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Are Pakistan's nuclear weapons safe from terrorists?



Pakistan is collapsing into civil war, causing world leaders, pundits and assorted chickens, wusses, pussies and scaredy cats to start freaking out.
Why the freakness?

Outside observers are afraid the world is about to confront a nuclear nightmare. They're afraid Pakistan's super-violent, fundamentalist Taliban fighters might be able to get their hands on one of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

Is it possible?

Yes. It's actually happened before.

In 1965, an organized crime group led by a man named Emilio Largo stole a French fighter jet loaded with two nuclear weapons.

Largo and his crew hid the weapons in an underwater cave in the Bahamas. Largo threatened to nuke Miami unless he received a sack of diamonds worth approximately $2 billion in today's money.

Largo was on the brink of bombing Miami, but was thwarted at the last minute by a heroic British government employee who not only found the nukes, but also killed Largo and stole his mega-hot girlfriend. …

Never mind. That's actually the plot of the James Bond movie Thunderball. The History Channel and Spike TV are right next to each on my cable. Sometimes I get confused.

But the bit about world leaders and scaredy cats freaking out is totally true.

Pakistan's Taliban fighters have advanced to within 100 miles of Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, and its military headquarters in Rawalpindi. There has also been heavy fighting between Taliban and government troops near at least two Pakistani nuclear facilities.

Pakistan's government swears to Gosh that their weapons and related nuclear materials are totally secure.

Unfortunately, the Pakistani government's nuclear promises are about as reassuring as former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards' promise that he ain't his mistress's baby-daddy.

Pakistan has the second-most hellaciously bad track record on nuclear issues since atoms were invented. (I was about to write that Pakistan had the absolute worst nuclear track record. Then I remembered the U.S. actually nuked Japan.)

Do you recall the name A.Q. Khan? Khan is a scientist and father of the Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. After building Pakistan's nukes, he sold his plans and spare parts to other countries, including North Korea and Iran.
After the U.S. figured out what Khan was up to in 2003, Pakistan made him stop. But Pakistan never allowed Khan to be turned over to, or even questioned by, international investigators.

Pakistan's actions suggest it had something to hide — that perhaps Khan wasn't a rogue. Maybe top Pakistani were backing him for a cut of the money. We don't yet know, but none of the signs are reassuring.

To make matters worse, Pakistan has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That means its nuclear facilities are not subject to inspection by the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

National Public Radio reports the U.S. has given Pakistan $100 million to upgrade its nuclear safety equipment, but the U.S. has reportedly been unable to verify that the money was actually spent on securing nuclear weapons or facilities. Their nukes could be less secure than high school gym lockers and we wouldn't know it.

No one would be surprised if the money had been wasted. The Bush administration sent more than $10 billion to Pakistan in the aftermath of 9/11.

The money was supposed to help Pakistan fight its growing number of Islamic extremists, but much of it seems to have disappeared into people's pockets.

The rest of the loot seems to have been spent arming Pakistan for its on-again-off-again war with neighboring India (to which, by the way, the Bush administration sold nuclear reactors, even though India had never signed the NNPT, either).

Even if we could know for certain that Pakistan's leaders were working diligently to keep its nukes secure, there'd still be reason to worry. Many rank-and-file Pakistani soldiers sympathize with the Taliban.

Paki-nukes are made using highly enriched uranium, which makes them ideal for use in a crude nuclear device (aka a dirty bomb). If a disgruntled insider smuggles out just 25 pounds of such uranium, he'll have enough to build a bomb, dirty or otherwise.

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