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November 24, 2007

It's Still Pakistan, Stupid


by Gordon Prather
On May 28, 1998, in response to unscheduled underground tests, weeks earlier, of several nukes by the Indians, the Pakistanis somehow managed to prepare for and test, underground, up to six "Islamic" nukes, most of them based on almost-pure Uranium-235, but at least one of them probably based on almost-pure Plutonium-239 and – according to the Pakistanis – "boosted."

Great Zot!

It had been assumed that Pakistan had a few gun-type nukes. In a gun-type nuke – like the Little Boy we dropped on Hiroshima – you just shoot one sub-critical mass of U-235 at another sub-critical mass. It hardly needs testing. We never tested the Little Boy, which contained about 140 pounds of U-235, but weighed about 10,000 pounds.

In 1993, it had been revealed that South Africa had developed – and then completely dismantled – an indigenous cradle-to-grave gun-type nuke capability. During the 1980s they stockpiled a half-dozen such nukes, each requiring 120 pounds of U-235, and each weighing about 2,000 pounds. The South African nukes were much lighter than Little Boy, but still too heavy to be delivered by intermediate-range ballistic missile.

[The Fat Man – the Pu-239 implosion-type nuke we dropped on Nagasaki – also weighed about 10,000 pounds and was deliverable only by specially modified B-29s. It took us about ten years to get that weight down to a thousand pounds, still too heavy to be delivered by ballistic missile or by fighter-bombers.]

The International Atomic Energy Agency discovered after the first Gulf War that Saddam had tried – but failed – to produce a U-235-based implosion-type nuke. Saddam had an indigenous nuke computer-design – which he turned over to the IAEA – but he never had the necessary U-235. His primitive design probably wouldn't have worked, anyway.

But Pakistan did have the necessary U-235 (and Pu-239) and several of their multiple designs apparently did work.

Furthermore, the Pakistanis claim that at least one of their tested nukes was "boosted."

[You can read about "boosting" in the Cox Committee Report. It's the "secret" of warhead miniaturization that some Chinese mole at Los Alamos National Laboratory is alleged to have given the Chinese Commies, circa 1995.]

The Pakistanis claim their nukes are small enough to be delivered by ballistic missile but there is increasingly reason to doubt that claim.

A couple of weeks ago, Joby Warrick reported in the Washington Post, that the Bush-Cheney administration has long viewed those Islamic nukes to be a "security threat" to the Homeland "in the event of any theft or diversion to terrorist groups."

But, not to worry. According to two un-named "knowledgeable" Bush-Cheney "intelligence officials," we "have long had contingency plans for intervening to obstruct such a theft."

According to some Warrick-styled "nuclear weapons expert" named Matt Bunn, the fissile "core" of a Pakistani nuke is removable and is stored at a different site than the rest of the nuke. Hence, according to Bunn, would-be thieves would have to "knock over two buildings to get a complete bomb."

In effect, Bunn and other "nuclear weapons experts" claim that Pakistani nukes are similar to our first-generation removable-core nukes [both gun-type and implosion-type], which entered stockpile in the early 1950s.

But now comes Adrian Levy, co-author of Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons to claim otherwise.

According to the publisher's synopsis;

"On December 15, 1975, A. Q. Khan – a young Pakistani scientist working in Holland – stole top-secret blueprints for a revolutionary new process to arm a nuclear bomb. His original intention, and that of his government, was purely patriotic – to provide Pakistan a counter to India's recently unveiled nuclear device. However, as Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark chillingly relate in their masterful investigation of Khan's career over the past thirty years, over time that limited ambition mushroomed into the world's largest clandestine network engaged in selling nuclear secrets – a mercenary and illicit program managed by the Pakistani military and made possible, in large part, by aid money from the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Libya, and by indiscriminate assistance from China."

Top-secret blueprints for a revolutionary new process to arm a nuclear bomb?

Surely, Levy didn't make such ridiculous charges.

Khan was employed in the Netherlands by a sub-contractor to Urenco, a multi-national private sector entity, which, then, as now, was the world's leader in providing cost effective uranium enrichment services. Urenco was, and is, also the world's leader in the development of gas-centrifuge isotope-separation technology.

Urenco does have industrial secrets, which are protected by law in the states in which Urenco operates, but they cannot properly be described as "Top-Secret."

Furthermore, Urenco has nothing whatever to do with the "arming" of a nuclear bomb.

Nevertheless, in a recent interview conducted by Amy Goodman on "Democracy Now," Levy essentially repeats those charges, claiming that Khan stole "some critical blueprints on a revolutionary method of using uranium to arm a nuclear device."

Since Levy obviously doesn't have the foggiest idea how nuclear weapons are constructed, armed and detonated (according to General Musharraf, metallurgist AQ Khan doesn't either) perhaps we ought not go on listening. But forewarned, let's continue;

"In '79, of course, the Soviets invade Afghanistan and prior to that, the U.S. ally, the Shah, in Iran, flees, enabling Khomenei, the Ayatollah, to come back. And the CIA loses its listening stations. It loses a great ally.

"And suggestions are made to Carter by Brzyzenski, the National Security Adviser that America reconsider for the first time the "gold standard of nonproliferation" and shove it down the agenda in order to begin a new relationship with Pakistan that was struggling to obtain nuclear weapons.

"So the suggestion by Brzyzenski was the beginning of turning a blind eye, let's say. But Carter runs out of steam. It will only be when Reagan comes in 1981 that effectively can lead to this [permissive] policy being implemented.

"And then we will see ten years of what State Department people describe as U.S. permissiveness (but I think what the rest of us would describe as collaboration, covertly), between the Reagan administration and the Pakistan military, to cement security relationship, enabling their nuclear program and over that ten years, the whole [nuke] program would be facilitated.

"They [?] would cold test a bomb, which means computer simulate one in '82. In '83 they'd repeat that process.

"In 1984, the Chinese would take that bomb and hot test it, actually set it off in a [inaudible] test site.

"By 1987, that bomb, the Pakistani bomb, had been fixed under a US-supplied F-16 fighter jet and was ready to deploy."

So, according to Levy, way back in 1987, Pakistan had – courtesy those Dirty Chinese Commies and Ronald Reagan – nukes that could be delivered via F-16 figher-bomber?

Well, either nuke "expert" Bunn doesn't know what he's talking about, or Levy doesn't, or – what is most likely – none of the so-called experts know what the hell they're talking about.

Of course, Musharraf probably does. Don't you feel better already?


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Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

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