How China Helped Pakistan Build the Bomb
In January 2004, a strange handover ceremony took place in Tripoli. In a meeting room at Libya's National Board for Scientific Research, the country's nuclear chief, Matuq Mohammed Matuq, presented two white plastic bags to Donald Mahley and David Landsman, the American and British heads of the disarmament effort in Libya. Emblazoned on the bags in red letters was the name of an Islamabad tailor, Good Looks Fabrics and Tailors. The contents were so sensitive that most of the senior members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) did not even have the security clearance to look at them. The task of examining the documents was left to Jacques Baute, a French IAEA official, who confirmed their veracity and sent them on a plane straight to Washington, where they were taken from Dulles Airport by armed couriers to a high security vault at the Department of Energy. One of the bags contained drawings and blueprints. The other contained detailed technical instructions. Between them, they provided step-by-step instructions for assembling a nuclear bomb.
It was not hard to work out where they had originated. While the primary text was in English, a number of the papers were in Chinese. There was also a collection of handwritten notes based on a set of lectures given by Chinese weapons experts in the early 1980s, whose names, and the dates the seminars spanned, were included in the documents. The design in the documents was for a Chinese nuclear warhead, 453kg in mass, and less than a metre in diameter. It was notably similar to a weapon known to have been tested by China in the 1960s, the CHIC-4. While too large for Libyan Scud missiles, it could have been easily airdropped or fitted on a more sophisticated system, such as the North Korean Nodong missile or Iran's Shahab-3 missile. In principle, the simple device could also have been used by terrorist groups: one nuclear expert noted that "you could drive it away in a pickup truck". The documents were missing a few of the crucial designs required for implosion, but all in all there was about 95 per cent of the information needed to make a bomb - crude by the standards of modern weapons but smaller and more sophisticated than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.