Vigilance Key to Maintaining Security

December 2000
By Christian B. Sheehy

Defense agency works to limit weapons of mass destruction.

As the post-Cold-War period gives way to new challenges, the United States is confronting the prospect of biological and chemical weapons proliferation as the latest threat to prolonged peaceful international relations. In an effort to reprioritize its initiatives on the issue, the U.S. Defense Department has called on a smaller, more focused agency to help deal with the unrestricted development of weapons of mass destruction in areas that are important to U.S. national security.

The 1997 Defense Reform Initiative resulted in an organization whose specific purpose is handling international weapons threats in a post-Cold-War world. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) serves as a central authority over policy concerning the presence of nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) stockpiles throughout Eastern Europe and Asia. Representing $2.1 billion of the U.S. Defense Department’s $300 billion annual budget, the DTRA is the primary federal agency responsible for coordinating U.S. strategies to counter the proliferation of all weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

A key DTRA objective is finding ways to contain the spread of WMD activity while ensuring the health of U.S. nuclear strike capabilities. To this end, the agency supports Defense Department policy on the research and testing of offensive and defensive deterrents to large-scale NBC and conventional warfare.

The DTRA is organized around six directorates. Five handle nonproliferation policy while the other focuses on counter-proliferation planning and strategy. The first directorate entails on-site inspection of foreign treaty-bound nuclear weapons depots for operational legality and safety assurance. Charged with implementing U.S. arms control inspections, agency personnel periodically tour overseas facilities to ensure compliance with international weapons treaties. The defense treaty inspection readiness program, a preparatory countermeasure designed to keep Defense Department officials ready for foreign inspection of U.S. arms facilities, keeps the United States treaty-compliant without risking national security through the loss of sensitive defense-related information.

The agency also has representatives to oversee the signing of arms control treaties pivotal to U.S. security interests. Constant monitoring not only ensures that agreed steps are being taken but also helps build trust and confidence between nations. The WMD equipment disassembly is generally documented by satellite verification. However, in cases when the destruction of high-priority materials is involved, multinational air escorts are flown to ensure that removal procedures have met international treaty specifications.

The second directorate within the DTRA architecture is cooperative threat reduction (CTR). With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Congress passed the Nuclear Threat Reduction Act, which limits the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles that former Soviet nations can possess. The legislation, known as the Nunn-Lugar Act, became the cornerstone of the 1993 CTR program. Designed specifically to aid countries of the former Soviet Union destroy NBC weapons while supporting economic infrastructures, the program succeeded in establishing a verifiable safeguard against the unauthorized implementation of these weapons. Current efforts at the DTRA are on the deterrence of biological and chemical weapons proliferation in the region.

The CTR program complements the Defense Department’s goal of eliminating the opportunity for NBC attacks whenever and wherever possible. Strategic planning for the destruction of delivery platforms that remain noncompliant with international treaty laws deters rogue states and terrorist organizations from further exploiting WMD resources. The agency’s main objective continues to limit an enemy’s offensive strike capability before a conflict can occur.

The DTRA operates under a policy of “defense by other means” to reduce the potential for military or civilian casualties in the event of nuclear war. Under the CTR initiative, the agency controls exportation and dissemination of defense-related products, services and technologies to ensure that any transfer of goods does not jeopardize U.S. national security interests. As the export license status adviser to the Department of Defense, the DTRA is responsible for recommending approval or denial of an export request based on its potential benefit or detriment to U.S. defense needs at home and abroad. Recommendations are sent to the U.S. State and Commerce departments for final consideration and issuing.

The third agency directorate covers biological and chemical weapons defense. Considered the “poor man’s nuclear weapon” by Defense Department officials, biological and chemical weapons are generally less expensive and easier to build than nuclear devices, making them the tool of choice for many rogue states and terrorist organizations. The DTRA’s biological and chemical defense plan calls for limiting the access these groups have to materials necessary to produce these weapons.

Responding to biological disasters at home or on foreign soil through the support of organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is another key role of the DTRA. Along with NBC weapons containment, the agency studies methods for limiting the effects of an attack after it has occurred. Research is ongoing in the development of urban evacuation plans that will maximize survivability in the event of an anthrax attack or a viral outbreak such as the recently discovered West Nile virus.

Supporting military operations during a chemical or biological attack is another agency responsibility. As the chief coordinating office of technical expertise within the Defense Department, the DTRA determines how to best outfit warfighters in various wartime scenarios. The Advanced Systems and Concepts Office (ASCO) is a primary source for threat identification through extensive analysis of WMD characteristics. ASCO examines real and potential scenarios, develops a forecast of requirements for U.S. response, and integrates conclusions into the DTRA’s resource planning directive.

In the event of an attack involving WMDs and ensuing contamination, the agency heads the Defense Department’s Joint Nuclear Accident Coordination Center to help direct the federal government’s response to any such disaster. Working alongside organizations such as FEMA, the DTRA assists in recovery efforts as well as collects data that can be used to formulate future prevention plans.

The evaluation, testing and production of radiation-resistant materials for protecting combat troops, civilians and electronic equipment from the effects of ionizing and electromagnetic radiation is another key effort of the DTRA. The Electronics Radiation Response Information Center (ERRIC) makes data on electronics hardening available to nuclear and space program researchers for immediate evaluation. Established by the Defense Special Weapons Agency, ERRIC is the successor to the Army Research Laboratory’s Component Response Information Center.

Technology security is the focus of the agency’s fourth directorate. In response to the vulnerability of sensitive defense-related information to both foreign and domestic adversaries, the Defense Department has increased efforts to achieve a fully interoperable electronic environment within the armed services by 2010. To accomplish this, various programs within the DTRA architecture are providing enhanced data transfer protection for network-based applications. The data archival and retrieval enhancement (DARE) system regulates access to the agency’s scientific and technical programs. Operational since 1995, DARE authorizes the use of data generated in special weapons effects tests and simulation experiments.

Enabling continuing and appropriate accessibility to important WMD data across organizational boundaries is an important function of DARE. For example, the National Aeronautical and Space Administration’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is developing the DARE program to store and update planetary mission information to create a more effective data system that enables space-to-ground photography of potential WMD sites. The DTRA is undertaking efforts to develop and promote a faster and more reliable exchange of this valuable data among nuclear nations to establish greater confidence between the United States and its allies.

The agency also uses techniques in modeling and simulation to aid the military in maintaining its high level of operational security. The Center for Special Weapon Effects, NBC Threats, Technology Transfer and Resources (CNTTR) serves as the primary interface between the DTRA and the armed forces concerning weapons effects data. Acting as a network database for defense personnel, CNTTR allows civilian and uniformed users access to biological and chemical analysis, physics-based modeling tools and technical support via the Internet, CD-ROM or direct dial-in.

With information assurance being paramount to force operational readiness, the DTRA supports Defense Department efforts to protect the critical infrastructure of data networks from unauthorized intrusions. Streamlining product acquisition to accommodate modifications in information technology that can decrease the possibility of exposing vital communications to enemy intelligence is a primary role of national defense. To increase network security, the DTRA is moving toward greater cooperation with the commercial sector in an attempt to create a more secure, interconnected means of networking for U.S. defense command centers.

The DTRA’s fifth directorate monitors and supports nuclear operations. The On-site Inspection Agency conducts periodic reviews of designated foreign nuclear weapons facilities to ensure that safety measures are followed and treaty specifications are observed. The agency’s electronics and systems directive handles radiation simulation testing to analyze the effects on humans and equipment. Simulated battlefield scenarios initiated under the human radiation experiments (HREX) information management system gauge hazards to military personnel. The HREX passes on recommendations for protective gear modifications to the Defense Department for review.

Evaluating the lethality of NBC and conventional weaponry against a broad spectrum of potential targets is a primary objective within the DTRA. By accelerating state-of-the-art technologies that improve force application capabilities, the agency provides enhanced weapons and sensors for defeating the WMD installations and optimizing the survivability of U.S. forces. Recognizing the military’s need for maximized interoperability through effective command and control, the DTRA also promotes research and training to provide commanders with options for optimal targeting and battle damage assessment.

Operational support for counter-proliferation activities represents the sixth directorate encompassed in the DTRA’s organizational framework. The agency’s Threat Reduction Advisory Committee (TRAC) helps the Defense Department and the DTRA focus on evolving WMD threats so that an accurate assessment of the nation’s ability to respond to a potential crisis can be made. TRAC supports agency directives by providing guidance to the DTRA on potential threats and feedback on certain performance factors to the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Future DTRA counter-proliferation efforts will focus on further reducing chemical and biological weapons capabilities in areas such as Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Maintaining intelligence on the state of foreign weapons development enables the agency to stay abreast of critical changes in the NBC picture. The DTRA will continue to pursue the promotion of treaty negotiations with nuclear nations to strengthen existing relationships between the United States and its allies. Additionally, the agency expects to build new relationships that will encompass more nations under an umbrella of international security