Rainbow Six

On Friday, CNN carried an alarmist headline that read, “Sources: U.S. assessing Pakistan nukes if Musharraf falls.” The implication here is that Musharraf’s grip on power is beginning to wane and is cause for concern all around. From the article:

U.S. military intelligence officials are urgently assessing how secure Pakistan’s nuclear weapons would be in the event President Gen. Pervez Musharraf were replaced as the nation’s leader, CNN has learned…

Three U.S. sources have independently confirmed details of the intelligence review to CNN but would not allow their names to be used because of the sensitivity of the matter…

The current review is a result of recent developments in that country, including the prospect that Musharraf could still declare a national emergency that would give him sweeping powers…

The United States has full knowledge about the location of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, according to the U.S. assessment.

But the key questions, officials say, are what would happen and who would control the weapons in the hours after any change in government in case Musharraf were killed or overthrown. [Link]

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p>Although this sounds like an escalation or something truly new and fantastic, it’s not. In the month following Sept. 11th, 2001, Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker wrote a provocative article titled “Watching the Warheads.” In THAT article there were many more revealing details (if his sources were reliable) than are revealed in this newest blurb by CNN.

… an élite Pentagon undercover unit–trained to slip into foreign countries and find suspected nuclear weapons, and disarm them if necessary–has explored plans for an operation inside Pakistan….

…operating under Pentagon control with C.I.A. assistance, whose mission it is to destroy nuclear facilities, past and present government officials told me. “They’re good,” one American said. “If they screw up, they die. They’ve had good success in proving the negative”–that is, in determining that suspected facilities were not nuclear-related…

The American team is apparently getting help from Israel’s most successful special-operations unit, the storied Sayeret Matkal, also known as Unit 262, a deep-penetration unit that has been involved in assassinations, the theft of foreign signals-intelligence materials, and the theft and destruction of foreign nuclear weaponry

A senior military officer, after confirming that intense planning for the possible “exfiltration” of Pakistani warheads was under way, said that he had been concerned not about a military coup but about a localized insurrection by a clique of I.S.I. officers in the field who had access to a nuclear storage facility. “The Pakistanis have just as much of a vested interest as we do in making sure that that stuff is looked after, because if they”–I.S.I. dissidents–”throw one at India, they’re all cooked meat…”

Intelligence officials told me they believe that, in case of an imminent threat, the Indian military’s special commando unit is preparing to make its own move on the Pakistani arsenal. [Link]

Reportedly, one of the ways in which Pakistan has previously helped to reassure the West is by keeping their nuclear weapons in non-assembled form (although it wouldn’t take much to finish assembly):

Pakistani authorities claim that their nuclear weapons are not assembled. They maintain that the fissile cores are stored separately from the non-nuclear explosives packages, and that the warheads are stored separately from the delivery systems. In a 2001 report, the Defense Department contends that “Islamabad’s nuclear weapons are probably stored in component form” and that “Pakistan probably could assemble the weapons fairly quickly.” However, no one has been able to ascertain the validity of Pakistan’s assurances about their nuclear weapons security. [Link]

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p>And where would an elite Pentagon unit go to exfiltrate Pakistani nuclear warheads? Ras Koh (see image), Kahuta (see image), and Khushab (see image) might be logical places to hit.

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p>Hopefully now we all know more about this issue than what was in the CNN blurb. Also, hopefully a government hit squad doesn’t take me out for talking about this stuff on SM. Ok fine. I did see the Bourne Ultimatum this week. So what.

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24 thoughts on “Rainbow Six

  1. WoW! This is hugely fantastic but likely a scenario under serious consideration! Even if the components are stored separtely, the intel community likely knows which critical systems are non-redundant and specifically inactivate them (or ‘exfiltrate’ them). Arun

  2. As much as a stickler i am for news relating to foreign policy matters in South Asia and the Middle East I really wonder what the hell these intelligence analysts are doing leaking such sensitive information. Publishing news like this would only make the ‘bad guys’ aware of the threat and make it more difficult if not downright impossible to disable those weapons if the above mentioned catastrophe was to occur.

  3. As much as a stickler i am for news relating to foreign policy matters in South Asia and the Middle East I really wonder what the hell these intelligence analysts are doing leaking such sensitive information. Publishing news like this would only make the ‘bad guys’ aware of the threat and make it more difficult if not downright impossible to disable those weapons if the above mentioned catastrophe was to occur.

    if this is leaked can’t you assume that the ‘bad guys’ already know? i mean, you’re sitting here reading a blog on south asian culture, news and politics. the ‘bad guys’ are professionally trying to figure this stuff and have contacts much closer than you (unfortunately). the internet is a big place, and it isn’t hard to find stuff. i think the repeated hand-wringing over media leaks is pretty irrelevant, if the info can be found on CNN.COM and make it down the food chain to SM, one assumes that it isn’t that sensitive anymore (i.e, it was widely known in the enemy camp, or changes are already being made and the leaking is simply part of a obscuring campaign to misinform).

  4. I agree with you Kesh. This type of info out in the open only helps the enemy. Pakistan officials are surely reading this and watching the Clinton News Network (CNN).

  5. razib the atheist, I agree thhat ‘the cat is out of the bag’ and is recent ando he is not far away. It is too late to consider OPSEC of contingency plans. It still gives me the goose bumps however.

  6. Securing Pakistani nukes has been widely rumored, as Abhi points out, for years. It’s a logical assessment especially for those who face the highest risk (India and the US), but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if other countries have plans to assist, if instability resulted in nukes being exposed to the wrong crowd. Far too much at stake for everyone.

  7. but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if other countries have plans to assist, if instability resulted in nukes being exposed to the wrong crowd

    there are some smart brown people around. someone with some technical know-how might want to weight in on the logistical issues in terms of assembling and deploying nukes. a lot of the “on my god terrorists are going to get nukes” seems predicated on the perception that this is only a quantitatively more difficult task than producing plastic explosives. but a few acquaintances who were nuclear physicists imply that it takes a fair amount of coordination, organization and technical expertise. of course, part of the problem with getting this sort of information out is that data about nukes is kind of purposely obscured for obvious reasons.

  8. there are some smart brown people around. someone with some technical know-how might want to weight in on the logistical issues in terms of assembling and deploying nukes. a lot of the “on my god terrorists are going to get nukes” seems predicated on the perception that this is only a quantitatively more difficult task than producing plastic explosives. but a few acquaintances who were nuclear physicists imply that it takes a fair amount of coordination, organization and technical expertise. of course, part of the problem with getting this sort of information out is that data about nukes is kind of purposely obscured for obvious reasons.

    No disagreement here. Nukes are not simple nor laying around like stocks of HE filled mortars, artillery, or mines.

    As the quotes state, the nukes are not assembled (unlike say American Trident missiles on subs). The detonator, core, and delivery vehicle are kept isolated and can be assembled within some time. I’m also assuming the arming of such vehicles is protected by ‘codes’ too. I believe India stated they do the same, too. Keeping fully assembled nuclear weapons is an expensive and risky maneuver, especially if you don’t have enough in quantity or they’re not well protected (both are expensive to do). Keeping them disassembled reduces the chance of a fully assembled weapon being destroyed in a fight. It does reduce the ‘reaction time’ though.

    I don’t think any random terrorists have the skill or knowhow to get their hands on nukes without the right support. I think what’s referenced above (ISI) is probably one of the groups most well suited to do this (or the military itself if they toss Musharraf out).

  9. What? A weak leader in a nation with nukes is the cue for sending in American undercover agents (what cover? blackface? — thanks Al Chutiya) with assistance from a special unit from yet another problem area, “Sayeret Matkal, also known as Unit 262, a deep-penetration unit that has been involved in assassinations, the theft of foreign signals-intelligence materials, and the theft and destruction of foreign nuclear weaponry”? I mean, isn’t this a recipe for disaster before anything happens that might call for it?

  10. Ok fine. I did see the Bourne Ultimatum this week. So what.

    I’ve missed these kinds of posts from you. ;)

  11. I hate to sound like an idiot, but just what does one of these non-missile, non-aerial bomb type nukes look like? When I think of a nuke, I always imagine the vending machine-size thing James Bond defused in Octopussy or almost did in Goldfinger, but then again those were just movies.

  12. an élite Pentagon undercover unit—trained to slip into foreign countries and find suspected nuclear weapons, and disarm them if necessary—has explored plans for an operation inside Pakistan

    i’m reduced to sayiing: whoa, cool! though some may think this is an improvement.

  13. Re: 12

    I hate to sound like an idiot, but just what does one of these non-missile, non-aerial bomb type nukes look like? When I think of a nuke, I always imagine the vending machine-size thing James Bond defused in Octopussy or almost did in Goldfinger, but then again those were just movies.

    The Wikipedia articles on the W54 and the M-388 Davy Crockett should give you some idea. I think it’s unlikely that either Pakistan or India have devices this small, but I’m a geneticist, not a nuclear physicist.

  14. In light of what seems to be passing for conventional wisdom nowadays — Musharraf being the last bulwark against nukes in the hands of terrorists — I’d also like to point out Manan Ahmed’s recent commentary in the ICGA blog.

  15. I believe India stated they do the same, too. Keeping fully assembled nuclear weapons is an expensive and risky maneuver, especially if you don’t have enough in quantity or they’re not well protected (both are expensive to do).

    Here is a description of the stages in an Indian nuclear attack

  16. The problem with any such action will be that odd nuclear core that didn’t get secured or slipped out.

    The Peacemaker Thomas Devoe: Okay, that does me no good. Now let’s deal with the facts at hand. 23 hours ago, General Alexander Kodoroff stole ten nuclear warheads. Julia Kelly: He’s just a delivery boy. I’m not afraid of the man who wants ten nuclear weapons, Colonel. I’m terrified of the man who only wants one.

  17. if this is leaked can’t you assume that the ‘bad guys’ already know? i mean, you’re sitting here reading a blog on south asian culture, news and politics. the ‘bad guys’ are professionally trying to figure this stuff and have contacts much closer than you (unfortunately). the internet is a big place, and it isn’t hard to find stuff. i think the repeated hand-wringing over media leaks is pretty irrelevant, if the info can be found on CNN.COM and make it down the food chain to SM, one assumes that it isn’t that sensitive anymore (i.e, it was widely known in the enemy camp, or changes are already being made and the leaking is simply part of a obscuring campaign to misinform

    Razib, buddy. I was talking about the Intelligence leaks and American media such as CNN Publishing them, SM (and every other blog)has every right to blog on topics that it find from worthy sources. My point is that even if major news channels get information of such sensitive nature I think it should refrain from reporting them for International secutiy purposes

  18. These articles confuse me too. Why would they report on these sensitive topics? It is either BS or not that big a deal. This article may as well said:

    “The Pentagon plans on sneaking CIA operatives into pakistan by disgusing them with handle bar mustaches and then have them apply for a job as a janitor, where the nukes are and then in the middle of their shift they will unplug the nukes. This will most likely occur in a weak or so.”

  19. 22: Hahahahhaha

    And by the time a “leak” such as this is announced on CNN or SM, I’m sure the nukes have long since been relocated.

  20. No one’s really remarked on the “Rainbow Six” aspect of all this that Abhi brought up–that this is an acknowledged international special ops mission plan, which is a very recent development in the world of Spec Ops. This kind of thing has been going on for maybe a few years within NATO, but it’s interesting that it’s actually out in the open now, and possibly involving non-NATO nations’ special forces.

    I wonder how much Tom Clancy’s books (and games) had to do with that public acknowledgement?

    By the way, Rainbox Six Vegas for XBox totally freakin’ rocks. :-)

  21. I should also mention that there’s a certain amount of arrogance in the Special Forces. That is, they might actually really think “It doesn’t really matter if Pakistan knows we’re planning this, because we’ll get the nukes regardless.”

    And to their credit, all the US Special Forces that might potentially be involved, and also those of other countries (especially Israel) would not be undue put upon to take out a small breakaway portion of the ISI that might want to squirrel away some nukes for themselves. Any press-leakage is most assuredly from them, and not inadvertant.

    It might also serve to get the ISI to scramble a bit, maybe move nuke parts around, and that can provide additional intel to the forces planning the operation: vehicle types, locations, number of soldiers, etc.

    From our vantage point, it’s pretty safe to say that there’s almost no way to get an accurate picture of what’s really going on or what they’re planning.