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CIA 'sparked Pakistan nuke probe'

From CNN's Senior Asia Correspondent Mike Chinoy

A U.S. flag is set alight during a strike after reports reveal Pakistani nuclear secrets were leaked abroad.
A U.S. flag is set alight during a strike after reports reveal Pakistani nuclear secrets were leaked abroad.

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- The investigation into a top Pakistani scientist's leaks of nuclear secrets was sparked by information from U.S. intelligence, according to officials.

Last week, nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan -- the architect of Pakistan's nuclear program -- admitted he sent nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

It was during a visit to Islamabad last October, however, that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage provided Musharraf with the CIA's evidence of the nuclear smuggling ring run by Khan, according to Pakistani officials.

The intelligence Armitage shared with Musharraf, officials say, included details of Khan's overseas travel, meetings with intermediaries, nuclear technology transfers and bank accounts.

"We discovered the extent of Khan's hidden network. We tagged the proliferators. We detected the network stretching from Pakistan to Europe to the Middle East to Asia offering its wares to countries like North Korea and Iran," CIA director George Tenet said last week.

The Pakistani officials confirm that Armitage asked Musharraf -- a key U.S. ally -- to conduct his own investigation and act swiftly against Khan, warning that failure to do so would jeopardize Islamabad's ties with Washington.

Musharraf then ordered his own intelligence agency to follow up. Its investigation confirmed the CIA's findings.

That evidence was buttressed by revelations from the International Atomic Energy Agency late last year of Khan's nuclear dealings with Iran and Libya, leaving Musharraf little choice but to act.

Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri has said Pakistan would cooperate with the IAEA in "every conceivable way" as "responsible members of the international community." (Pakistan pledges cooperation)

Kasuri said Sunday that foreign intelligence had years ago passed on information about Khan giving nuclear technology to other countries -- prompting his removal in 2001 as head of the Khan Research Laboratories, the main nuclear lab named after him.

Musharraf took action "because some of our friends' intelligence agencies shared some information with us," Kasuri told an international security conference in Munich, Germany, The Associated Press reported. He did not elaborate.

Washington has praised the investigation and called Musharraf's decision last week to pardon Khan after the scientist's televised apology an internal matter.

And U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has thanked Musharraf for the investigation.

In a phone conversation Saturday, Powell "called to convey the United States' appreciation over the results of the investigations and the manner in which they were conducted," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Powell plans to visit Pakistan "shortly," a top government official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Musharraf, who seized power in 1999, is a key U.S. ally in the war on terror in neighboring Afghanistan and border regions where Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding.

But his alliance with Washington has drawn strong criticism at home, and Islamic extremists were blamed for two assassination attempts against Musharraf in December.

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