The Domestic Nuclear Detection Office dated April 19, 2005 by Fred Ikle to Congress, Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on the Prevention of Nuclear and Biological Attack. Clearly frustrated with the current pace of progress, he argues for a national R&D effort in nuclear detection and forensics, but focuses on national labs and big projects while ignoring private industry. This focus on government could end up being misplaced. Worth a full read, but here are highlights,
- The seriousness of this cataclysmic possibility has become increasingly apparent. Hence, the need for a last-line of defense – the mission of DNDO. Defense experts have proposed better detection measures for some time. Already in 1997, the Defense Science Board spelled out the need for a serious R&D program to improve our technical detection capabilities. Unfortunately, there was no follow-up; and now, eight years later we are still unprepared. The establishment of DNDO is a statement of good intentions, but without vigorous follow-up, competent management, and – Mr. Chairman – strong Congressional support, I fear we will encounter more delays.
- DNDO is a unique organization with few parallels. I cannot think of another executive branch organization that seeks to pull together so many government departments and agencies in a cooperative effort for so complex a mission. Keep in mind that the cooperation required will be essentially voluntary. Short of an appeal to the President, the person who will head DNDO cannot order the other components to carry out their tasks. Such an endeavor has to overcome several hurdles. It can deteriorate into an endless series of interagency meetings. Differences about priorities might not be resolved. Budget requests might be delayed. The most competent people might become discouraged and move on to more promising jobs.
- Now let me turn to a major part of the DNDO structure which, for the long term, is
the most important part: the R&D program for the ”transformational” development of
sensors and other essential technology. Without better instruments to detect smuggled
nuclear weapons, all the operational DNDO components will be unable to do their job.
Without Better knowledge and techniques to identify the source of the smuggled nuclear
weapon, the deterrent effect of our defenses will be greatly diminished. Indeed, these
techniques of identification – called “forensics” – are crucial to avert a mistaken
retaliatory strike that would get the United States into a war with a nation that did neither
attack us, nor lend any support to the terrorists who attacked us.
Better sensors and forensics are the heart of the matter.
- The management of “transformational” R&D effort must be inspired by the way we managed the Manhattan Project or the Apollo Project. These successful programs were not run by endless interagency meetings in Washington that presided over budget constraints and bureaucratic deadlines for dozens of little contracts. Last summer, the Homeland Security Department’s research sponsorship on nuclear sensors was done through 135 contracts – one hundred and thirty five! (Some of these, to be sure, produced useful results.) The country needs a superbly qualified single manager for this work (as was the case for the Manhattan Project), a generous long term budget with flexibility, all to support an integrated team effort bringing together the professional strengths and the scientific assets of Livermore, Los Alamos, Sandia, Oak Ridge, Argonne, and reaching out to specialists at universities and support for prototype production by industry. This Laboratory-centered program, of course, needs to be in continuing contact with the many potential users of the sensors. (The use of the forensic capacity must remain centralized for the US government.) The physicists at the laboratory will have to tailor their effort to the needs of the Coast Guard, border control, DOD’s Special Forces, the Navy’s work for the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), special needs of the FBI and CIA, and so on.
- To sum it up, the Domestic Nuclear DETECTION Office is a great step forward in America’s struggle against nuclear terrorism. But without an “Apollo Project” on sensors, there won’t be much hope for detection and DNDO will become the Domestic Nuclear DISCUSSION Office. Forgive me, Mr. Chairman, for pressing this point so hard. Witnessing ten years of fumbled and failed effort have diminished my sense of patience, a little.
Fred C. Iklé is a Distinguished Scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C. He was Undersecretary of Defense for Policy in the Reagan Administration.