So Here's That Plan To Secure the Nukes

Nuclear Explosion

Image by WTL photos via Flickr

A week or three ago, I was wondering what the Taliban seizing control of Pakistan’s nukes would actually look like.  I took a somewhat skeptical tone to my post, noting that this kind of ‘Taliban With the Finger on the Button Scenario’ seemed a bit far fetched–Jack Bauer Meets Mullah Goldfinger. President Zardari later hinted that the fears were being overblown, saying his nukes  were plenty secure, and “there is no little [red] button”

But there’s an interesting story from Fox this morning, citing an unnamed intelligence source (is there any other kind?), that goes into detail on America’s plan to secure the nukes in event of Pakistan’s collapse. According to the story, it’s a Joint Special Operations Command plan. (JSOC is the terrorist hunting force that soon to be Afghanistan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal ran from ’06 to ’08.)

Besides getting busy in Afghanistan and along Pakistan’s western border, JSOC, writes Rowan Scarborough, has “a secondary mission to secure foreign nuclear arsenals — a role for which JSOC operatives have trained in Nevada.”

From the story:

What makes the Pakistan mission especially difficult is that the military has its missiles on Soviet-style mobile launchers and rail lines. U.S. intelligence agencies, using satellite photos and communication intercepts, is constantly monitoring their whereabouts. Other warheads are kept in storage. U.S. technical experts have visited Pakistan to advise the government on how to maintain and protect its arsenal.

Also, there are rogue elements inside Pakistan’s military and intelligence service who could quickly side with the extremists and make JSOC’s mission all the more difficult.

“It’s relatively easy to track rail-mounted ones with satellites,” said the intelligence source. “Truck- mounted are more difficult. However, they are all relatively close to the capital in areas that the government firmly controls so we don’t have to look too far.”

The story ends on a note from Admiral Mullen, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, sort of pouring water on the “worst case scenario.”  The Admiral says: “I remain comfortable that the nuclear weapons in Pakistan are secure, that the Pakistani leadership and in particular the military is very focused on this…We the United States have invested fairly significantly over the last three years, to work with them, to improve that security. And we’re satisfied, very satisfied with that progress.”

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About michaelhastings

Journalist
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3 Responses to So Here's That Plan To Secure the Nukes

  1. ntstlkr says:

    The delivery mechanisms are nothing compared to the packages they deliver. Missile airframes, TELs, railmounted launchers, aircraft, etc…are all far more easily targetable than the warheads (you know the part that actually goes BOOM). Get ahold of the warheads and everything else becomes moot. The question here is does Pakistan maintain any portion of their nuclear arsenal in an operational ready-alert status? Warheads secured (and “secured” is a relative term here where the loyalty of the security personnel can reasonably be questioned) in a hardened facility is one thing. Warheads being transported with, or even fitted to their delivery mechanisms as part of a nations over-all readiness posture (to detur a hostile neighbor, like India say)is an entirely different thing altogether. Warheads in transit are vulnerable to interception and being seized.

    Like I said, the missiles, the launchers, the aircraft, …all the big hardware, that ain’t nothing. If things go south in a really bad way in Pakistan, we either get ahold of all those little magic eggs or …..well let’s not dwell on that eh?

    • Michael Hastings says:

      Ntstlkr, fascinating insights, great questions. Would certianly be interesting to know how frequent warheads are transported in Pakistan…

      • ntstlkr says:

        Meh, let’s call it a hazard of having a previous profession concerned with such odd trains-of-thought lol. As the JSOC Commander charged with the execution of a potential mission to secure “precious cargo”, the complexities you’re going to have to (again, potentially…) contend with are going to seem staggering to anyone not familiar with the process. While I cannot comment on whether or how long we might have had such contingencies in mind (or OPLANS in waiting), surely the events of recent years would have brought them to the fore.

        Afghanistan represented a failed nation-state that had completely fallen under the control of a hostile adversary. For all that, the Taliban were never going to develop a nuclear weapon (being a repository or staging area for the assembly of one maybe…)and so the threat could be graded at a certain level (if arbitrary).

        Pakistan, on the other hand, has already aquired a substantial stockpile (anything over a dozen is my standard lol). I bet you dollars to cents that noone was thinking, back in 2002 or ’03, that the situation there would have deteriated so much, nor the threat from those very self-same groups we were after would potentially be so close to their own goal of getting their hands on these things.

        To think of all the bs about Iraq and WMDs and all that mess…

        It is tragically ironic that the real WMD threat comes from the folks the public had been led to believe “were on the run”…but that we had effectively sidelined from our primary focus until now.

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