Al-Qaeda played no part in planning the July 28 attack. The conspirators were the leaders of a dozen state, local and federal agencies who were taking part in a simulated L.A. County security exercise code-named Operation Golden Phoenix. Their mission: to assure that if a terrorist does detonate a nuke in Los Angeles, first responders will be prepared to wade into the devastation and rescue survivors suffering from traumatic injuries, radiation sickness, shock and flash-blindness.
"This is a survivable event," says Brendan Applegate, of the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Asymmetric Warfare, who helped design and carry out the exercise. "L.A. isn't going to fall into the ocean and be gone forever. It will be a really bad day, but we need everyone to show up to work and save lives."
Operation Golden Phoenix offers a rare public glimpse of the government's behind-the-scenes effort to bolster national preparedness. Few places take the threat more seriously than Los Angeles and post-9/11 New York.