How Safe Is It? Seymour Hersh On Pakistan's Arsenal Pakistan has an estimated 80 to 100 nuclear warheads. How secure are they? Veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh talks with host Terry Gross about Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and what Pakistan and the U.S. are doing to keep it safe.

How Safe Is It? Seymour Hersh On Pakistan's Arsenal

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This is FRESH AIR. Im Terry Gross.

My guest is investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. In the current edition of the New Yorker, he reports that the U.S. has a secret understanding with Pakistan that would allow specially trained American units to provide added security for the Pakistani nuclear arsenal in case of crisis.

Before we get to that story and its implications, were going to get his reaction to the story that broke late yesterday that President Obama has rejected the options for Afghanistan presented by his national security team, and instead is pushing for revisions to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government. This follows leaked classified cables from Americas ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, expressing his misgivings about sending in more troops.

Seymour Hersh won a National Magazine Award for Public Interest for his New Yorker articles on intelligence and the Iraq War. He broke much of the Abu Ghraib story and won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1969 reports on the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.

Seymour Hersh, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Yesterday, after President Obamas meeting with his war council, the president sent back his national security team asking for an exit strategy, basically. And the White House released a statement saying: The president believes we need to make clear to the Afghan government that our commitment is not open-ended. After years of substantial investments by the American people, governance in Afghanistan must improve in a reasonable period of time. What do you think the significance of this is?

Mr. SEYMOUR HERSH (Journalist, The New Yorker): Well, assuming that everything you said is accurate, and its very early in the process, this could be an amazing - a really important step for the president, because I can tell you that many in your audience and obviously many here in Washington are very concerned about the fact that he delegated so much of the war-making policy to the generals in the field, asking General McChrystal, for example, to write the initial report on what to do in Afghanistan.

There isnt a general in the Armed Forces asked to do that would say, I cant win. Thats just what they do. So he put himself into a box, and he was very passive for a long time about it. And thats why if you would ask me four days ago what I thought, I would have thought hes going to make a political decision to do something with some token troops because he wants to he doesnt want to lose more independence. He wants to show he can run a war. He can be a tough guy.

But what Obamas done, if he has done what it seems hes done, is if hes telling the military, you know what? I dont think its going to fly. This is huge because hes basically saying Im not going to play politics with the war. Im not going to do what other presidents have and continue a war and continue fighting a war that I dont think we can win - just only for the time, until I can find a way out. Thats what I would have guessed three or four days ago, he was going to do. He was going to wait for the political, right political moment when the public was so discouraged about the war, you could actually end it in some way. Instead, hes saying, Im going to stand up and be president, take my chances in 2012 on reelection.

Hes really doing - if hes doing whats been reported - a pretty noble thing. The problem is - and this is a daunting problem. The problem is I dont think theres any way you can stand up the - the Afghan army. The army traditionally has been controlled by Tajiks and Uzbek, from people from Uzbekistan - you know, from those Northern Alliance, we call them, in Afghanistan.

The Pashtuns who would be controlled by this army, theoretically, under the American dream, theres no way theyre going to view Uzbeki or theyre going to view them as much of an outsider as they would view the Americans. They simply dont like others in their face.

GROSS: Last week, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, General Karl Eikenberry -who served as a top U.S. commander in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007. He sent a cable to Obama that was leaked yesterday. And in that cable, he expressed reservations about sending more troops to Afghanistan and said, basically, that unless President Karzai shapes up, our efforts cant be effective. And hes concerned that if we send more troops now, it will just increase Afghanistans dependence on the United States instead of focusing on strengthening Afghanistans own security forces. What do you think the significance of that cable is?

Mr. HERSH: Well, thats a terrifically important cable. Eikenberry is a member of the hes on the team. Hes always been on the team. He was a classmate. He was a few years ahead of

GROSS: On which team? On which team?

Mr. HERSH: Well, hes on the team of Petraeus and McChrystal. Hes always been considered one of the West Point boys. He went to West Point at the same time as Odierno and McChrystal and General Petraeus, whos the commander of the region. But Rodriguez is the general deputy to McChrystal. Theyre all from the class of 74 and 75 at West Point. And theres been an enormous disarray inside the Army about this small clique of people who always embraced Eikenberry, who went - was a few years ahead of them at West Point.

For Eikenberry to break off now and say to the pacification boys, you know, to the counterinsurgency gang led by Petraeus and McChrystal, it aint going to work. We dont have a government to work on. You cant have counterinsurgency unless you have a viable government - is an enormous breach, and Im sure that its seen as a betrayal by Petraeus, et cetera. This is a blow to those who want to continue the war in Afghanistan.

GROSS: Over the past few months, what have you been hearing from your sources in the Pentagon about the McChrystal proposal to send 40,000 more troops?

Mr. HERSH: Well, its caused an enormous problem inside the Army, at the highest level of the Army. The chief of staff of the Army is a general named George Casey, who ran the war in Iraq for a little while. And Casey and the leadership, the guys who are the point men in the Army, are very skeptical of McChrystal, of McChrystal going public, of the publicity campaign thats been going on, and also this drum beat of 40,000, 60,000 more troops. They dont have them.

The men coming back from Iraq are going to be retailed back in Afghanistan. Thats not going to be popular. Theyre going to be demoralized. They also most of the people, many of them in Iraq right now drive tanks. And, you know, tanks and Stryker Brigade, these vehicles these tractor vehicles are useless in Afghanistan. Its sort of a boots-on-the ground place. Its just not a good fit, and they dont have the body. So theyve been - and also, I think theyve been appalled by this public campaign by General McChrystal, pushed by Petraeus - I understand theyre all on the same page - all of which is what makes what Eikenberry did in those cables so dramatic and so heroic, if you will, because hes not only turning on his buddies from West Point and his buddies in this whole counterinsurgency business, hes also telling the president, essentially, get out.

GROSS: What do you think the Obama administration needs to do in Afghanistan?

Mr. HERSH: Well, my personal opinion is, you know, you have to you start talking to the Taliban. There are many factions in the Taliban. Many of them are warlords, local warlords. You cut a local deal, and there you are. You get out of there, theyre going to stop killing you. And you live up to your commitment to stay out, and they will live up to their commitment to not going after Americans.

One of the things they do want is economic help. As I said, theyre very, very mercantile. For example, right now they have huge marble, beautiful marble they have in Taliban, as good as anything in Italy. And you know how they mine it? They mine it by blasting it out. They lose 90 percent of it by dynamiting it out. We can go in with a lot of cash and show them ways to get this marble out and not lose 90 percent of it and have a profitable industrial base and one way of getting them off the opium business - the poppy business.

GROSS: Now your new article's on Pakistan. Before we talk about the article, what do you think the government of Pakistan, the leadership in Pakistan would like to see the U.S. do in Afghanistan?

Mr. HERSH: This is a - the government of Pakistan is really up in the air. This is a government that's - the civilian government headed by Asif Zardari, the widower of Mrs. Bhutto who was slain, who was assassinated last year or two years ago, he's pretty incompetent. He's not popular. He's considered to be a thief. He's at total war with the military leadership headed by General Kiyani, the chief of staff there. So you have incredible chaos inside that government.

I think basically the pressure we're putting on the Pakistani military to go after their own people, the idea that our problems can be solved if we somehow attack the Pakistani Taliban and overcome them, which is a really daunting task, I think that's misguided. My own impression is they would be delighted if we backed off that pressure and they could just go back to hating India and let it go. They hate India, India hates them, and they built up the armies against - they all think and dream of each other.

The notion that we have to go after - that we have to expand the war in Afghanistan into Pakistan is a uniquely American notion. And the use of predators, all of this, has put enormous strain on the civilian and military leadership. Because internally, inside the country, there's a lot of dissatisfaction and upset about it and particularly since many people in Pakistan, there's a 170 million, a few more than that, many of them - a large percentage of the population thinks that the government, both the military and the civilians, are too much dominated by America.

And so weve added to that, which increases all of the pressure in terms of our interfering, for example, with nuclear weapons, as I've been writing about. That adds to the dislike of us. So I would think keeping the war in Afghanistan - the Taliban war in Afghanistan there, allowing the Pakistanis to make the various agreements theyve been making over the years with the Taliban in Pakistan - very unsatisfactory but it seems to have worked and I dont know why we want to start tinkering with something that worked.

Just as you could argue are we better off if we had Saddam in control of Iraq or is Iraq better off because of the American intervention? I dont think anybody would say America's better off now because we went in. And so it's all very bad - the choices are very bad on all sides.

But it seems that our intervention in Iraq and in Pakistan and in Afghanistan does us no good. And so one can argue the faster we figure out a way out of all those places, and this is the daunting task facing Obama, without disgrace and without making it worse for ourselves, it's better.

GROSS: If youre just joining us, my guest is Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. He has an article in the current edition of the New Yorker called "Defending the Arsenal: In an Unstable Pakistan, Can Nuclear Warheads Be Kept Safe?" We'll talk about that article after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. In the current edition of the New Yorker, he reports that the U.S. has been negotiating a secret understanding with the Pakistani military to secure Pakistan's nuclear weapons, in case of crisis, to prevent them from getting in the hands of jihadists or terrorists.

This understanding would allow specially-trained American units to provide added security in case of crisis. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry and the U.S. State Department have denied that there is any such agreement. Hersh's article is called "Defending the Arsenal: In an Unstable Pakistan, Can Nuclear Warheads Be Kept Safe?"

Why did you want to investigate the story of the Pakistan nuclear arsenal and what if any arrangements the United States has made with Pakistan?

Mr. HERSH: You know, it's a good question because it came off President Obama's news conference in late April - April 29th precisely. He had a news conference and he was asked a question about the Pakistan nuclear arsenal, and he said no problem. They're safe. And he said we have absolute confidence in it. And I had done a couple of stories earlier after 9/11 for the New Yorker on Pakistan and the nuclear issue and I knew the opposite to be true. By that I mean I knew that many people in the American government were worried - awfully worried about the security of the Pakistani nukes and not so much because the army isn't competent. It is. But because there's always a sense, and maybe it's a misguided sense in America, there's always a sense that jihadists or terrorists could somehow get access to some of these weapons.

That's always been a concern or contingency concern, if you will. And I had written earlier that we have a unit, a special unit that was created late in the Clinton administration in the Pentagon whose sole function was to train and prepare to go in and grab the bombs if possible.

The scenario that everybody worries about is there's a military crisis anyway and two or three generals and colonels who are Muslims first and military men second, you know, believers in the caliphate, if you will - and there are such people in Pakistani military, of course - go to a nuclear facility where there are some weapons stored and take it over. Pull rank. Youve got a general officer saying to the people we are now in control and they get control of a facility. At that point we then are there to help fight out - help the Pakistani army fight there way in or whatever needs to be done.

GROSS: So has there been any attacks that made you especially concerned about the possibility of jihadists getting access to Pakistan's nuclear weapons?

Mr. HERSH: You know, not really because Pakistan's a secular country. The army is pretty solid. There certainly is a lot of evidence because of our war. And in Afghanistan there's an increasing pressure on Pakistan, for example, as we see now, to get more aggressive, to start getting into combat against its own people. There's certainly a great deal of dislike of America - official America by the Pakistani military and the Pakistani government.

I never worried that much about al-Qaida personally because I always thought if they got a bomb they would have to eat it. They wouldnt know what to do with it. Even if they got their hands on some enriched materials, you know, radioactive materials, it would poison them before they could do much with it.

The lingering concern always is that we do know that there are many people in the Pakistani military who really believe they're Muslims first and soldiers second, that that is a reality. It's a small percentage but they're there and there have been attempted coups in years past certainly. And dont forget, President Zia who ran the country two decades ago was a dedicated Islamist. So there's a long tradition of very strong feelings about Islam and also a long tradition of a great deal of resentment towards America.

But what happened in the last month is really interesting because in the last month we theres been - there was an attack on the equivalent of the American Pentagon. The Pakistani army headquarters in Rawalpindi, a suburb of Islamabad, the capital, and some jihadists or Pashtuns or terrorists - we really dont know that much about who's doing all the bombings and whether the motivations are political or religious or what you will. But a group of terrorists certainly got inside and shot up things and clearly that was done with inside help. There was a general targeted...

GROSS: Inside help from the military who sympathized with whoever did it?

Mr. HERSH: Yeah. Obviously inside.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. HERSH: They had to get inside - a fifth column, if you will. They had to get inside. And also they ambushed and assassinated a very powerful, strong, progressive general, army general - a brigadier, they call them in the Pakistani army - shot on the street. And clearly that was prearranged. They knew where he was going to be. They knew where his car was, what it looked liked and they opened fire. And that does suggest that if there are a group of people inside the military willing to help, if they're willing to set up assassinations and willing to set up even break-ins into the headquarters, the most sacrosanct place probably militarily in all of Pakistan except for the nuclear facility, why can't they get access to something?

GROSS: And there is this belief, I think, that since the Pakistani army and its intelligence service are believed to have used jihadist groups to fight India over Kashmir, that there could be people in the Pakistani military who actually sympathize with the jihadists who theyve been helping.

Mr. HERSH: Oh, you can make it much stronger than that. There's no question...

GROSS: Go ahead.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Okay.

Mr. HERSH: ...that the Pakistani intelligence has been deeply involved in -with the Taliban of Afghanistan and also even in supporting al-Qaida. One of the other things the president said on his April the 29th news conference that absolutely staggered me, he said what had been being said by people like Richard Holbrooke - the czar, if you will, the special advisor for South Asia -and others, Hillary Clinton had even said it, that we really want to get the Pakistanis. We want to wean them away from overwhelming insecurity about India and get them more worried about what's going on in their region.

We want them more worried the al-Qaida and the Taliban - the Pakistani Taliban - and less worried about India, which is really - I have to tell you - tone deaf if you think that's possible. And in the Pakistan in other words the core of their existence in Pakistan is this anti-India fear and resentment and jealousy and the sense, by the way, that we love India more than we love them. And I can tell you that in Pakistan, today even, some of these jihadist groups, and particularly those who work in Kashmir, which is the contested area between India and Pakistan that's been contested since the government - the two countries were formed, when the raj broke up and the British Empire broke up in 1947, the Pakistani military sees these radical groups, some of the more extreme groups, as a national security force, as a reliable force against the Indians. And the idea that we, the Americans would tell the Pakistanis you now have to treat these people as enemy. They're Taliban. They're close to al-Qaida. Yes, they help you against India. Yes, they help you in Kashmir. They're people there that do terrorist activity for you, but they're no longer - you can't consider them a strategic asset.

We have stopped that kind of talk. That talk was pretty dominate in the spring of this year after the president - President Obama announced his AfPak - the famous AfPak policy extending the war in Afghanistan into Pakistan. And that kind of talk is gone now. We understand that the Pakistanis are always going to be obsessed with India and India's always going to be obsessed with Pakistan.

GROSS: Seymour Hersh will be back in the second half of the show. His article in the current edition of The New Yorker is titled "Defending the Arsenal: In an Unstable Pakistan, Can Nuclear Warheads Be Kept Safe?"

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Im Terry Gross, back with Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh.

In the current edition of the New Yorker, he writes that the U.S. and Pakistan have a secret understanding with the Pakistani military to secure Pakistans nuclear weapons, in case of crisis, to prevent the weapons from getting in the hands of jihadis. This understanding would allow specially-trained American units to provide added security if there is a crisis.

So, lets get to the kind of negotiations that you say the U.S. has had with Pakistan about how to control the nuclear weapons in case they are left in a position thats not secure. You said that this agreement would allow specially-trained American units to provide added security for the Pakistani nuclear arsenal in case of a crisis. So, what is the plan that you were told the U.S. and Pakistan put into effect?

Mr. HERSH: Its actually - the word we used in the New Yorker was understandings because we were told they werent formal agreements, they were, you know, sort of understandings. And with a quid pro quo, I mean, the Pakistanis got something for agreeing. Essentially the fact is that - and its there - I can site you chapter and words - even the chairman of the joint chiefs, Admiral Mullen, whos a decent guy, the new chairman, has spoken publicly. In one case he told the foreign Center for Foreign Relation Committee, he was testifying in May, nobody paid attention to it, but he talked about three years of intensive work, involving not only the Pentagon but the Department of Energy in helping to make Pakistani the arsenal more secure and we wish they did more. We think they could do even more.

What happened is again after AfPak, and you have to remember the American policy was we wanted the Pakistanis to clean up the Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, and al-Qaida on their side, so that we could box everybody. We didnt want the Afghans, the Pakistani, the Afghanistan Taliban, the Taliban who weve been fighting for eight years. We didnt want them to go back and forth into Pakistan as they have been. And one of the concerns that we had was to get more Pakistani forces into the field, most of them a great many of the Pakistani divisions are tied up on the border with India. So, we go to India and you say to the Indians, we want you to pull some troops off the border because if you do, the Pakistanis may too pull some of their troops off the border and they can go fight the bad guys that we want them to fight. India said youve got to be kidding. Were looking at 80 or 100 nuclear warheads. Im paraphrasing what I was told and, of course, the Indians didnt say it that way. But their message was the Pakistani A-bombs are aimed at us, not at you, make us happy. Thats why things got more intense, maybe in late March and April.

The presidents AfPak policy was enunciated in March. These agreements or understandings got pushed very hard in the spring, April being a big time. Because if we could somehow get more access and make sure that the Pakistani arsenal was safe, learn more about it, also be able to tell the Pakistani military - the general in charge is a man named Kiyani, a very decent man. Get General Kiyani to agree that if there was a mutiny and if there was some question about the security some - you understand that the basic fear of a terrorist attack - the terrorist probably first target would not be us it would be India, because thats how - the long-standing enemy of many people in Pakistan. And so, once we had these understandings in place we could then go to the Indians and say weve got you covered. Get troops off the border. They did move some troops and Pakistan - the Pakistani army indeed has moved off the border and there were more divisions in play. And once this agreement was -understanding was made, we began to funnel money into Pakistan.

GROSS: Let me just stop you for a second. So what youre saying is that the understanding that the United States has with Pakistan about controlling Pakistans nuclear weapons has a lot to do with an agreement with India to get its troops off the borders so that Pakistan can pull its troops off the border and use them against the Taliban and al-Qaida?

Mr. HERSH: Which they are, which is exactly an outgrowth of President Obamas AfPak policy, which is to get the Pakistan military more involved in fighting their own people, really. The Pashtuns are also

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HERSH: Pakistanis.

GROSS: And you said that there is a quid pro quo. So, what did Pakistan get

Mr. HERSH: Well

GROSS: as far as you were told?

MR. HERSH: Its more than that. I was told and then I found it. What happened is on the day after the president made his statement on April 29th, on the next day, Secretary of Defense Gates went before Congress the Senate a Senate committee and asked for $400 million as part of a $1.1 billion package of sort of additional aid, just sort of a sliding little money fund thats going to go into the Pakistani military, to be controlled, not like most military funds with a joint state department and Pentagon, but the Pentagon would handle it. And there wouldnt be very many there wouldnt be much information about how it was spent.

And this money was appropriated by June. It went through the process very quickly. At least half of it was gone immediately into the Pakistani military. And at that point General Kiyani, the head of the Pakistani militarys long wanted more money from America to improve the quality of life - the housing and social programs for many of his Pakistani soldiers who are living, in some places, in terrible conditions.

I dont think the money is going to be misused but I do know its eventually going to be $1.1 billion in a special fund that was approved in a separate package. I got all the paper on it. Its seems clear that part I was told - and the evidence looks very strong, supports it strongly - that the Pakistani military was rewarded for its providing more access. The word my friend used in the inside was virtual access. And by the way, I learned about this from a different source than I usually deal with and I went to the people I know well.

There are people obviously on the inside whose loyalty, by the way, is to the Constitution and not to the necessarily to the president, which automatically makes them sort of different from what weve seen in the last eight years, anyway. And when I went to one and said I understand theres been some new understandings or new deal making, he got very angry, not at me, but he said is there anything more stupid than here is a weapon system in Pakistan, the holy grail. Its the one system that the United States should keep away from because everybody in Pakistan doesnt trust us. They think were too deeply involved, they think the government is too carries too much water for us, both the military and the civilian governments. And the idea that we would intervene to get more access or potentially more control or even some control over their weapons program would be just disastrous.

And so what youre seeing right now, its our - there hasnt been much reporting in America for some strange reason about whats going on but in the last since my story came out at Monday of this week, theres been incredible chaos over there. Its all over the news, recriminations back and forth and a lot of yemming and, you know, yada yada about it. And its a huge issue.

GROSS: Yeah, let me read what the Pakistan foreign ministry said about your article. They called it utterly misleading, you know, the idea that there was this understanding between the U.S. and Pakistan over securing Pakistans nuclear weapons. They called your article utterly misleading and totally baseless, nothing more than a concoction to tarnish the image of Pakistan and create misgivings among its people.

The ministry also said that you made several false and highly irresponsible claims by quoting anonymous and unverifiable sources and that Pakistans strategic assets are completely safe and secure. The multilayered custodial controls, which have been developed indigenously are as foolproof and effective as in any other nuclear-weapon state. Pakistan therefore does not require any foreign assistance in this regard. That was the statement released by Pakistans foreign ministry. And the United States also denies that there was any kind of, you know, deal or, you know, understanding

Mr. HERSH: The State department did

GROSS: The State department, yeah. They denied that theres, you know, a deal between the U.S. and Pakistan on Pakistans nuclear weapons. So, do you want to respond to

Mr. HERSH: Sure

GROSS: Pakistans

Mr. HERSH: I can give an easy response. Let me quote you from Admiral Mullen, speaking to group of reporters May 4th this year, this is a transcript. And dont ask me why this didnt make the news. But he was asked about Pakistan and I quote him in the article - Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. The admiral also spoke openly about the increased cooperation on nuclear security between the U.S. and Pakistan, quote - these are direct quotes from the transcript - DoD - Pentagon transcript - I know what weve done over the last three years, specifically, to both invest, assist, and Ive watched them improve their security fairly dramatically. Ive looked at this, you know, as hard as I can over a period of time.

Seventeen days later, he told the Foreign Relations Center for Foreign Relations Committee, we have invested a significant amount of resources to the Department of Energy in the last several years to help Pakistan improve its controls on its arsenal, quote, they still have to improve them, he said. So, its very clear, despite the denial, theres certainly been an ongoing American commitment, I think appropriately, to do what we can to make sure that the Pakistani arsenal is safe and inviolate, if you will.

I think, and I can tell you right now the major concern, theres never been a serious concern about the Pakistani Taliban taking over the country. Pakistan is secular. Election after election proves that a small percentage of the people there - its got a very - vote for the Islamists. Its got a strong middle class. The real concern is, as I said at the outset, of mutiny, of terrorism, some internal fifth columnist doing something. So - and youll notice that the Pentagon has not been involved in these denials - I have anyway, very carefully. And Ive had obviously - I have to tell you that, without getting into it because Ive had extensive conversations with senior people that have been interesting, to put it mildly, in terms of basically not wanting to flatly deny something. Its to the credit, I think, of the Pentagon. Im going to inspire them now to flatly the deny it with this

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HERSH: but its to their credit. And this is new. They have not gone in and just whipped this up, you know - the New Yorker always has a very serious and extensive fact-checking process. In fact one of the fact-checkers - there were two who worked for two weeks on this because one of them with from a family in Karachi, Pakistan, and she speaks, her native tongue is Urdu. So, we really has some terrific stuff in terms of checking.

GROSS: My guest is Seymour Hersh. His article in the current edition of the New Yorker is titled Defending the Arsenal: In an Unstable Pakistan, Can Nuclear Weapons Be Kept Safe? Well talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Seymour Hersh. In the current edition of the New Yorker, he reports that the U.S. and the Pakistani military have been negotiating a secret understanding that would allow American units to provide added security to prevent Pakistans nuclear weapons from getting in the hands of terrorists if there was a crisis.

Now, let me ask you this: If there is an understanding between the U.S. and Pakistan that the U.S. would send special forces out to help Pakistan secure its nuclear weapons if necessary, why would you want to make that public, knowing as you do that this is, you know, this is very upsetting to people in Pakistan because much as they - you say much as they dislike India and fear India, a lot of them hate the U.S. even more? And for a lot of people this is even more reason to distrust the United States because nuclear weapons are a kind of source of pride to a lot of people in Pakistan and they feel they can handle it. They dont need the United States intervening.

And the United States probably wants to keep this a secret if, in fact, the understanding exists because its a military thing. I mean, you know, its the kind of military plan that the military likes to keep secret. So, whats in it to make a public, like, why make it public?

Mr. HERSH: Oh, theres a lot of reasons. For one thing, the fact of the matter is that I think these agreements arent worth much. It was very clear that the Pakistanis had a different interpretation of what was going on than we did. We thought we reached some sort of understanding that was going to give us access in case of a crisis. We thought we were getting virtual data that was real, tangible. We were learning a great deal about the arsenal.

From the Pakistani side, you got the strong sense that - are you kidding me? You think wed really tell you the truth? I quote people in the article saying that well never tell you the truth. No Pakistani general will tell you the truth about it. If you want to believe its the truth, go, you know, go ahead. But the reality is that - and I write very specifically about this, that theres a very strong chance that even some of the warheads themselves are not in the official count. As I quoted somebody as - said to me, theyre in the tall grass along the runway, that the Pakistani army, because it doesnt like the civilian leadership, moved some weapons out the count, so that we, no matter what we think we know, we dont know.

So one strong reason for doing it is to get this point across that whatever agreements we make, or understandings we have, may not be worth nearly as much to us - to them as they are to us. And the other reality is, that for many Americans, any information we get on the Pakistani arsenal helps us target it, gives us more access to targeting. What do you think were looking for, in the last 10, 12 years. We and the Indians and perhaps even the Israelis, certainly even the Israelis, for sure, weve been looking very hard at finding the way to get those bombs out of there.

We dont want - remember all this talk about the Islamic bomb that existed two decades ago when Pakistan first went nuclear. And you understand, of course, that we had looked away when Pakistan went nuclear because the Pakistanis were helping us fight the war against Russia in Afghanistan with the Mujahideen. And the price of that was us pretend that they werent going nuclear. This is in the Reagan, Bush years - first Bush. And so that cynicism, of course, is another reason why the Pakistanis feel very misused by us. They understood that we understood that they were making a bomb, whats the fuss?

The point is that if Pakistan and all of this dealing is not telling us everything there is to do - everything there is to know, withholding information, we on our hand are desperate to get any information we can, in addition to what we have, for targeting purposes, so we can plan more efficiently, perhaps going in and doing something to take those bombs or those triggers away from Pakistan, because down deep thats one of the basic things wed love to do. Wed love to get those warheads. Therefore you can argue that some wacky four star might have an idea to go do something against Pakistan.

Talking about this and raising it in public would make that pretty hard and would be not successful, A, and B, any attempt to do anything to take a warhead away from Pakistan would make Pakistan our enemy immediately. And that we dont want either. The consequences of doing any overt act against Pakistan is very serious.

So all of these things youre talking about were discussed internally, and the decision is that this is a story that will clear the air, that will have a purpose, which is to at least bring the whole issue out a little more into the sunlight. And I think thats always positive.

GROSS: President Obama has escalated the drone program using unmanned planes to fire missiles at people who are suspected to be al-Qaida people in Pakistan. And this has been mostly in the northwest frontier territory. And in these drone missile attacks, there have been a lot of civilians who have been killed, as well as al-Qaida officials who have been killed, or al-Qaida leaders who have been killed. So do you have any inside information about how the drone program is affecting American/Pakistan relations?

Mr. HERSH: Well, I quote President Musharraf in this article as saying that when the drones began, at some point in late 2007, when he was still president, he wanted some control, and the Americans told him no. Hes quite angry about this. He did say it and he was asked that we not publish it, but I couldnt not publish something that was said in an interview. It just - anyway. And he said he asked for permission to have access to the targeting and help - and get some control and the Americans said no, its our program. So then Musharraf, in this incredible line he said to me, he said, well, I then asked if they would at least paint the Predators in the Pakistani Air Force colors, so I wouldnt be shamed. And which says an awful lot about the relationship.

Its not only al-Qaida theyre going after, theyre going after what they call the Pakistani Taliban. And there has to be a distinction, because its not clear that the Pakistani Taliban are as interested in international jihad or in taking over the country as we might think. Theres a lot of reason to think theyre just defenders of their turf. They dont like - in Waziristan, this strange world that they live in, the world of valleys and hilltops, and they dont like outsiders. The only thing I can tell you is it was so surprise to me that Obama jumped, he juiced the program, were doing more of it. Theres a lot of collateral damage.

And so far the militarys response to that is not really to speak very much about the collateral damage. In Waziristan, for example, were targeting men who might be Taliban. Only problem is we hit their homes. But the men and women live separately. But in Waziristan, as opposed to other places in Pakistan, the womens quarters are very next to the mens quarters. So our Predator missile, its called the Hellfire, comes in and bam everybodys gone.

The American response has been to put out bids for a smaller missile that would go into the Predator, that would a little more refined so that if we kill we hit a structure, wed only kill the people in that room and not the people in the room next to it. Jane Mayer of the New Yorker wrote a very good piece on the whole issue raising the moral issue, which hasnt been raised very much.

GROSS: Seymour Hersh, thank you so much talking with us.

Mr. HERSH: Great.

GROSS: Seymour Hershs article in the current issue of the New Yorker is titled Defending the Arsenal.

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