Osama Bin Laden’s hideout inside a fortified house a mile from an elite Pakistani military academy should raise the alarm over the South Asian country’s nuclear weapons program, atomic investigator Olli Heinonen said.
The al-Qaeda leader’s discovery and subsequent killing “revives uncertainties on the extent to which the government is in full and effective control of the country,” Heinonen said late yesterday in an e-mail from Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he is a senior fellow at a Harvard University research center for international security. “There is very little assurance that nuclear materials and facilities are fully under government control.”
Heinonen, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s top nuclear inspector until August 2010, led the United Nations investigation into Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan’s sale of atomic-weapon technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea. He continues tracking illicit nuclear trade and in March testified before the U.S. Congress about nuclear proliferation risks.
Rather than opening up civilian reactors to full inspection in exchange for more technology assistance, Pakistan is increasing output of nuclear-weapons material and will have the fourth-biggest atomic weapons stockpile by 2020, Heinonen said.
Pakistan is also blocking progress in negotiating an international treaty to stop the manufacture of new nuclear-bomb material, the White House arms-control coordinator, Gary Samore, said in an interview published on the website of the Arms Control Association yesterday. He spoke with the Washington-based group on April 7.
In return for technology and security assurances, “Pakistan would stop production of fissile material for military purposes, commit to a moratorium on nuclear testing and provide full disclosure of nuclear proliferation activities involving Iran, Libya, North Korea and Syria,” Heinonen said.
Pakistan, which holds the IAEA’s rotating chairmanship, has benefited from limited nuclear assistance without being asked to provide assurances that the aid wasn’t going toward weapons. The IAEA needs to step up efforts to monitor such help, Heinonen told the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on March 18.
Bin Laden met with Pakistani nuclear scientists and sought nuclear material. The terrorist leader was killed May 1 during a U.S. raid on his home in Abbottabad, an army headquarters town 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.
Even before Bin Laden’s hideaway was revealed, the possibility of Pakistani nuclear weapons slipping into the hands of terrorists was a central concern of Samore.
“Even the best nuclear security measures might break down,” he said in the interview. “You’re dealing with a country that is under tremendous stress internally and externally, and that’s what makes me worry.”