We’ve seen them in the movies, but now we can read the real-life history of America’s nuclear warriors, the Nuclear Emergency Search Team, known as NEST. The story of NEST, which would protect the U.S. in the case of an attempt at nuclear extortion or terrorism, is told in declassified documents published Tuesday.
The 69 documents, released under the federal Freedom of Information Act, were published by the National Security Archive, a respected research organization at George Washington University. (More about the National Security Archive.)
They tell the story of MIGHTY DERRINGER, a training exercise in 1986 in which NEST attempted to find a nuclear device smuggled into Indianapolis. In the training scenario, the device was detonated, destroying 20 blocks of downtown Indianapolis.
The archive said the documents “offer the first detailed public look at the inner workings of the agencies, military units and other U.S. entities responsible for protecting the country from a terrorist nuclear attack.”
And they reveal problems that can arise in coordinating the many organizations that would respond to such an attack: problems of bomb detection, interagency coordination, containment of contamination and general “confusion.”
“While the MIGHTY DERRINGER exercise and resulting documents are over two decades old,” the archive said, “the institutions participating in the exercise retain their roles today, and the issues confronting them in 1986 are similar to the ones that they would face in responding to a nuclear threat in 2012 (and beyond).”