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A.Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring may resume business, warning

AFP | May 09, 2007 

A Pakistani nuclear smuggling network that was reportedly crippled three years ago could resume business amid strong demand for atomic technology from governments and terrorist groups, a new study says.
Although the United States had declared that the network led by disgraced Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan had been rolled up, only a few of the 40 individuals identified as having worked with him are in prison, said the report by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

Investigators are confident that none remain involved in the proliferation business but they "are less certain, however, about the more shadowy recesses of the network," said the report, released in Washington Tuesday.

"At least some of Khan's associates appear to have escaped law-enforcement attention and could, after a period of lying low, resume their black market business," said the 176-page dossier, "Nuclear black markets: Pakistan, A.Q. Khan and the rise of proliferation networks."

"Decapitating the nodes of non-hierarchical networks does not necessarily eradicate the enterprise," it warned.

Aside from Iran and North Korea, Khan also reportedly sold nuclear equipment or technology to Libya and Syria.

Khan, apprehended in January 2004, is currently under house arrest after being pardoned by Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf.

Some information has been passed from Musharraf to the United States based on Pakistani debriefings of Khan, but neither Islamabad nor the Bush administration have made any public statements about what Khan may have said.

The IISS report also highlighted concerns over the penetration of organized crime groups into the nuclear materials black market.

A conservative estimate of some 429 nuclear trafficking cases recorded in the 2001-2005 period suggested that about 10 percent of them appear to have involved organized crime groups, it said.

"The true extent of their involvement is likely to be greater," it said.

The report pointed out that "the strongest evidence of a real demand for illicit nuclear material involves groups set on terrorism, not nation states."

It identified a dozen countries -- Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, India, North Korea, Libya, Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, South Africa, Syria and Israel -- that allegedly sought nuclear technologies through illicit means.

"Some of these are still trying, those who have an active nuclear weapons program are trying to maintain that program," said Mark Fitzpatrick, a former US State Department non-proliferation official who edited the IISS study.

"This is particularly evident in the case of Iran, in the case of Pakistan and, though lesser degree, India," he told reporters.

The Khan network imported nuclear-related goods from companies in at least seven primary supplier countries -- Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and Britain, the report said.

It also worked with "private actors" in Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

South Korea, South Africa and Singapore have since established export controls and have begun to license the trade of "dual-use" items, which can be uitilized for both peaceful and military purposes, the report said.

But Malaysia and UAE still lack laws and regulations that govern trade in nuclear related goods and technologies, it said.

The international framework of export controls "still contains serious gaps that could be exploited" by a network similar to Khan's, the report warned.

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