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[infowar.de] Pentagon distributes software for modeling effects of attacks
November 27, 2002
Pentagon distributes software for modeling effects of attacks
By Bryan Bender, Global Security Newswire
The Defense Department has licensed to a few select nongovernmental
organizations previously unavailable software that can model the effects
of releases of nuclear, chemical, biological or radiological weapons and
The Heritage Foundation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Stanford
University and other institutions have recently gained access to the
computer modeling programs. The goal is to educate political leaders and
the public about the potential consequences of weapons of mass
destruction whether they are used by terrorists or by a state in
conflict with the United States. Furthermore, defense officials have
said that they benefit from the independent analysis by nongovernmental
The modeling programs-the Hazard Prediction and Assessment Capability
(HPAC) and the Consequences Assessment Tool Set (CATS)-are both capable
of calculating the outcome of thousands of possible scenarios involving
a variety of weapons and materials. The models can determine the human
medical effects, toxicity levels, contaminated areas, population
exposure, hazard areas and casualties should WMD materials be unleashed
in an attack or dispersed in a military strike or by accident.
Both programs were developed under the auspices of the Defense Threat
Reduction Agency after the 1991 Gulf War, in which "predictions of the
collateral effects of potential weapons of mass destruction use were
inefficient and untimely," according to the agency.
HPAC and CATS can predict the dispersal and effects of nuclear,
biological, chemical and radiological hazards. The sophistication of the
predictions is derived in part from the software's ability to consider
different levels of purity for a variety of deadly materials. For
example, a WMD agent can be modeled as having 0.001 percent purity up to
100 percent purity-for materials ranging from VX nerve gas to anthrax.
HPAC "provides the means to accurately predict the effects of hazardous
material releases into the atmosphere and its impact on civilian and
military populations," according to DTRA. "It models nuclear,
biological, chemical, radiological and high explosive collateral effects
resulting from the conventional weapon strikes against enemy weapons of
mass destruction production and storage facilities."
"The HPAC system also predicts downwind hazard areas resulting from a
nuclear weapon strike or reactor accident and has the capability to
model nuclear, chemical and biological weapon strikes or accidental
releases," the agency states in a project summary. HPAC can also predict
missile intercepts and the consequences for the people and environment
near the interception point.
The simulations rely on historical weather data, forecast weather,
current observations and particle transport predictions, according to a
recent briefing by Navy Cmdr. Julia Spinelli, HPAC meteorologist at
DTRA. She cautioned, however, that "prediction uncertainty" remains no
matter how accurate the data used by the software.
CATS, meanwhile, is tailored for scenarios in North America. It
"assesses the consequences of technological and natural disasters to
population, resources and infrastructure," according to Science
Applications International Corp., which designed the system for DTRA.
Officials who know about the software have said CATS more commonly
predicts domestic terror threats such as environmental damage from WMD
materials released near U.S. borders or a chemical or nuclear plant
attacked by terrorists.
An Educational Tool
As the military has distributed the programs to military bases around
the world as well as to local and state law enforcement, emergency
response, environmental and other relevant agencies, it has decided that
the academic community would also benefit.
"HPAC is available by license from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency
to the U.S. government, government contractors and educational
institutions for noncommercial research," according to DTRA's Web site.
"Approval will be granted on a case by case basis," the site says.
Officials said a government sponsor is required for an organization to
receive the software models-the U.S. Senate sponsored Heritage-which
include not only the software, but also a computer link into the DTRA
network, which provides much of the modeling data.
"I ask 'what are you going to do with this, why do you need this and we
go from there," Lt. Col. Todd Hann, HPAC program manager at DTRA, told
Global Security Newswire. "We scrutinize it," he said, adding that the
government is selective about releasing the software because of its
sensitivity and the government's desire to benefit from the academic
A primary rationale for releasing it to academic institutions is for
educational purposes, by expanding the public policy debate over the
threat of weapons of mass destruction through the introduction of more
science-while also demystifying the subject for some.
"Education is a big part of it," said Dexter Ingram, threat assessment
specialist at the Heritage Foundation and a former naval flight officer
who prepared nuclear contingency plans. "It is easy for people to be
scared and not want to go to populated events. We want to make the sure
the terrorists aren't winning and people are educated about the threat."
One example, Ingram said, of where the modeling tools have proven
helpful is to infuse realism into the debate over radiological dispersal
devices, or dirty bombs. Heritage has briefed lawmakers and others on
the dirty bomb threat, concluding that in most scenarios the damage
inflicted would be minimal, he said.
"So it's not all doom and gloom," Ingram said. "We're not looking to
scare people," but to provide them with more of the facts, he added.
The HPAC code is "used for doing independent study of incidents in which
a decision maker will need to know some information to make an educated
decision," Hann said.
At the same time, he added that "we usually we get something back from
[releasing it]. We benefit from some of the analysis."
The software has its roots in the Gulf War, where the threat of chemical
and biological weapons-as well as the environmental hazard posed by oil
fires-were much on the minds of U.S. military planners. According to
DTRA, "Operation Desert Storm illustrated the need for an automated
hazard prediction tool."
The HPAC software has been widely used by the military in the subsequent
decade, at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, the 2001 presidential
inauguration, the 1997 Group of Eight Summit and in the aftermath of the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
It is currently being used to model a possible war with Iraq and the
likely dire consequences if weapons of mass destruction were used in the
Matthew McKinzie, a physicist with the Natural Resources Defense
Council, has used HPAC to model the effects of chemical-filled Iraqi
artillery shells being fired on advancing U.S. troops.
In the course of a U.S. bombardment of suspected Iraqi biological
weapons facilities, he has simulated the release of biological agents
into the atmosphere. Depending on the location of the facility and the
weather pattern, such a release could lead to numerous civilian
casualties, he found.
Meanwhile, he concluded that there is a looming risk that Israel could
retaliate with nuclear weapons if attacked by Iraq with a weapon of mass
Ingram has used HPAC to predict that if a 450-kilogram missile tipped
with VX nerve gas were launched by Iraq at Tel Aviv under normal
conditions, it would kill 43,000 people and injure 38,000. He also found
that if an Iraqi al-Hussein missile was intercepted by Israel it would
probably fall on the territory of Jordan.
As for other scenarios, Ingram said HPAC has been used to model the
potential consequences of a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan.
Most of the fallout comes back over India.
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