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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.


Other segments from the episode on November 12, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 12, 2009: Interview with Seymour Hersh; Review of the film "Fantastic Mr. Fox."


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
How Safe Is It? Seymour Hersh On Pakistan’s Arsenal


This is FRESH AIR. I’m 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, we’re 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 America’s 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 Obama’s
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 it’s 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 isn’t a general in the Armed Forces asked to do that would say, I can’t
win. That’s just what they do. So he put himself into a box, and he was very
passive for a long time about it. And that’s why if you would ask me four days
ago what I thought, I would have thought he’s going to make a political
decision to do something with some token troops because he wants to – he
doesn’t want to lose more independence. He wants to show he can run a war. He
can be a tough guy.

But what Obama’s done, if he has done what it seems he’s done, is if he’s
telling the military, you know what? I don’t think it’s going to fly. This is
huge because he’s basically saying I’m not going to play politics with the war.
I’m not going to do what other presidents have and continue a war and continue
fighting a war that I don’t think we can win - just only for the time, until I
can find a way out. That’s 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, he’s saying, I’m going to stand up and be president, take my
chances in 2012 on reelection.

He’s really doing - if he’s doing what’s been reported - a pretty noble thing.
The problem is - and this is a daunting problem. The problem is I don’t think
there’s 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, there’s no way they’re going to view Uzbeki or – they’re going
to view them as much of an outsider as they would view the Americans. They
simply don’t 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 can’t be effective. And he’s
concerned that if we send more troops now, it will just increase Afghanistan’s
dependence on the United States instead of focusing on strengthening
Afghanistan’s own security forces. What do you think the significance of that
cable is?

Mr. HERSH: Well, that’s a terrifically important cable. Eikenberry is a member
of the – he’s on the team. He’s 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, he’s on the team of Petraeus and McChrystal. He’s 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, who’s the commander of the
region. But Rodriguez is the general deputy to McChrystal. They’re all from the
class of ’74 and ’75 at West Point. And there’s 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 ain’t going to
work. We don’t have a government to work on. You can’t have counterinsurgency
unless you have a viable government - is an enormous breach, and I’m sure that
it’s 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, it’s 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 that’s been
going on, and also this drum beat of 40,000, 60,000 more troops. They don’t
have them.

The men coming back from Iraq are going to be retailed back in Afghanistan.
That’s not going to be popular. They’re 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. It’s sort of a boots-on-the ground place. It’s just not a good
fit, and they don’t have the body. So they’ve been - and also, I think they’ve
been appalled by this public campaign by General McChrystal, pushed by Petraeus
- I understand they’re 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
he’s not only turning on his buddies from West Point and his buddies in this
whole counterinsurgency business, he’s 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, they’re 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, they’re 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 we’ve 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 they’ve been making over the years with the Taliban in
Pakistan - very unsatisfactory but it seems to have worked and I don’t 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 don’t 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 you’re 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. You’ve 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 wouldn’t 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 don’t 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 – there’s 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 don’t
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 they’ve 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. I’m 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 Pakistan’s
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, let’s 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 that’s 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: It’s actually - the word we used in the New Yorker was
understandings because we were told they weren’t 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 it’s
– there - I can site you chapter and words - even the chairman of the joint
chiefs, Admiral Mullen, who’s 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 didn’t
want the Afghans, the Pakistani, the Afghanistan Taliban, the Taliban who we’ve
been fighting for eight years. We didn’t 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 you’ve got to
be kidding. We’re looking at 80 or 100 nuclear warheads. I’m paraphrasing what
I was told and, of course, the Indians didn’t say it that way. But their
message was the Pakistani A-bombs are aimed at us, not at you, make us happy.
That’s why things got more intense, maybe in late March and April.

The president’s 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 that’s 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 we’ve 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 you’re saying is that the
understanding that the United States has with Pakistan about controlling
Pakistan’s 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 Obama’s
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: It’s 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 that’s 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 wouldn’t be very many – there wouldn’t 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 military’s 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 don’t think the money is going to be misused but I do know it’s 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. It’s 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 we’ve seen in the last eight years,
anyway. And when I went to one and said I understand there’s 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. It’s the one system that the United States should keep away from because
everybody in Pakistan doesn’t trust us. They think we’re 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 you’re seeing right now, it’s our - there hasn’t been much
reporting in America for some strange reason about what’s going on but in the
last – since my story came out at Monday of this week, there’s been incredible
chaos over there. It’s all over the news, recriminations back and forth and a
lot of yemming and, you know, yada yada about it. And it’s 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 Pakistan’s
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 Pakistan’s
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
Pakistan’s 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 there’s, you know, a deal
between the U.S. and Pakistan on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. So, do you want to
respond to…

Mr. HERSH: Sure…

GROSS: …Pakistan’s…

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
don’t ask me why this didn’t 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 we’ve done over the
last three years, specifically, to both invest, assist, and I’ve watched them
improve their security fairly dramatically. I’ve 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 it’s arsenal, quote, “they still have to improve them,” he said.
So, it’s very clear, despite the denial, there’s 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, there’s 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 - it’s got a very - vote for the Islamists. It’s 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 you’ll
notice that the Pentagon has not been involved in these denials - I have
anyway, very carefully. And I’ve had obviously - I have to tell you that,
without getting into it because I’ve had extensive conversations with senior
people that have been interesting, to put it mildly, in terms of basically not
wanting to flatly deny something. It’s to the credit, I think, of the Pentagon.
I’m going to inspire them now to flatly the deny it with this…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HERSH: …but it’s 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?” We’ll 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 Pakistan’s 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 don’t need the United States intervening.

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

Mr. HERSH: Oh, there’s a lot of reasons. For one thing, the fact of the matter
is that I think these agreements aren’t 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 we’d really tell you the truth? I quote people in the article saying
that we’ll never tell you the truth. No Pakistani general will tell you the
truth about it. If you want to believe it’s the truth, go, you know, go ahead.
But the reality is that - and I write very specifically about this, that
there’s 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, they’re in the
tall grass along the runway, that the Pakistani army, because it doesn’t like
the civilian leadership, moved some weapons out the count, so that we, no
matter what we think we know, we don’t 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 we’re looking for, in the
last 10, 12 years. We and the Indians and perhaps even the Israelis, certainly
even the Israelis, for sure, we’ve been looking very hard at finding the way to
get those bombs out of there.

We don’t 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 weren’t 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, what’s 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 that’s one of the basic things
we’d love to do. We’d 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 don’t
want either. The consequences of doing any overt act against Pakistan is very

So all of these things you’re 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 that’s 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. He’s quite angry about
this. He did say it and he was asked that we not publish it, but I couldn’t 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, it’s 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 wouldn’t be
shamed. And which says an awful lot about the relationship.

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

And so far the military’s response to that is not really to speak very much
about the collateral damage. In Waziristan, for example, we’re 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
women’s quarters are very next to the men’s quarters. So our Predator missile,
it’s called the Hellfire, comes in and bam – everybody’s 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, we’d 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 hasn’t been raised very much.

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

Mr. HERSH: Great.

GROSS: Seymour Hersh’s article in the current issue of the New Yorker is titled
“Defending the Arsenal.”
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
The (Surprisingly) Real Feel of “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”


Many of the late Roald Dahl’s acclaimed books for young readers have been made
into films - among them “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Matilda,” and
“James and the Giant Peach.” The latest book to reach the screen is “The
Fantastic Mr. Fox,” the first animated film directed by Wes Anderson, who’s
best known for his features “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums.”

Film Critic David Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: Wes Anderson has a cult of worshippers, but I often find his
films a little precious and mannered, a series of colorful dollhouses with
people posed like puppets in the center of the frame. Now, in “The Fantastic
Mr. Fox,” he has made an animated film in which the puppets are so vivid they
seem like people. It’s still the work of a filmmaker who likes to preen, a
dandy. But it gels because the hero, the wily master thief Mr. Fox, is a dandy
too. He even wears double-breasted suits inspired by Anderson’s own showy
wardrobe, and it gels because the animation fits the story.

Anderson opted to use stop-motion — the old-fashioned time-lapse animation that
gave us “King Kong” and this year’s sublime “Coraline.” So instead of the
smooth, computerized feel of most modern animation, there’s a slight jerkiness
to the characters’ movements that brings out their weight, their substance. I
don’t know how, but I felt as if the puppets themselves were taking pleasure in
their own movements. Anderson’s ultra-composed frames have never seemed so
magically alive.

The script, by Anderson and Noah Baumbach, embellishes Roald Dahl’s brisk and
cheerfully wicked kids’ book, but the thrust is the same. Mr. Fox can’t resist
the challenge of stealing from his new neighbors, three nasty farmers named
Boggis and Bunce and Bean — one fat, one short, one lean. He pulls off three
splendid capers but doesn’t reckon on the vindictiveness of the farmers,
especially the skeletal Bean. George Clooney does the voice of Mr. Fox, and at
first I couldn’t stop picturing his handsome mug. But Clooney is doing his best
work in years. He even parodies his “Ocean’s Eleven” master thief.

Like his director, Mr. Fox is wonderfully precise. As he assembles a team of
animals to help him fight the farmers who have laid siege to his underground
hideaway, he calls them by their English and Latin names.

(Soundbite of movie, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”)

Mr. GEORGE CLOONEY (Actor): (As Mr. Fox) All right. Let’s start planning.
(unintelligible) short-hand. Great. Linda (unintelligible) you got some dry
paper? Here we go. Mole (unintelligible), what do you got?

Mr. JAMES HAMILTON (Actor): (As Mole) I can see in the dark?

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Mr. Fox) That’s incredible. We can use that. Linda?

Ms. KAREN DUFFY (Actor): (As Linda Otter) Got it.

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) (Unintelligible)

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Mr. Fox) You bet you are. Linda?

Ms. DUFFY: (As Linda Otter) Got it.

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Mr. Fox) Beaver (unintelligible)

Mr. STEVEN M. RALES (Actor): (As Beaver) I can chew threw wood.

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Mr. Fox) Amazing, Linda?

Ms. DUFFY: (As Linda Otter) Got it.

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Mr. Fox) Badger (unintelligible)

Mr. BILL MURRAY (Actor): (As Badger) Demolitions expert.

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Mr. Fox) What? Says when?

Mr. MURRAY: (As Badger) Explosions, flames, burning things.

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Mr. Fox) Demolitions expert. Okay, Linda?

Ms. DUFFY: (As Linda Otter) Got it.

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Mr. Fox) Weasel.

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) (Unintelligible)

Unidentified Man #3 (Actor): (As character) Stop yelling!

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Mr. Fox) Alright, Ash, if you get these little kids organized
and put together some kind of KP unit or something to keep this sewer clean,
it’s good for moral.

Mr. JASON SCHWARTZMAN (Actor): (As Ash) Done, what’s KP?

Mr. DUFFY: (As Linda Otter) I think it means janitors.

EDELSTEIN: After the Beach Boys on the soundtrack come Burl Ives, Mozart, the
Rolling Stones and “Ol’ Man River” — disjunctive, but then the whole movie’s
disjunctive, like the cultural bric-a-brac in Wes Anderson’s teeming brain.
You’ll find your eyes roaming the frames and laughing at the flourishes and
textures, at symmetry that’s slightly unbalanced so the screen is a seesaw.
There are gags so ingenious they’d have made Bugs Bunny director Chuck Jones

The actors bring their own kind of wit - Bill Murray as a militant badger,
Michael Gambon as creepy Bean, Wally Wolodarsky as Mr. Fox’s nervous opossum
sidekick, and best of all, Willem Dafoe as a hep-cat, knife-wielding rat
security guard. Meryl Streep is the sharp, practical Mrs. Fox, who at one point
slaps her reckless husband’s face. You don’t see stuff that serious in many
animated family films. “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” is weighted down by a serious
motif, one that runs through all Anderson’s work - the son who desperately
tries to forge a bond with his unappreciative father.

Mr. Fox’s boy Ash, Jason Schwartzman, doesn’t have his dad’s athletic prowess,
and he’s hurt when Mr. Fox sees a chip off the old block in his cousin. The
problem is, Ash is a bit of a drag and his efforts to prove himself are the
movie’s lone concession to formula. A small price to pay. With all the
engineering behind “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” it still feels handmade, as if the
artists were in the room, manipulating everything onscreen. When it ended, I
wished they’d come out and take a bow - animation director Mark Gustafson,
cinematographer Tristan Oliver, designer Nelson Lowry, the whole team. And of
course Wes Anderson, who for the first time has a right to preen.

GROSS: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine. You can download
podcasts of our show on our Web site, And you can follow us
on Twitter at nprfreshair.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: FRESH AIR has a beautiful new addition to its family. Our producer Sam
Briger and his wife Katriona(ph) had a baby yesterday named Hazel Rose. We’ve
seen a picture and it’s clear she’s going to be as much of a charmer as her
brother Oliver. We can’t wait to meet her.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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