered the father of the nuclear bomb. But he's responsible not only for
developing nuclear capability in his country, he built a clandestine network
selling nuclear secrets and technology across the globe to any country willing
to pay, including Iran, Libya and North Korea. Through his network for the
first time, nuclear products became available in the private sector, out of
state control. Khan has been under house arrest in Pakistan since 2004 when
he confessed to selling nuclear secrets. Over the weekend, he had surgery for
prostate cancer. My guest, Gordon Corera, is a security correspondent for the
BBC TV and radio. I asked him to describe A.Q. Khan's nuclear network.
Mr. GORDON CORERA: Towards its ends, the network really was a globalized
network. It had production points across the world in Asia and Malaysia, in
South Africa, in Turkey, a hub in Dubai where material was routed through.
This really was the globalization of nuclear technology sales and represented
really something very new and very dangerous, part of a trend towards
transnational threats and transnational networks.
GROSS: And he sold to governments and to terrorists, do we know?
Mr. CORERA: We don't think he sold to terrorists. He's--there's been a lot
of concern about whether some of that technology he's sold could have found
its way to terrorists. Obviously, there's concern because he, of course, is
based in Pakistan, a country which both has the nuclear bomb and has a lot of
the al-Qaeda leadership in there and a number of militants. There's no
evidence of Khan himself directly dealing with al-Qaeda or with terrorists
himself. Other Pakistani scientists did from Pakistan's nuclear program.
GROSS: What was A.Q. Khan's role in creating the Pakistan nuclear weapon?
Mr. CORERA: Well, he played a really pivotal role. He came to Europe as a
young scientist and was--got a job partly by chance at a European nuclear
technology center called URENCO, and just at that time in the early '70s,
Pakistan was making a new push towards developing a nuclear bomb. Precisely
because it felt threatened by India, it felt it needed one for its own
security, and Khan was absolutely vital in delivering that bomb to Pakistan.
He wasn't the only person, but he was a vital part of that mission by stealing
some of those plans from Europe, by delivering them to Pakistan, by building a
global procurement network to bring together the parts for Pakistan's bomb.
All of that was thanks to A.Q. Khan.
GROSS: Now early on, in Khan's nuclear career, was he officially working with
the Pakistan government?
Mr. CORERA: Absolutely. He started off as an agent for the Pakistan
government. He came to Europe as a young student but while he was here, while
he was there in Europe, I should say, he became a spy and started stealing
those plans, and that was done on the instructions of Pakistan's prime
minister. Khan wrote him a letter saying, `I can help you,' and the prime
minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, said, `Go ahead and do it.' So at that point,
he was very much an agent of the Pakistani state. Went back and got a senior
job in Pakistan's nuclear program in a very secretive plant and was building
the bomb for Pakistan.
GROSS: How did he go freelance?
Mr. CORERA: Well, he built that bomb for Pakistan, built the network to
bring together the parts, and then in the 1980s, he makes this transition from
purchaser to a salesman, from importing the components into Pakistan to
exporting them out to other countries. He basically twists the business
network that he's built up from buying for Pakistan to selling to other
countries, and those businessmen that he's working with start meeting with
representatives of other countries. Khan meets with representatives of other
countries. Some of his associates do--a number of other countries. The first
deal we really know about in some detail is one with Iran in 1987 in which a
group of businessmen meet in Dubai with Iranian representatives enough to sell
them some of those secret nuclear designs which Khan had first stolen from
Europe in the '70s.
GROSS: Pakistan's early nuclear research was done with the help of Libya, and
the deal was cut between the heads of both countries as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of
Pakistan and Muammar Qaddafi of Libya. What was this deal? What was the
Mr. CORERA: Well, this came as in the early '70s Pakistan was putting itself
on the course of building a bomb. It needed money, simple as that. Pakistan
is very poor country, and building a bomb, particularly at that point, was a
hugely ambitious project and required millions, billions dollars. And one of
the places in which Pakistan went for money was Libya. Libya was, at that
time, had just been taken over by Colonel Qaddafi. He was at that point in a
very nationalist phase in which he was keen to assert Libyan power in which
the bomb--the nuclear bomb was in his mind, in his description `the sword of
Islam,' and he saw an opportunity there by supporting Pakistan's scientific
work and by delivering money. And so large shipments of money were basically
flown from Libya to Pakistan to help finance the Pakistan program in the early
days. Other money also came in from some of the Gulf states. Now that didn't
necessarily last for that long but it did get the Pakistani program off the
ground, and Libya then plays an important role later on in the Khan story.
GROSS: What was the role?
Mr. CORERA: Well, the role is that by the mid-1990s Khan has been building
up a bigger customer base for his bomb, and Libyans meet with Khan in a number
of places including Istanbul, in Casa Blanca, and basically the Libyans go to
the Khan network, looking for the bomb, and it is the biggest deal that the
Khan network lands, far bigger than the other nuclear deals that they put
together because the Libyans at this point in the mid-1990s are asking for
everything from Khan. They want a full turnkey program from start to finish,
all the machines--the centrifuge machines required, designs, plans, machines
to build more machines, if you like. Everything. And this is the cause of
the Khan network expanding in the late '90s to fulfill this deal. And that's
important partly because it's the scale of that deal, the ambition of that
deal which starts to draw attention from Western intelligence agencies that
something's going on, and that in turn begins the downfall for A.Q. Khan.
GROSS: Early on in Pakistan's development of its nuclear weapons program, how
much did the United States know about it?
Mr. CORERA: Well, actually, the United States knew quite a lot about
Pakistan's early nuclear program. It knew that Pakistan wanted a bomb in the
early '70s, and that it was after one. It did think, however, that Pakistan
was going down the plutonium route for the bomb rather than the uranium
enrichment, two broad different ways of getting together the nuclear material.
One is through nuclear reactors producing plutonium, which is then
reprocessed. The other way is through uranium enrichment. The US thought
Pakistan was going down the plutonium route and tried to cut that off and stop
it getting hold of reactors and reprocessing plants, which it succeeded in
doing actually. But the problem was that, at the same time, Pakistan had a
backup option, and that backup option was A.Q. Khan and his work on uranium
enrichment technology and the designs he'd stolen from Europe. And so by the
time that the US realized what Khan was doing and how important he was, it was
effectively too late. By the late '70s, the US and the CIA realized that Khan
was up to something, but then something very important happens, which is that
in 1979 the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan. That makes Pakistan suddenly
very important to the United States because it's the base from which the US
will fight a proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, using the
mujahideen, and it needs Pakistani help to do that, to try and attack the
Soviets, and so as a result, the US begins to turn a blind eye to that
Pakistani bomb program during the 1980s.
GROSS: In 1990, George H.W. Bush, President Bush, said that he could no
longer certify that Pakistan didn't have the bomb. So what happened?
Mr. CORERA: Well, this is after the Soviets have withdrawn from Afghanistan,
so, all of a sudden, the US decides it doesn't need Pakistan much anymore, and
basically cuts it loose, then imposes sanctions on Pakistan over its nuclear
program finally in 1990 even though it had known for many years earlier that
Pakistan was developing the bomb. It finally imposes those sanctions and
US-Pakistan relations dip precipitously really from then onwards through the
1990s, leaving the US with less leverage over Pakistan, leaving the Pakistanis
looking elsewhere, for instance, for support. They needed a way to deliver
the bomb, and so they started looking--the US as part of that 1990s sanctions
imposition had ended a deal to supply F-16 fighters, so the Pakistanis began
looking elsewhere, to China, to North Korea, for missile technology to deliver
So it did have, again, consequences by suddenly, abruptly ditching the
Pakistanis, and also, I think it's important to say that that really did have
quite a searing effect on Pakistan's psyche, of the elites in Pakistan and the
leadership. That sense of having fought with the US in Afghanistan in the
'80s, and then suddenly being abandoned in the 1990, and I think that's quite
important to understand now in terms of Pakistan still feeling, `OK, they're
now an ally in the war on terror. But will they be ditched again like they
were in the past?
GROSS: Well, I think there's distrust on both ends, don't you think, in that
relationship between the United States and Pakistan?
Mr. CORERA: Absolut--oh, absolutely, and I think the Pakistanis basically
played games with the US during the 1980s and played a double game
particularly over the nuclear program and would say, `Oh, well, you know,
we're not going to embarrass you, we're not going to do anything, but at the
same time we're pushing the US and we're breaking some of the elements of the
deal that they cut with the US administration over the nuclear programs.' So
distrust, blame on both sides, rather than just America, but I think it's that
legacy of distrust on both sides which is quite important for that
relationship. It's a very strange and quite convulsive relationship between
the US and Pakistan, where they go for periods of being close allies who need
each other to being very distrustful, almost overnight.
GROSS: My guest is Gordon Corera. His new book is called "Shopping for
Bombs: Nuclear Proliferation, Global Insecurity and The Rise and Fall of the
A.Q. Khan Network."
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Gordon Corera. His new book is
called "Shopping for Bombs: Nuclear Proliferation, Global Insecurity, and the
Rise and Fall of the A.Q. Khan Network."
Let's talk about A.Q. Khan's connections to Iran but before we do, let's talk
about the very start of Iran's nuclear program which was actually under the
shah of Iran. Why was the shah, which was an ally--who was an ally of the
United States, why was he pursuing a nuclear weapons program?
Mr. CORERA: Well, this was in the mid-70s when the shah suddenly talked
about a huge expansion of nuclear technology. He talked about it in familiar
terms, about being about nuclear power rather than about nuclear weapons
although a lot of people suspected that actually he was at least keeping the
option open on developing a nuclear weapon. This was in the mid-1970s, and
there were a number of countries, were looking at nuclear technology, looking
at nuclear power and possibly looking at nuclear weapons. Iran and Iraq were
both in competition at this point about possibly going down that route and
towards the bomb. And, of course, the shah also saw it in terms of prestige.
So he did order a number of nuclear power plants, only one of which was
started in Bushehr on the Gulf, but when the revolution came in 1979, the
Iranian revolution, the actual--the new theocratic government decided it
wanted nothing to do at that point with nuclear technology and saw it as
something to do with the West and something un-Islamic, so initially abandoned
the Shah's ambitions at for a few years.
GROSS: And then?
Mr. CORERA: Well, and then, very quickly, the Iran-Iraq war starts up after
Iraq attacks Iran, and that war goes on, and it becomes very bloody, and the
Iraqis under Saddam Hussein begin to use chemical weapons against Iranian
troops, so Iran decides that perhaps it needs to investigate unconventional
weapons. It begins its own chemical program, and it begins to look once
again, in the mid-1980s, around '84-85, it starts to look again at the nuclear
option and at developing nuclear technology. Now, of course, Iran maintains
now that this was always peaceful in intent but it was definitely a secret
program at this point to try and acquire nuclear technology.
GROSS: How was Iran helped in its nuclear program by A.Q. Khan?
Mr. CORERA: Well, the first deal comes in a Dubai hotel room in 1987 where
some of Khan's business network meet with Iranian officials, and for around 3
to $4 million, they hand over some of those incredibly valuable and sensitive
designs for centrifuges that Khan had originally stolen in the '70s. Very
advanced pieces of technology, very closely guarded secrets, and Khan hands
them over--the Khan network hands them over to the Iranians at this point for
the Iranians to work on. The Iranians initially go off and try to develop
their own centrifuges and try to buy the parts, but they find it particularly
difficult. It's not easy technology to do, so in the early 1990s and around
1993, they come back into contact with the Khan network, and this time, rather
than just buying designs, they buy designs and also parts and actual machines
and centrifuge machines which are used to enrich uranium, and that
relationship really goes on until 1991 is the last known contact between the
Khan network and the Iranians. And so a very important set of contacts which
gave the Iranians a huge head start on their nuclear technology program. They
really would be years behind, years behind, without A.Q. Khan's assistance.
GROSS: Now you write that the International Atomic Energy Agency believes
that the Khan deals with Iran in the '80s and '90s are key to understanding
the Iranian nuclear program and whether it's a peaceful program in intent or
military. Why are those deals key to understanding this?
Mr. CORERA: Well, of course, the Iranians say their program is peaceful, but
then people ask themselves, what were you doing dealing with the Khan network
and particularly with a Khan network which was with Libya selling not just
nuclear technology but nuclear weapons technology. For instance, to Libya,
the Khan network gave an actual nuclear weapons design, and so one of the
great questions about the Iran deals is whether A.Q. Khan also supplied Iran
with nuclear weapons technology, the kind of technology which would only be
used for weapons, as opposed to some of the centrifuge machines and other
things which are dual use, if you like. You can use them for nuclear power or
for nuclear weapons. And there are suspicions about this. There's no firm
proof, we should say, but there are suspicions that the Iranians are hiding
the full contours of their dealings with Khan, that there's more information
about the deals they cut, about what they received, that they've never come
One example is that very recently, International Atomic Energy Agency
inspectors were in Iran, and they found a set of documents on how to cast
uranium metal into spheres, and this, it's argued, is something you only need
to do if you're trying to make a bomb. There's no civilian use for this. And
these were documents that came from the Khan network, and not just that but
looked like the same, like they come from the same family of documents as
those found in Libya, which relate to the nuclear weapons design. So the
suspicion, and I should emphasize it's a suspicion, is that Khan supplied the
Iranians with nuclear weapons information, but no one can prove that and, of
course, that's very important to know, because it would be the definitive
proof about whether--what Iran's real intent was and remains.
GROSS: You've spoken to a lot of people for your new book. How far along do
you think Iran's nuclear weapons program is?
Mr. CORERA: Well, I think one of the problems is that you see a lot of
estimates about, `Well, is Iran five years from the bomb? Is Iran 10 years
from the bomb? Is it two years from the bomb?' And in my view, I think all of
these are basically guesswork, and part of the reason they're guesswork is
because we don't know exactly how much and what A.Q. Khan gave to Iran, and
without knowing all those details, it's very, very hard to know how far Iran
is along that route.
One example is most of the technology around the uranium program is something
called the P1 centrifuge, which is the design that Khan stole. But there's a
more advanced thing called the P2 centrifuge. Now Khan did give the Iranians
some data on this, and he may have given them actual P2 machines, but no one
knows that for sure. It's never been proven. Now if the Iranians were able
to put together these P2 machines and had some kind of secret program based on
them, then they could move much faster towards the bomb than some of the
estimates. But, as I said, we don't know for sure the full contours of those
deals, and without knowing that, it's very, very hard. I mean, I do think the
Iranians are clearly struggling with some elements of the technology, so I
think the evidence is that they're still struggling with some parts of uranium
conversion and of enrichment and running these centrifuges. But I still think
it's pretty difficult to come to a real estimate in terms of years, months,
how far they are away from potentially having enough nuclear material for a
bomb, if that's indeed what they want.
GROSS: Since we're talking about Iran and its nuclear program here, I'm
wondering what you think the repercussions would be if the Bush administration
did decide to either bomb Iran's nuclear program or invade Iran in the hopes
of bringing about regime change?
Mr. CORERA: Well, I think an invasion is such a huge prospect that I think
it's hard to imagine that anyone really thinks that's possible. I mean,
given, if you just look at the geography of the place, it's a different scale
even to Iraq, and if you look at the trouble the US has had in occupying Iraq,
I think you'd have to multiply that many times if you were going to think
about an invasion of Iran and an occupation. And so I think that really
strikes me as incredibly unlikely or incredibly foolish if anyone really was
thinking of that. Air strikes, of course, on the nuclear facilities, on the
tents where this Iranian centrifuge facility is being built--I mean, that's
something which has clearly been left on the table by US policy makers. They
don't want to take that off the table.
Even with that, I think there are two questions. One is would it work? The
answer is it might delay the Iranian program by a few years, but I think it
may be impossible to destroy it and stop it completely. And secondly what
would the consequences be? Well, I think the problem is that the Iranians
have many levers, if you like, in the region. They have a lot of leverage in
Iraq, where they could cause a lot of problems for the US and its allies.
They have--they still have Hezbollah in Lebanon, which is a close ally of
theirs. They also have the capability to carry out unconventional warfare or
terrorist warfare around the world. They also have a lot of influence through
the oil market and possibly closing the Strait of Hormuz.
So I think the consequences of it do look quite serious if there was to be an
air strike, and as I said, it's not clear to me that it would necessarily
succeed in stopping the uranium program, which isn't to say it won't happen
GROSS: Gordon Corera is a security correspondent for the BBC. His new book
about A.Q. Khan is called "Shopping for Bombs." Corera will be back in the
second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR.
I'm Terry Gross, back with Gordon Corera, author of a new book about A.Q.
Khan and his black market network that sold nuclear secrets and technology to
any country willing to pay, including Iran, North Korea and Libya. Since
2004, Khan has been under house arrest in his country, Pakistan, where many
people consider him a hero for being the father of the country's nuclear bomb.
Corera is a security correspondent for the BBC TV and radio. His book is
called "Shopping for Bombs."
In writing about A.Q. Khan, his network and nuclear proliferation, you write
a lot about Libya. Now in December of 2003, Tony Blair and President Bush
announced that Colonel Qaddafi had given up Libya's WMD program, and the Blair
administration described this as a victory in the war on terror and said that
the invasion of Iraq had paved the way for this. What have you learned about
what happened behind the scenes in this deal?
Mr. CORERA: Well, this is something that I found absolutely fascinating. I
spent a lot of time, and it's actually what really got me interested in this
subject was watching in December 2003 this declaration by the Libyans that
they were giving up a nuclear weapons program, which actually no one knew that
they had, and I remember thinking, `Well, where did that come from? How did
it happen?' and so I spent a lot of time trying to uncover both the Libyan
motivation and the process by which the negotiations took place that led to
that renunciation. In terms of the Libyan motivation, I think actually
Colonel Qaddafi was pursuing a quite interesting dual-track strategy from the
1990s. His overriding motivation was to stay in power, to preserve his
regime, and at the same time, he was pursuing the bomb, trying to buy one off
A.Q. Khan and at the same time trying to cut a deal and open up relations
with the US and the UK. And he was basically pursuing both tracks at the same
time, seeing which one, if you like, would work and which one would be
And by 2003, by March 2003, he clearly felt that the bomb was going slowly but
that the threat, if you like, from the US and the UK was still there, and that
it was more important to cut a deal. And so, in March 2003, an intermediary
called British intelligence M16 headquarters and said Colonel Qaddafi's son,
in fact, wanted to meet senior M16 officers, and he wanted to talk and he was
willing to put everything on the table. And that began a process of
negotiations. A couple of days later, a senior MI-6 officer went and flew to
Libya to meet with Colonel Qaddafi, and it began a very tortuous period of
negotiations over months, very secretive. No one knew anything about it. To
try and work out what the Libyans were up to, and I do think that timing was
quite important, because March 2003, of course, is exactly the time when the
war with Iraq started, and I do think that Iraq was an accelerant to Colonel
Qaddafi's motivation to his decision to give up his weapons program, because I
do think he feared being next to some extent. But he then seemed to back off
slightly, wasn't owning up about everything, and it became a very difficult
and complex intelligence operation negotiation to force his hand eventually
and get him to own up to everything and come clean and make that decision, and
in the process, that led to the wrapping up of the Khan network.
GROSS: Yes, before we get to that, you said that Libya approached the United
States before it approached England...
Mr. CORERA: That's right.
GROSS: ...and said that it wanted to make a deal, but the United States
ignored Libya. How come?
Mr. CORERA: Well, it's interesting. I mean, if you go back actually,
Libyans were trying to make approaches back to the early '90s. The first one
I found was to Gary Hart, actually, in 1992, and it made further contacts
through the '90s. In 1999, there were negotiations, but actually, during this
period, the US wasn't particularly interested in cutting a deal with Libya.
It didn't know much about its nuclear program during the '90s and so didn't
really think it was something--didn't really see the incentive in talking and
cutting a deal and just saw Qaddafi as a sort of rogue state. So, basically,
there was a lot of miscommunication, a lot of mistrust, some of the
negotiations over Lockerbie. The downing of the Pan Am jet over Lockerbie was
still going on and compensation for that, and so, there just doesn't seem to
have been any kind of communication and proper communication between the two
sides, whereas the UK did open up some kind of diplomatic relations with
Libya, and so I think the Libyans saw the UK as a means, a better negotiating
power, if you like, and a means of approaching the US but using the UK partly
as an intermediary.
GROSS: So when Libya offered to get rid of its WMD program, what did it get
in exchange from Britain and the United States?
Mr. CORERA: Well, this is one of the really interesting things is the US was
adamant during the nego--during the discussions, that these discussions
weren't negotiations. Robert Joseph was very involved in them. He was then
at the White House, and he's now undersecretary of state for arms control, and
during a lot of these negotiations which he was involved in, he always--he and
others never wanted to give the impression that there was a deal, that it
would be a case of Libya renouncing its WMD, and in return, it would get
normalization of relations. Because, of course, the ideology of the Bush
administration has been `We don't negotiate with rogue states.' We take a
tough line and then they decide what to do. And so they were always very
careful in these discussions to say, `You give up your program,' and then, you
know, we'll see what happens, but you know, you can see that something good
Now, of course, in practice, there were negotiations, and in practice there
were pretty clear incentives in terms of improving relationships, so in the
end, what the Libyans hoped and expected was approval, if you like, initially
from President Bush and Tony Blair but also eventually a normalization of
relations, and interesting enough, it actually took a couple of years for them
to get that. It was only, I think earlier this year, in spring of this year
that finally the US agreed to fully normalize diplomatic relations with Libya
and bring it out of the cold.
GROSS: So, did the negotiations between the United States of America and
Libya help lead to A.Q. Khan's capture?
Mr. CORERA: Absolutely. During those negotiations, a ship was raided in the
Mediterranean carrying some of the parts that A.Q. Khan was shipping to Libya
called--the ship was called the BBC China and that provided evidence. More
evidence came when Libya gave up its program. Some evidence was also starting
to come out of Iran and inspections in Iran about what A.Q. Khan had
supplied. And so the pressure was building on A.Q. Khan and on Pakistan
President Musharraf to deal with him. But it was still a very difficult
process and President Musharraf found it very hard to stop Khan, to put him
out of business. He tried once in 2001 to sideline him but that never put him
out of business, and A.Q. Khan was still left operating. And part of the
problem was that A.Q. Khan was a national hero in Pakistan, precisely because
he delivered the bomb to Pakistan. He was seen by the general public as
having delivered security to his country and in many ways was far more popular
than any politician, including President Musharraf, and so it was a real
challenge for President Musharraf to deal with it. But the pressure was
growing, and in New York President Musharraf was confronted by President Bush
and CIA director George Tenet, saying, `You've got to deal with it. Look at
the evidence.' That was in September. Then in December of 2003, Libya
renounced its program again, pointing the finger at A.Q. Khan. And the
pressure began to grow, and finally--it took actually a phone call from then
US Secretary of State Colin Powell to President Musharraf to actually force
Musharraf finally to act against Khan.
GROSS: Was there some kind of deal made between America and Pakistan before
Musharraf agreed to arrest Khan?
Mr. CORERA: Well, there wasn't---I'm not sure if I would call it a deal.
There were some tough words. Colin Powell called up President Musharraf and
said President Bush was about to go and make a speech in a few days' time
about Libya, about nuclear technology and was going to name Khan, and that if
President Musharraf hadn't deal with A.Q. Khan, it would be pretty
embarrassing. That really put pressure on Pakistan to finally stop him. But
then there were some pretty intensive negotiations within Pakistan about what
to do with A.Q. Khan, and basically A.Q. Khan cut a deal with the Pakistani
government. The deal was pretty straightforward. It was Khan would confess.
He would confess what he'd done, but in return he'd receive a pardon. He
wouldn't be put on trial. He would also be put under house arrest in
Islamabad but he wouldn't be handed over to the United States. And this was
the deal that Khan and his supporters cut with President Musharraf and which
still, to some extent, holds in place to this day, and the Americans basically
were forced to live with that deal, even though I think they would have liked
a bit more but they were just primarily focused on putting Khan out of
GROSS: What they'd really like was to interrogate him, but they can't.
Mr. CORERA: Absolutely. I think that's--no doubt. What they'd like to do
is to sit down with A.Q. Khan and say to him, `So what did you supply to
Iran? What did you give them and when? How much help did you give them? And
what did they talk to you about in terms of nuclear technology and nuclear
weapons?' That's what the CIA would like to do, but it can't and it's being
refused direct access as part of this deal that A.Q. Khan cut with President
Musharraf. Now why could he cut a deal? The answer which seems to be the
case is that Khan had a lot of information about who in Pakistan might have
known about what he was up to, about who might have supported him, who might
have funded him, who might--which figures in the army might have known about
his deals. All that information was Khan's insurance policy to some extent
and was pretty useful in making sure that he wouldn't handed over precisely
for fear that he would hand over some pretty embarrassing information as well
to the Americans about Pakistan.
GROSS: My guest is Gordon Corera. His new book is called "Shopping for
Bombs: Nuclear Proliferation, Global Insecurity and The Rise and Fall of the
A.Q. Khan Network." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Gordon Corera. He's the author
of the new book, "Shopping for Bombs: Nuclear Proliferation, Global
Insecurity, and The Rise and Fall of the A.Q. Khan Network."
One of the conclusions you reach in your book, after writing about A.Q. Khan
and nuclear proliferation, is that nonproliferation system is basically out of
date and we need to re-examine it. What parts of the system do you think
aren't working any more?
Mr. CORERA: Well, I think the nonproliferation system is based around the
nonproliferation treaty, and that's based around a pretty simple deal, and the
deal is that the countries with nuclear weapons would agree to negotiate in
good faith to disarm themselves. The countries without nuclear weapons would
agree not to seek weapons and in return would receive civilian nuclear
technology for power from the nuclear haves, the countries with nuclear
weapons. That was the deal, and that deal kind of held, but it's increasingly
breaking down and trust between, if you like, the haves and the have-nots, is
increasingly collapsing. Why? Well, the have-nots say, `Well, the nuclear
club have refused to disarm. They've refused to devalue nuclear weapons.
They're looking at developing new nuclear weapons so they haven't filled that
part of the deal.' The nuclear club look at some of the countries and look at
some of the deals and say, `Look at the Iranians, they're abusing the system
by saying they're going for civilian nuclear power when in fact they're going
for nuclear weapons.'
So they don't have much faith in the deal and in the system, and so both
sides, if you like, are stepping back from that deal and that system. And the
values underpinning it are collapsing, and the best, really, example of that
is that every five years, the NPT is supposed to be reviewed, and the last
time, in 2005, they couldn't even agree on an agenda, let alone how to review
the treaty. So I think that's a sign that the treaty really is in problems.
GROSS: A lot of people say countries like the United States have a double
standard. `India has the bomb. India's our ally. We like India. No
problem.' `Iran has a nuclear program that may or may not be a weapons
program, and that's a real problem so--because we don't like Iran's regime.'
So how do you think that what is perceived as a double standard is affecting
the nuclear nonproliferation system?
Mr. CORERA: Well, I think this is important because I think it is part of
the collapse of the nonproliferation system and of the consensus which
underpins it. And as I said earlier, I think you have the US basically
stepping away from the NPT and saying, `We are going to decide for ourselves
which states we feel comfortable about with nuclear technology and nuclear
weapons and which ones we don't.' And so you have Iran, which is a member of
the NPT being put under pressure by the United States and you have India which
isn't a member at all and which stands outside it and has the bomb being
Now you could argue that that's actually very sensible because India's a very
different state to Iran and has different strategic interests and a different
relationship with the United States. And that's all true. But the problem is
it undermines any sense of global values or universal values or a system, and
that is--perhaps the concern is that if there is no system, then it becomes a
bit of a free-for-all with the US enforcing its power where it wants.
Now as I said, that may be the only option in the US eyes. If the system has
already collapsed, then you've got to find a new way of dealing with aspiring
nuclear weapons countries or aspiring nuclear countries. But I think it does
make it harder then to draw other countries in support of your policy and to
build a consensus, for instance, to take action on Iran, if other countries
are suspicious of your policy or believe that you don't have any kind of
universal approach to this problem.
GROSS: Israel has a nuclear weapon. Where does it fit in terms of the
international community stand on nonproliferation?
Mr. CORERA: Well, Israel is outside of the nonproliferation treaty, a bit
like India and Pakistan. It's not part of that system. And the problem is
that the Israeli bomb being outside of that system is subject to much
complaint from many countries. You talk about double standards and why, for
instance, the US is so bothered about Iran but doesn't worry about Israel. I
mean, obviously, people say different countries mean you have to have
different attitudes towards them because of the different ambitions of those
countries. It does complicate matters, I think, but clearly Israel feels it
does need it for its own security and to protect it against destruction or
annihilation which, after all, is something which the president of Iran has
recently been talking about.
GROSS: Have you heard any interesting proposal for how the international
community could deal with nuclear proliferation now, something like an
alternative to the problems with the nuclear proliferation treaty?
Mr. CORERA: Mmm. I mean, some of the solutions really that have been
offered really do go back to the start of this whole nonproliferation system
in the '50s when President Eisenhower talked about atoms to peace and the
question about whether you could create a kind of an international bank or
repository for nuclear material so that countries, like for instance, Iran, or
other countries which say they want nuclear fuel for nuclear power could draw
on that bank but wouldn't need to actually have the nuclear technology in
their own country because the primary problem is that the same enrichment
technology that Khan was selling that Iran is developing can be used to
produce nuclear fuel for nuclear power or nuclear weapons material, and it's
pretty much the same technology. And so one of the proposals is do you kind
of internationalize the system of providing nuclear fuel and place it in
international hands, and then you can supply it to countries and there's no
danger of them diverting it towards weapons.
GROSS: Did you meet anyone or talk to anyone in the A.Q. Khan network?
Mr. CORERA: I did, yes. I met some businessmen who had been involved in it.
I met one British businessman who was involved as a supplier to Khan although
he is adamant that he was never involved in actually knowingly supplying
anything towards a nuclear weapons program and that everything he did was
legal. But it was very interesting to try and understand some of the way in
which the motivations behind some of these businessmen and why they were
supplying Khan and other countries, and also it gave you real insight into the
way Khan operated and also how some of the Western countries approached
businessmen and suppliers.
GROSS: Were their motivations anything beyond business and money?
Mr. CORERA: Primarily business and money, exactly. But they often tried to
cloak it in terms of some kind of justification. One of the things that this
businessman said to me was that, `Well, you know, spreading the bomb isn't the
problem because the more countries having the bomb means they won't go to war
with each other. It's like deterrence in the Cold War. There's no danger.
So actually, the more you spread the bomb, the safer the world will be.' Now I
have trouble with that theory because I think particularly in an unstable
world, I think that's not necessarily the case, and actually some of these
countries could use the bomb, and India and Pakistan came close to using it a
couple of times in the last decade, but that's one of the justifications they
come up with.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. CORERA: Thank you.
GROSS: Gordon Corera is a security correspondent for the BBC. His new book
about A.Q. Khan is called "Shopping for Bombs."
Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews Bob Dylan's new album. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Rock critic Ken Tucker reviews Bob Dylan's new album,
TERRY GROSS, host:
Bob Dylan's new album "Modern Times" hit the top of the record charts last
week. Now 65, the singer-songwriter continues to explore blues and older pop
styles with lyrics that frequently contain contemporary references. Rock
critic Ken Tucker has a review.
(Soundbite from Bob Dylan's "Thunder on the Mountain")
Mr. BOB DYLAN: (Singing) "Thunder on the mountain, and there's fires on the
moon. A ruckus in the alley and the sun will be here soon. Today's the day,
gonna grab my trombone and blow. Well, it's hot stuff here, and it's
everywhere I go. I was thinking about Alicia Keys..."
(End of soundbite)
Mr. KEN TUCKER: Bob Dylan is thinking of Alicia Keys? Why? As he told the
novelist Jonathan Lethem in Rolling Stone magazine, he saw her on TV and
thought to himself, `There's nothing about that girl I don't like.' At any
rate, much like the novelist Philip Roth, Dylan is a senior citizen artist
working at full power: sly, randy, grumpy, creatively vindictive, never
resigned to the hypocrisy and false piety he sees and hears all around him.
(Soundbite of "Workingman's Blues No. 2")
Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) "There's an evening haze settling over town, starlight
by the edge of the creek. The buying power of the proletariat's gone down.
Money's getting shallow and weak. Well, the place I love best is a sweet
memory. It's a new path that we trod. They say low wages are a reality, if
we want to compete abroad. My cruel weapons have been put on the shelf, come
sit down on my knee. You are dearer to me than myself as you yourself can
see. While I'm listening to the steel rails hum, got both eyes tight shut.
Just sitting here trying to keep the hunger from creeping its way into my gut.
Meet me at the bottom, don't lag behind. Bring me my boots and shoes. You
can hang back or fight your best on the front line. Sing a little bit of
these workingman's blues."
(End of soundbite)
Mr. TUCKER: That's "Working Man's Blues No. 2," Dylan's oblique answer
record to Merle Haggard's 1969 hit. Haggard has been an opening act on parts
of the never-ending Tour. Dylan does more than simply riff off the title. He
tosses out lines like "the power of the proletariat's gone down" and "they say
low wages are a reality if we want to compete abroad." In a way that leaves
you feeling like you've been sliced with a knife but didn't feel the blade go
in. Acting like he has nothing to lose while thinking through songs as though
his continued health depended on it, Dylan is nothing if not an immensely
satisfying old smoothie these days.
(Soundbite from Bob Dylan's "Spirit on the Water")
Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) "Spirit on the water, darkness on the face of the deep.
I keep thinking about you, baby, and I can't hardly sleep. I'm traveling by
land, traveling through the dawn of day. You're always on my mind. I can't
(End of soundbite)
Mr. TUCKER: That's a great Bob Dylan performance. The way he croons and
mutters the words, phrasing conversationally all around a lovely melody,
that's a tight little piece of country blues rhythm you can dance to.
On another song here, "The Levee's Gonna Break," Dylan speaks of people
fleeing a rising tide, not merely with no possessions but with, quote, "barely
enough skin to cover their bones." Yet the jaunty music that makes Dylan's
song so effective isn't scary or solemn. Solemnity is something Bob Dylan has
utterly no use for these days.
(Soundbite from "The Levee's Gonna Break")
Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) "If it keeps on raining, the levee's gonna break. If
it keeps on raining, the levee's gonna break. Everybody saying this is a day
only the Lord could make. When I worked on the levee, Mama, both night and
day. I worked on the levee, Mama, both night and day. I got to the river and
I threw my clothes away. I paid my time, and now I'm as good as new. I paid
my time, and now I'm as good as new. They can't take me back unless I want
'em to. If it keep on raining, the levee's gonna break. If it keep on
raining, the levee's gonna break. Some of these people gonna strip you of all
they can take."
(End of soundbite)
Mr. TUCKER: Like all the songs here, no matter what their putative subject
matter is, they all boil down to one of that song's final lines: "I tried to
get you to love me but I ain't going to repeat that mistake." Women who've
loved him, wronged him, turned him on and turned him off, take up a lot of
psychic and musical space here. Dylan breaks with any chronological analysis
of his work. He could have recorded half of this stuff right after he cut the
"How Does It Feel?" chorus of "Like a Rolling Stone" 31 years ago. As a
master of time and space, he knows that living in the present is the best idea
a fellow can have. Or as he puts it elsewhere, "I can't go to paradise, I
killed a man back there."
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor at large for Entertainment Weekly.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
On this fifth anniversary of September 11th, we'll close with Charlie Haden
playing "America the Beautiful."
(Soundbite from Charlie Haden's "America the Beautiful")
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.