The threat of insiders in the nuclear establishment working with outsiders seeking a bomb is nowhere greater than in Pakistan, according to a former officer of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
"Pakistani authorities have a dismal track record in thwarting insider threats," writes Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, who served as a CIA officer for 23 years, in the July/August issue of Arms Control Today, published by the Arms Control Association.
For example, the network run by the father of the Pakistani bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, channeled sensitive nuclear technologies to Iran, Libya, and North Korea for years under the noses of the establishment before it was taken down in 2003, to the best of our knowledge, he noted.
"The Umma-Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), founded by Pakistani nuclear scientists with close ties to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, was headed by Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, who had been in charge of Pakistan's Khushab reactor."
Mahmood discussed Al Qaeda's nuclear aspirations with Osama bin Laden, Mowatt-Larssen wrote. He also cites Mahmood as saying, bin Laden asked him how he could construct a bomb if the group already had the material.
"It is stunning to consider that two of the founding fathers of Pakistan's weapons programme embarked independently on clandestine efforts to organize networks to sell their country's most precious secrets for profit," he says.
"There are troubling indications that these insider threats are not anomalies," writes Mowatt-Larssen, a senior fellow at Harvard University's Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs, who until January 2009 headed the US Department of Energy's intelligence and counterintelligence office.
"In the Khan and UTN cases, the rogue senior officers and their cohorts in the nuclear establishment were not caught by Pakistan's security establishment. It would be foolhardy to assume that such lapses could not happen again," he says.
The Pakistani military, intelligence, and nuclear establishments are not immune to rising levels of extremism in the country, Mowatt-Larssen says suggesting, "there is a lethal proximity between terrorists, extremists, and nuclear weapons insiders."
Thus "The greatest threat of a loose nuke scenario stems from insiders in the nuclear establishment working with outsiders, people seeking a bomb or material to make a bomb. Nowhere in the world is this threat greater than in Pakistan.
As Pakistan moves forward to face an uncertain future, the government faces an ongoing challenge to its authority and myriad threats against which it must defend, the US expert says.
"With the passage of time, the odds steadily increase that Pakistan will face a serious test of its nuclear security," he says suggesting, "for its part, the United States must be fully prepared to respond to this eventuality."
"Increasing the level of transparency and predictability between India and Pakistan is (also) absolutely vital," Mowatt-Larssen says. "Neither party can afford to make a miscalculation in the heat of the moment that might escalate into a nuclear confrontation."