Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

The Doomsday ‘He Said, She Said’: Recently Declassified Recommendations from DNI Nuclear Attribution Gaming

Devin Ellis of the ICONS Project has contributed this piece to PAXsims.

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My professional focus is on using simulation and gaming to support policy planning and crisis management. Obviously a lot of work is done internally in the US government on these issues, but it rarely reaches public view when it concerns national security. So I was doubly excited this week when a 2009 study report from the DNI’s SHARP (Summer Hard Problems) program was declassified: both because of the opportunity to share and discuss it, and because of the quality of the work. (The document, Transforming Nuclear Attribution: Culture, Community, and Change, was released as part of a FOIA request to the inimitable Steven Aftergood at the FAS Project on Government Secrecy).

The document is a collections of articles with findings and recommendations based on a SHARP exercise described as follows:

A group of 50 experts from the government and private sector met in Tempe, Arizona in August 2009 to study the topic of nuclear attribution… Participants included intelligence analysts, members of law enforcement, scientists, academics, and subject matter experts in national security policy, proliferation, terrorism, law, crime, behavioral psychology, and other specialties… The study focused on communication challenges confronting three distinct communities involved in preparing nuclear attribution assessments for executive branch leadership… technical nuclear forensics (TNF), law enforcement (LE) and Non-Title 50 organizations, and the Intelligence Community (IC)… At SHARP the participants role-played several nuclear attribution scenarios while immersed in microcosms that combined law enforcement, intelligence and technical communities… the participants were tasked with creating their best all-source attribution assessments. These experiences of identifying, developing, working with best practices for attribution in the SHARP microcosm enabled the participants to scale up their findings to assist in maximizing success of deploying a new national attribution capability.

Now, what the ‘capability’ is… is still redacted. As is about half the report. But it’s worth a read to anyone who is interested in how much a little honest gaming of sticky, inter-agency, inter-disciplinary problems can contribute to a way forward. I won’t spoil all the insights from the papers – there’s some old and some new – but I’ll point out a few things I like about the study:

  1. It’s a genuine attempt to address a hard problem: Read the introductory material alone and you will see how honestly the group grappled with the cross-community and technical problems in this thorny issue. Also, the assessments of weaknesses are honest and based on both experience gained through careers and the scenarios.
  1. They draw the connection to similar problems which have nothing to do with nuclear security. “The findings of this SHARP are applicable to any operation where disparate communities must work together to be successful in solving difficult complex tasks” is repeated throughout the document (I also happen to think it rings true).
  1. APPENDIX C: DYNAMIC ANALYSIS PROCESS, p. 138, is not only a great description of a mission-tailored BOGSAT routine for the IC, it’s also a decent two-page guide on how to do scenario planning for anyone, anywhere.
  1. If you’re going to do it, do it right! Tempe? The average temperature in Tempe, AZ in August is 103 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, it’s both inconvenient to the downtown Phoenix area AND the natural beauty of the countryside. Those factors help keep your experts focused on the exercise, not the tourism. And, the SHARP program was a month long. That’s right – a month…
  1. The oxford comma. They are all for it: Culture, Community, and Change.

In all seriousness though, just check out the report.

Devin Ellis 

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