the very first email exchange in the now public record between
Asher Karni and Humayun Khan raises eyebrows. Perhaps the conversation
wouldn't have been unusual for two men in the business of procuring
military equipment, but it was very peculiar for two men whose
respective nations share a long history of mutual distrust:
Karni was a highly respected Jewish Israeli businessman living
in South Africa. Khan, the man he supplies with nuclear triggers,
is an Islamabad businessman with close ties to Pakistan's military.
In the emails, Khan asked Karni to supply him with three different
types of equipment: infrared target detectors (of the type used
by fighter planes to detect targets); oscilloscopes and oscillators
manufactured by Tektronix (equipment used to build missiles
and nuclear weapons); and triggered spark gaps manufactured
by PerkinElmer (small cylindrical devices that can be used to
spark nuclear explosions).
While there are gaps in the 30 or so emails in the records
-- the deal was more than likely also cut through phone calls
and in faxes -- the fragmented remains of the exchange between
Karni, his customer, and his supplier reveal just how easily
American-made nuclear detonators could slip through the cracks
and potentially wind up in the hands of Islamic militants.
What follows below are excerpts of the emails that flew between
South Africa, Pakistan, and the United States between May and
September 2003, obtained by FRONTLINE/World.
May 29, 2003
Khan writes Karni:
We urgently require the following detector; IR Target Detector
for AIM9L. Used in the airforce fighter planes to help detect
target before firing/shooting."
Karni writes back:
"DEAR MR. KHAN
It is not something that I carry, if you have a make and model
no please forward me I will try my best to help.
P.S thanks for the fax"
June 9, 2003
Khan provides Karni with the details on the Lockheed Martin
infrared detectors he would like to order. Karni asks Khan if
Khan can provide an end-user statement. Khan writes back that
he can't, and adds that his customer previously obtained detectors
from a South African supplier.
June 12, 2003
In an email with the subject line EG&G, Karni forwards to
Khan a letter from Polytec
PI, a company that sells scientific instruments manufactured
The letter explicitly states that spark gaps are subject to
an export license and require a certificate with the name and
address of the end user, the detailed end use, and assurance
that the spark gaps will not leave South Africa and will not
be used for nuclear applications.
Karni writes to Khan:
"Sorry, I will decline to quote on this requirement."
June 16, 2003
Khan asks if Karni has been successful in finding the infrared
detectors, stating that his customer is "anxious."
June 17, 2003
With respect to the triggered spark gaps and the letter from
Polytec outlining end-user requirements, Khan writes Karni:
I know it is difficult but thats why we came to know each other,
please help to re-negotiate this from any other source, we can
give you an end user information as it is genuinely medical
requirement, I donot like to lose an account easily. Pls do
look around for another source."
Karni writes back:
June 30, 2003
Karni and Khan bicker about which model of oscilloscope is
best suited to Khan's customer's needs. Khan pushes Karni to
purchase the model explicitly requested by his customer.
Karni responds to Khan:
"tHIS MIGHT MAKE OR BREAK THE ORDER, I CAN NOT GO TO TOO MUCH
DETAILS BUT AS YOU KNOW TEKTRONIX HAVE AN IDEA/THOUGHT WHERE
THE GOODS ARE GOING TO, AND I NEED THAT CHANGE FOR THAT PURPOSES
SO THAT IT LOOK LIKE ANOTHER ORDER."
August 6, 2003
Karni writes Zeki Bilmen, of Giza
Technologies, a New Jersey-based company that, according
to its Web site, provides "procurement services for state of
the art electronic, electro-mechanical and mechanical components,
systems, and other products related to the Electronics Manufacturing
Karni asks Bilmen for an update on the EG&G order [triggered
Bilmen replies that the Tektronix equipment has arrived in
New Jersey, but that he will wait until additional equipment
arrives to ship them on, and that EG&G order has been processed.
Bilmen adds in a separate email:
"One Good News regarding the EG&G order [the triggered spark
gaps]. NO EXPORT LICENSE REQUIRED to South Africa. I thought
you might want to know."(2)
August 11, 2003
Karni writes Khan that the first batch of 66 triggered spark
gaps would be delivered at the end of September, the second
batch of 67 delivered in October, and the last batch of 66 in
Karni's email to Khan reads:
"All is in place."
August 12, 2003
Karni writes Bilmen that he has a new order for ten Tektronix
oscilloscopes in an email subject-lined "TEKTONIX-NEW ONE."
"Ihave a new project for you, but we need to work this
one very wisely, it is very important that they will not know
it is coming to S. A. [South Africa]. So I leave this one in
your good hand."
August 16, 2003
Karni writes Bilmen to ask about the original Tektronix [oscillators]
Bilmen writes Karni back that it should ship shortly. He adds
that "they" -- presumably PerkinElmer -- has made a sudden demand
with regard to the triggered spark gaps:
"They have just requested from us an End User Certificate
before making the shipment just for their files as proof that
no license is required.(3)
Do you think you can get us this certificate?"
August 17, 2003
Karni writes Bilmen regarding the end-user certificate for
the EG&G order:
"If it is only for the files, am I correct it is enough
to tell them the NAME of the end user , city etc, or they actually
wants some sort of forms to be filled in?"
August 18, 2003
Bilman writes back to Karni that all that is needed is the
name of the end user and an address.
A woman named Marisa emails Bilmen end user information from
, Soweto, South Africa"
She lists telephone numbers and a post office box for the
August 21, 2003
Bilmen writes Karni that he has not been able to get the Tektonics
oscilloscopes at the price Karni had hoped.
September 8, 2003
Karni inquires of Bilmen when the triggered spark gaps will
be delivered. Bilmen responds to Karni that the triggered spark
gaps delivery is delayed because of manufacturing problems at
Undated communication obtained by FRONTLINE/World:
Karni writes Bilmen:
"Have sent them off to the cusomer and have not had any
complains yet, i hope i will not have, is there a reason for
the question?right away, had a look at one only and it looked
It is my pleasure to give you this kind of business and you
are giving us gooexcellent service and I hope to much more."
Karni asks Bilmen when he might expect the next shipment of
Karni writes Khan:
"We have sent the docs to the bank for payment for the
66 PCS EG&G parts we have shipped, please follow up on your
end that this is gets paid asap."
Researched and written by Meghan Laslocky
Additional sources: "Asher Karni Case
Shows Weaknesses in Nuclear Export Controls," by Jacob Blackford,
September 8, 2004. Published by the Institute for Science and
1. Neither the term "triggered spark
gaps" nor the company name PerkinElmer appears anywhere in the
email train between Karni and Khan, aside from in the attached
letter from Polytec. EG&G was a company that PerkinElmer bought,
and in the emails, "EG&G" is shorthand for the triggered spark
gaps equipment model number GP-20B, originally produced by EG&G.
2. South Africa, having dismantled its
own nuclear weapons program (the only country in the world to
do so), is not on the U.S. Commerce Departments' list of restricted
3. In fact, end-user certificates need
to be filed with the Bureau of Industry and Security at the
U.S. Department of Commerce.
4. A misspelling of Baragwanath Hospital,
a facility near Johannesberg that claims to be the largest acute
care hospital in the world.
5. Baragwanath Hospital had no knowledge
of the deal.
6. According to a report by the International
Institute for Science and Security, when Giza shipped the spark
gaps to Karni in South Africa, it declared Karni's company,
Top-Cape, as the end user in the Shipper's Export Declaration,
not Baragwanath Hospital, as instructed. In the export paperwork,
Giza also listed the incorrect Schedule B product classification
number for the spark gaps and no export control number, even
though PerkinElmer had supplied the correct numbers on the invoice.
Giza also made another curious error in the export documents
by listing the spark gaps as "electrical splices and couplings
for switching" -- a very general descriptor for this specific
7. By this point, agents with the Office
of Export Enforcement at the U.S. Department of Commerce had
contacted PerkinElmer and asked the company to render the first
shipment of 66 triggered spark gaps inoperable and before shipping
them on to Giza.
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