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"Nuclear attribution" or post-event forensics


"Nuclear attribution," or post-event forensics, described in Addressing the Unthinkable, U.S. Revives Study of Fallout is a new form of nuclear deterrence and is the term for strike option determination by quickly identifying where the fissile materials came from, possibly who designed, and who exploded the device. It is a revival of a nearly lost scientific art of the cold war: fallout analysis. Call it a precursor step to second strike.

"As the terrorist threat rose in the 1990's, the government began to consider the quandary that would arise if a nuclear weapon exploded on American soil. In 1999, Dr. Davis, then head of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency at the Pentagon, began an effort to address the identification problem by financing research at the nation's weapons laboratories, many of them run by the Energy Department."

In order for deterrence to be viable, potential actors must know that it exists and believe it accurate -- or at least the sovereign states that harbor the actor must know it exists and is credible. It is easy to see the step where we extend preemption to say that you are guilty if you harbor, aid and abet. You are a willing coconspirator and will be held accountable. That is certainly the process that the British used under the Raj and in Central Asia (and which the Pakistanis are using now to force handover of al Qaeda operatives).

My assumption is that we are already at the implicit point of holding a harboring state responsible, but post-even forensics allows us to reduce the window of guilt and thereby increase the risk calculus of a sovereign state or entity that might be harboring or abetting a perpetrator.

Detection likely depends upon the provenance of the device, i.e., is the device drawn from, or diverted from, someone's nuclear stockpiles (for which classified sampling libraries will be brought into play) or is it a 'homebrew' never before seen or tested device. And if theft is involved, how does one define the thief and ultimate perp. They made not be one and the same and you would want to step on the entire supply chain as a matter of suppression as well as making an example for others.

"In a drill this year, dozens of federal experts in fallout analysis met at the Sandia laboratories in Albuquerque to study a simulated terrorist nuclear blast. Mr. Worlton said they were broken into teams and given radiological data from two old American nuclear tests, whose identities remained hidden, and were instructed to try to name them. Some teams succeeded."

An unfortunate sign of the times. As I have said before, better to have the FEBA (Forward Edge of the Battle Line) as far out in front as possible, and as deep into the supply chain as possible.

Gordon Housworth

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