YouTube video

To help spread the word about his laboratory’s ability to produce nuclear weapons, Pakistani engineer A.Q. Khan produced a marketing video that he sent to potential clients around the world.

Police from South Africa’s Crimes Against the State division discovered the video when they raided a small factory on the outskirts of Johannesberg called Tradefin Engineering. Inside they also found containers filled with pipes and valves, marked for export to Libya. A factory engineer claimed the parts were for building a “water purification facility.” Investigators later discovered Tradefin was supplying parts for a uranium enrichment plant that would have allowed Libya to build several nuclear bombs.

Tradefin, it turned out, was part of a vast, global supply network directed by A.Q. Khan. Khan’s objective: To sell the know-how and technology for building nuclear bombs to anyone who could pay the price.

The video promoted the successes of KRL, the Khan Research Laboratory based at the Kahuta nuclear weapons center in Pakistan. The tape provided further evidence linking the three men behind Tradefin to AQ Khan’s global network of nuclear traffickers. All three ultimately pled guilty to violating South Africa’s laws against nuclear proliferation.

CIR obtained a portion of the audio from that videotape. It provides a glimpse into the crude logic of nuclear proliferation: Just as Khan was able to bolster Pakistani prestige and security with nuclear weapons, the same such nuclear guarantors were available to others who could afford them. The Libyans made payments of some $80 million in their efforts to obtain a fully functional nuclear weapons facility from Khan.

The tape, according to Olli Heinonen, the chief weapons inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was intended as “advertising” for AQ Khan, to demonstrate his wares and “to show to their clients how good they are in various things and … to create a certain charisma around him and his laboratory.”

Five minutes of the audio portion of that twenty-minute video can be heard here for the first time. The entire tape includes segments promoting Khan’s ability to provide sophisticated technology for medical and industrial purposes, as well as for building weapons-grade uranium enrichment facilities for nuclear bombs.

In this portion, a narrator explains how and why Khan created Pakistan’s own nuclear weapons arsenal—prompted, he says, by the nuclear weapons program launched in neighboring India. And A.Q. Khan himself promotes his own success, saying he promised Pakistan’s president that the country could “detonate a nuclear device on a week’s notice.”

On May 11 and May 13, 1998, Pakistan’s archrival, India, tested its nuclear arsenal with a series of five underground nuclear explosions. It took just over two weeks, but on May 28 and 30, 1998, Pakistan detonated its own nuclear bombs in a test that provided the first conclusive proof to the world that Khan had in fact succeeded. A year later Khan intermediaries in Dubai and Europe set the deal with Tradefin into motion.

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Carrie Ching

Carrie Ching is an award-winning, independent multimedia journalist and producer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. For six years, she led digital storytelling projects at the Center for Investigative Reporting as senior multimedia producer. Her multimedia reports have been featured by, The Huffington Post, Rolling Stone, Grist,, Fast Company, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, KQED, PBS NewsHour,, Mother Jones, Public Radio International, Poynter, Columbia Journalism Review and many other publications. Her specialty is crafting digital narratives and exploring ways to use video, audio, photography, animation and interactive graphics to push the boundaries of storytelling on the Web, tablets and mobile. Her work has been honored with awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Best of the West, the Online News Association, Scripps Howard, The Gracies, and was part of the entry in a Pulitzer-finalist project. Prior to her time at CIR she was a magazine and book editor, video journalist, newspaper reporter and TV comedy scriptwriter. She was on the 2010 Eddie Adams Workshop faculty as a multimedia producer working with MediaStorm to teach digital storytelling techniques to photojournalists. She completed a master’s degree in journalism at UC Berkeley in 2005.

Mark Schapiro specializes in international and environmental stories. His award-winning work appears in all media: in publications such as Harpers, The Atlantic, Mother Jones and Yale 360; on television, including PBS FRONTLINE/World and KQED; on public radio including Marketplace; and on the web. He is currently writing a book for Wiley & Co. investigating the backstory to our carbon footprints. His previous book, "EXPOSED: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power," reveals the health and economic implications of the tightening of environmental standards by the European Union.