Where is India’s NEST?

India needs a Nuclear Emergency Source Team or NEST like the US.

United States created something called the NEST — Nuclear Emergency Search (later: Source) Team — in 1974, after receiving a hoax call of a nuclear threat. It is responsible for the “search and identification of lost or stolen nuclear weapons and special nuclear materials, bomb threats, and radiation dispersal threats.”

“In May 1974, the U.S. government received its first serious nuclear threat,” recalls author Jeffrey T. Richelson.  “A letter demanding that $200,00 be left at a particular location arrived at the FBI. Failure to comply, it claimed, would result in the [detonation] of a nuclear bomb somewhere in Boston.”

The history of that organization is unveiled by Richelson in his new book “Defusing Armageddon: Inside NEST, America’s Secret Nuclear Bomb Squad” (W.W. Norton, January 2009).

The uncertain potential for nuclear terrorism in the post-9/11 era, including the possibility of deliberate dispersal of radioactive material in a “dirty bomb,” poses increased challenges to NEST’s capacity to quickly detect and respond to such events.

“But like many forms of insurance or protection that may never be needed or may not protect against all threats, NEST is a capability that, had it not been established in 1974, would have been considered essential to create in 2001,” Richelson concludes.[Secrecy News]

The importance of having a NEST is for many reasons: to defuse the nuclear device, to detect the source of the attack, to craft a suitable national response if the attack happens and most importantly, to act as a deterrent with the heavy retaliation that will ensue on the country providing the nukes to the terrorists.

This is important, Richelson argues, because U.S. officials believe the most likely nuclear attack would involve an established nuclear power providing either a nuclear device or components to a terrorist group. Finding out which nuclear power provided these items to the terrorists would be key in crafting an appropriate U.S. response.

Earlier this month, a congressionally mandated task force reported that terrorists are likely to strike a major city with weapons of mass destruction by 2013. It added: “In our judgment, America’s margin of safety is shrinking, not growing.”

Richelson says U.S. officials want prospective terrorists — and the nuclear scientists who may be tempted to help them — to understand U.S. capabilities. Denying them the certainty that they can attack without consequences, U.S. officials feel, is critical to preventing an attack.[MSNBC]

India is threatened by a nuclear strike not merely from some rogue terrorists but from a neighbouring country itself. That neighbouring country is failing and India has to be prepared beforehand to control the fallouts of a failed nuclear-armed neighbour combined with jehadi terrorism and an anti-India philosophy. India, as per all publicly available information, does not have anything similar to the NEST yet. India does have an agency tasked to do something similar — National Disaster Management Authority. Its website has a link to Nuclear Disasters under Man-made disasters. Not very surprisingly, the link leads to a page which states:

Page Under Construction

It needed a terror attack stretching over 60 hours in Mumbai to start the reform process of the internal security system in this country. It would be a stupid or overconfident terrorist who will use the same methodology again as employed in Mumbai. Spectacular terror strikes from 9-11 to 26-11 have been Black Swan events and an alert nation has to be ahead of the curve in this battle of wits against the terrorists. While it is nice to plug the holes on our coastal security, it is equally important to eliminate other probable methodologies that the terrorists or their masters may surprise India with.

India doesn’t need an Armageddon strike before contemplating the creation of its own NEST. Can we be proactive, rather than being reactive, for a change?

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10 Responses to Where is India’s NEST?

  1. Sanjay January 13, 2009 at 12:01 pm #

    India now needs a NEST, because after years of ostrich-like behavior towards its nuclear neighbors, the chickens are now coming home to ROOST.

  2. Raja January 13, 2009 at 12:34 pm #

    Re ‘Black Swan’.
    I see that you have read Nassim Nicholas Taleb!

  3. Pragmatic January 13, 2009 at 3:32 pm #

    @Raja:

    John Stuart Mill spoke about Black Swans much before Taleb, Sir.

  4. PS January 13, 2009 at 7:59 pm #

    @pragmatic

    “That neighbouring country is failing and India has to be prepared beforehand to control the fallouts of a failed nuclear-armed neighbour combined with jehadi terrorism and an anti-India philosophy.”

    If we also think outside the nest please:

    1. Build 786 times the nukes the Pakis have. With the hope that
    the Chinese don’t supply them an equivalent number with Saudi
    Finance plus the permanent Pentagon-PArmy mobius.

    2. Bleed them with a 1000 Naval and Border lances. Think of the
    strike Admiral Nanda did in 1971 ?

  5. Keshav January 14, 2009 at 1:56 am #

    The last quote doesn’t show up, PE.

    • Pragmatic January 14, 2009 at 11:48 am #

      @Keshav:

      Can’t see it in spam either. Please leave the comment again if it is not a huge inconvenience.

  6. Brig Arun Sahgal January 14, 2009 at 3:06 pm #

    NEST stands for nuclear emergency search teams. In so far as relevent issues raised are concerned, it may be of interest to note that pakistan has refused to allow americ to install PAL’s on their nukes because of the possiblity that in an nuclear emergency situation they will be able to change the settings and hence follow what is called a three man rule.
    In so far India is concerned I am sure we have in concept an equivalent of NEST, how effective and against what emergency that will remain unfortunately in our case a matter of speculation till we are faced with internal emergency.
    All I can say is that in a Pugwash Society lecture delivered at the IDSA, the Chairman AEC commented and showed an elaborate system to check any abnormal increase in radioactivity through strategically located sensors in all important locations and towns and a response mechanism which is in place. Threat from RDD two was downplayed.

  7. Pragmatic January 14, 2009 at 3:29 pm #

    @Arun:

    Thanks. It is great to hear that we have a public equivalent of NEST in our country as well. The opinion will always be divided on whether we should make such an instrument public or not. On the one hand, publicly known existence of such an instrument might itself act as a deterrent for a jehadi nuke. On the other, it might allow the jehadis to design the attack to bypass known capability of an Indian NEST.

    I am however surprised that AEC is handling this in our country. I hope it goes beyond mere detection to neutralisation and disposal. That’d be more reassuring.

  8. Keshav January 15, 2009 at 2:25 am #

    Maybe I’m a little slow and didn’t get the joke, but is the third quoted piece in your article supposed to read “Page Under Construction”?

  9. Pragmatic January 15, 2009 at 3:40 pm #

    @Keshav #9:

    Yes. The weblink says so.

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