Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Nuclear Hide-and-Seek

It keeps getting worse. Now we learn our government has given Pakistan $100 million and a "raft of equipment" to safeguard nuclear weapons since 9/11, but we have no idea whether any of it helped because they won't show us where or how what we gave them is being used.

Beleaguered President Musharraf says Pakistan's nuclear controls are "the best in the world" but won't reveal location of the weapons or the amount or type of new bomb-grade fuel his country is now producing.

After six years of secrecy, the Bush Administration is now starting to worry that Musharraf's "Trust me" on the nukes may be no more reliable than his assurances about fighting terrorists on the Afghanistan border.

The New York Times now admits it "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 Pakistan’s arsenal remained vulnerable," but delayed publication when the Bush Administration "argued that premature disclosure could hurt the effort to secure the weapons."

In retrospect, there might have been some value in going public with the internal debate that pitted atomic scientists who favored technical sharing against the State Department, which prevailed by ruling such transfers were illegal under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Harold M. Agnew, a former director of the Los Alamos weapons laboratory, says reluctance to share warhead security technology was making the world more dangerous. “Lawyers say it’s classified,” he told the Times. “That’s nonsense...You want to make sure that the guys who have their hands on the weapons can’t use them without proper authorization.”

Now we are faced with the nightmare of nuclear weapons that are who-knows-where and protected who-knows-how in an unstable nation whose leading scientist was once selling its technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

John E. McLaughlin, a former deputy director of the CIA who played a crucial role in stopping that proliferation, now says, “I am confident...the Pakistanis are very serious about securing this material, but also that someone in Pakistan is very intent on getting their hands on it.”

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