The story from Pakistan should be the biggest story of this young year, if not the past few. How can it be otherwise? "Tip of the iceberg"? Oh, great. So this means that there are any number of two-bit governments out there paying lip service to arms control for others while paying money to acquire plutonium refinement technology and the actual bleeding blueprints for the bombs.
In contrast to media reports that the nuclear black market Khan used was small, diplomats said the available evidence indicated it is massive. Its aim is to skirt international sanctions and sell potentially weapons-related technology to nations under embargo.
I've seen surprisingly little chatter out in blogland about this. Janet Jackson uncovered is getting better cover.
The story is big because if true we are closer to nuclear war than we think. Post-Soviet Union, we are accustomed to thinking in vague terms of an unspecified number of "missing" nuclear devices from one or two former Soviet republics, and one or two loony jump-suited trolls who may or may not successfully peddle a few nasty bombs internationally. It's a scale that, while horrifying enough, can be comprehended and perhaps successfully addressed.
But once the technology behind the making of bombs reaches a wide enough dispersion it makes the concept of non-proliferation treaties about as effective as ladling soup with a sieve. There will be more Khans.
The best outcome that I can see is that in coming years one after another pitiful but malevolent government is going to join the blackmail queue behind North Korea and demand extravagant payouts for giving up their research or their weapons. The IAEA will need to quadruple its inspection teams to keep up.
Kahn's claim that he acted alone is clearly crap. The U.S. has eagerly jumped in to back Musharraf's offer of a pardon. That's just more damage control. Selling state secrets to foreign governments is high treason. There couldn't be a clearer case. But the guy's being treated like an errant but much-loved child who made a simple error of judgment.
One thing I keep looking out for but have not seen yet: although Khan admits selling the stuff to all and sundry and that he damaged his country's security, he never offers a reason why. Not even, "I did it for the money." Maybe I missed it.
UPDATE: Actually here's quite a bit of chattering going on about the whole thing in the comments at Michael Totten's blog