Obama's recent "Gird Your Loins" briefing

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Obama's recent "Gird Your Loins" briefing

Obama's recent "Gird Your Loins" briefing:

By now Obama has almost surely been briefed about an alarming stream of intelligence that began circulating early last year to the top tier of President George W. Bush's national-security leadership in Washington. The highly restricted reports described how foreign-trained Pakistani scientists, including some suspected of harboring sympathy for radical Islamic causes, were returning to Pakistan to seek jobs within the country's nuclear infrastructure — presumably trying to burrow in among the 2,000 or so people who have what Kidwai calls "critical knowledge" of the Pakistani nuclear infrastructure. 

"I have two worries," one of the most senior officials in the Bush administration, who had read all of the intelligence with care, told me one day last spring. One is what happens "when they move the weapons," he said, explaining that the United States feared that some groups could try to provoke a confrontation between Pakistan and India in the hope that the Pakistani military would transport tactical nuclear weapons closer to the front lines, where they would be more 
vulnerable to seizure. Indeed, when the deadly terror attacks occurred in Mumbai in late November, officials told me they feared that one of he attackers' motives might have been to trigger exactly that series of events. 

"And the second," the official said, choosing his words carefully, "is what I believe are steadfast efforts of different extremist groups to infiltrate the labs and put sleepers and so on in there." As Obama's team of nuclear experts have discovered in their recent briefings, it is Pakistan's laboratories — one of which still bears A. Q. Khan's name — that still pose the greatest worries for American intelligence officials. It is relatively easy to teach Kidwai's security personnel 
how to lock down warheads and store them separately from trigger devices and missiles — training that the United States has conducted, largely in secret, at a cost of almost $100 million. It is a lot harder for the Americans to keep track of nuclear material being produced inside laboratories, where it is easier for the Pakistanis to underreport how much nuclear material has been produced, how much is in storage or how much might be "stuck in the pipes" during the laborious enrichment process. And it is nearly impossible to stop engineers from walking out the door with the knowledge of how to 
produce fuel, which Khan provided to Iran, and bomb designs. 

After more than four years, no one in Washington has a clear sense of whether the small, covert American program to help Pakistan secure its weapons and laboratories is actually working. Kidwai has been happy to take the cash and send in progress reports, but auditors from Washington have been rebuffed whenever they have asked to see how, exactly, the money was being spent..."

 ..In Pakistan, the problem is made worse by the fact that the universities — where the nuclear program draws its young talent — are now more radicalized than at any time in memory, and the nuclear program itself has greatly expanded. Kidwai estimated that there are roughly 70,000 people who work in the nuclear complex in Pakistan, including 7,000 to 8,000 scientists and the 2,000 or so with "critical knowledge." If even 1 percent of those employees are willing to spread Pakistan's nuclear knowledge to outsiders with a cause, Kidwai — and the United States — have a problem....  

 ...back in Washington, military and nuclear experts told me that the bottom line is that if a real-life crisis broke out, it is unlikely that anyone would be able to assure an American president, with confidence, that he knew where all of Pakistan's weapons were — or that none were in the hands of Islamic extremists. "It's worse than that," the participant in the simulations told me. "We can't even certify exactly how many weapons the Pakistanis have — which makes it difficult to sound convincing that there's nothing to worry about... 

...At the end of Bush's term, his aides handed over to Obama's transition team a lengthy review of policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, concluding that in the end, the United States has far more at stake in preventing Pakistan's collapse than it does in stabilizing Afghanistan or Iraq. 

"Only one of those countries has a hundred nuclear weapons," a primary author of the report said to me. For Al Qaeda and the other Islamists, he went on to say, "this is the home game." He paused, before offering up the next thought: For anyone trying to keep a nuclear weapon from going off in the United States, it's our home game, too.


 "The Bush administration can claim no attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11. The next administration will be unlikely to continue that shutout," said Brian Jenkins, a RAND Corp. analyst who advised U.S. presidents.


 "As a nuclear state with entrenched terrorist networks and a recent history of unprecedented internal violence, Pakistan can ill afford the additional stress that would be imposed by a prolonged global recession. A state on the verge of bankruptcy and distracted by domestic political opposition cannot be an effective U.S. partner. Pakistan's fragility represents a strategic threat to the region and the world, so as Washington contemplates spending hundreds of billions of dollars to shore up U.S. markets, it should also be considering ways to place the far smaller Pakistani economy on a sounder footing." ---- Daniel Markey, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia.



Washington: Claiming that top Al-Qaeda leaders were plotting their next attack from Pakistan, a key U.S. Senator on Friday said Pakistan had become “ground zero” for terror threat to the United States. 

“As America’s second post-9/11 President takes office, a single country has become ground zero for the terrorist threat we face,” John Kerry, Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in an opinion piece published in The Washington Times. 

“The consensus among our intelligence agencies is that top Al-Qaeda leaders are plotting their next attack from Pakistan, where the prevalence of religious extremists and nuclear weapons makes that country the central, crucial front in our struggle to protect America from terrorism.” 

Observing that the current situation in Pakistan was worsening, Mr. Kerry wrote: “Pakistan is under enormous pressure from all sides, from tensions with India to a ferocious insurgency in the tribal belt to a financial crisis that threatens the solvency of the Pakistani state.” 

“All of this is being held together by a fledgling civilian government not even a year-old. For our sake and theirs, America must do more to help Pakistan,” he argued. 


December 5, 2008 - by Annie Jacobsen

 Just days before this year’s presidential election, the majority of Americans considered terrorism to be a low-on-the-totem-pole concern. Studies by CNN put the average citizen’s fear of a terrorist attack at its post-9/11 low. One month later, with at least 188 people murdered by terrorists in Mumbai, terrorism concerns are — surprise, surprise — with us again. Suddenly, the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) falling into the hands of terrorists is being headlined across the media stage. 

This comes, in part, because of a bipartisan, congressionally mandated task force report released this week, one that says that America will likely face a nuclear or biological terrorist attack by 2013. “In our judgment, America’s margin of safety is shrinking, not growing,” the report says.

But this is not new. The report was over a year in the making. Countless high-profile WMD threat experts have been saying the very same thing for years. Americans seem to face or ignore these facts at whim. The attacks in Mumbai simply shifted people’s perception. They had to come to terms with the fact that while many folks were telling CNN pollsters that terrorism was on the way out, suicide squads in the tribal areas of Pakistan were practicing aiming AK-47s at hotel guests.

Ostrich buries head in sand; jihadist sharpens swords.

The low-technology attacks in India dominated the world’s attention for days. (You can buy a Russian-made AK-47 for $899.00 at GunBroker.com.) Imagine what a nuclear event would do. “Psychologically, a nuclear attack would stagger the world’s imagination,” says Graham Allison, an advisor on nuclear threats for decades, from the Reagan to the Clinton administrations. For years, Mr. Allison has been saying that terrorists getting hold of nukes is a threat that is very probable and real. In fact, he puts the odds of a nuclear terrorist event in the next decade at “more than 50 percent.” 


In last month’s issue of Technology Review, published by MIT, Allison outlines the devastating results of one nuclear bomb exploded in a heavily populated city. Never mind the human death toll.

The immediate reaction would be to block all entry points to prevent another bomb from reaching its target, disrupting the global flow of raw materials and manufactured goods. Vital markets for international products would disappear, and financial markets would crash. Researchers at Rand, a think tank funded by the U.S. government, have estimated that a nuclear explosion at the Port of Long Beach, CA, would cause immediate indirect costs of more than $1 trillion worldwide and that shutting down U.S. ports would cut world trade by 7.5 percent.

This was published before the election, by the way. And Graham Allison makes clear he’s not alone in the odds department. He quotes “legendary odds maker” and über-investor Warren Buffet as also saying that nuclear terrorism in a major city is “inevitable.”

“I don’t see any way that it won’t happen,” Warren Buffet has said. So why then are so many well-read Americans willing to lull themselves into thinking the terrorist threat is on the wane? What does it take to get the ostrich to lift its long, exposed neck from the sand?

Even more disquieting is the fact that the WMD threat report released this week warns that a biological weapons attack is an even greater threat than the nuclear one: “The acquisition of deadly pathogens, and their weaponization and dissemination in aerosol form, would entail fewer technical hurdles than the theft or production of weapons-grade uranium or plutonium and its assembly into an improvised nuclear device,” the authors of the report state. “The United States should be less concerned that terrorists will become biologists and far more concerned that biologists will become terrorists,” it adds.

Again, this is not new. Fifteen months ago, Congress passed a law requiring a new cabinet-level position for a WMD prevention chief. It was quickly signed into law by President Bush. The post has been vacant ever since. This week, the Boston Globe reports that three unnamed advisers to President-elect Obama say this will be among his first orders of business come January.

We’ll see how that goes.




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