The world has entered a second nuclear age. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the threat of nuclear annihilation is on the rise. Should such an assault occur, there is a strong likelihood that the trail of devastation will lead back to Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani father of the Islamic bomb and the mastermind behind a vast clandestine enterprise that has sold nuclear secrets to , , and . Khan's loose-knit organization was and still may be a nuclear Wal-Mart, selling weapons blueprints, parts, and the expertise to assemble the works into a do-it-yourself bomb kit. Amazingly, American authorities could have halted his operation, but they chose instead to watch and wait. Khan proved that the international safeguards the world relied on no longer worked.
Journalists Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins tell this alarming tale of international intrigue through the eyes of the European and American officials who suspected Khan, tracked him, and ultimately shut him down, but only after the nuclear genie was long out of the bottle.
In tackling the story of Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan, Frantz and Collins (Death on the Black Sea) are entering a crowded field. As Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark did in Deception (reviewed July 30), this husband-and-wife team divides attention between Khan's influence over Pakistan's nuclear program and how the American government ignored evidence of his progress because Pakistan served as a convenient ally. While much of this story is familiar, Frantz and Collins do provide more detail on Khan's background and draw on several different U.S. sources. (They reveal, for example, that the State Department discussed assassinating Khan as far back as 1978.) They also give the Pakistani government more benefit of the doubt than most other commentators: an internal corruption investigation ordered by Pervez Musharraf shortly after he became Pakistan's president is interpreted as suggesting that Khan's dealing with nations like Libya and Iran might not have been sanctioned by his government. Deception has more about Pakistan's internal politics and an edge in readability and zing, but this is an equally serviceable overview.