Tuesday 20 November 2007

THE LASTMINUTE FOR DOOMSDAY CLOCK

over the past six years, the Bush administration has spent almost $100 million on a highly

classified program to help Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president, secure his country’s

nuclear weapons, according to current and former senior administration officials.But with the

future of that country’s leadership in doubt, debate is intensifying about whether Washington has

done enough to help protect the warheads and laboratories, and whether Pakistan’s reluctance to

reveal critical details about its arsenal has undercut the effectiveness of the continuing

security effort.

The aid, buried in secret portions of the federal budget, paid for the training of Pakistani

personnel in the United States and the construction of a nuclear security training center in

Pakistan, a facility that American officials say is nowhere near completion, even though it was

supposed to be in operation this year.
A raft of equipment — from helicopters to night-vision goggles to nuclear detection equipment —

was given to Pakistan to help secure its nuclear material, its warheads, and the laboratories

that were the site of the worst known case of nuclear proliferation in the atomic age.

While American officials say that they believe the arsenal is safe at the moment, and that they

take at face value Pakistani assurances that security is vastly improved, in many cases the

Pakistani government has been reluctant to show American officials how or where the gear is

actually used.
That is because the Pakistanis do not want to reveal the locations of their weapons or the amount

or type of new bomb-grade fuel the country is now producing.

The American program was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when the Bush administration

debated whether to share with Pakistan one of the crown jewels of American nuclear protection

technology, known as “permissive action links,” or PALS, a system used to keep a weapon from

detonating without proper codes and authorizations.
In the end, despite past federal aid to France and Russia on delicate points of nuclear security,

the administration decided that it could not share the system with the Pakistanis because of

legal restrictions.

In addition, the Pakistanis were suspicious that any American-made technology in their warheads

could include a secret “kill switch,” enabling the Americans to turn off their weapons.

While many nuclear experts in the federal government favored offering the PALS system because

they considered Pakistan’s arsenal among the world’s most vulnerable to terrorist groups, some

administration officials feared that sharing the technology would teach Pakistan too much about

American weaponry. The same concern kept the Clinton administration from sharing the technology

with China in the early 1990s.
American officials and nuclear experts, some of whom were concerned that Pakistan’s arsenal

remained vulnerable.

Since then, some elements of the program have been discussed in the Pakistani news media and in a

presentation late last year by the leader of Pakistan’s nuclear safety effort, Lt. Gen. Khalid

Kidwai, who acknowledged receiving “international” help as he sought to assure Washington that

all of the holes in Pakistan’s nuclear security infrastructure had been sealed.

In recent days, American officials have expressed confidence that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is

well secured. “I don’t see any indication right now that security of those weapons is in

jeopardy, but clearly we are very watchful, as we should be,” Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of theJoint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon news conference on Thursday.
Admiral Mullen’s carefully chosen words, a senior administration official said, were based on two
separate intelligence assessments issued this month that had been summarized in briefings to Mr.Bush. Both concluded that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal was safe under current conditions, and onealso looked at laboratories and came to the same conclusion.
The secret program was designed by the Energy Department and the State Department, and it drewheavily from the effort over the past decade to secure nuclear weapons, stockpiles and materials

in Russia and other former Soviet states. Much of the money for Pakistan was spent on physical

security, like fencing and surveillance systems, and equipment for tracking nuclear material if

it left secure areas.
Still, the Pakistani government’s reluctance to provide access has limited efforts to assess the
situation. In particular, some American experts say they have less ability to look into the
nuclear laboratories where highly enriched uranium is produced — including the laboratory namedfor Abdul Qadeer Khan, the man who sold Pakistan’s nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea andLibya.
while Pakistan is formally considered a “major non-NATO ally,” the program has been hindered
by a deep suspicion among Pakistan’s military that the secret goal of the United States was to
gather intelligence about how to locate and, if necessary, disable Pakistan’s arsenal, which is

the pride of the country.



 

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