Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Leon Panetta said the US does not know the location of all of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons but is confident there are “pretty secure” measures to keep them out of terrorists’ hands.
Mr Panetta’s comments come just days after the top US military officer told Congress that there is evidence that Pakistan is adding to its nuclear weapons systems and warheads.
Speaking at a downtown forum organised by the Pacific Council on International Policy, Mr Panetta was asked if nuclear weapons in Pakistan are more safely guarded than those in the former Soviet Union.
“Obviously, we do try to understand where all of these are located,” the director said. “We don’t have, frankly, the intelligence to know where they all are located.”
He added that the US is confident that Pakistani government has a “pretty secure approach to try to protect these weapons.
“It is something that we continue to watch,” the director said. “The last thing we want is to have the Taliban have access to nuclear weapons in Pakistan.”
At a congressional hearing last week, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked whether there was evidence that Pakistan was adding to its nuclear arsenal. He replied: “Yes.”
Pakistan later issued a denial. Pakistan is battling a growing insurgency by Islamist militants with links to al-Qaida and the Taliban. Washington is considering giving it billions of dollars in aid to help fight the insurgents, who are blamed for attacks on US and foreign troops in neighbouring Afghanistan.
“I am not aware of any US aid that has gone toward nuclear weapons, save that which is very focused in the last several years, last three or four years, on improving their security. Which is exactly what we’d like and they’ve done that,” Admiral Mullen said in Washington yesterday.
Pakistan is thought to possess more than 60 nuclear weapons under a programme that began when its traditional enemy, India, started producing them.
The advance of the Taliban has raised fears in the West that the weapons could fall into militant hands. A more likely scenario, analysts say, is that Islamists may infiltrate its nuclear facilities and get hold of nuclear knowledge and material.