Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Curses, Fooled Again

Robert Windrem at MSNBC says analysts are worried about Pakistan's shady nuclear history, which was not always what it seemed. In 1990, for example, it weaponized its fissile material in secret.

As laid out in “Critical Mass: The Dangerous Race for Superweapons in a Fragmenting World," a 1994 book by Robert Windrem and William E. Burrows, the first incident unraveled in the summer of 1990 when India and Pakistan were in one of their seemingly innumerable crises. For the first time, the US had detected that Pakistan had actually put together a nuclear weapon without the knowledge of the country’s prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. And not long after Bhutto learned what her military had done, she was deposed by the same men who had kept the weaponization secret from her.

The story emphasizes the truism that the central institution in Pakistani society is the Army.

The CIA had determined that in May 1990 Pakistani scientists had succeeded in converting highly enriched uranium from a gas into a heavy metal. The uranium had undergone successive changes, going from gas to pellets to the mold and machined spheres—perfect spheres—that constituted the cores of atomic bombs. The CIA knew that the cores were then stored near the other components needed to make a complete weapon so the Pakistani bomb could be assembled in as little as three hours at Dalbandin, an airbase in the Baluchistan desert well out of reach of Indian jets. There was enough metal to make between six and eight nuclear weapons, each with the explosive capability equivalent to the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The United States later learned the final number of cores was seven. Two cores had been machined in May, and five more were turned out by the end of July. The first two used about 40 pounds of uranium while the last used about 26 pounds each. Like most other things, a learning curve improves efficiency.

The Pakistanis had not only “crossed the line” as the saying went in Washington’s nuclear precincts. They had actually prepared bombs for delivery. More importantly, in relation to the current crisis, the whole scenario had been carried out without Bhutto even knowing what had happened.

Nineteen ninety. That was a year to conjure with. The next part of the story reminds us of the second truism about Pakistani politics. While the Army may be the central institution in Pakistan, it reflects the divided nature of the country as well. It is riddled with hostile factions. Some of whom are quite chummy with Osama Bin Laden.

In August 2001, just weeks before the 9/11 attacks, two officials of an ostensible Pakistani charity, both senior scientists in the country’s nuclear weapons program, met with Osama bin Ladin and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in Afghanistan.

“There, around a campfire, they discussed how al-Qa’ida should go about building a nuclear device,” wrote Tenet. The scientists were not ordinary scientists. Sultan Bashirrudan Mahmood, was the former director for nuclear power at Pakistan’s Atomic Energy Commission. Chaudiri Andul Majeed, a prominent nuclear engineer, had retired from the Pakistani Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology in 2000. Both institutes were part of the nuclear weapons establishment. Their charity, UTN, also included retired Pakistani nuclear scientists, military officers, engineers, and technicians.

When informed of these developments, President Musharraf was shocked, shocked to hear the news.

Ultimately, after more intelligence came in, President Bush dispatched Tenet to Islamabad in November 2001 with a file of accusations and a less than subtle threat. ...

Musharraf was incredulous. “But Mr. Tenet, we are talking about men hiding in caves,” Tenet quotes Musharraf as saying. “Perhaps they have dreams of owning such weapons, but my experts assure me that obtaining one is well beyond their reach. We know in Pakistan what is involved in such an achievement.” “Mr. President, your experts are wrong,” Tenet said he responded. ...

Tenet says in spite of extensive efforts to learn whether bin Laden actually had HEU, the US intelligence and law enforcement community had no luck. Luck in fact may be what is needed more than anything else in dealing with Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

Luck? Is that what it has come down to?


Blogger eggplant said...

This story tells us what we already knew, i.e. there are two Pakistani governments.

There is the official Pakistani government that is lead by Musharraf and supposably our ally against al Qaeda.

There is also the unofficial Pakistani government that is closely associated with al Qaeda and is/was armed with nuclear weapons.

Supposably the official Pakistani government currently controls Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

How long will this situation last?

Obviously, when it becomes clear that Musharraf is about to lose control of Pakistan's nuclear weapons we need to send special-ops guys in and seize Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Simply destroying their nuclear weapons with an air assault isn't good enough because the bomb pits could be extracted from the rubble.

My prediction is when the time comes to seize the arsenal, what we find are decoys and the real arsenal is Somewhere Else.

11/06/2007 06:16:00 PM  
Blogger Nichevo said...

I have been tacitly assuming this is the case - that we are either in place or plugged into their nuke infrastructure, equipped to perform just such a seizure.

Remember right after 9/11 when Musharraf faced the nation and said we are cooperating with the US because there is no choice? This is part of the price for the Taliban and AQ Khan. At least that is the bargain I would have driven.

As for decoys...possible. But that's high-stakes poker, baby. A quiet intrusive inspections scheme of this sort may also have been helpful keeping the Indo-Pak lid on.

11/06/2007 07:33:00 PM  
Blogger Pax Federatica said...

Keep in mind that Pakistan also has two rather large next-door neighbors that most assuredly aren't going to sit idly by if/when nuclear-armed Pakistan goes Islamist.

I'm predicting that once this happens, we'll soon be treated to the remarkable spectacle of simultaneous, but not necessarily coordinated, military operations by, at a bare minimum, the U.S. and India, and most likely China too. I also presume that Musharraf has already made arrangements to be spirited out of Pakistan in such an event, so if he survives it, he will get to watch things get ugly for his country from a safe distance, I'm guessing from new digs in D.C. or suburban Virginia.

11/06/2007 08:51:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Pakistan's nuclear program is a real example of the impact of domestic politics on intelligence assessments.

All the data was there, and the Prime Minister Sharif had stated the country’s intention to develop nuclear weapons, but U.S. intelligence analysts did not warn of the upcoming development, reportedly because they “assumed that Sharif was like American politicians and was lying.” This was during the Clinton Admin, so a familiarity with lying was understandable, but to discount actual data just because you don’t trust the politician making the statements is rather absurd. I would guess that Valerie Plame was one of those analysts…

11/07/2007 05:31:00 AM  
Blogger dobson said...

Our "ally", General Musharraf's government does not control all of Pakistan - much of this large, mountainous country is "tribal" land over which his military government has little or no influence.

By the way, can anybody give me a reason to think that Musharraf is any more humane a leader than Saddam Hussein was? Musharraf overthrew a democratically elected president and has maintained his rule using the same assassination politics that earnt Saddam a strong-man reputation.

He succeeded in developing nuclear weapons, plus some delivery technologies at a time when Iran and Iraq were only rumored to have developed anything approaching WMDs.

Surely this should be a cause of worry?

11/07/2007 08:32:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

While the "commando raid to grab the nukes" scenario sounds satisfying, the intermediate and long-term problems remain: Did we get them all? Did we get all the nuclear material (dirty bomb material)? How likely are we to get all the knowledge and infrastructure necessary to build one from scratch? As they say, "Once the genie is out of the bottle..."

11/07/2007 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger dobson said...

"commando raid to grab the nukes" scenario sounds satisfying, the intermediate and long-term problems remain: Did we get them all? Did we get all the nuclear material (dirty bomb material)?

This sounds like something from a James Bond film.

In reality, the nuclear program is highly distributed. Anything illegal will be hidden deep beneath mountain-ranges, not in the plain view of spy-satellites.

The government of Iran & Pakistan has had years to conceal anything that it does not wish to be found.

I've heard some folks call for the use of bunker-busters, but would you knowingly drop a bunker-buster on a facility that might contain nuclear weapons?

It might unleash a cloud of vaporized wapons-grade plutonium. That's a bigger eco-catastrophe than anything Al Gore could ever dream up - a much worse scenario than even Chernobyl.

11/07/2007 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger Captain USpace said...

A nasty and flammable situation indeed...

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
destroy your country

suspend its constitution
order your cops to be pigs

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
KILL all the lawyers

if they dare advocate
for freedom of speech

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
suspend free elections

set back democracy
light fire under extremists




11/10/2007 01:05:00 PM  

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