Washington: Pakistan’s atomic weapons face the threat from insiders in the nuclear establishment colluding with outsiders, as authorities there have “a dismal track record” in thwarting such dangers, a former top American intelligence official has warned.
“The greatest threat of a loose nuke scenario stems from insiders in the nuclear establishment working with outsiders, people seeking a bomb or material to make a bomb”, said Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, who served as a CIA officer for 23 years.
“Nowhere in the world is this threat greater than in Pakistan. Pakistani authorities have a dismal track record in thwarting insider threats,” Mowatt-Larssen said in the July/August issue of Arms Control Today, published by the Arms Control Association.
He underlined that the network run by the father of the Pakistani bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, channeled sensitive nuclear technologies to Iran, Libya, and North Korea for years under the noses of the establishment before it was taken down in 2003, to the best of our knowledge.
The Umma-Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), founded by Pakistani nuclear scientists with close ties to al Qaeda and the Taliban, was headed by Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, who had been in charge of Pakistan’s Khushab reactor.
“It is stunning to consider that two of the founding fathers of Pakistan’s weapons programme embarked independently on clandestine efforts to organize networks to sell their country’s most precious secrets for profit,” Mowatt-Larssen stressed.
The former CIA official said there are troubling indications that these insider threats are not anomalies.
“In the Khan and UTN cases, the rogue senior officers and their cohorts in the nuclear establishment were not caught by Pakistan’s security establishment. It would be foolhardy to assume that such lapses could not happen again,” writes Mowatt-Larssen, a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs, who until January 2009 headed the US Department of Energy’s intelligence and counterintelligence office.
He warned, “it would be foolhardy to assume that such lapses could not happen again”. “The Pakistani military, intelligence, and nuclear establishments are not immune to rising levels of extremism in the country”.
“There is a lethal proximity between terrorists, extremists, and nuclear weapons insiders,” Mowatt-Larssen warned.
He said Pakistan’s expanding nuclear programme and the insider threat that accompanies it “is taking place in the context of the broader trend of increasing instability in the country”.