Home Programs Past Programs Nuclear Defense Working Group

Nuclear Defense Working Group

Beginning in May 2007, the Center-sponsored Nuclear Defense Working Group (NDWG) hosted a series of meetings and working group sessions on the U.S. efforts to prevent and/or defend against clandestine nuclear attack, which poses one of the greatest threats to the security of the United States. Dr. Richard Wagner, former senior official at Los Alamos National Laboratory, chaired this group of experts in relevant technology, policy, and operational areas as they reviewed U.S. efforts in this area and to help bring about better congruence between those executive branch efforts and the oversight responsibility of the Congress. On November 12, 2008, the NDWG, with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), hosted the last of these working group sessions.

Project leadership produced a series of internal papers based on the conclusions of these discussions, focusing on long-term commitments to transformational R&D, reinvigoration of the national nuclear laboratories, and institutionalizing net assessment for the combating smuggled nuclear weapons mission. The Center's findings are being shared, as appropriate, with Congressional leaders and senior staff, as well as top decision-makers in the Executive Branch, through members of the NWDG and through the Center's project leadership.

The Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) agreed to cooperate with CSPC by providing the NDWG with a series of briefings on its investment and deployment strategies, technology development, performance metrics, and strategic communications. The NDWG charter is broad and may serve as a vehicle for improved understanding among the DNDO, other agencies, and Congress of what is needed in those efforts. Support for the NDWG is provided by a grant from a private foundation, thus assuring independence and an honest-broker status of the NDWG.

Related CSPC Efforts
Beginning in May 2004, the Center organized a series of off-the-record roundtables with senior leadership from the White House, the national labs, the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security, and the private sector to solve a bureaucratic impasse across the Executive Branch that was stalling a defense against our single greatest threat--smuggled nuclear weapons.

As part of these efforts, the Center formed its Nuclear Defense Steering Committee (NDSC), chaired by Norman Augustine, which developed recommendations to create a modern-day "mini Manhattan Project" to marshal the nation's efforts for defending against smuggled nuclear weapons. After consultations with the NDSC, in January 2005 then-Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Loy offered a proposal to the White House to establish a new Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO).

The NDSC uncovered critical shortcomings in the new proposal. To address these concerns and share recommendations with Executive Branch leadership, the NDSC met with Vice President Cheney and his staff at the White House in the early months of 2005. In a meeting with the Vice President, the NDSC raised specific concerns about the DNDO-such as whether it would move quickly enough and whether it would adequately integrate the capabilities of all of the departments and agencies needed for a global defense. The NDSC explained that without adequate freedom from bureaucratic layers, the DNDO would fail to achieve its goals. The Center also recommended to the Vice President and his staff that a national approach must be elevated above bureaucracies, ideally with explicit Presidential support. The Vice President suggested the Center submit a position paper outlining organizational recommendations to help strengthen DNDO.

On March 16, 2005, Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff issued an internal memorandum establishing the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office as a national effort. One month later, the President issued Homeland Security Presidential Directive 14 to create DNDO's authorities. The office-reporting to the Homeland Security Secretary-coordinates nuclear detection R&D, develops deployment strategies, and spearheads next-generation technologies to defend against the smuggled nuclear threat with a fiscal year 2008 budget of approximately $500 million.


Staff Contact
For more information, please contact Alex Douville, Dean of the Presidential Fellows Program and Director of Education Projects, via This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or at 202-872-9800.