National Nuclear Security Administration

NNSA expert counsels grad students on counterterrorism

March 21, 2019

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George Washington University graduate students Wardah Amir, left, and Mah-Noor Ahmed, right, with Program Manager Mark Scheuer at NNSA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
George Washington University graduate students Wardah Amir, left, and Mah-Noor Ahmed, right, with Program Manager Mark Scheuer at NNSA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Mark Scheuer explains the various roles of NNSA’s Office of Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation.
Mark Scheuer explains the various roles of NNSA’s Office of Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation.

When graduate students from George Washington University contacted NNSA asking for help with their capstone project, an expert from NNSA’s Office of Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation happily raised his hand.

Mark Scheuer, Nuclear Incident Response Policy Program Manager, met with the students, Wardah Amir and Mah-Noor Ahmed at NNSA’s Washington, D.C. headquarters to discuss the project – an emergency exercise scenario/simulation. Amir happens to be joining the NNSA Graduate Fellowship Program this summer.

“Our office is actively looking for opportunities to build our community and recruit future leaders of the Nuclear Security Enterprise,” said Scheuer, whose office has already supported two other such overview briefs this year.

Our office is actively looking for opportunities to build our community and recruit future leaders of the Nuclear Security Enterprise

Mark Scheuer
Nuclear Incident Response Policy Program Manager

The simulation capstone project is designed to enable legislators to make informed policy decisions about nuclear security. It is expected that eight to 12 senior Congressional staffers will participate. Linton Brooks, a former NNSA Administrator, and Cory Hinderstein, previously in NNSA’s Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, will lead it.

“The simulation is divided into phases. The first phase is that nuclear material has been stolen from a country and we need to figure out where it is and the second phase is that we know where it is and need to figure out how the U.S. should retrieve it,” Ahmed said.

Scheuer explained the various contributions NNSA would make in an emergency scenario like the one described.

“The Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation is responsible for domestic and international material security cooperation. DNN has also worked cooperatively to install portal monitors with international partners over the world. If lost or stolen materials are detected, NNSA doesn’t conduct interdiction – that’s law enforcement’s responsibility – but we work side-by-side. They rely on us for technical expertise,” Scheuer said.

Scheuer also mentioned the responsibility of the FBI to respond to the discovery of an improvised nuclear device domestically and the Department of Defense’s responsibility overseas, and that NNSA provides the technical support to both organizations’ response assets.

George Washington University graduate student Mah-Noor Ahmed, right, asks Mark Scheuer a question as fellow student Wardah Amir takes notes.
George Washington University graduate student Mah-Noor Ahmed, right, asks Mark Scheuer a question as fellow student Wardah Amir takes notes.

Because the exercise scenario could include detonation of a nuclear device, Scheuer discussed NNSA’s response capabilities:

“We have the foremost authorities on nuclear consequence management in the world that would survey the affected area to help the local community, the federal government, and state responders determine how best to preserve life and property,” he said. “And finally, there’s the forensics and attribution. There are signatures that you can track when it comes to the use of these materials. NNSA has the primary responsibility in the U.S. government for conducting the nuclear forensics after a detonation to help determine the perpetrators.”

He also provided ideas for possible “injects” or curveballs that can be announced while the exercise is underway to compel participants into adapting to shifting circumstances. He advised the students on the importance of using appropriate terminology – emphasizing that for the scenario, they would want to use them terms ‘weapons-usable material’ or ‘special nuclear material’ to signal the severity of the event in the proposed scenario.

For more information about NNSA’s counterterrorism mission, visit our website.