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Nuclear Underground - FRONTLINE/World Investigation: June 2005



Recent Reports
June 21, 2005
Part 3: The Guru
Listen to what Humayun Khan says about his involvement in the nuclear smuggling case. Khan, who's been indicted by the U.S. government and is still at large, spoke by phone from Islamabad with reporter Mark Schapiro.

May 17, 2005
The Conversation
Read excerpts from the smoking-gun emails between Asher Karni, a businessman originally from Israel and Humayun Khan, his contact in Pakistan.

April 21, 2005
Part 2: The Double Life Of Asher Karni
Watch the video report from South Africa to find out how Asher Karni, a respected Israeli businessman in Cape Town, became the middleman in a nuclear smuggling operation.

March 30, 2005
Part 1: The Middleman
Asher Karni

Read Mark Schapiro's original report on the Asher Karni case, coproduced by Mother Jones magazine, the Center for Investigative Reporting and FRONTLINE/World.




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Online Discussion
Read an archived conversation with FRONTLINE/World reporter Mark Schapiro on his nuclear smuggling investigation on Washingtonpost.com.





special report: part 3


The Guru
JUNE 21, 2005
The most elusive character in the case of the U.S. nuclear triggers shipped illegally to Pakistan is Islamabad businessman Humayun Khan. Khan has been indicted by the U.S. Justice Department but he remains free in Pakistan, where he insists he is innocent. His South African collaborator, Asher Karni, has already pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing in a Brooklyn prison.

Khan is the owner of Pakland PME Corporation, which has long-standing ties to the Pakistani military. The indictment against him includes a series of emails he exchanged with Karni. In one, dated May 20, 2003, Khan asks Karni to purchase a prohibited item -- oscilloscopes -- for a Pakistani company called "Matrix," but cautions his partner: ".... A word of advice from the Guru...do not purchase all items together and never contact Tektronix U.K. office!"

FRONTLINE/World reporter Mark Schapiro finally managed to speak by phone with "the Guru." In a conversation that lasted more than an hour, Khan was alternately friendly, evasive and argumentative. He told several different stories to explain why he was not guilty of nuclear smuggling. At one point he blamed the nuclear deal on one of his managers, who he says betrayed him and then fled to Dubai. Later, Khan acknowledged that he had made a "mistake" and that the evidence compiled against him seems overwhelming: "Everything is pointing right at me."

Listen to excerpts from the phone conversation between Humayun Khan (below) and reporter Mark Schapiro.

Humayun KhanHear Audio - Go

PHONE INTERVIEW (length 9:18)

"Mark, in Pakistan we believe that Asher Karni is working with Israeli intelligence and it was all preplanned."


Read the transcript of the conversation.



The Investigators
Tucked away in the vast recesses of the Commerce Department in Washington, D.C., is the Bureau of Industry and Security, an obscure government entity with a highly sensitive mission. Its task is to prevent the export of U.S. goods and technology that may be used by rogue states or terrorists to make chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. The bureau lists about 3,000 "dual-use" products that can be used for civilian or military purposes. One of those restricted items is the "triggered spark gap," made by PerkinElmer Optoelectronics in Salem, Massachusetts. These spark gaps can be used to dissolve kidney stones or to trigger a nuclear detonation.

Alerted by an anonymous informer in South Africa, who called the Commerce Department hotline, agents cracked the nuclear smuggling case FRONTLINE/World has been tracking -- a case in which U.S. authorities say Pakistani businessman, Humayun Khan, was trying to obtain 200 of these triggers from the U.S. by way of a South African middleman, Asher Karni.

In Washington, normally taciturn Commerce Department investigators agreed to discuss the case with our reporter Mark Schapiro.

Peter Lichtenbaum

Watch Video - Go

Peter Lichtenbaum
Acting Undersecretary for Industry and Security, Department of Commerce
(length 4:22)

"Were they [the spark gaps] going to the Pakistani military? Were they intended for onward proliferation to an Al Qaeda nuclear weapons program? I mean it's speculative and we want to find that out."


During the interview, Peter Lichtenbaum talks about a Nevada-based company called Ebara. After Lichtenbaum's team investigated the company, it was fined $6 million for illegally exporting products to Iran that could be used in a chemical weapons program. Read more about the case and the elaborate "matrix" set up across several countries -- including the U.S., Japan and the U.K. -- to disguise the sale.
John McKenna

Watch Video - Go

John McKenna
Special Agent in Charge of Export Enforcement, Bureau of Industry and Security, Department of Commerce
(length 5:33)

"We gave him [the informant] our own nickname -- 'South African John'... He has provided information that's been extremely valuable in probably one of the most high-profile cases we've had in recent years in the nuclear field..."


If extradicted, Humayun Khan could face up to 35 years in prison. Read the full indictment. (PDF)

"The Guru" is a co-production of FRONTLINE/World and the Center for Investigative Reporting in association with Mother Jones magazine.

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