Inside Pakistan's Drive To Guard Its A-Bombs

Inside Pakistan's Drive To Guard Its A-Bombs
November 29th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Inside Pakistan's Drive To Guard Its A-Bombs

Inside Pakistan's Drive To Guard Its A-Bombs
Wall Street Journal
November 29, 2007
Pg. 1

By Peter Wonacott
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan -- Inside Pakistan's nuclear program, scientists are allowed to grow long beards, pray five times a day and vote for this country's conservative Islamist politicians. Religious zeal doesn't bar them from working in top-secret weapons facilities.
But religious extremism does. It's up to the program's internal watchdog, a security division authorized to snoop on its employees, to determine the difference -- and drive out those who breach the boundaries.
In an interview, a top security official for Pakistan's nuclear program outlined a multilayered system put in place over the past two years to try to avoid the kind of devastating lapses uncovered in recent years. A series of rogue scientists were found to have sold secrets or met with al Qaeda leaders, finally spurring a screening-and-surveillance program along the lines the U.S. uses -- but with a greater focus on weeding out an increasingly religious generation of would-be scientists and engineers.
With the regime of Gen. Pervez Musharraf wobbling, the eyes of the world have refocused on the security of the atomic arsenal of Pakistan, long regarded as the most politically unstable of nuclear powers. Mr. Musharraf's move yesterday to relinquish his military leadership provided at least momentary calm. But worries that weapons technology or materials might leak out remain amid Pakistan's continuing turmoil.
Pakistani officials say the most far-reaching change in their nuclear-security web is the Personnel Reliability Program, named after its model in the U.S. It involves a battery of checks aimed at rooting out human foibles such as lust, greed or depression that might lead one to betray national secrets. Like the security methods of other nuclear powers, the new Pakistani program delves into personal finances, political views and sexual histories.
But it probes most deeply into degrees of religious fervor. One employee recently was booted from the nuclear program for passing out political pamphlets of an ultraconservative Islamic party and being observed coaxing colleagues into joining him at a local mosque for party rallies, said the security official, a two-star general who declined to be identified, citing the sensitive nature of his job. Even though the employee did nothing illegal, his behavior was deemed too disturbing.
"We don't mind people being religious," said the general, sitting in a spartan office behind a code-locked door in a military compound, outside Pakistan's capital Islamabad. "But we don't want people with extreme thoughts." Security officials try to draw a line at people who are inclined to force their religious beliefs upon others, especially in the workplace; urging colleagues to attend Islamist political rallies is seen as less acceptable than quietly taking a break from work to pray.
The attempt to strike this delicate balance, between allowing faith and excluding fundamentalism, is all the more difficult in a time of upheaval for this Muslim nation of 160 million people. Since July, Pakistan has been hard hit by an escalation in extremist violence, with an Islamist insurgency spreading from the lawless border area with Afghanistan -- widely believed to be the home of Osama bin Laden -- to Pakistan's major cities. That was one of the reasons President Musharraf gave for declaring a state of emergency Nov. 3, but the attacks haven't abated. Just last weekend, suicide bombers struck this heavily guarded garrison city, killing 35. Yesterday, Mr. Musharraf turned over control of the military to a handpicked successor; today, he is to be sworn in as a civilian president.
Rising Tide
Many experts say it is unlikely that Islamist militants would be able to penetrate Pakistan's nuclear establishment or to steal weapons. They see a bigger threat in a rising tide of young people inclined to be more religiously conservative -- and, spurred by the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, more anti-American. That includes the college campuses that are most likely to supply recruits to the nuclear program.
"You can improve physical security by building high walls and establishing a well-guarded perimeter. It's much harder to defend against insiders," says Robert Einhorn, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and a former assistant secretary of state for weapons nonproliferation.
Within Pakistan, a strong contingent opposing any nuclear weapons questions whether the recent attempts to improve the government's security screening are enough. Critics say religious conservatism gripping the applicant pool makes it too difficult to discern potentially dangerous zealots. "It's a source of worry that the secret institutions are seized with religious fervor," says Pervez Hoodbhoy, chairman of the physics department at Quaid-e-Azam University, a large source of scientists for Pakistan's nuclear program.
Pakistan's allies, including the U.S., have expressed public confidence in the nation's controls. "I'd like to be very clear," Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters earlier this month in Washington. "I don't see any indication right now that security of those weapons is in jeopardy."
But the U.S. has long had contingency plans in place under which American Special Forces operatives would deploy to Pakistan to secure nuclear-weapons sites in the event of an Islamic takeover. Some U.S. military and intelligence personnel fear that there may be additional weapons sites that the U.S. doesn't know about. "It's going to be some time before Pakistan overcomes the confidence deficit," says Mark Fitzpatrick, an arms-control specialist and senior fellow at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is believed to contain about 50 warheads that, when mounted on missiles, are capable of striking anywhere in archrival India, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, which recently produced a report on the program's history. It also estimated the arsenal, kept at secret, commando-guarded locations, could be expanded significantly with Pakistan's stockpile of weapons-grade material.
Components and core materials are stored separately -- an additional security measure experts say is undertaken by both Pakistan and India. Those components are supposed to be put into operation only with the consent of a National Command Authority, comprising the country's top civilian and military leaders.
Pakistan has worked to advance its technical security along with its human checks, introducing fingerprint and iris scanners that are commonplace in other countries' nuclear programs. According to current and former Pakistani nuclear officials, Pakistan has developed its own version of "Permissive Action Links," or PALs, a sophisticated type of lock the U.S. uses to prevent unauthorized launching.
No country's program is immune from mishaps. Last month, the commander of a nuclear-powered U.S. Navy submarine was fired after failing to do safety checks and falsifying records to cover it up. In August, a B-52 bomber took off mistakenly carrying nuclear-tipped missiles. Both incidents caused embarrassment but no damage.
But Pakistan's past security breakdowns have eroded the credibility of its assurances that its program is in safe hands. In 2004, A.Q. Khan, who headed a national research laboratory named after him, was placed under house arrest for selling nuclear secrets and materials to North Korea, Iran and Libya -- making a personal fortune in the process. In late 2001, acting on tips from U.S. intelligence, Pakistan detained two of its retired nuclear scientists who had met with members of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, including Mr. bin Laden.
Some analysts suspect Pakistan continues to buy weapons materials on the black market, in part because of trouble procuring supplies through legitimate channels. That suggests to some that at least parts of the procurement network engineered by Mr. Kahn, still widely considered a national hero, remain active -- despite Pakistan's assertions that it has been shut down.
The Bush administration has ruled out any plan to share nuclear technology with Pakistan, even as it seeks to complete such a pact for India's civilian power program. Nuclear suppliers have followed suit, denying some safety equipment that Pakistani nuclear officials say are meant for civilian use. For example, Pakistan hasn't been able to buy a system to monitor potentially problematic parts at its power reactors, say these officials.
Pakistan's current emphasis on security marks a shift from its early focus on acquiring technology, rather than safeguarding it. That stemmed from a race with India to build the bomb, which culminated in 1998, when both countries conducted a series of tit-for-tat nuclear tests.
More than two decades earlier, spurred by India's test of a nuclear device in 1974, Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto built up the nuclear program around a coterie of patriotic scientists, among them the metallurgist Mr. Khan. As the program advanced, Mr. Khan assumed an ever-more powerful role, rising to head his own laboratory that operated free of much -- if any -- government control. Mr. Khan eventually turned his attentions to selling the secrets to other countries, including Iran. Current and former army commanders maintain Mr. Khan acted within a tiny circle without their knowledge. General Mizra Aslam Beg, then chief of army staff, says he told an Iranian military delegation shopping for technology and material in the 1990s that he couldn't help: He advised them to get what they wanted "like us, through the underworld."

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