WORLD WAR 3 seemed like more than just a possibility during the Cold War, but while the CIA channelled their focus on the Soviet Union, a Pakistani spy managed to gain access to highly classified nuclear secrets in Holland which were later sold to North Korea and Iran, according to claims.
By CALLUM HOARE
PUBLISHED: 17:11, Sat, Jul 25, 2020
UPDATED: 21:47, Sat, Jul 25, 2020
In the Seventies, Dutch technician Frits Veerman worked on a British, German and Dutch uranium enrichment programme at the Physical Dynamic Research Laboratory (FDO), a subsidiary of VMF-Stork in Amsterdam. Mr Veerman, now in his seventies, became a whistleblower on his colleague and best friend – the infamous Pakistani nuclear spy Abdul Qadeer Khan – a man the CIA called “more dangerous than Osama Bin Laden”. In his country though, the nuclear physicist and metallurgist was known as the “father of uranium enrichment project” for his nation’s clandestine atomic bomb programme – he was part of a team who developed the technology.
When Mr Veerman discovered that Khan was a spy, he repeatedly reported Khan to the authorities but says he was ignored, allowing Khan to escape with nuclear blueprints and centrifuge parts from his Amsterdam workplace.
Khan went on to help build Pakistan’s nuclear bomb with the data gained at FDO and then sold the technology and know-how to North Korea and Iran, sources inside Pakistan have claimed.
Mr Veerman was fired, and claims that for decades he was harassed by security agencies to keep silent.
Now 84, Khan is living under unofficial house arrest in Pakistan, the Financial Times reports.
Frits Veerman worked at the Physical Dynamic Research Laboratory (FDO) (Image: FDO)
They claim he has long had an up-and-down relationship with the authorities and is closely escorted by security officials during his restricted movements, while any visitors to his home are screened in advance.
Born in Bhopal, British India, in 1936, he went to study in Berlin, and in 1963 switched to the Dutch technical university, Delft, to study metallurgy.
It was not until 1972 that he would join FDO as a metallurgical scientist – who were designing ultracentrifuges for Urenco – a company with a plant in Almelo.
The Dutch did not have atomic bombs and the enrichment was intended for peaceful nuclear energy, but with a little extra work, it could be used for a far more deadly purpose.
FDO had specified that Khan should not work on ultracentrifuges and noted that his wife’s family was Dutch.
The Dutch intelligence service, then called the Binnenlandse Veiligheidsdienst (BVD), cleared him for secret work and so, that same year, Khan and Mr Veerman started working together.
Mr Veerman started suspecting his colleague was a spy when Khan reportedly invited him to stay in Pakistan, adding that the government would cover his entire trip.
But those fears were crystallised after he apparently saw drawings of centrifuges and classified reports scattered across Khan’s home.
Eventually, Veerman recalls that he went to a phone booth on Amsterdam’s Czaar Peterstraat and rang the director of Ultra-Centrifuge Nederland, which oversaw Dutch ultracentrifuges, but his concerns were reportedly not addressed.
Abdul Qadeer Khan reportedly stole nuclear secrets for Pakistan (Image: GETTY)
Mr Veerman says he reported his suspicions (Image: VMF)
He told the FT: “I should have gone there and rung at the door and told the directorate, and it would all have ended differently.
“But I wasn’t that mouthy then.”
Khan reportedly carried on to be allowed to roam around the plant at Urenco despite lacking the right security clearance.
In May 1974, India tested its first nuclear weapon and Khan wrote to Pakistani officials, offering to help build one of their own.
In September, the Prime Minister at the time, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, decided to gamble on him and Pakistan’s embassy in The Hague contacted Khan, according to reports.
Former Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, reportedly asked for help (Image: GETTY)
Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins wrote in their 2007 book ‘The Nuclear Jihadist’ that his employers asked him to translate German documents describing a new centrifuge into Dutch.
He did the work at the “brain box” in Almelo, where the plant’s most sensitive information was kept.
But others had now begun to suspect him.
In October 1975, at a nuclear trade show in Basel, Dutch BVD agents trailed Khan as he questioned vendors about nuclear weapons.
The BVD made plans to arrest him at FDO when he arrived for work one morning, write Mr Frantz and Ms Collins.
They add that the Dutch foreign ministry approved.
Pakistan managed to create a nuclear missile (Image: GETTY)
But, the book claims that Ruud Lubbers, then minister of economics, was opposed – a scandal could damage the high-tech sector.
Mr Lubbers told Japanese TV in 2005 that the Dutch even briefed the CIA on Khan.
He said that the Americans opposed the nuclear ambitions of their Pakistani allies, but the CIA stopped the BVD from arresting Khan.
The Americans apparently wanted to watch him, so as to track Pakistan’s nuclear procurement and Europe’s secretive nuclear suppliers.
Mr Lubbers added that the Americans asked the Dutch “to inform them fully but not take any action”.
The CIA’s failure to stop him in 1975 “was the first monumental error,” Robert Einhorn, who worked on nonproliferation in the Clinton and Obama administrations, told Mr Frantz and Ms Collins.
FDO did not tell Khan he was under suspicion, instead giving him a new job, calling it a promotion, but told him to stop visiting Almelo.
On December 15, 1975, he left Holland and he flew to Pakistan on leave, taking his wife, daughters and blueprints of centrifuges.
Soon afterwards, from Pakistan, he resigned from FDO.
On January 15 1976, Khan sent Veerman a handwritten letter in Dutch from Karachi and again a year later requesting information on the nuclear research programme.
Khan added that there was “lots of photo work” for Mr Veerman in Pakistan, promising: “You’ll surely have a lot of fun and won’t regret it . When you write me, please do not write your own address on the envelope, please.”
Mr Veerman kept the letters in a safe and in 1978, the FDO informed him of his redundancy.
The Dutch government commissioned a report on Khan only in 1979, after the German TV channel ZDF — using sources other than Veerman — revealed Khan’s espionage to the world.
Nobody then thought Pakistan was close to getting the bomb and the CIA believed it had the matter under control.
In 1983 the Netherlands sentenced Khan in absentia to four years in jail for seeking secret information.
The main evidence was his letters to Veerman, but the sentence was overturned because he had not been served the summons.
The Dutch then abandoned prosecution. The ministry of justice later admitted that Khan’s legal file had gone missing.
In 1998, Khan also became celebrated as “Mohsin e-Pakistan” (Saviour of Pakistan), after the country detonated six nuclear bombs at a test site, but five years later information leaked that Pakistan has been the source of North Korea’s recent development in nuclear warheads, according to US intelligence officials.
In 2004, Khan confessed on live television to transferring the technology to Libya, Iran and North Korea, but later retracted the statement.
By then, the US couldn’t demand his punishment, as Pakistan was an ally in the “war on terror”.
But Khan is now thought to be out of favour with Pakistan’s government.
While Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has publicly stated Iran is not developing nuclear weapons, current North Korea leader Kim Jong-un has constantly boasted about the county’s nuclear weapons programme and, as of early 2019, it was estimated to have an arsenal of approximately 20–30 nuclear weapons.
Mr Veerman’s life story has been acquired by London-based Ten10 Films and Amsterdam-based Le Boxeur Films for a new series – ‘The Man Who Stole The Bomb,’ written by Nadeem Rajwani and produced by Joris van Wijk (Le Boxeur) and Tendeka Matatu.
Producer Joris van Wijk commented recently: “We’re honoured that Frits has entrusted us with his remarkable story.
“I have had the privilege of getting to know him over the last six months, his relationship with Khan was one of a genuine friendship that was masterfully manipulated and spectacularly betrayed.”