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Pakistan, Russia ‘vulnerable to N-theft’

September 28, 2007

WASHINGTON, Sept 27: A new report by a prestigious Washington think-tank claims that Pakistan and Russia are the most vulnerable to nuclear theft, increasing the possibility of additional pressure on Islamabad to open its facilities for international inspection.

Pakistan’s nuclear stockpiles face huge threats from armed jihadi groups and nuclear insiders with a demonstrated willingness to sell sensitive nuclear technology, warns the group called Nuclear Threat Initiative.

Established by CNN founder Ted Turner, NTI includes several US senators and international figures such as Nafisa Sadik of Pakistan, Indian Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen and Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan.

The report claims that the so-called nuclear insiders have in the past demonstrated sympathy for extreme jihadi causes.

If Al Qaeda terrorists can twice come close to assassinating President Musharraf with help from Pakistani military officers, who can rule out the possibility that other military officers guarding nuclear weapons might be convinced to help Al Qaeda? NTI asks.

Author Mathew Bunn complains that although the United States and Pakistan have nuclear security cooperation, Pakistan does not allow actual US visits to its sensitive nuclear sites, and what precisely has been accomplished in this cooperation remains a secret.

According to the report, in November 2001, President George W. Bush asked former CIA director George Tenet to fly to Pakistan the next day to convince President Pervez Musharraf to take action against the scientists trying to help Al Qaeda develop a nuclear weapon.

President Musharraf, however, assured Mr Tenet that Pakistani nuclear experts had dismissed the possibility that men hiding in caves could build a nuclear bomb.

Mr President, your experts are wrong, Mr Tenet replied, recounting the relative ease of making a crude gun-type nuclear bomb, and Al Qaeda’s efforts to get help from Pakistani nuclear scientists.

Of the states that have either nuclear weapons or significant amounts of high-quality weapons-usable materials, only Pakistan fares as poorly as Russia in Transparency International’s ratings of corruption levels, the report adds.

It warns against the possibility of guards at Pakistani nuclear installations taking bribes to open gates, managers taking bribes to hire new staff without checking their backgrounds, opening gaping holes in the country’s nuclear security systems.

The report says that if the Pakistani government’s claim that A.Q. Khan’s exports of sensitive nuclear technology were completely unauthorized is true, then his activities over a 20-year period represent an immense security failure.

In particular, entire centrifuges were removed from the Khan Research Laboratories the centrepiece of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons complex and shipped off to foreign countries, in some cases in Pakistani military aircraft, the report notes.

The report also warns that either state collapse or the rise of an extremist Islamic government in Pakistan neither of which can by any means be ruled out could pose severe dangers of nuclear assets becoming available to terrorists or hostile states.

If 41 heavily armed terrorists can strike without warning in the middle of Moscow, how many might appear at a Pakistani nuclear weapon storage site? Would the guards at the site be sufficient to hold them off and would the guards choose to fight or to cooperate?