Dec 23, 2008

U.S. Prepared to Track Source of Nuclear Strike, Book Says

Global Security Newswire

A new books says that technological advancements have helped to prepare the United States to identify the source of a nuclear weapon used against the nation, MSNBC reported Friday (see GSN, July 22).

“Not only can intelligence help prevent a nuclear terrorist attack, but also in the event one occurs, it may be able to identify the entity responsible and those who contributed, particularly by providing a bomb or components,” intelligence historian Jeffrey Richelson wrote in Defusing Armageddon.

U.S. officials believe that any nuclear-armed terrorist organization is likely to have received the weapon or key parts from a nation rather than through its own efforts, Richelson wrote. The response to an act of nuclear terrorism could be based on determining where the weapon originated. The capability to determine the source could also serve as a deterrent, according to U.S. authorities.

The National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center would lead work in any post-attack situation.

Should a nuclear strike occur, heat-detecting Defense Support Program satellites and Global Positioning System satellites would be used to find the exact location of detonation. An Air Force WC-135 equipped with radiation sensors and sampling technology would be used to collect debris from the event; Richeslson noted, though, that the number of operating aircraft has dropped from 10 during the Cold War to one today.

A nuclear-signature database, produced through U.S. intelligence efforts, could help identify the nation of origin of the highly enriched uranium or plutonium used to fuel the bomb.

“The possibility of attribution stems from the fact that every nuclear device has distinct signatures. These include physical, chemical, elemental and isotopic properties that provide clues as to what material was in the weapon and its construction,” according to the book, scheduled for publication in January. “The shape, size, and texture of the material would determine the bomb’s physical signature. The bomb’s unique molecular components would determine the device’s chemical signatures.”

Other information that could be determined would include the type, age and operating status of the reactor that produced plutonium in a weapon, or the type of centrifuge used to prepare uranium for that purpose, MSNBC reported.

"By comparing the results of the initial analysis to a database of known reactor types or samples of HEU produced by different enrichment processes, forensic workers might determine the origin of the material or at least narrow the field of viable suspects, eventually pinning the blame on the culprit with the assistance of additional intelligence and data,” the book says.

This information could lead to identifying the bomb designer. Determining the type of weapon used in an attack could indicate whether a nation had been involved in its development or if an extremist organization produced the bomb without outside support, according to Richelson.

Continued updates to the nuclear database are key to the detection effort, the author said. If that does not occur, “confidence that the United States does not have samples a country’s nuclear DNA might make that country willing to provide terrorists with a bomb or nuclear material.”

Both Vice President-elect Joseph Biden and Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), nominee for secretary of state, have supported additional funding for U.S. nuclear forensics and detection efforts. That could indicate that the programs are likely to be supported by the incoming Obama administration.

Richelson noted that the United States is better technologically prepared to determine the origin of a weapon than to detect it before it can be used: "It may be easier to determine who was behind a terrorist nuclear attack than to prevent it" (Robert Windrem, MSNBC, Dec. 19).


Anonymous said...

"It may be easier to determine who was behind a terrorist nuclear attack than to prevent it."

One step beyond this passive-aggressive perspective, i.e. political correctness:

To let Iran become nuclear, and also let them nuke Israel, and then retaliate with US nukes against Iran, is severly bad, and a clear sign of weakness, and bad national security policy, and foreign policy by the President-elect Barack Obama.

Far better is:

(1) A US pre-emptive strike against the main nuclear facility in Iran, Natanz.

(2) A joint US-Israeli pre-emptive strike against the main nuclear facility in Iran, Natanz.

(3) A Israeli pre-emptive strike against the main nuclear facility in Iran, Natanz.

If (1) - (3) occur, more than one time if needed, then you hopefully at least will delay Iran´s nuclear ambition, and the time to act is running out as the following article in New York Times state, Iran Said to Have Nuclear Fuel for One Weapon, by William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, published: November 19, 2008, (, some quotes:

-- "They clearly have enough material for a bomb," and "They know how to do the enrichment. Whether they know how to design a bomb, well that´s another matter." (Richard L. Garwin.)

-- "underscored that they are marching down the path to developing the nuclear weapons option." (Siegfried S. Hecker.)

-- "They have a weapons worth," "It´s a virtual milestone," and "where they´re going." (Thomas B. Cochran.)

-- "within a few months," and "Iran is progressing." (ISIS.)

-- "They´re very close," and "If it isn´t tomorrow, it´s soon." (Peter D. Zimmerman.)

-- "While it cannot be excluded that the building in question was intended for non-nuclear use," and "along with the connectivity of the site to adequate pumping capacity of cooling water, are similar to what may be found in connection with a reactor site." (I.A.E.A.)

The TIME to act against Iran is NOW, otherwise Iran will become NUCLEAR, with the future risk of severly threaten Israel, US, and the West in general.

Iran has to be stopped NOW!

Anonymous said...

It will be interesting to see how we are "prepared" as the last radio-chemists retire. Sadly, Bechtel probably believes that we are prepared; I'm sure they've already got a good lawyer and an IWD. They just don't have a clue how to make such an assessment in the real world.

Anonymous said...

As of today, you both have to deter against the known nuclear threats before 9/11/01, foremost Russia and China, within the MAD strategy, and also try to after 9/11/01 deter against the asymmetric threat, i.e. threats from rogue states, nuclear terrorism, and non-state actors, extension of the MAD strategy, but on a low-yield scale, with its specific targeting, there you don´t target missile silos, and/or large cities, but relevant asymmetric target sites, that has to be understood BEFORE any nuclear attack from any asymmetric adversary, whether it is from rogue states, nuclear terrorism, and non-state actors, or anything else.

Anonymous said...

12/23/08 5:30 PM

You only talk about half of the equation.

If your scenarios occur, expect a major retaliation by Iran government and a declaration by them that a state of war exists. This would include missile strikes against US bases in Iraq and Qatar, as well and against shipping in the Gulf. And since we initiated the war, don't expect any help from our so called Arab friends in the region - they do not want Iranian missiles and bombs raining down on their plush palaces and vulnerable oil facilities.

Using our attack as a provocation, Iranian army and Republican Guard divisions might sweep into southern Iraq, brushing aside the limited Iraqi forces defending this area. And the Iranians would probably be welcomed as heroes - just as Nazi Germany was when it marched into the Sudetenland. If this were to happen, expect that our nervous Arab friends will rush to the UN to ask for an end to the hostilities before Iran decides to continue marching west. And as oil prices shoot into the stratosphere, expect countries everywhere to demand that the fighting stop.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of Iranian civilians would be killed and injured in the initial US attacks. Remember that the Iranian nuclear program, like LANL and NNSA, is run by civilian agencies not the military. So any attack would be killing civilian scientist, researchers, workers, and staff at these facilities. The Iranian people of all political persuasions would view this attack by the US the same as we saw December 7, 1941. The Iranian government and its intelligence agency would use this anger to unleash "unconventional" counter attacks against US interest/targets around the world and most likely in this country too.

So unless we are willing to fight a total war in Iran - mass air campaign, ground forces to secure key military research installation, and ultimately force the capitulation of the Iranian Government - a limited scale attack will do more harm than good.

The US can easily beat the Iranian military in any armed conflict, but short of a full war that ends with the removal of the current anti-American/Israel Iranian government, limited attacks will only make things much worst. And with three messy wars underway at the moment - in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and on Terror worldwide - I don't think the American people are up for a fourth.