The National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center (NTNFC) was established October 1, 2006 within the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO). The NTNFC has two primary missions identified by Presidential Directive and affirmed in the Nuclear Forensics and Attribution Act (PL111-140) which President Obama signed into law on February 16, 2010.
The first provides centralized planning, integration, assessment and stewardship of the nation’s nuclear forensics capabilities to ensure a ready, robust and enduring capability in coordination with the federal departments and agencies who have assigned responsibilities for NTNF. These include the Department of Justice (DOJ)/Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who is the lead federal agency responsible for the criminal investigation of terrorist events and the nuclear forensic investigation of a planned or actual attack; the Departments of Defense (DoD), Energy (DOE), State (DOS), Office of the Director of National Intelligence, (ODNI) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The NTNFC’s second mission is to advance the capability to perform nuclear forensics on nuclear and radiological materials in a pre-detonation (intact) state. To fulfill this latter mission, the U.S. government relies upon the preeminent expertise residing in eight DOE National Laboratories and two standards development laboratories.
Definition and Role of Nuclear Forensics
Nuclear forensics is the thorough collection, analysis and evaluation of radiological and nuclear material in a pre-detonation state and post-detonation radiological or nuclear materials, devices and debris, as well as the immediate effects created by a nuclear detonation. Nuclear forensics conclusions, fused with law enforcement and intelligence information, may support nuclear attribution – the identification of those responsible for planned and actual attacks. A nuclear attribution capability is necessitated by the proliferation of nuclear technology, materials, and the existence of nations and terrorist groups who may attempt to intimidate or defeat the United States and its allies through the coercive or actual use of nuclear or radiological weapons.
Nuclear forensics may support attribution efforts that serve to bolster U.S. defenses against nuclear threats, across a wide spectrum, by:
- encouraging nations to ensure the security of their nuclear and radiological materials or weapons to help prevent unwitting transfers to third parties through loss of control
- helping to trace the source of illicit materials and identify smuggling networks
- deterring nations from providing nuclear weapons or materials to terrorists
- disrupting terrorist plans in the incipient stages
- informing appropriate national and international decisions should a plot be uncovered or an attack occur
- assisting efforts to disrupt subsequent attacks
- helping to bring perpetrators and their accomplices to justice
Through its contribution to attribution, nuclear forensics helps implement the U.S. government commitment to hold fully accountable any state, terrorist group, or other non-state actor that supports or enables terrorist efforts to obtain or use weapons of mass destruction, whether by facilitating, financing, or providing expertise or safe haven for such efforts.
- Foster and sustain a fully integrated USG Technical Nuclear Forensics program through joint planning, exercises and assessments.
- Develop and sustain a pre-detonation Nuclear Forensics concept of operations and associated technical capabilities in order to handle and analyze interdicted nuclear and radiological materials.
- Ensure a robust and enduring technical nuclear forensics workforce and pipeline.
NTNFC is composed of federal employees, contract support personnel, and specialized detailees and liaisons from various partner agencies.