April 13, 2010

Securing the Bomb 2010: Notes on Pakistan

Securing the Bomb 2010


READ Page 44 on Pakistan

Other important points

Based on the limited unclassified information
available, it appears that the highest risks
of nuclear theft today are in:

Pakistan, where a small and heavily
guarded nuclear stockpile faces immense
threats from Islamic extremists;

• Russia, which has the world’s largest
nuclear stockpiles in the world’s largest
number of buildings and bunkers, and
security measures that have improved
dramatically but still include important
vulnerabilities; and
• HEU at research reactors, which usually
(though not always) use only
modest stocks of HEU, in forms that
the would require some chemical processing
before they could be used in a
bomb, but which often have only the
most minimal security measures in

In countries such as Pakistan, even substantial
nuclear security systems are
challenged by immense adversary threats,
both from nuclear insiders—some with
a demonstrated sympathy for Islamic
extremists—and from outside attacks
that might include scores or hundreds of
armed attackers. ( Page 34)

This risk assessment approach depends
crucially on the kinds of capabilities adversaries
who might attempt a nuclear
theft could plausibly put together in the
place where a particular nuclear facility or
transport link is located. The reason to be
concerned about nuclear theft in Pakistan,
for example, is not that they have weak
security for their nuclear stockpile—they
do not—but rather that their security systems
must protect that stockpile against
extraordinary threats, from both nuclear
insiders with a demonstrated willingness
to sell nuclear weapons technologies and
outsiders that might include dozens or
even hundreds of armed extremists (as
occurred in an assault on a Frontier Corps
base in January 2009).3 A nuclear security
system that was sufficient to reduce the
risk of nuclear theft to a low level for a
nuclear facility in Canada might still leave
a high risk of nuclear theft if the facility
was in Pakistan. ( Page 40)

Pakistan’s modest nuclear stockpile
arouses global concern because Pakistan is
also the world headquarters of al Qaeda;
its stockpile faces a greater threat from Islamic
extremists seeking nuclear weapons
than any other nuclear stockpile on earth.
Despite extensive security measures, there
is a very real possibility that sympathetic
insiders might carry out or assist in a
nuclear theft, or that a sophisticated outsider
attack (possibly with insider help)
could overwhelm the defenses. Over the
longer term, there is at least a possibility
of Islamic extremists seizing power, or
of a collapse of the Pakistani state making
nuclear weapons vulnerable—though
present evidence suggests both of these
scenarios remain unlikely.

Pakistan is believed to have an arsenal of
some 70-90 nuclear weapons, stored at
several sites.11 It also has HEU and plutonium
production and processing facilities
(including weapons-component fabrication
facilities) and a small research reactor
where a small amount of U.S.-origin HEU
is located, all of which must be protected
against nuclear theft. Pakistan’s nuclear
stockpile is growing, as it continues to
produce HEU, it announced the startup
of a plutonium production reactor at
Khushab in 1998, and it has two more
plutonium production reactors under construction.

Extraordinary Insider and
Outsider Threats
While Pakistani security measures are
extensive, they must provide protection
against extraordinary threats, from both
insider infiltration and outsider attack.
In the global black-market network led
by Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan, insiders within
Pakistan’s program demonstrated both a
willingness to sell nuclear weapons technology
around the globe and an ability
to remove major items from Pakistan’s
nuclear material production facilities
and ship them abroad. As discussed
earlier, other senior Pakistani nuclear
scientists led a “charity” that reportedly
offered to help al Qaeda (and Libya) with
nuclear weapons.21 Pakistan also suffers
pervasive and deeply ingrained corruption,
which can create opportunities for
insider recruitment.22 Insiders among
the elite group guarding then-Pakistani
President Pervez Musharraf cooperated
with al Qaeda in two assassination attempts
that came within a hair’s breadth
of succeeding. If the military personnel
guarding the President cannot be trusted,
how much confidence can the world have
in the military personnel guarding the
nuclear weapons?
Sophisticated outsider attacks involving
scores or even hundreds of armed extremists
are also a serious possibility. A
January 2009 attack on a base for the paramilitary
Frontier Corps in the Mohmand
district near the Afghan border, for example,
reportedly involved hundreds of
attackers armed with machine guns and
rocket-propelled grenades.23
There have been terrorist attacks targeting
nuclear facilities in Pakistan, including
attacks on or near the Sargodha air base
and the Wah cantonment, both sites where
nuclear weapons are believed to be stored
or handled.24 These attacks, however,
were typically simple car bombings that
never breached the perimeter security of
the facilities, having little to do with the
tactics that would be needed to steal a
nuclear weapon or nuclear material. Indeed,
these attacks may have the effect of
reducing the risk of nuclear theft, as mass
murder of military and nuclear personnel
(or their children, in the case of one attack)
presumably will make it more difficult
for the extremists to recruit military and
nuclear personnel to their cause.
The 2009 attack on Pakistani Army headquarters
was more worrisome (though it
also may have had the effect of making
military personnel less likely to support
the extremists). The attackers, wearing
Pakistani army uniforms, penetrated the
site and seized dozens of hostages, apparently
with detailed knowledge of the
layout of the site. A Pakistani elite unit
defeated the attackers and rescued most
of the hostages, after several hours.25 With
the right tactics and enough firepower,
a similar attack—a terrorist assault on a
heavily guarded facility, involving sophisticated
planning, the use of deception
(including, by some accounts, not just the
uniforms but forged identifications), attackers
willing and eager to sacrifice their
lives, and probably insider knowledge of
the security arrangements—would pose
a serious threat to a nuclear weapons or
nuclear materials site.
Ultimately, no nuclear security system
can protect against an unlimited threat.
Hence, reducing the risk of nuclear theft
in Pakistan must include both steps to further
improve nuclear security measures
and steps to reduce extremists’ ability to
challenge the Pakistani state, to recruit
nuclear insiders, and to mount large
outsider attacks. Fortunately, the Pakistani
government, with support from the
United States and other countries, is mov-
ing on both fronts, seeking to wage both a
military/intelligence battle and a “hearts
and minds” campaign against violent
extremists in Pakistan (though as of early
2010, the Pakistani military was declining
to take on those elements of the Taliban
located in North Waziristan). The extremists’
ability to mount attacks throughout
the country, and to acquire inside information
on security arrangements at sites
they are considering attacking, remain
troubling, however.
Finally, it is important to understand the
limits of the policy tool of improving
nuclear security. The more extreme scenarios
in Pakistan would not be addressed
by any plausible nuclear security system.
If the Pakistani state collapsed, or Talibanlinked
jihadists seized power, or hundreds
of well-armed and well-trained jihadists
attacked a nuclear site all at once, or senior
generals decided to provide nuclear
assistance to jihadis, better nuclear security
systems would not solve the problem.
However large or small these risks may
be, other policy tools will be needed to
address them.

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