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Pentagon Sets Up Robot Unit to Identify Source of Nuclear Attacks

The Pentagon has set up a special unit complete with robots to conduct forensic tests in the event of a nuclear attack on the US, with the aim of iden tifying attackers for possible retaliation, a Pentagon official has said. Major Susan Idziak, a defence department spokeswoman, told The Guardian that the unit was called the Domestic Nuclear Event Attribution (DNEA) program and that it had been launched in 2000. It is made up of nuclear experts equipped with \"specifically modified\" robots for collecting and analysing fallout at ground zero of any future attack by a nuclear device or a dirty bomb (radioactive material scattered by conventional explosives). The programme is principally intended as a contingency in the case of an attack on the US, but the team of experts and specialist robots could also be dispatched abroad in the event of an attack on an American ally. Whatever the target, it would seek to identify isotopes in the fallout in an attempt to establish the particular \"signature\" of the radioactive material. The unit\'s existence was first reported in the New York Times, which said the programme was established by a secret presidential directive, \"National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction,\" signed in September 2002. Major Idziak said the program had been initiated two years earlier and that it \"achieved integrated operational attribution capability on December 31, 2005.\" The agency conducted an exercise in October in which hundreds of experts and officials from several agencies tried to identify radioactive samples. The New York Times obtained a copy of a report on the exercise that claimed it had demonstrated the programme\'s \"capability for accurate and rapid attribution\". The document also said that the agency had developed \"robot technologies to collect debris samples in high radiation fields\". The programme has dusted off and improved cold war technology for analysis of radioactive fallout. During the cold war, however, the task of identifying an attacker was made easier by the fact that nuclear warheads were mostly mounted on missiles with an identifiable launch point. In the era of the \"war on terrorism\", a nuclear device or dirty bomb is much more likely to be smuggled to its target. But the nuclear forensic work is far from straightforward. Scientists at the International Atomic Energy Agency have found it difficult to identify the source of highly enriched uranium found by inspectors in Iran.