18 June 2002
Feeding the Media's Appetite for Destruction
The Washington Post
By Richard Morin and Claudia Deane
Tuesday, June 18, 2002; Page A17
For the past month, Heritage Foundation computer expert Dexter Ingram has been using a Department of Defense doomsday computer program to launch nuclear strikes against Pakistan, blow up Washington, lay waste to Norfolk, drop anthrax-inducing bombs near Detroit and El Paso and otherwise wreak theoretical havoc on cities and countries around the world.
What's more, he's waging these faux cyberwars at the urgent request of some of the biggest news organizations in the country. On a single day recently, CNN, ABC News, FOX and Time magazine were on the phone demanding that Ingram use his computer to decimate something, somewhere.
Ingram's war machine is the Consequences Assessment Tool Set (CATS). This sophisticated program was developed for the Department of Defense to model what would happen if, say, India launched a nuclear strike on Pakistan -- which was precisely the scenario that ABC's George Stephanopoulos asked Ingram to consider a few weeks ago.
What makes CATS unique is that it uses real-time data to make predictions. Ingram will enter the size of a nuclear device, the altitude at which the bomb detonates and the precise coordinates of ground zero. The computer then searches 150 Internet sites to collect other key data, such as the population in surrounding areas and important geographic features, as well as current wind and weather conditions. It then uses these data to produce an estimate of the damage that such a bomb would do right now.
Sometimes the results are surprising. When he ran the Stephanopoulos scenario through CATS, Ingram found that a nuclear strike by India likely would backfire -- literally. "Because of the prevailing easterly winds, all of the fallout is going to go to India. Nobody had looked at the weather," he said.
Heritage is the only think tank to acquire a copy of the closely held program, which also has been obtained by several law enforcement agencies, including the New York police counterterrorism squad.
"Anybody can request it, but you have to demonstrate a need for it," said Ingram, a former Navy aviator. "I told them I was working on homeland defense, working with people on the Hill, and they thought that was a positive thing."
Already CATS has been a positive thing for Heritage. The right-thinking think tank is working hard to win friends in the media, which Heritage thinks have tended to view it with suspicion if not outright hostility.
"When Stephanopoulos credited us on the air, he called us the 'Heritage Foundation' -- the first time ABC has called us anything other than the 'conservative Heritage Foundation,' " said tank spokesman James Weidman.