NBC Weapons: January 19, 2004


Chalk up another 'win' in the fight against terrorists. South African businessman Asher Karni, arrested on January 2 and accused of illegally conspiring to send 200 US-made nuclear weapons detonators to Pakistan. He was charged with violating the Export Administration Act and the Internal Emergency Economic Powers Act for "exporting, attempting to export or conspiring to export products with nuclear weapons applications" without the required license. Karni's lawyers claimed that he didn't know the high-speed electrical switches could be used for nuclear weapons. Known as "triggered spark gaps", they are also used to destroy kidney stones.

The case file reads like a Robert Ludlum novel. Karni allegedly arranged to buy a total of 200 switches from a Massachusetts company, Perkin Elmer Optoelectronics, through Giza Technologies, for export to Cape Town. The first shipment of 66 spark gaps for a hospital in South Africa rang law enforcement alarm bells, since hospitals seldom order more than a few of the spark gaps at a time.

Perkin Elmer cooperated with US agents and sent the first shipment to the New Jersey company in September as scheduled, but made sure they were irreparably disabled first. The New Jersey company allegedly disguised the nature of the triggered spark gaps on shipping documents, describing them as a different item destined for a hospital (which enabled the New Jersey company to avoid having to get the special export license). Karni received the triggered spark gaps in South Africa and then allegedly shipped them on to a company in Pakistan, by way of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Karni allegedly incriminated himself when the South African Police unit searched the offices of his Cape Town-based business, Top Cape Technology on December 11. Karni immigrated to South Africa from Israel in 1995 and entered the US on an Israeli passport, so the matter is being handled by the Israeli government. - Adam Geibel




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