Public Intelligence has received a request from FEMA to remove a “For Official Use Only” document regarding the National Level Exercise 2010 (NLE 10), which was scheduled for this coming May. The exercise was to be based on National Planning Scenario 1 which simulates a nuclear detonation in a U.S. city. However, recent political pressure has led to the exercise being “scaled back” according to the Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor and a variety of other publications. At the behest of Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), the exercise’s Nevada events have reportedly been canceled and the FEMA website now shows no mention of NLE 10.
On top of this, the Obama administration has recently been emphasizing the threat of a domestic nuclear attack. President Obama’s remarks at the Nuclear Security Summit on April 13, 2010 emphasize that the threat of terrorists using nuclear weapons inside of major metropolitan cities is one of the “greatest threats” that the world faces:
Two decades after the end of the Cold War, we face a cruel irony of history — the risk of a nuclear confrontation between nations has gone down, but the risk of nuclear attack has gone up.
Nuclear materials that could be sold or stolen and fashioned into a nuclear weapon exist in dozens of nations. Just the smallest amount of plutonium — about the size of an apple — could kill and injure hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Terrorist networks such as al Qaeda have tried to acquire the material for a nuclear weapon, and if they ever succeeded, they would surely use it. Were they to do so, it would be a catastrophe for the world — causing extraordinary loss of life, and striking a major blow to global peace and stability.
In short, it is increasingly clear that the danger of nuclear terrorism is one of the greatest threats to global security — to our collective security.
NLE 10 concerned itself with exactly this scenario: the detonation of a nuclear device inside of a U.S. city. Las Vegas was to be the epicenter of this hypothetical attack and, if the exercise utilized the same circumstances as National Planning Scenario 1, it would have involved “hundreds of thousands” of casualties, more than 300,000 refugees and ultimately more than 1 million displaced persons.
The unpopularity of such a scenario, regardless of its security benefits, is obvious. What is strange is the attempt that is now being made by FEMA to eliminate references to the exercises and remove from circulation a document that has played an important role in drawing attention to the exercise. As the state of NLE 10 is unclear at the moment, it is difficult to say whether the request is truly motivated by security or whether there is a more dubious intention.