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Ex-colleague spills beans on A Q Khan

By Shyam Bhatia in London
January 29, 2004 12:50 IST
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A former friend and colleague has made sensational disclosures about how Dr Abdul Qader Khan -- 'father' of Pakistan's nuclear programme -- stole blueprints and classified components from the offices of his Dutch employers in Amsterdam.

Frits Veerman, a professional technical photographer who shared office space with Khan, also revealed details of the Pakistani metallurgist's systematic deception.

Veerman was for many years a full time employee at the Physics Dynamics Research Laboratory (known as FDO) that conducted research on behalf of  Urenco, a nuclear engineering consortium funded by Holland, Germany and the UK. Bhopal-born Khan was one of his colleagues.

When Khan fled Holland in 1976, he attempted to use Veerman to procure equipment he needed to duplicate Dutch-made centrifuges to produce highly enriched uranium required for Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme.

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Before leaving, he introduced Veerman to a number of fellow Pakistanis, including a brother he said was employed by Pakistan International Airlines in Amsterdam.

Dismissed by FDO after he threatened to go public with his concerns about how Khan had insinuated his way into the FDO 'brain box,' Veerman was subsequently tailed for a year by BVD, the Dutch internal security service, and even spent a day in prison on charges of aiding and abetting Khan in his nuclear espionage.

Dutch interrogators told him, 'If Khan is a spy so are you because if he has actually done what you persistently say he did, he could never have done it on his own. He would have received help. From you.'

Now aged 60, Veerman says he has nothing to lose by revealing some hitherto closely held secrets about Khan's operations.

Describing the 68-year-old Pakistani as more of a thieving James Bond than a scientist, Veerman has for the first time revealed some of the letters Khan wrote to him to obtain components he desperately needed for his work in Pakistan.

In one letter dated January 1976 and shown to, Khan wrote, 'Dear Frits, It is almost a month that we have left the Netherlands and I am gradually beginning to miss the delicious chicken. I need a few things from my desk. Will you please take Henny (Khan's wife) to FDO on a Saturday morning so she can take the required things? A carton would be sufficient to take these things.'

In another letter, he tells his Dutch friend of the beautiful weather in Islamabad and how the latter is always welcome to come and stay.

At one point, Khan dropped hints of money and the offer of an all expenses paid trip to Pakistan where he promised Veerman would be treated like royalty.

In a third letter, he writes, 'Dear Frits, very confidentially I request you to help us. I urgently need the following information for our research programme:

1. Etches of pivots:
(a) Tension - how many volts?
(b) Electricity - how many amperes?
(c) How long is etching to be done?
(d) Solution (electrolytic) HCL or something other is added as an inhibitor

If it is possible, grateful for 3-4 etched pivots. I should be very grateful if you could send a few negatives for the pattern. You should be having negatives of these.

Frits, these are very urgently required, without which the research would come to a standstill.'

Veerman has told that the letters are only the tip of the iceberg. He claims to have seen top secret blue-bound FDO files stacked in Khan's home where Veerman was routinely invited for a cup of tea or a meal of fried chicken.

Khan justified their presence by explaining that being fluent in German, Dutch and English, he was helping out his employers in translating the contents into different languages.

Khan's wife Henny, a South African-born Dutch woman with a British passport, was given a part time job by FDO to translate highly classified files and documents.

Veerman believes Khan still returns regularly to The Netherlands under a false identity to renew ties with his contacts and maintain access to certain suppliers.

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This is the first time an independent authority has testified to Khan's role in stealing classified data. In Pakistan, where such charges have previously been ascribed to Indian propaganda, Khan is routinely praised for his intelligence and regularly compared to Albert Einstein.

The disclosures come at a time when Khan and at least a dozen other Pakistani nuclear scientists face charges of selling nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya, North Korea and Al Qaeda terrorists. has been told of how Khan set up some companies with the specific aim of marketing his stolen expertise to whoever was prepared to purchase it.

Unlike the vast majority of Pakistanis who view Khan as half way between a saviour and a saint, Veerman sees him as a flawed and insecure human being. If they ever meet again, he wants to ask Khan how he justifies all the years of deception.

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Shyam Bhatia in London