Discovery Times found a fresh take on the hot-button issues of terrorism and war in its April 2006 documentary “Nuclear Jihad: Can Terrorists Get the Bomb?” To do that, Discovery looked back at the story of A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani scientist considered the father of the nuclear bomb in Pakistan, who proceeded to share his nuclear knowledge for a price, said Bill Smee, VP of production and current affairs at Discovery Networks. co-produced the program with The New York Times and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
The piece grew out of work The New York Times had done in covering Mr. Khan, and leveraged the paper’s access to get into places such as Libya. The program ultimately became a sprawling geographic story that stretched across Pakistan, Libya and other places around the globe and included interviews with the president of Pakistan and its former prime minister as well as high-ranking officials in the United States.
The project began in late 2005 and covered the history of Mr. Khan, who lived in Amsterdam and worked at Urenco, the European nuclear consortium, for years. Working under that pretense he shared nuclear information that he passed off as letters to his family in his native Urdu, Discovery reported. The New York Times obtained documents indicating that Mr. Khan was interested in building bombs that used a newer and cheaper nuclear technology.
Intelligence agencies caught on to his activities at the end of the 1980s, but did not confront Pakistan because the United States needed a strong Pakistan to combat the Soviets in Afghanistan. Mr. Khan went on to establish a nuclear black market, supplying nuclear parts around the world to Iran, North Korea, Libya and a terrorist network.
“What may or may not have happened back in the 1980s and moving forward has dramatic future implications and there is a lot we may or may not know about secrets and levels of details,” Mr. Smee said. “The global stakes and the timeliness of it came at a time when the nation and the world are correctly focused on the question of could the most devastating weapon of all fall into the hands of terrorists or others.”
But Mr. Smee doesn’t feel the documentary engaged in fear mongering. “It is a kind of sober account of his work,” he said. “It raises questions and suggests concerns that may be difficult to address, but doesn’t sound like nuclear armageddon is right around the corner.”