U.S. Secretly Aids Pakistan in Guarding Nuclear Arms
By DAVID E. SANGER and WILLIAM J. BROAD
Published: November 18, 2007
WASHINGTON, Nov. 17 Over the past six years, the Bush administration has spent almost $100 million on a highly classified program to help Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistans president, secure his countrys nuclear weapons, according to current and former senior administration officials.
Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday that he was confident about Pakistani security.
But with the future of that countrys leadership in doubt, debate is intensifying about whether Washington has done enough to help protect the warheads and laboratories, and whether Pakistans 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 Pakistans arsenal among the worlds 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.
The New York Times has known details of the secret program for more than three years, based on interviews with a range of American officials and nuclear experts, some of whom were concerned that Pakistans arsenal remained vulnerable. The newspaper agreed to delay publication of the article after considering a request from the Bush administration, which argued that premature disclosure could hurt the effort to secure the weapons.
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 Pakistans nuclear safety effort, Lt. Gen. Khalid Kidwai, who acknowledged receiving international help as he sought to assure Washington that all of the holes in Pakistans nuclear security infrastructure had been sealed.