U.S. intelligence officials are far more worried about the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons and materials than the government has publicly admitted, according to a report on the secret budget for U.S. intelligence operations that was leaked to the Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The intelligence community has significantly heightened its efforts to keep tabs not only on Pakistan's nuclear weapons but also on chemical and biological facilities in the violence-wracked South Asian nation, according to the so-called "black budget" for fiscal 2013. That classified U.S. spending plan covers the operations of a number of U.S. spy agencies involved in covert activities, counterintelligence and surveillance.
The 178-page summary of the secret budget reveals that the United States has grown more suspicious of Pakistan, and also has carried out a much broader intelligence-collection effort of its supposed security partner than was previously known, the Post reported.
"Knowledge of the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons and associated material encompassed one of the most critical set of ... intelligence gaps," reportedly states the budget overview, which was signed by U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper. This lack of information is especially troubling in light of "the political instability, terrorist threat and expanding inventory (of nuclear weapons) in that country," the document is said to read.
The budget overview does not disclose the specific amount of money spent on surveillance of Pakistan, though it does indicate the country is a focus of U.S. nonproliferation and anti-terrorism efforts.
The U.S. intelligence community requested roughly $6.9 billion for fiscal 2013 to fund efforts to limit the spread of weapons of mass destruction and $16.6 billion to combat al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations. When combined, those two areas take up close to 50 percent of the spy agencies' desired funding for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
U.S. spy agencies are concentrating on two especially troubling possibilities in Pakistan: the chance that atomic sites in the nation would be assaulted by local extremist groups, and that radical militants would be able to infiltrate the military or intelligence agencies, giving them a better position to gain access to nuclear materials or to mount an insider attack, according to the article.
The United States does not know much about how Pakistani nuclear material is channeled through the various facilities involved in the warhead program. U.S. worries about the country's nuclear weapons seem to be the result of just how little information is known than by any particular information that would suggest a security gap, the Post concludes after reviewing the budget documents.
The budget summary reportedly contains a table that lists a minimum of six areas where information about Pakistan's nuclear weapon activities is deemed lacking. The Post does not disclose what those six areas are.
The U.S. intelligence community's formation of a Pakistan WMD Analysis Cell to monitor the physical status of atomic substances was seen as helpful in providing a "more comprehensive understanding of strategic weapons security in Pakistan," the document is said to state.
Still, "the number of gaps associated with Pakistani nuclear security remains the same," the budget overview reportedly says, and "the questions associated with this intractable target are more complex."
Multiple mentions in the secret document about the augmentation of U.S. surveillance over Pakistani biological and chemical research facilities is thought to be the result of concerns that extremist organizations might attempt to steal WMD-relevant substances from the state-managed laboratories, according to the Post.
The United States also is monitoring the security of neighboring India's nuclear activities, the budget report is said to state.
This article was published in Global Security Newswire, which is produced independently by National Journal Group under contract with the Nuclear Threat Initiative. NTI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group working to reduce global threats from nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.