1980s Secret Exercise Judged Positively But Underscores Range of Potential Problems - Bomb Detection, Interagency Coordination, Containment of Contamination, General "Confusion"
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 380
Posted - May 29, 2012
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Jeffrey T. Richelson
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Washington, D.C., May 29, 2012 - A secret exercise in 1986 by a U.S. government counter-terrorist unit uncovered a host of potential problems associated with disrupting a nuclear terrorist plot in the United States. Declassified documents released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and posted today by the National Security Archive offer the first detailed public look at the inner workings of the agencies, military units and other U.S. entities responsible for protecting the country from a terrorist nuclear attack.
Today's posting consists of over 60 documents related to MIGHTY DERRINGER, an exercise that focused on Indianapolis in December 1986. The materials provide background on the creation, in 1974-1975, of the Nuclear Emergency Search Team (NEST), a group assigned to respond to plausible threats of nuclear terrorism or extortion. Today, NEST (now the Nuclear Emergency Support Team) conducts exercises to assess its capability to respond to the possible presence of a terrorist device and test the ability of NEST and critical cooperating organizations (including military units)to work together.
While the MIGHTY DERRINGER exercise and resulting documents are over two decades old, the institutions participating in the exercise retain their roles today, and the issues confronting them in 1986 are similar to the ones that they would face in responding to a nuclear threat in 2012 (and beyond).
This posting is notable for being the first publication of documents that provide in-depth exposure into all aspects of such an exercise - including the state-of-play at key points and the array of issues involved in disabling terrorist devices. Of particular interest are references to the participation of the Joint Special Operations Command and Delta Force - mirroring the role they would have in a real-world incident. In addition, after-action reports reveal the assorted problems that can arise in coordinating the response to a nuclear terrorist threat among a large number of organizations.
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THE MIGHTY DERRINGER EXERCISE