Friday, May 18, 2007

DNDO Again: Secure Cities Initiative

Just a quick link to this post on HLS Watch, which advocates funding DNDO's Securing the Cities Initiative (SCI). That's the progam through which major U.S. cities purchase and install radiation detectors.

HLS Watch makes a number of valid points, first pointing out that the threat is both internal and external:

The scenario of nuclear material smuggled across U.S. borders, while dangerously possible, is perhaps as likely as nuclear material obtained from within the United States for use against a major U.S. city. Dangerous source material for a dirty bomb can be found in unsecured commercial locations or universities where nuclear material is located for legitimate uses.
Second, regarding the current and possible efficacy of the sensors:
Whether or not SCI will be successful is difficult to say at this stage, but some precedence already exists that indicates such an effort could indeed be effective. The Department of Defense (DOD) already deploys their own version of SCI focused exclusively on protecting bases within the U.S.
In justifying the $30 million pricetag, HLS Watch argues that it's a small amount relative to other costs, and it's a worthwhile investment because if the technology improves the payoff could be significant. But the technology is somewhat unproven (at least the advanced technology), so it remains true that:
SCI is equal parts R&D and strategy.
I'm not as optimistic about using detectors as a primary means of prevention, mostly because by the time the detector senses the radiological material, the plot (if indeed there is one) would be far advanced. The group would be fully operational and would have already assembled the materials necessary for an attack. It's an eleventh-hour strategy. For me some remaining questions include:
  1. How will cities make the buying decision? GAO has pointed out that so far, DNDO has not shared information with states and cities to help them make an informed decision. If this situation remains, then the benefit of the DNDO-DOD collaboration is lost. Local buyers should be able to tap into DNDO-DOD expertise.
  2. What will local homeland security professionals do to secure the unsecured radiological sources in their communities?
  3. Will more cities take advantage of the opportunity to get background radiation maps?

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