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.”