Countering Terrorism with Computers


IN an increasingly complex post-Cold War world, the challenge of countering terrorism against the public and military stands side by side with the need to maintain the security of thousands of nuclear weapons and fissile material parts. To meet this challenge, Lawrence Livermore and other national security laboratories are relying more and more on their computational power. Just as our nuclear weapon designers have turned increasingly to computers to ensure the safety and reliability of the nuclear stockpile, so our experts in nonproliferation and arms control are investing in computer simulation to respond to crises. Moreover, as described in the article on conflict simulation beginning on p. 4 of this issue of Science & Technology Review, they are able to respond before the crises happen, thus creating a better chance of prevention.
In fact, Livermore's Conflict Simulation Laboratory is developing a computer simulation to address an extremely important preventable crisis related to stockpile security-a program to help prevent the theft of nuclear weapons from U.S. or foreign stockpiles. Detailed simulations are being used to train security forces to deal with potential terrorist attacks.
A key advantage of computer simulations is that they provide "mini-exercises." Because they do not involve the time-consuming and cumbersome deployment of troops and equipment in the field, they are a cost-effective way to assess a wide range of "what-if" scenarios. They can provide realism and, if necessary, allow a scenario to be dissected and then rerun quickly to assess how different assumptions would affect the result.
In dealing with nonproliferation and arms control for over 25 years, the Laboratory has assembled in the Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and International Security (NAI) Directorate a broad range of programs to analyze intelligence information, respond to emergencies, design sensors to monitor treaties, support international negotiations, and evaluate weapon effects. These endeavors are all benefiting from the computer revolution. Intelligence analysts are challenged to digest huge amounts of information to find the elusive combination of evidence that would indicate a secret nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons project somewhere in the world. Emergency response experts have a similar data-sifting challenge in working with law enforcement authorities to separate real weapon-blackmail messages from hoaxes. In designing instruments to monitor suspect facilities and to detect intruders at weapon storage sites, our sensor designers are developing information systems with local processing to interpret simultaneous signals from nuclear, optical, magnetic, chemical, motion, and other sources; the system sends the analyses to a home base through global communication networks. And, as described in this issue's feature article, computer simulation of a battlefield requires numerous types of military equipment and soldiers in real-world deployments with dozens of characteristics such as location, speed, and fighting capabilities, as well as quantifying how each element degrades during the course of the battle.
Almost all of the Laboratory's directorates are involved in responding to the nation's new and highly complex nonproliferation and arms control challenges-countering both nuclear smuggling and nuclear, biological, and chemical weapon terrorism, while promoting international cooperation in protecting nuclear material. To perform these tasks in the future, Laboratory organizations will become increasingly reliant on our growing computational power and expertise. In particular, NAI will rely on increasingly powerful and sophisticated computerized conflict and crisis simulations to prevent weapons proliferation and terrorism before they happen and to counter them when they do.

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