More Isn’t Necessarily Better With Pakistan’s “Nuclear Security Culture”

“Pakistan plans to train over 8,000 personnel to augment the capability of a military unit tasked with securing [its] nuclear arsenal,” reports Rezaul Laskar of Press Trust of India. One can be forgiven if one reacts thusly: more opportunities for extremist Islamists to infiltrate Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program and steal away with a nuke.

As Qaiser Farooq writes at the Washington Times:

The primary concern of Westerners is that with a strong Taliban presence in Pakistan, [it] could take over the government … allowing terrorists to access nuclear weapons. … Fears may not be ungrounded.

He cites incidences of collusion between the Taliban and the Pakistan military such as this:

In May, Pakistani Taliban insurgents stormed the Naval Air Station in Karachi and destroyed two surveillance aircraft supplied by the US. According to CNN and other sources, they acted with inside information on the layout and security of the station.

And, less well-known, these:

In June, the Pakistani military announced that, a few days following the US operation to kill Osama Bin Laden, it had detained Brigadier General Ali Khan for alleged ties to Hizbul Tehrir … an Islamic militant group. Khan has spent 25 years in the military, serving with UN peace keepers in Bosnia.

Various media outlets report that Pakistan officials frequently warn militants in tribal areas of imminent attacks, giving the terror suspects time to flee.

Still, Laskar reports, officials said: “The effort to inculcate a ‘nuclear security culture’ is deeply rooted in the nuclear establishment.” In 2009, at Arms Control Today, Feroz Hassan Khan provided some background.

Nuclear security culture evolved in Pakistan after the September 11 attacks. Pakistan improved its supervisory procedure for military and scientific manpower. The security division of the SPD [Strategic Planning Directorate, which controls Pakistan's nuclear weapons] established a reporting system for monitoring the movements of all officials. Two identical programs for employment security were created: the Personnel Reliability Program (PRP) and the Human Reliability Program (HRP), for military and civilian personnel, respectively. A security clearance system of annual, semiannual, and quarterly review was created. Counter Intelligence Teams were created to act as the daily eyes and ears of the SPD. Weekly, monthly, and quarterly reports for the security of all organizations are maintained by the SPD to prevent theft, loss, or accident.

But, confirming our fears about the added forces, Khan writes: “Simply adding more guards and security personnel will not suffice; Pakistan must constantly evaluate its system to detect potential failures.” In fact:

The security divisions of the SPD and intelligence services have layers of security and counterintelligence mechanisms for all sensitive sites. They are highly active and alert in updating, monitoring, and keeping a vigilant watch to detect and respond to any undesirable proclivities within the system.

Meanwhile, one wonders if the plans to train 8,000 new security personnel are, in part, intended to reassure the United States and render unnecessary any contingency plan its Joint Special Operations Command might have for attempting to seize Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in the event they appear vulnerable to Islamist extremist takeover.