Senior State Department officials recently talked about the successful disarmament of Libya’s nuclear and other weapons programs, but one of the most revealing aspects of the case did not come up: how U.S. officials found and removed Chinese-language nuclear warhead design documents in Libya.
Paula DeSutter, assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation, said Sept. 3 that the government of Libya agreed and then followed through on its pledge to give up its nuclear, chemical, biological and missile programs in 2003 and 2004. The Bush administration hopes the Libyan model will be followed by other states, including Iran and North Korea.
“We wanted to remove especially the proliferation-sensitive materials before anybody could change their mind,” she said. “But what we discovered over time was that the Libyan government had indeed made a strategic commitment to eliminate their materials, eliminate their WMD programs. And that decision having been made at the top, it was fully implemented. And there was a very cooperative and transparent program - not always smooth, not always easy, but we were able to work those things out.”
A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Libyans did not get warhead documents from China but from the Pakistani supplier network headed by A.Q. Khan, who developed Pakistan’s nuclear arms.
China originally gave Pakistan nuclear weapons technology and equipment in the 1980s as part of a strategic effort to counter India’s nuclear weapons, the official said. Mr. Khan then took the Chinese documents and supplied them to Libya as part of a package provided by his private nuclear supplier network. Iran and North Korea, also Khan customers, are suspected of getting the Chinese documents as well.
The documents are now stored in a secret vault at the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge, Tenn., facility along with other nuclear equipment given up by the Libyans.
The documents were described as large blueprints that technically are considered primitive and are incomplete but explain how to develop a nuclear device small enough to fit on the tip of a missile. If the Libyans had tried to detonate a nuclear device based on the design, they likely would have caused a serious accident, U.S. officials said.
The documents were removed from Libya under armed U.S. escorts because, though incomplete, the information still could be used to develop nuclear weapons.
The case highlights the danger of not securing nuclear weapons data, the official said.
Chinese Embassy spokesman Wang Baodong said the issue of the documents is “delicate” but that he had no knowledge of whether the matter was investigated by China’s government.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said in 2004 that the government was concerned about reports of the documents found in Libya and was trying to learn more.
Laser ‘first light’
One of the Pentagon’s newest advanced weapons systems reached a milestone this week when the Airborne Laser successfully carried out the first ground testing of a high-powered beam that could be used to shoot down missiles and perhaps aircraft in flight in the not-too-distant future.
Three defense contractors briefed reporters on the laser test, which took place early Monday inside an aircraft hanger at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. They said the test is a major milestone for the laser missile-defense program.