Fired, but no charges: man accused of being nuclear whistleblower

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The Independent Online

A British customs investigator who was accused of leaking classified information about an international nuclear smuggling ring to two US journalists has been dismissed from his job, despite being told that he will not face prosecution under the Official Secrets Act, it was announced yesterday.

Atif Amin, 41, claimed to have discovered evidence in 2000 that Abdul Qadeer Khan, a Pakistani scientist responsible for developing the country's nuclear arsenal, was involved in establishing Libya's nuclear programme. Mr Amin claimed that he told MI5 and the CIA of his concerns but, he said, they ignored his evidence and told him to drop his inquiries. The Libyan programme and its involvement with Mr Khan was not exposed and halted until 2003.

Mr Amin's claims were revealed in a 2007 book published in the US called America and the Islamic Bomb: The Deadly Compromise. Due to the confidential nature of the material in the book it was suspected Mr Amin had leaked the information to the book's authors, David Armstrong and Joseph Trento – something all three deny.

The book quoted from an official document which reported Mr Amin as telling colleagues: "They knew exactly what was going on all the time. If they'd wanted to, they could have blown the whistle on this long ago."

Shortly after the book was published, Mr Amin appeared on the US television news show NBC to discuss its contents. When he arrived back in Britain he mentioned the appearance to a colleague, who informed superiors and, in November that year, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) was asked to investigate.

During the two-year investigation Mr Amin was arrested, his home was searched and he was interviewed four times. IPCC investigators found the book contained information which directly related to Mr Amin's role in the inquiry that had not been disclosed before, and passed a file to prosecutors. But in December last year, the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was not enough evidence to prosecute Mr Amin. With the criminal investigation unable to proceed, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), Mr Amin's employer, began disciplinary proceedings against him.

The allegation was that as an HMRC employee he was in breach of his position when he appeared on the television show and made "unauthorised disclosures of highly sensitive material". Last month he was dismissed from his £55,000-a-year job.

Mr Amin and the authors maintain he was not the source used, and that his name had merely been mentioned in other material. He maintains that his appearance on NBC did not break the rules of his employment.

Speaking to The Independent yesterday, Mr Amin said: "The only thing I have done is to give an impromptu interview on matters that were already in the public domain. Because of that I have been subjected to a lengthy investigation which was akin to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The investigation had no evidence against me, but yet I have now lost a 17-year career. I have been absolutely shafted. Yes my name was in the book, but I cannot stop people writing things about me."

Joseph Trento, the book's co-author, added: "It is absolutely outrageous that this man has been dismissed from his job for supposedly helping us to write a book. We never even met Atif Amin until after the book was published. He was not our source. But the even bigger outrage is that his evidence about the Khan network was ignored and therefore it was allowed to operate for a further three years."

Mr Trento claims he emailed the IPCC, informing them Mr Amin was not the source of the investigation but did not travel to meet investigators after taking legal advice. An HMRC spokesman said: "We can confirm that following disciplinary procedures Atif Amin was dismissed for gross misconduct by the department in July 2010."

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