Integration, Coordination Keeps Nuclear Weapons from Terrorists, Official Says

ARLINGTON, Va., Feb. 17, 2012 — Con­tin­ued close inte­gra­tion and coor­di­na­tion between fed­er­al agen­cies and their part­ner orga­ni­za­tions is crit­i­cal to safe­guard­ing nuclear weapons and mate­ri­als from ter­ror­ists, a senior defense offi­cial said yes­ter­day.

Speak­ing to an audi­ence at the Nuclear Deter­rence Sum­mit here, Steve Hen­ry, deputy assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for nuclear mat­ters, described how inte­gra­tion between the Defense Depart­ment, Nation­al Nuclear Secu­ri­ty Admin­is­tra­tion, lab­o­ra­to­ries and oth­er fed­er­al agen­cies is key to pre­vent­ing ter­ror­ists from gain­ing access to nuclear weapons and mate­r­i­al.

Hen­ry said his office’s inte­gra­tion with the NNSA expands efforts across issues rang­ing from nuclear non­pro­lif­er­a­tion, Navy reac­tors, emer­gency oper­a­tions, nuclear secu­ri­ty and coun­tert­er­ror­ism.

The inter­face between agen­cies is part of what Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma called “look­ing at coun­ter­ing the sin­gle biggest threat to the Unit­ed States’ secu­ri­ty,” he said.

“In his words, ‘just one nuclear weapon explod­ed in an Amer­i­can city would dev­as­tate our way of life and con­sti­tute noth­ing less than a cat­a­stro­phe for the world,’ ” Hen­ry quot­ed. “For this rea­son, as the most recent nuclear pos­ture review out­lined, the series of poli­cies reflect the grav­i­ty of this threat.

“We work close­ly with NNSA nuclear non­pro­lif­er­a­tion to align pro­grams, expand efforts to improve glob­al nuclear secu­ri­ty and avoid redun­dant efforts to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons or nuclear mate­ri­als get­ting into the hands of ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions,” he added.

Hen­ry cit­ed peri­od­ic meet­ings that assist in review­ing pro­grams, the sta­tus in such areas as inter­na­tion­al engage­ment, and with coun­tert­er­ror­ism and counter pro­lif­er­a­tion.

“These meet­ings have cre­at­ed sev­er­al stand­ing work­ing groups … includ­ing tech­ni­cal expert groups, involv­ing our pol­i­cy coun­ter­parts and pro­gram leads,” he said. “We work togeth­er to bet­ter under­stand the threat and the appro­pri­ate response to a com­mon under­stand­ing of the threat.”

Their col­lab­o­ra­tion has led to the devel­op­ment of a tech­nol­o­gy dis­play at the Nuclear Secu­ri­ty Sym­po­sium in Seoul, Korea, he said.

Hen­ry co-chairs the Nuclear Weapons Acci­dent and Inci­dents Response Steer­ing Group with mem­bers from the Joint Staff, each mil­i­tary ser­vice, U.S. Euro­pean Com­mand, U.S. North­ern Com­mand, Home­land Secu­ri­ty Depart­ment, Fed­er­al Avi­a­tion Admin­is­tra­tion, Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency and the Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment.

“We’re con­tin­u­ing to refine our nuclear weapons inci­dent plans to bring the full strength of the fed­er­al resources to bear in the unlike­ly event that we have a nuclear acci­dent or in the event of a lost or stolen nuclear weapon,” he said.

In 2004, Hen­ry said, the NATO-Rus­sia Coun­cil made a mul­ti­lat­er­al agree­ment that sev­er­al nations, includ­ing the Unit­ed States, would host a demon­stra­tion of nuclear acci­dent response as “con­fi­dence-build­ing mea­sures.”

Rus­sia host­ed the first one in 2004 in Roman­sk, fol­lowed by the Unit­ed King­dom in 2005 in Edin­burgh, he said. The Defense Depart­ment and NNSA host­ed the demon­stra­tion at the F.E. War­ren Air Force Base in 2006, and the French host­ed it in France in 2007.

They also have sup­port­ed the NATO staff in hav­ing fol­low-on NATO-Rus­sia Coun­cil exer­cis­es “involv­ing how we would respond to an impro­vised nuclear device, and that’s hap­pened the last two years,” he added.

Hen­ry said it is imper­a­tive to nuclear-relat­ed orga­ni­za­tions to stay focused on the chal­lenge of nuclear deter­rence even when there is some­times fric­tion between agen­cies.

“But that’s healthy,” he said. “I don’t think we can suc­ceed with­out close inte­gra­tion between DOD and NNSA, as well as any of the oth­er depart­ments that take part in this effort.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)