Split on Nukes

Critics doubt new office can piece together fragmented nuclear detection campaign.

The new office tapped to rein in uncoordinated and disorganized efforts to keep nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists might be too weak and improperly focused to get the job done. With the Defense, Energy and State departments, as well as the FBI and Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection bureau and Coast Guard all involved in nabbing loose nukes, it's never been clear which agency is in charge. The Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, established on April 15 within Homeland Security, is a logical contender, but already it's coming under attack as an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy lacking the clout to bring other agencies to heel.

The office, which is slated to receive $105 million this year and $227.3 million in fiscal 2006, was conceived as the "single accountable organization" for developing a global web to trap nuclear materials, and for acquiring effective domestic detection equipment. It will be staffed with 110 full-time federal em-ployees, including representatives from the other departments involved in nuclear defenses, and 90 contractors. Its director will report to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

But Fred Ikle of the Center for Security and International Studies, a Washington public policy think tank, told the House Homeland Security Committee in late April that the new office could turn into little more than another layer of bureaucracy and delay improvements in detection. Ikle reminded legislators that in 1997, the Defense Science Board, an advisory panel to the Pentagon, issued a study calling for concerted efforts to research and develop nuclear detection equipment. "Unfortunately there was no follow-up, and now . . . we are still unprepared," he said. In 2001, a task force of members from the science board published a guide to beefing up detection, Ikle testified. But the agencies involved failed to act.

"The bureaucratic obstructions were appalling," Ikle recalled. "Bureaucrats called for more grand studies, more interagency meetings, and some even argued that better detection instruments were impossible since our technology for radiation sensors had reached the limits of physics."

Ike fears the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office will have limited power to ensure that research runs more smoothly. It is supposed to serve as a clearinghouse for acquisitions of detection devices, for example, but the agencies involved would retain budgetary authority over the purchases. "This approach will at best produce fractured and fragmented research efforts, greatly slowed down by innumerable interagency meetings," he said. A better tactic would be to concentrate research efforts in existing federal research facilities, according to Ikle.

Others question the focus of the new office. Randall Larsen, the founder of Alexandria, Va., consulting firm Homeland Security Associates LLC, says he doesn't see a place for "domestic" in the name. The aim, he argues, should be to identify and secure weapons-grade nuclear materials before they ever reach the hands of terrorists or cross U.S. borders. "Any terrorist organization smart enough to obtain this material is probably smart enough to transport it to an American city without detection," the retired Air Force colonel wrote in testimony for the April hearing.

There is no single agency devoted to coordinating efforts to stop the material at its source, Larsen says. The National Counterproliferation Center suggested as part of intelligence reform legislation enacted in December would help solve these problems, he says, adding that the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office could eventually operate as "a subset" of this center. But it's unclear whether, or how soon, the counterproliferation center will be established. The law gives the president 18 months to decide if such a center is a good idea.

Larsen worries that, in the meantime, no organization really is in charge of preventing a nuclear attack. "If you wanted to have a hearing on what is being done to prevent such an attack, who would you have to call to testify?" he asked in his testimony. "The secretary of Defense, the secretary of Energy, the secretary of Homeland Security, the secretary of State, the attorney general, the director of national intelligence, to name a few. In other words, no one is in charge."

NEXT STORY: Guns vs. Benefits

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.