New York, Aug 25 : The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States recruited a family of Swiss engineers to thwart an underground supply network of disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan as well as thwart the Libyan and Iranian nuclear programmes.
The New York Times reported that the Swiss engineers, Friedrich Tinner and his two sons, were accused of having deep associations with Dr. Khan, acting as middlemen in his dealings with rogue nations seeking nuclear equipment and expertise.
But the NYT pointed out that the real reason for the destruction was pressure from the CIA, which feared that its ties with the Tinners would be exposed.
But the case has been hampered by the destruction of relevant documents, which was done, according to Swiss officials, to prevent their falling into terrorist hands.
The files were of particular interest not only to Swiss prosecutors but also to international atomic inspectors working to unwind the activities of Khan, the Pakistani bomb pioneer-turned-nuclear black marketeer.
Analysts studying Khan's network worry that by destroying the files to prevent their spread, the Swiss government may have obscured the investigative trail. It is unclear who among Khan's customers - a list that is known to include Iran, Libya and North Korea, but which may extend further - got the illicit material, much of it contained in easily transmitted electronic designs.
The West's most important questions about the Khan network have been consistently deflected by then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf refused to account for the bomb designs that got away or to let American investigators question Khan, perhaps the only man to know who else received the atomic blueprints.
Over four years, the CIA paid the Tinners 10 million dollars, some of which was delivered to them in a suitcase stuffed with cash, said the report, citing unnamed officials.
In return, the engineers delivered a flow of secret information that helped end Libya's nuclear weapons program, reveal Iran's atomic efforts and undo Khan's nuclear supply network.
The Tinners also played an important role in a clandestine American operation to funnel sabotaged nuclear equipment to Libya and Iran, according to The Times.
Friedrich Tinner began working with Khan in the mid-1970s, using his expertise in vacuum technology to help Khan develop atomic centrifuges, the report said.
But in 2000, the CIA recruited his son, Urs Tinner, who eventually persuaded his father and younger brother to join him as moles.
As part of their services, the Swiss engineers helped the CIA sabotage atomic gear bound for Libya and Iran, the report said.
In 2003 and 2004, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency discovered vacuum pumps delivered to Iran and Libya that had been damaged cleverly so that they looked perfectly fine but failed to operate properly, according to The Times.
They traced the defective parts from Pfeiffer Vacuum in Germany to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US state of New Mexico.