On November 4, The Atlantic published an article titled “The Ally from Hell”, co-authored by Jeffrey Goldberg. Pakistan is described as the “epicentre of gobal jihadism” and then the author goes into detail about the danger of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. He writes that Pakistan is paranoid about the US seizing its nuclear weapons, so much so that it constantly moves nuclear components and “mated” nuclear weapons in unprotected civilian vans through regular traffic. His claims go on to reveal US operational plans to seize control of Pakistani nuclear weapons in the event of an “Islamic Coup” in the country. In which case, US forces would enter Pakistan Hollywood-style from helicopters and parachutes and begin securing nuclear sites. A “disablement campaign” is also in place and it entails disabling the entire Pakistani nuclear arsenal. Under such a campaign, the US would put into action the military’s 20th Support Command, whose teams will destroy nuclear weapons without causing an explosion. Another scenario involves US troops evacuating after disabling as many bombs as possible before nuclear bunkers would be targeted with missile strikes.
Such serious allegations prompted me to conduct some research into the author’s background. Interestingly enough, one of Goldberg’s most notable pieces of work was a 2002 report for The New Yorker titled “The Great Terror”. There, Goldberg described the imminent threat posed to the US by Saddam Hussein. He detailed Hussein’s links with al Qaeda and portrayed him as the evilest of all dictators who had weaponised a biological agent called aflatoxin. In an article for Slate, Goldberg wrote that aflatoxin does only one thing, it causes liver cancer, especially in children. However, a 2004 report from Charles Duelfer, the Bush administration’s chief weapons inspector in Iraq, stated that Iraqi scientists conducted experiments with aflatoxin, but determined that there was no evidence found linking these experiments with the development of biological weapons. In 2008, Goldberg wrote an article on how he got Iraq wrong, citing faulty intelligence, which he claims is a universal phenomenon. For a person who writes on such serious topics, we should hope it is not Goldberg himself who suffers from faulty intelligence.
With a proven track record of false claims, how are we supposed to trust his newest allegations about Pakistan’s nuclear programme? Like his previous articles, nameless sources apparently provided top secret information. Pakistan has stated many times that its nuclear weapons are kept ‘de-mated’, where the warhead is kept separate from the delivery system thus placing their weapons in the realm of impossible-to-steal in any useful form. Pakistan also keeps in place a two-person control system and permissive action links (PALs) coded locks meant to prevent unauthorised arming or detonation of a nuclear weapon. Goldberg states that, according to an unnamed ex-defence official, it is not clear what the PAL process includes. A question that is ignored within his article is whether it would be wise for Pakistan to make information regarding the safety procedures of its nuclear weapons public. Perhaps this was omitted due to the obvious answer.
Before his career as a journalist in Washington DC, Goldberg served as a prison guard for the Israel armed forces. In his article for The Atlantic, he points out that the US gives Pakistan $2 billion. He states, “so: the US funds the ISI; the ISI funds the Haqqani network; and the Haqqani network kills American soldiers”.
Goldberg’s article has a familiar whiff of the doomsday scenario presented by award winning journalist Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker where he claimed that joint US-Israeli teams are in place to dismantle Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. He wrote that in the summer of 2001, a nuclear component had gone missing in Pakistan. A team from the US was deployed but by the time they reached Dubai they learnt that the report was a false alarm. Seymour Hersh has been criticised for using unnamed sources in his articles; with some even suggesting that these sources are unreliable or just made up. It’s a shame when prestigious magazines publish such fantasies. The readers rely on these magazines to provide them with well-researched insights and not some dreamt up end-of-the-world high stakes drama. Perhaps these magazines are trying to seem non-partisan by printing articles from extreme ends of the spectrum. That is a dangerous precedent to set because it promotes ignorance and feeds off of people’s paranoia.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 18th, 2011.