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Tilting at Windmills

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November 17, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

PAKISTAN'S NUKES....The New York Times has a front page story running today about a "highly classified" U.S. program to help Pakistan secure its nuclear arsenal. My first thought when I read the headline was, "You know, this is one classified program that maybe the Times should have considered not reporting on." Reading further, it turns out they did consider it:

The New York Times has known details of the secret program for more than three years....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....The Times told the administration last week that it was reopening its examination of the program in light of those disclosures and the current instability in Pakistan. Early this week, the White House withdrew its request that publication be withheld, though it was unwilling to discuss details of the program.

How about that? Turns out the Times isn't staffed by traitors after all.

Kevin Drum 11:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (82)

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How about that? Turns out the Times isn't staffed by traitors after all.

Perhaps not, but stenographers they appear to have in plenty.

If you don't think this story was run with White House knowledge and approval, then you probably can't dress yourself.

Posted by: Horatio Parker on November 17, 2007 at 11:59 PM | PERMALINK

Now that's ironic.

Posted by: majarosh on November 18, 2007 at 12:06 AM | PERMALINK

Horatio: Yes, of course it was run with a White House OK. The passage I excerpted said exactly that.

The question is: why did the White House suddenly decide it wanted this information public? I figure it's because they were taking heat for not helping secure Pakistan's nukes and got tired of it. And as we all know, this administration feels that selectively leaking classified info is perfectly OK if it's politically useful to them. It's only bad when other people do it.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on November 18, 2007 at 12:18 AM | PERMALINK

But how much of the story (particularly the dollar amount) is just bullshit to polish the administration's image?

Posted by: Bill Rudman on November 18, 2007 at 12:27 AM | PERMALINK

We're leaking this now because we're about to shift from Musharraf to some other military dictator there and we need to let everyone know that the nukes will be safe regardless of which military dictator is in charge.

Posted by: jerry on November 18, 2007 at 12:32 AM | PERMALINK

jerry: ...we need to let everyone know that the nukes will be safe regardless of which military dictator is in charge.

Please. If whoever is "in charge" is unsafe, then the nukes are unsafe.

Posted by: has407 on November 18, 2007 at 1:09 AM | PERMALINK

Later, the White House will deny that they withdrew their request, and after all the Times are traitors. The funny part will be that the Times will report the Administration's charge as if it were true, like they did all the WMD lies.

Posted by: jim p on November 18, 2007 at 1:10 AM | PERMALINK

I don't know if that's the reason KD, 'cause this isn't very comforting:

"'Everything has taken far longer than it should,' a former official involved in the program said in a recent interview, 'and you are never sure what you really accomplished.'"

Posted by: Me2d on November 18, 2007 at 1:44 AM | PERMALINK

Traitors? What about failing to expose the shredding of the constitution? See NYT holding story of Bush warrentless spying until after 2004 election.

Posted by: JC2 on November 18, 2007 at 2:49 AM | PERMALINK

How about that? Turns out the Times isn't staffed by traitors after all.

No, but the White House is.

Posted by: craigie on November 18, 2007 at 3:22 AM | PERMALINK

Golly gee, is the U.S. of A. gonna secure the Pak nukes like they secure the U.S. of A. nukes: put 'en on airplanes & fly 'em around the country? Boy, do I feel reassured.

Posted by: eCAHnomics on November 18, 2007 at 6:40 AM | PERMALINK

How about that? Turns out the Times isn't staffed by traitors after all.

Kevin, the story is important at least in the sense of showing yet another (un)intended (can never tell with GwB's administration=evil or stupid) consequence of the Iraq invasion.

Your question though, posed as it is, is an exemplar of the junior high level education needed to read you.

Posted by: TJM on November 18, 2007 at 6:56 AM | PERMALINK

If Bush were really serious about stopping Pakistan from proliferating nukes or allowing them to fall into the hands of terrorists, he would have demanded access to A. Q. Khan, father of the Pakistani bomb. He hasn’t. As this article points out, Khan has been allowed to live in relative luxury under “house arrest” (ha-ha) without the CIA being allowed to question him about how much assistance he has provided to Iran and their nuclear program or about his contacts with the Taliban or al-Qaeda. If anyone needs to be water-boarded, it’s this guy.

Of course, presidents from Jimmy Carter, through Reagan and Bush I, to Bill Clinton, have allowed Pakistan to develop nukes with little or no resistance and now we are on the brink of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of Islamic resistance and everyone is scratching their heads – why??

We have met the enemy, folks. And he is us.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on November 18, 2007 at 7:58 AM | PERMALINK


"Traitors? What about failing to expose the shredding of the constitution? See NYT holding story of Bush warrentless spying until after 2004 election."

Yes, and when that was revealed, I canceled my subscription to the NYT Book Review after 40 years. (Actually, the book review section was getting pretty weird anyway, so I don't miss it).

h

Posted by: h on November 18, 2007 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

Golly -- "and other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?"

Kevin can be forgiven, I suppose, for parochially noting that, gee, newspapers aren't full of traitors who will publish anything juicy as soon as they can even if it puts our country at risk: "How about that? Turns out the Times isn't staffed by traitors after all."

But to read this story, consider its timing, and see it as just another reason to attack the US government (not just the Bush administration) for giving the nod to publish this NOW?

You guys have an unparalleled capacity to miss the point. Suppose, for a nanosecond, that somebody was to start a rumor that the United States had the ability to paralyze the most powerful weapons of any nation on earth at will, to be revealed ONLY at the moment of greatest crisis when a second's hesitation would mean the utter destruction of that nation.

Would you want us to DENY it?

This is the real stuff of keeping the nukes from the kooks. Methinks Kevin quoted the wrong section:

"The system hinges on what is essentially a switch in the firing circuit that requires the would-be user to enter a numeric code that starts a timer for the weapon’s arming and detonation.

Most switches disable themselves if the sequence of numbers entered turns out to be incorrect in a fixed number of tries, much like a bank ATM does. In some cases, the disabled link sets off a small explosion in the warhead to render it useless. Delicate design details involve how to bury the link deep inside a weapon to keep terrorists or enemies from disabling the safeguard..."

Earlier, the Pakistanis were tagged for properly worrying that accepting American technology for preventing UNauthorized nuking might also mean that we'd plant a kill switch in their nukes that meant they could ONLY be used if WE let it happen.

Insha'allah.

I mean -- who wouldn't be for that? (Excepting the Pakistanis, of course.)

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 18, 2007 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

Why is Times Select back this morning? I thought the Times decided to ditch that. I can't read Frank Rich's column because it's behind the firewall.

Or is this just a problem with my browser? I'm using a laptop I rarely use anymore.

Posted by: lampwick on November 18, 2007 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

I don't know why this program was a secret in the first place. A program to help command and control of nuclear weapons by another country is just prudent policy. Who cares who knows we do it?
Of course, if Musharraf is overthrown by people who don't like us, the policy won't help, but as simple anti-terrorism, it's just a good idea, like not letting people take knives on airplanes.

Posted by: JMG on November 18, 2007 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK

Regardless of the safety mechanism used, what's to prevent someone who has a nuclear warhead from simply disassembling it and using the parts to build another bomb without the safeguards?

Remove the uranium/plutonium and the high explosives used to implode them and make your own detonator.

Seems to me if someone had sufficient time and money no safeguard could prevent them from using it.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on November 18, 2007 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

Off- topic, but The Times brings in reinforcement for David Brooks. Many younger readers may not remember Lou Cannon. Cannon gained fame and fortune in the 1980s as a political reporter covering Reagan for the L.A. Times in the 1980s mostly through frequent television appearances in which he softened Reagan's image for moderates and liberals while earning scoops from the Administration and later publishing a largely favorable biography -- a case of access journalism that many reporters have emulated since then.

Of course, Cannon does not get to the substance of the argument that Reagan and his political advisers sought to exploit issues of race to advance his and the Republican Party's electoral fortunes in the South. Instead, he argues 1)Reagan personally was not a bigot and 2) the decision to begin the campaign in Neshoba County, MS was not effective politically. None of this negates the broader point.

What was most typical of Cannon's career as a Reagan cannonizer was Cannon's brief mention of how Reagan was wrong on the most important efforts to remedy America's de jure and de facto systems of racial segregation and discrimination. Cannon goes into detail about all things Reagan did during his life (mostly in the 1930s and 1940s) to demonstrate that Reagan was not a bigot, and then includes the following in a parenthetical:

"(Mr. Reagan was understandably anathema in the black community not because of his personal views but because of his consistent opposition to federal civil rights legislation, most notably the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.)"

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/18/opinion/18cannon.html?ref=opinion

Posted by: Ben Brackley on November 18, 2007 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

JMG: I'd guess they kept it a secret for two reasons -- First, I suppose any technologies related to how state of the art nukes are assembled is probably best kept to a minimum # of folks, and

Second, any foreign country that is getting advice from the US probably has some good reasons not to make it common knowledge.

(F'r instance, I expect there are a lot of people in Pakistan who resent America's taking such a deep interest the administration of Pakistan's most powerful weapons systems. Remember, there are "scientists" getting Pakistani government grants for studying how to harness the energy of the Djinni mentioned in the Koran. Those folks might be distinctly unhappy if their rivals for the American money being poured into Pakistan's high tech weapons systems were vulnerable to an American-made kill switch putting their nukes ultimately beyond Pakistan's control.)

Which both beg the question why publish this article now? My own guess upthread.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 18, 2007 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, yeah, Morpheus: "what's to prevent someone who has a nuclear warhead from simply disassembling it and using the parts to build another bomb without the safeguards?"

The short answer is nothing, but I gather it's a lot more difficult than it seems. I'm no expert, but I don't think it's as easy as that John Aristotle Phillips article way back in the day made it seem. The Progressive? piece sounded like all you had to do was take plutonium peanut butter and spread it on the bottom of two round woks set the length of a kitchen table apart, with rods to guide 'em into each other when the dynamite went off behind 'em.

I hope not.

Remember, one of the trickier assignments in the Manhattan Project was using high explosives as precision instruments.

In the end, I think this is a very high tech version of the lean-a-table-against-the-door defense against burglars: make it difficult and noisy to commit the crime.

Stealing a working nuke is VERY different from breaking it apart and reassembling it somewhere else.

Remember, too, that part of the rumor is that the thing will explode when tampered with, killing the thieves, destroying all the circuitry, and probably turning the plutonium into dust WITHIN the secure container it was stored in the first place, by far the best place for a dirty bomb to go off.

So you wouldn't have the parts, you'd have a room full of the most toxic mist on the planet: not so simple, don't ya think?

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 18, 2007 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

Disinformation on the front page.

Where was Bush's concern for nonproliferation generated by Pakistan when A.Q. Khan was selling nukes to the highest bidder?

With Pakistan falling apart due to its Musharraf's hubris, its military's anti-democracy attitude, Islamic fundmantalism and an influx of the Taliban--
--Bush has to scramble to save face. A lot of face. This article is the NYTs front-page way of getting back in Bush's good graces. IF the program exists, it was conceived AFTER AQ Khan let the horses out of the barn.

Posted by: johnsturgeon on November 18, 2007 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

There's nothing in the article to suggest that if the disabler switch is in fact installed in Pakistani nukes that they've given control of the switch to the US.

If they've cooperated to the extent of using this technology then that's great because it makes it harder to transfer a nuke to a terrorist group. Then again, if you call pull off selling a nuke to bin Laden, you can probably sell the code to start the denotation process too.

As to our ability to paralyze the most powerful weapons of any nation on earth at will, well, if they all let us install the switches and control them, so much the better. Until that happens, we probably need to be careful.

Posted by: tomeck on November 18, 2007 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

"There's nothing in the article to suggest that if the disabler switch is in fact installed in Pakistani nukes that they've given control of the switch to the US."

No kidding.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 18, 2007 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

(hit send too soon)

There are two issues here -- the first is HELPING Pakistan's government (which means Musharaff) control nuclear weapons, by ensuring that there are multiple triply redundant bureaucracies that have to sign off on basically anything to do with nukes, including (one hopes) even just the plutonium, much less the different pieces of a working weapon.

The second issue is in effect DISABLING Pakistan's nukes without Pakistan's knowledge or consent, cuz we'd have given 'em security systems that contain hidden traps which only we can avoid

Part of the deal in the first instance would be that we were trusting Pakistan, to give 'em security systems ('the same ones we use, fellows') to ensure that even if somebody was to steal a warhead, they couldn't actually use it, or even dismantle it.

But as noted in the article, the Pakistanis had been reluctant to accept that help, cuz they properly thought: gee, what's to prevent you from putting a trapdoor in the security that not even WE could use our own weapons? I mean, you hire a locksmith to change the locks, what if he arranges it so that when he flips the switch, HE has the only key that works?

In the first instance, presumably the weapons are wired so the high explosives in 'em go off if they're tampered with, killing the thieves, smashing the circuits and (one hopes) making the plutonium itself unusable without a LOT of time and money: the most dangerous dust in history -- hard to sweep it up, impossible to keep the trail secret, etc.

But in the second instance, all that is still true: it's just that not even the Pakistanis could use their nukes (against who, India?) without our okay.

THAT is such an explosive possibility, nobody would ever say it.... but they might not mind the rumor.

Gee, I wonder how you'd get people to talk about it, and when that might be most useful?

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 18, 2007 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

Off topic in response to h: I stopped reading the NY Times Book Review the first time I noticed a front page review by David Brooks.

Posted by: mwg on November 18, 2007 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Turns out the Times isn't staffed by traitors after all.

Traitors to whom? Those sons of bitches held back the story about Bush's illegal domestic spying because it might "affect the election". Because evidently Bush's coronation was ordained by God, and not by, you know, a public response to actual events that happened in reality.

Posted by: scarshapedstar on November 18, 2007 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

The careerist media whores at the Times are a lot more circumspect when it comes to releasing information that is potentially damaging to Republican electoral prospects. I am, of course, referring to the fact that they withheld the story about warrantless wiretaps not only for a year but until after the election was long over. Only Republicans get that kind of consideration from the media whores.

Posted by: Junius Brutus on November 18, 2007 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

Dr. Morpheus: Regardless of the safety mechanism used, what's to prevent someone who has a nuclear warhead from simply disassembling it and using the parts to build another bomb without the safeguards?

Many things could be done to make reassembly of a working bomb from those parts extremely difficult or impossible without access to the same types of technology needed to build the bomb in the first place. Whether those types of safeguards are actually used (or whether they could be used in Pakistani devices) is questionable.

Posted by: has407 on November 18, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, while budget debates rage about SCHIP, let's not forget to mention the $100 million off the books payments in foreign aid being done to secure the nukes, MAYBE. And maybe NOT.

Because the effectiveness of that spending is nothing but guesswork, from a White House notoriously weak at guessing.

Posted by: Kevin Hayden on November 18, 2007 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

"Traitors to whom?"

The NYT pushed Bush's crew's baseless assertions regarding Iraq's weapons and lack of compliance. The assertions went unchallenged, on the front page. The official editorial position was pro-Iraq war (or, I should say, pro-war with Arabs). The writers, editors, and owners at the NYT are traitors.

The NYT, Washington Post, TNR are all pretty much the same. They are ostensibly liberal, but hawkish on war with Muslims.

Posted by: luci on November 18, 2007 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

The second issue is in effect DISABLING Pakistan's nukes without Pakistan's knowledge or consent, cuz we'd have given 'em security systems that contain hidden traps which only we can avoid

What makes you think they're that stupid? And even if they were, how do you get from there to your idea of a rumor that the United States had the ability to paralyze the most powerful weapons of any nation on earth at will, with adding as long as they let us install the switch.

I'm not a scientist, but I'd have to presume the arming process is a closed system, you can't access it by radio or website. So to get what has to be a fairly simple on-off switch (activated by the security code) past the suspicious Pakistanis just doesn't seem credible. They were smart enough to build the nukes, they probably understand basic electronics as well.

Posted by: tomeck on November 18, 2007 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

More to the point of Kevin's post, I think he's right that the Bush admin is trying to gain some credit through selective leaking. Their foreign policy is a disaster. So if they can gain some credit for being proactive in a productive way, they might as well.

Personally, I would hope that the administration has been able to work with countries beyond Pakistan on nuclear security. There's a lot of concern about the former soviet republics nukes and if we can do anything to make them safer I think it's money well spent. I might even say something nice about Bush if he actually pulled it off.

Posted by: tomeck on November 18, 2007 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

Whenever I hear talk of Pakistan as one of our greatest allies in the region and in the larger "war on terror", I'm always reminded of the biggest irony of the Iraq war & occupation...in Saddam Hussien we had a potential ally. He was disliked & opposed by Osama Bin Laden and was taking active steps to infiltrate Bin Laden's organization. There was little to no terrorist activity in Iraq until we invaded and failed to secure the country after getting rid of the dictator we didn't like who opposed the same enemy who actually attacked us. Oh my. Life in Bush-world.

Posted by: NOLANathan on November 18, 2007 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

(resisting making the obvious, oft-repeated observation about Meck when he sez)"I'm not a scientist, but I'd have to presume the arming process is a closed system..."

Why?

Most guided missile systems (all of 'em, I think, it's what the "guided" part means) communicate electronically in a variety of ways: GPS, telemetry, etc., not to mention the actual settings for a particular strike, e.g., exploding at 5,000 feet above sea level or 15,000, which is sorta important if you're talking about mountainous countries like Pakistan.

So there are a LOT of places to put trapdoors in a sophisticated critter like a nuclear warhead if you're essentially changing the locks -- and those opportunities increase exponentially when you remember that we're talking about a whole series of redundant systems. (F'r instance, I dunno if the standard procedure is for plutonium to be actually stored IN a warhead, or if it's more like a firearm, where you never chamber a round until you're ready to fire. I suppose it must be different for dissimilar weapons -- bombs to be delivered by aircraft are unlike missiles. So in some cases, the trigger would be an unauthorized attempt to arm the weapon, and in other cases, simply unacceptable HANDLING of the materials.)

But you can see how Meck's myopia is self-inflicted: he HAS to find some way to dis America before he can express any opinion on any subject.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 18, 2007 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

How about that? Turns out the Times isn't staffed by traitors after all.

Not to worry, the radio gasbags will still say that the Times is treasonous and most of their listeners won't bother to check the facts.

Posted by: Steve J. on November 18, 2007 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

Pakistan's hesitance is likely less about the worry of a US trap door, and more about revealing design and implementation details. As the article quotes, "...you are never sure what you really accomplished."

It's also very difficult to determine what might be appropriate and workable without details, which are guaranteed to be very different from US designs. (If for no other reason than the majority of the US arsenal consists of fusion devices, whereas Pakistan has fission devices--at least as far as we know.)

While it may be the same in the abstract, the devil's in the details, which Pakistan is understandably reluctant to provide, explicitly or implicitly.


p.s. theAmericanist -- Once upon a time the US did use nominal separation of fissile material (some assembly required), but that approach--at least based on open source material--has not been true for decades. It's also important to distinguish between authorization, arming, fuzing and disabling (or rendering useless); those are very different procedures with very different requirements and approaches.

Posted by: has407 on November 18, 2007 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

I fail to see how I dissed America anywhere. And
I fail to see why the Pakistanis would let us fool around with the navigation and communications system when we're only supposed to be installing the switch on the arming mechanism.

In any case, you still haven't explained how one gets from installing trapdoors in Pakistan's nukes gets us to the comic book fantasy of the United States had the ability to paralyze the most powerful weapons of any nation on earth at will.

So, for the sake of arguement, I'll concede the point we've installed those trapdoors in Pakistans bombs. Now tell me how that paralyzes China's nukes. Russia's? India's? Israel's?

Finally, since you're always so over the top on things and your secret weapon attacks "any nation on earth", how does it paralyze the most powerful weapons in Iraq, in Iran, in Syria? The Taliban's? Al Qaeda?

Just wondering.

Posted by: tomeck on November 18, 2007 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin Drum: The question is: why did the White House suddenly decide it wanted this information public?

The appropriate question is: why did the White House decide it was OK to make this information public?

According to the article, the Times initiated this round, and "told the administration last week that it was reopening its examination of the program in light of those disclosures and the current instability in Pakistan", and the administration acquiesced.

The administration did not "suddenly decide it wanted this information public". If that were the case, I'd expect the administration would have started it. In short, there doesn't appear to be any selective leaking (or other nefarious motives).

Posted by: has407 on November 18, 2007 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

This story was reported about three years ago. But I forget where.

And I'm an anonymous commenter on the internet, so there's not a lot to go on ;)

But it's true.

Posted by: a on November 18, 2007 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

How Pakistan could safeguard its nuclear weapons depends on several things, notably their design and what fissile material they use.

The simplest nuclear weapon design is the one used at Hiroshima. Essentially, you make a big slug of highly enriched uranium, put it in one end of a gun, and propel it with high explosive towards the other end, where the barrel has one or more rings of highly enriched uranium in it. When they meet, boom.

Securing such a weapon is really, really hard, as is preventing accidental detonation, because even if all the bad guys can do is get hold of the HEU, it's pretty easy to refashion it into another weapon.

The more sophisticated design used by most nuclear powers involves making a very precisely machined sphere of HEU or plutonium, surrounding it with very precisely made and shaped bits of high explosive, and detonating those bits of high explosive in a precisely timed sequence such that you get a pressure wave that crushes the plutonium into a superdense sphere. "Implosion" nuclear weapons are much more efficient, and much easier to secure, because if you screw slightly with any parameter of the detonation sequence, it won't explode.

For instance, as I understand it, one possibility is to select and shape the explosives such that you have to detonate them according to a very precise timing sequence. If that timing sequence is then not actually stored with the bomb, or stored "scrambled up", the bomb would be very effectively protected. It would probably take months and require the assistance of some nuclear physicists to turn the weapon back into a workable bomb.

According to Wikipedia, the majority of Pakistan's arsenal is based on HEU. Perversely enough, one of the best things that could be done to make Pakistan's nuclear weapons safer is to not make a fuss when they build plutonium production reactors, on the condition they get rid of their stockpile of HEU.

Posted by: Robert Merkel on November 18, 2007 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

Has -- 1) just cuz the US doesn't keep 'em in pieces doesn't mean that Pakistan keeps 'em fully assembled: and we might well have advised Pakistan that the best way to secure 'em (or some of 'em) is to have the parts separated.

2) You're right of course that "authorization, arming, fuzing and disabling" are different procedures: I'm just saying that the more systems the Pakistanis asked us to help secure, the more chances we'd have to install trapdoors -- AND, of course, they would know that and accordingly be wary.

3) I'm not sure how much of a difference it makes that the NYT sez it contacted the Bush administration to ask "may I?", cuz the important difference is that THIS time, they said yes.

Do you really see that much of a difference? I'm not persuaded that this was some sorta PR leak. It seems like a damned dangerous situation.

That's why what struck me about the article isn't what struck Kevin (that the NYT isn't really the Daily Traitor), it's that the Bush administration said okay to this piece, which means they allowed (I think deliberately) speculation that we COULD have installed a kill switch on Pakistan's nukes.

4) Meck, I'm TRYING not to make the obvious observation about you, but you don't have to try to make it difficult, either.

You dissed America offhand, as is your fixed habit: "What makes you think [the Pakistanis are] that stupid? And even if they were, how do you get from there to ...[we're that smart] as long as they let us install the switch."

It's not about how dumb they are, it's how smart our wizards can be. IIRC, the way a guided missile or even a airdropped bomb gets to its designated KABOOM! spot is a matter of wireless communication involving all sortsa rays going around transmitting information at the speed of light. Even an atomic bomb designed to be dropped out of an aircraft is NOT generally set to explode on impact, but at a certain altitude: airbusts. That means its instructions have to be given to it, which is generally done electronically, often remotely -- voila! more ways to put trapdoors in.

But you reflexively scoffed at even the IDEA. Then you promptly got the idea wrong.

5) The point of a rumor is to make people think, gee, COULD that be true? And what if it was? (Just as the point of terrorism, is to terrorize.)

It's obviously the countries who have sought US help securing their nuclear arsenals who would most reasonably worry that we'd given ourselves a kill switch for 'em, or more extensive boobytrapping.

But thats the whole point of a RUMOR, dude -- it is amorphous, it flows to fit the vessel. If the Kazakhs or the North Koreans or al Qaeda wonder if just maybe the US can make nukes blow up their own warheads if somebody tries to steal 'em, well: what's not to like?

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 18, 2007 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

James Madison, while a U.S. Congressman:
"If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy."

This arrogant, law-breaking, illegitimate administration conducts itself fraudulently, manipulating the citizenry--in every single bit of discourse and disclosure.
The pResident continues to be the Denier In Chief of simple reality and truth.

Whatever this cabal is doing, they are not doing it in our interest.
Ethics and truth remain irrelevant to them.

Lies and deception shall forever define this presidency.
The most unaccountable, secretive, self-serving administration in history.

Posted by: consider wisely always on November 18, 2007 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

theAmericanist: just cuz the US doesn't keep 'em in pieces doesn't mean that Pakistan keeps 'em fully assembled

Agree. And that is how Pakistan appears to maintain them; a bit dated, but e.g., see here:

According to various media reports, the weapons are stored with their fissile cores separated from the non-nuclear components, so they cannot be fired at a moment's notice or without the cooperation of a number of military officials. According to Lavoy, Pakistan could assemble and deploy several nuclear weapons within a week.

Do you really see that much of a difference? I'm not persuaded that this was some sorta PR leak. It seems like a damned dangerous situation.

Yes. E.g., the Washington Post reported on it last week. Maybe they were nudged by the administration, but credible rumors have been floating around for some time. Other than "we've known about this for three years", the Times report didn't add much.

Posted by: has407 on November 18, 2007 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

As usual, you stretch to read things into my words that just aren't there. It's not about how dumb they are, it's how smart our wizards can be. We can have the smartest wizards around, but producing a completely undetectable trapdoor is probably beyond the skills of anyone.

Also, were not sure if anything was installed by us. What if the Pakistanis said "Give us the plans to build one and we'll install it." That could explain this remark from the article “Everything has taken far longer than it should,” a former official involved in the program said in a recent interview, “and you are never sure what you really accomplished.” If we installed something, we'd be sure of what we accomplished.

The point of a rumor is to make people think, gee, COULD that be true?

And to have the desired effect, the rumor needs to be credible. And your scenario fails that test. Best case, all it does is change bin Laden's shopping habits. He could always go to North Korea, at least, because he'd damn well know we hadn't installed anything on those.

Posted by: tomeck on November 18, 2007 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK

Robert Merkel: The more sophisticated design used by most nuclear powers involves making a very precisely machined sphere of HEU or plutonium...

More sophisticated designs use a non-spherical or asymmetric fissile core, which involves significantly greater expertise to design and implement, both of the shape of the core, and of the explosive lens needed to induce a super-critical reaction.

While the original intent of such designs appears to have been primarily to fit them to delivery vehicle shape/volume constraints--not protect against unauthorized reuse of the fissile material--they do provide additional protection against unauthorized use.

Anyone with access to such a core, but without the underlying technology used to design the weapon, is unlikely to be able to recreate a usable weapon without recasting/remachining the fissile material to use a simpler (symmetric) design.

Even access to the material from such a weapon does not guarantee that a usable nuke could be recreated. More sophisticated weapons require less fissile material and more precise engineering (especially of the lens). Bad guys may be left with enough fissile material to be worrisome, but not enough to build a functioning nuke.

That said, it's unlikely that Pakistan uses such advanced designs, with quantity in place of quality--which makes them that much more attractive to bad guys.

Posted by: has407 on November 18, 2007 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK
The question is: why did the White House suddenly decide it wanted this information public? I figure it's because they were taking heat for not helping secure Pakistan's nukes and got tired of it.
The article made it clear that permissive action link (PAL) technology was not shared at all, not even at the level of assistance we gave the French, which was "negative guidance", i.e. basically hints to help them reinvent our technology. This was the case even though sharing of PAL technology was advocated by at least some US weapons scientists, but others in the Bush administration vetoed the idea:
"While many nuclear experts in the federal government favored offering the PALS system because they considered Pakistan?s arsenal among the world?s most vulnerable to terrorist groups, some administration officials feared that sharing the technology would teach Pakistan too much about American weaponry."
In other words, the Pakistani PALs such as they are, are almost certainly far less sophisticated and more vulnerable than they could be if we had offered assistance guided by 50 years of experience. (Assistance in this case probably does not mean hardware or even detailed designs.) Superfically at least the arguments for sharing by U.S. weapons scientists are very compelling. It would be interesting to see even a redacted version of the arguments for and against sharing.

The other assistance provided was certainly useful and important.

Remove the uranium/plutonium and the high explosives used to implode them and make your own detonator.
I've read in various places that uranium weapons can be made using an implosion design and that this reduces the amount of U235 required. If this is the case, then if a single implosion weapon is stolen, and disassembled, it can only be made into another implosion weapon due to the amount of material. Implosion designs are too difficult for terrorists to achieve.


Posted by: Bill Arnold on November 18, 2007 at 6:54 PM | PERMALINK

"According to Lavoy, Pakistan could assemble and deploy several nuclear weapons within a week." - has407

Within a week??? I guess Pakistan isn't interested in having nukes as a deterrent force then?

Posted by: nepeta on November 18, 2007 at 6:55 PM | PERMALINK

nepeta: Within a week??? I guess Pakistan isn't interested in having nukes as a deterrent force then?

Only if Pakistan's nuclear capability, or the country is existentially threatened, by a first strike or invasion. There are no powers potentially interested in such, with the remote possibility of India. run-ups between Pakistan and India--or betwe

In any case, an increase in tensions from any potential threat should provide plenty of time for Pakistan to prepare. They are not, and are unlikely to be, in a situation similar to that which faced the US and Russia in previous decades.

A nuclear hair-trigger is not required to create an effective deterrent, as previous run-ups between Pakistan and India--or between the US and Russia--demonstrate.

Posted by: has407 on November 18, 2007 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

Bill Arnold -- I agree that the refusal to share PAL technology is troubling. The concepts seem pretty simple, even if the implementation is not. I'd really like to know what it is about the technology that sharing it puts us at risk--or at least greater risk than not sharing it. Legal issues aside--which we appear to have sidestepped at least twice (with the French and Russians), so why not again--this seems to be a case of cutting off our nose to spite our face.

Posted by: has407 on November 18, 2007 at 7:33 PM | PERMALINK
In any case, an increase in tensions from any potential threat should provide plenty of time for Pakistan to prepare. They are not, and are unlikely to be, in a situation similar to that which faced the US and Russia in previous decades.
I'd like to believe that the Pakistanis keep their weapons disassembled most of the time, particularly the (if-any) gun-design weapons, but it's a stretch to believe these reports. The subcontinent is not very big, a few minutes by missile. Perhaps they've decided that a few minutes isn't enough warning time to implement a launch-on-warning system, so they don't bother. But... hard to believe. Posted by: Bill Arnold on November 18, 2007 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK

Has writes "without recasting/remachining the fissile material..."

Okay, a neophyte's question: what IS this stuff like?

Uranium and HEU and plutonium are just REALLY heavy metals, right?

So you can melt 'em (to cast 'em), and you can machine 'em into polished shapes that can go smack KABOOM! with an explosive "lens": right?

But there's nothing magic about 'em, they don't glow and they're not unstable (well, except for that radiation thing): right? I mean, plutonium will become HEU, and HEU will become uranium if you're not treating 'em right, but they won't spontaneously combust or explode: right?

Nevertheless, don't those kinds of operations involve really big complex sites? I mean -- I can melt most metals in a kiln made out of a baked concrete shaped in a bucket, but we're talking much more sophisticated, expensive and DETECTABLE work, no?

And back to the point (which Meck misses):

"what it is about [permissive action link] technology that sharing it puts us at risk--or at least greater risk than not sharing it."

Me, too.

I didn't read the article to be definitive on what exactly we have helped the Pakistanis with, or how: which is what made me curious about their objections to PALS -- -or maybe our objection to providing it.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 18, 2007 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK
I agree that the refusal to share PAL technology is troubling. The concepts seem pretty simple, even if the implementation is not. I'd really like to know what it is about the technology that sharing it puts us at risk--or at least greater risk than not sharing it.
Likewise, I've been puzzling about this all day and no explanation has jumped out as compelling. Though perhaps you've answered it - if the Pakistanis really do keep their weapons disassembled except during crises, and we know this for a fact, this state may be better considered safer by some than an arsenal of always-assembled weapons protected with sophisticated major-power-grade (i.e. genuinely secure) permissive action links.


Posted by: Bill Arnold on November 18, 2007 at 7:51 PM | PERMALINK

theAmericanist -- Yes, to be dealt with safely, PU and U and require significant installations and safety measures; e.g., PU is subject to spontaneous combustion (Rock Flats 1958 fire) and creates all manner of ugly by-products. Of course, the key word is "safely"; I suppose if you can find people willing to strap on an explosive vest and being blown to pieces, the thought of slow death from U and PU poisoning might not be much of a deterrent.

Bill Arnold -- That assumes Pakistan has a reliable system to quickly detect an existential threat to their nuclear capability, and launch a counter-strike before the bombs went off. Without such a capability, would you launch a nuclear strike--possibly an unprovoked first-strike--resulting in an unprecedented holocaust?

The purpose of a nuclear deterrent is to deter. If you let it get to the point of a shooting war, you've lost. Part of that deterrences is controlled escalation--letting the other side know what you are doing, and the potential consequences of further escalation. That is not something that occurs in a heartbeat, but over hours, days and weeks. I hope and expect that the what happened in Cuba in 1963 and Sinai in 1973 are well understood by any government with a nuke.

Musharraf and his minions--and their counterparts in India--may be many things, but I don't believe they're stupid or ignorant.

Posted by: has407 on November 18, 2007 at 8:16 PM | PERMALINK

has407 That is not something that occurs in a heartbeat, but over hours, days and weeks. I hope and expect that the what happened in Cuba in 1963 and Sinai in 1973 are well understood by any government with a nuke.
We and the Russians, on the other hand, have lived under Launch on Warning or a close approximation, for the last 40-50 years or so. Not an example to aspire to IMO, but it has "worked" so far, in the sense of no accidental nuclear war in one historical timeline. I hope you're right, that the Pakistanis and Indians have decided to be cautious with their arsenals.

I've posed a similar question at www.armscontrolwonk.com. The article there offers a couple of interesting links.

Posted by: Bill Arnold on November 18, 2007 at 8:32 PM | PERMALINK

I didn't miss a thing. I was having some fun with your Masters of the Universe scenario in which we could paralyze the world's nuclear weapons in an instant, the rumor of which would send our enemies weeping and wailing in the night.

In any case, it's gratifying to see that you can at least address some people without simultaneously insulting them.

As to the risk of sharing/not sharing the technology, that may be more from our own political outlook than anything else. The article seems somewhat contradictory. In one spot it refers to the PAL as "one of the crown jewels of American nuclear protection technology." Yet later on it says the switch is usually buried deep inside the bomb, making access difficult for anyone who would want to disable it. That seems to imply it's not that difficult to disable if you know what you're doing.

In any case, ANYTHING we do to improve the security of those bombs, whether it's the PALs or the helicopters and night-vision goggles the article mentions, is a step in the right direction.

Posted by: tomeck on November 18, 2007 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

Bill Arnold -- Thanks for the link. Interesting comment there that "This is an issue that has fascinated me since my buddy Todd wrote an op-ed in 1999 arguing that Pakistan’s coup illustrated the need to declassify basic information about PALs."

IIRC, that was the reason given for declassifying some nuclear warhead information in the early 90's--to increase the flow of information between the US and Russia in order to improve security and get around prohibitions on the exchange of nuclear-weapons-related technology. Maybe time to revisit that approach.

Posted by: has407 on November 18, 2007 at 8:52 PM | PERMALINK
The article seems somewhat contradictory. In one spot it refers to the PAL as "one of the crown jewels of American nuclear protection technology." Yet later on it says the switch is usually buried deep inside the bomb, making access difficult for anyone who would want to disable it.
My understanding is that major-power nuclear-weapon PALs are the hardest devices to disable/bypass ever devised by humans. (Those who actually know aren't talking.)

I agree completely that the other security assistance we provided is very important and positive.

Posted by: Bill Arnold on November 18, 2007 at 8:55 PM | PERMALINK

Lord knows I don't wanna take the metaphor much farther, but isn't the idea that it'd be a tonsillectomy that kills the patient AND the surgeon? But...

"I suppose if you can find people willing to strap on an explosive vest and being blown to pieces, the thought of slow death from U and PU poisoning might not be much of a deterrent."

I think that's a given. I mean, if you're gonna plan for some kook stealing an nuke, ya gotta take that they're a kook for granted.

So first, ya wanna be sure that it is difficult to get to a nuke to steal it: put 'em on military bases, have lots of redundant bureaucracies surrounding access and so on; that way you don't get some nut with epaulets who can do anything on his own.

Then ya wanna be sure that even if somebody manages to get TO a nuke, they can't just haul it away and hit anybody they want: a missile is hard to move, but a bomb would be relatively easy. That's the argument for keeping 'em in pieces, right? That is, some determined cadre might get to a warhead, but it'd be hard to get to ALL of it -- even the plutonium on its own is just a very heavy dangerous lump, right?

So then you have what (I think) we're talking about: somebody DOES get a heavy dangerous lump, which means they MIGHT be able to build a Hiroshima kind of weapon -- like a dirty bomb where you get neither fusion nor fission, it's simply access to the heavy dangerous lump that ya gotta control. Just having uranium or HEU or plutonium doesn't get you a nuclear weapon -- but it's a helluva long step.

But doesn't what we're talking about include both?

If the Pakistanis (or the French, for that matter, as they sorta kinda did once) were to ask us: okay, how do we protect our nukes? wouldn't the answer be a series of redundant, interlocking systems requiring the authorization of several different national authorities that would be unlikely to cooperate in a coup?

And does that provide lots of opportunities for the kinds of trap doors hinted at in the article?

The more I look at this NYT piece, the more I wonder what the administration gained by allowing it to be published NOW: and injecting a rumor into the power struggle in Pakistan seems the most likely.

Got a better one?

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 18, 2007 at 9:35 PM | PERMALINK

I forgot to ask the metallurgical question: okay, so some guy is trying to perform a... tonsillectomy, on a fully assembled nuclear warhead. Make it the worst case scenario that he's an extremely bad guy AND he has the full cooperation of the command authority, so he is past all the ordinary safeguards. Maybe he can't fire it as a missile or get it on a plane to drop it as a bomb (cuz then he wouldn't be a bad guy, he'd be a nation), but he CAN take it apart.... cuz that's what we're talking about.

A fully assembled nuke, to BE fully assembled, has to have high explosives in it to smack the stuff together, right?

So how hard would it be to have a trap door in the thing so that even with all the command authority behind it, a signal (not even a mis-step), and the explosives incinerate the fissile material?

Like has said, the stuff burns. Right? What happens when it burns? Is the smoke and ash the raw material for a bomb? (Hell, can anybody even get near the site without massive work?)

If that's not impossible (it sounds easy to me, but I don't know this stuff), then it's just a question of first, whether it's difficult to send that signal, and second, whether it's difficult to hide the trap door so the guy who buys the security doesn't know it's there.

Yea or nay?

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 18, 2007 at 9:50 PM | PERMALINK

And then there's this:
U.S. Considers Enlisting Tribes in Pakistan to Fight Al Qaeda

(http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/19/washington/19cnd-policy.html?hp)

The Great Game may have new players, but the tactics are the same as those of the old players, and who wants to bet that the outcome will also be the same?

Posted by: billy on November 18, 2007 at 10:00 PM | PERMALINK
Or, "Bypassing a PAL should be, as one weapons designer graphically put it, about as complex as performing a tonsillectomy while entering the patient from the wrong end."
Very interesting article, thanks. My understanding is that that a wrong-end tonsillectomy would be far easier. The mention of two-point detonation designs is interesting.

Americanist:

If the Pakistanis (or the French, for that matter, as they sorta kinda did once) were to ask us: okay, how do we protect our nukes? wouldn't the answer be a series of redundant, interlocking systems requiring the authorization of several different national authorities that would be unlikely to cooperate in a coup?

And does that provide lots of opportunities for the kinds of trap doors hinted at in the article?
The PAL issue as described in the article seems to be with weapons that are either already functional, or are easily assembled by some faction in a coup or by a thieving terrorist organization. The idea is to prevent them from arming a functional weapon, given the technical resources available to them.

Posted by: Bill Arnold on November 18, 2007 at 10:07 PM | PERMALINK

If that's not impossible (it sounds easy to me, but I don't know this stuff), then it's just a question of first, whether it's difficult to send that signal, and second, whether it's difficult to hide the trap door so the guy who buys the security doesn't know it's there.

Yea or nay?
Nay, I think. National governments are very proprietary about their nuclear weapons - they generally won't trust anything provided by even a friendly government.

Posted by: Bill Arnold on November 18, 2007 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

"A nuclear hair-trigger is not required to create an effective deterrent, as previous run-ups between Pakistan and India--or between the US and Russia--demonstrate." - has407

But aren't US and Russian nuclear ICBMs on a hair-trigger today? Or at least some of them? I understand why they don't need to be realistically, but I would guess that the US is paranoid enough not to wait for a political scenario to develop in which arming would proceed.

Posted by: nepeta on November 18, 2007 at 10:22 PM | PERMALINK

Let's be clear: so it IS possible to rig a trapdoor into the gizmo such that you could signal the high explosives to incinerate the nuke in a nuclear weapon, and (if I understand you right), it's actually possible to do it so that the nuke power that we're helping, wouldn't know that we could do that to their nukes: until we DID it.

So -- they don't want our help. Is that what you meant?

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 18, 2007 at 10:25 PM | PERMALINK
Let's be clear: so it IS possible to rig a trapdoor into the gizmo such that you could signal the high explosives to incinerate the nuke in a nuclear weapon, and (if I understand you right), it's actually possible to do it so that the nuke power that we're helping, wouldn't know that we could do that to their nukes: until we DID it.
If we supplied the nuclear weapons already-built, maybe. The weapons would need to be custom - no way would we put such self-destruct mechanisms into our own weapons - the mechanism would need to be as secure as the PAL to prevent use by an adversary. It seems rather far-fetched. Posted by: Bill Arnold on November 18, 2007 at 10:35 PM | PERMALINK

theAmericanist: So how hard would it be to have a trap door in the thing so that even with all the command authority behind it, a signal (not even a mis-step), and the explosives incinerate the fissile material?

Very difficult. Maybe a duress code ("I have a gun pointed at me..."), might be used to cause a special detonation sequence that could render the fissile material unusable (at least without reprocessing), but... "incinerate the fissile material" is probably beyond what can reasonably be put into the package.

Past accidents which have detonated the weapon's HE ("broken spear" incidents), and which have created very sizeable craters in the process, have left much of the fissile material intact. Chunks of solid PU or U are not an easy things to dispose of, even when copious quantities of high explosives are detonated in close proximity.

Posted by: has407 on November 18, 2007 at 10:37 PM | PERMALINK

theAmericanist: The more I look at this NYT piece, the more I wonder what the administration gained by allowing it to be published NOW: and injecting a rumor into the power struggle in Pakistan seems the most likely.

To say that the administration allowed it implies that they had some power to disallow it; I think that is incorrect. The administration simply found it convenient not to object further to its publication--not surprising, as it does no harm and potentially some good for the administration's credentials.

As to what it does for the situation in Pakistan, that is a double-edged sword, but likely of not much consequence. Musharraf effectively stated to the UN that the US had offered help to secure Pakistan's nuclear weapons in 2001 (or maybe it was 2002). The fact that the Times is now reporting it will make little difference.

Those who think Musharraf is a US lackey will find some additional bits of fodder in the Times piece. Those who think Musharraf is a detriment to US interests will also find fodder.

In any case, it's nothing that has not been reported before and that those who have been paying attention don't already know, or that those who've made up their minds doesn't confirm. (You really think this is going to change anyone's mind in Islamabad or DC?)

What the administration gains from this is ostensibly to show that "we tried... we really tried...". But like most everything from this administration, it's a day late, a dollar short, and all show and no go.

Posted by: has407 on November 18, 2007 at 10:42 PM | PERMALINK

"But aren't US and Russian nuclear ICBMs on a hair-trigger today?"

No, they're not.

Nuclear warfighting theory is full of stuff like BOOB, and LOW, and LUA.

A BOOB is the bolt out of the blue (no international crisis, escalating war or coup): the scariest scenario, except that it has been vanishingly unlikely for many years that any power would do it, cuz it ain't rational even by the alarming standards of nuclear war theory.

You don't GET anything worth having by a bolt out of the blue (counterforce, countervalue) -- but that's basically the only scenario where you need a hair trigger. Like Has (I think) cited upthread, the examples of Cuba 1963 and the Middle East in 1973 teach important lessons.

Both the Soviets and us have had land-based nukes accurate enough to be counterforce weapons since before the Beatles broke up -- so simply attacking the other guys nukes (but only his nukes) first was supposed to be a viable option, leaving much of his territory (and people) intact, cuz then while he COULD retaliate against the enemy's cities, that would mean Mutual Assured Destruction.

The idea was that by attacking us first to take out the missiles accurate enough to hit the Soviet's hardened missile sites (circular area probablity, 2 to 1 plus 1, etc.), we'd have lost the war, cuz we'd still have something more valuable to lose: our cities. Even though we'd have still been able to obliterate Soviet cities, we'd have surrendered (so the argument went) rather than fought on after our accurate nukes were blown up, cuz using inaccurate nukes to burn Soviet cities would have meant the destruction of OUR cities.

So the BOOB first strike made a kind of macabre sense, theoretically.

That's why you had had the Launch on Warning scenarios, where when the other guy fired HIS accurate missiles at YOUR accurate missiles, you'd have to use 'em or lose 'em. Thus, Launch on Warning: the hair trigger.

But then first the US, then the Soviets got sufficiently accurate counterforce weapons onto submarines, so the BOOB strike ceased to make even theoretical sense.

But accuracy, superhardening of the bases, and submarines shaved that ever thinner until you wound up with Launch under Attack stuff, where you would actually have Soviet ICBMs blowing up South Dakota before you actually HAD to strike back. Even if we waited until the Soviets had taken out our most accurate land-based missiles, we would still had plenty of counterforce AND countervalue nukes on submarines. All they'd have done by a BOOB attack is make us very very angry.

So we haven't been on a genuine hairtrigger for many years, nor have they.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 18, 2007 at 10:43 PM | PERMALINK

"Chunks of solid PU or U are not an easy things to dispose of"

Ain't that the truth. Still, "unusable" would be good.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 18, 2007 at 10:45 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, of course it was run with a White House OK. The passage I excerpted said exactly that.

The question is: why did the White House suddenly decide it wanted this information public? I figure it's because they were taking heat for not helping secure Pakistan's nukes and got tired of it. And as we all know, this administration feels that selectively leaking classified info is perfectly OK if it's politically useful to them. It's only bad when other people do it.

I replied, but it apparently got lost in the aether.

What I meant and should've said was that the WH is proactive in getting this story out. The wording "the White House withdrew its request that publication be withheld" suggests a passive WH. I bet that wording was dictated by the WH, and it's intended to deceive.

And "you" was rhetorical. Not you, KD.

But anyway, there's not much news in it beyond a few US officials saying that Pakistan's arsenal is safe without really know much why that's so.

Posted by: Horatio Parker on November 18, 2007 at 10:49 PM | PERMALINK

So we haven't been on a genuine hairtrigger for many years, nor have they.
Is this based on information? My understanding, which could well be incorrect, is that the Russian forces are on LOW and that the U.S. forces are on an approximation of LOW.
E.g. (there are other links) this CDI piece.

Posted by: Bill Arnold on November 18, 2007 at 11:04 PM | PERMALINK

To say that the administration allowed it implies that they had some power to disallow it; I think that is incorrect.

But the reports says the administration disallow it for some years. 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.

Some possibilities about why the Admin changed its mind.

1. We may have passed the time period for "premature disclosure" hurting the program, so go ahead and publish.

2. Bush figures the positive spin (We're making Pakistan's nukes safe) outweighs potential dangers of publication. This could be as a result of #1 or because the program isn't going very well so he might as well benefit from the spin.

Posted by: tomeck on November 18, 2007 at 11:15 PM | PERMALINK

theAmericanist: So we haven't been on a genuine hairtrigger for many years, nor have they.

No. We are, as we have been for decades, at launch-on-warning (LOW). That, as far as I know, has never changed.

Bill Arnold: My understanding... is that the Russian forces are on LOW and that the U.S. forces are on an approximation of LOW.

Yes. Based on all available open source information, LOW is still the protocol for both US and Russian forces.

Archaic as it may seem, US and the Russians are still using protocols from previous decades, and there is little more room for error now than there was then. That was suppose to have been addressed in the 2002 US-Russia bilateral talks, but seems to have been lost in the shuffle. Detente notwithstanding, we remain as we have for decades; the status quo is not comforting.

Posted by: has407 on November 18, 2007 at 11:22 PM | PERMALINK

"Archaic as it may seem, US and the Russians are still using protocols from previous decades, and there is little more room for error now than there was then."

I don't think this is true. I can't say more'n that.

"the status quo is not comforting"

true dat.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 19, 2007 at 7:54 AM | PERMALINK

theAmericanist -- You're right, LOW does not appear to be the current protocol, at least for US forces. Good writeup on the current state and risks here.

Posted by: has407 on November 19, 2007 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

Given past performance, the Bush administration will "secure" Pakistan's nukes by giving them to the Saudis in boxes brightly marked with "No Nukes Inside."

Posted by: anonymous on November 19, 2007 at 5:12 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, it was a good idea to keep it from the American people.

God forbid that American citizens know as much as the most common street vendor in Islamabad.

Just like we had to keep those bombing forays against the Viet Cong in Cambodia secret so the Viet Cong and Cambodians wouldn't know who was bombing them.

The Pakistani government is a sieve at all levels and the idea that keeping Americans in the dark about this program preserves its secrecy and important national security interests is laughable.

But even though conservatives know this, they will still shrilly proclaim that the NYT is the traitorous media whore of the left selling American lives down the drain.

Posted by: anonymous on November 19, 2007 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

You're right, LOW does not appear to be the current protocol, at least for US forces. Good writeup on the current state and risks here.
That article says that the capability is maintained:

Recent statements of the U.S. military strongly suggest that this policy of maintaining the capability to launch on warning has not been changed since this document was adopted.

The capability is basically the combination of (a) rapid missile launch capability and (b) warning early enough to make decisions on a human time scale. AFAIK we have both capabilities at least in some scenarios.


Posted by: Bill Arnold on November 19, 2007 at 9:56 PM | PERMALINK

It isn't the "capability" to launch on warning that counts -- hell, we're "capable" of launching a first strike. The intelligence to see 'em coming and the promptness of response aren't anywhere near as important as the survivability of your deterrent.

Like Bill Arnold (relation to Hap?) sez, it's the capability to launch under attack that means you can wait until the KABOOM shows you have to strike back. It's the accuracy and power of the nukes on subs, mostly.

That is necessarily a human decision under the national command authority -- or at least, it damned well better be.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 20, 2007 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

"kill switch" you are kidding; do you people think that Pakistani are still living in stone age, here i am setting in NWFP, which is far behind in education from other provinces in Pakistan, but still here you will find the best people in the field of electronic, who can reverse engineer anything you give them, if a part of electronic is not available in market, it can be replace by a small circuit which will do the same function of that part. here you will find the best programmer. who can create and program any chip you give them. what will they do who made us a nuclear nation, whom are the best of best of this nation.

if united state giving switches to Pakistan to safe guard nuke, then pakitani are capable to understand its theory and make their own. pakistan have some nuke in ready condition.in case of any attack, the rest of nuke can be assemble in hours not days.
Pakistan will never give access to their nukes, because tomorrow united state could be in the other side and will be willing to attack us (see the history of united state it always attack its alleys in third world) . so it is also deterrent against them. if today they understand our technology tomorrow they can attack us. today they will think thousand time before they attack us.today it is fear of unseen that could protect us tomorrow when they understand our nuke they could find week loop holes and how much nuke we have; these information could also find a way to India. that why Pakistan will not share it nuke technology with united state.
the other thing about nyt, i think it is a political help with bush. so the people think bush are trying to keep them safe although it is vis versa. always remember when you kill people you will be killed to in the process. today it is your turn, tomorrow there children will kill your people. there is only one thing that could bring peace to this world and that is justice.you can win hearts by love not by wars. before calling any one extremest think about your self first.

Posted by: sultan on November 30, 2007 at 5:29 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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