Saturday, February 28, 2009

UK's Patterson School Debriefs Simulation: Somali Pirate/Yellowcake Crisis Exercise

Thirty-eight student diplomats, nineteen grueling hours, and one super-heated international crisis: what might seem unsettling at first glance is nothing out of the ordinary on the University of Kentucky campus in Lexington.

The Patterson School of Diplomacy’s annual Policy Simulation started at about noon Friday, February 27 with a report of a Russian destroyer witnessing a pirate takeover and lasted until about noon Saturday, when the final debriefing wrapped.

Here's a video featuring some of the principals in the simulation.

During the 19-hour simulation, students, who were divided into teams representative of governmental organizations and international actors, grappled with the situation, deploying military, intelligence, diplomatic and nongovernmental assets into a sphere that included the Middle East, Africa, the United States and Russia.

In the face of a planned fictional crisis, students were instructed to handle the situation accordingly. A debriefing session, following the end of the crisis, gave students a chance to discuss and get feedback from professors.

As constructed by the Patterson School’s faculty, including “leading scholars and former senior officials from the worlds of diplomacy, commerce, and intelligence”, students were faced with a pirated Panamanian vessel that was, unbeknownst to several parties, carrying radioactive material to Iran.

Teams included United States government organizations, the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Puntland, and the United Nations. With different interests and consequences at stake, each organization independently made its way toward a solution by means of meetings, press releases, and planning exercises.

About 20 journalism and integrated strategic communication students from the university’s School of Journalism and Telecommunications acted as the press, creating multimedia reports in real time. Students actively reported and posted their findings, including video and audio clips, on the "INN" blog that served as a fictional competitor to CNN, FNC, and BBC. Further press involvement included reporting for and posting to an Arab-oriented blog known as "Gulf News Service."

Dr. Rob Farley of the Patterson School arranged the exercise and, with the school’s director, retired Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh, and other Patterson School faculty members, ran the simulation.

Students from JOU 330 (Web Publishing and Design), JOU 499 (Media Convergence) and JOU 304 (Broadcast News Decisionmaking) provided the media coverage, coordinated by Journalism Profs. Kakie Urch and Scoobie Ryan.

Patterson School students discussed the high points and flaws of their implementations under the guidance of Patterson School professors, some of whom served as team leaders, on Saturday morning after the event.

Hillary Clinton confirms yellowcake

What is "yellowcake"?

Yellowcake is milled uranium oxide, known to chemists as U3O8. It goes through a milling and chemical process to remove minerals and leave only uranium. At the end of that process what’s left is called yellowcake.

Yellowcake is far from enriched uranium, but it is a first step. The yellow powder, which also can have a grayish or reddish tint, must be converted into uranium hexafluoride, a chemical compound that has one atom of uranium and six atoms of fluorine. It can be a gas, liquid or solid. Once it is a gas, it easily can be enriched and used in weapons.

In recent years, yellowcake inventory and its possible international circulation between rogue countries and terrorist groups has been the focus of a great deal of controversy and concern. Yellowcake was at the center of the Valerie Plame case that focused attention on classified information leaks to the press and saw a New York Times journalist spend time in jail to protect her sources.


The ship seized by pirates off the coast of Somalia is known to be carrying the nuclear material commonly called “yellowcake.”

A message sent over open channels by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard leaked the information.

The message contained vital information saying there are nuclear materials on board the Panamanian Vessel MV Straat Malakka. The message between the Iranians and the Russians indicated that the two may have been collaborating to transport nuclear materials.

The Russian destroyer, according to its captain, had been following the pirated vessel as part of an international anti-piracy effort.

But the message between the Iranians and makes it appear as if the Russians knew of the nuclear cargo. “ We would like to remind you that you were providing an armed escort for a ship full of uranium,” the Islamic Revolutionary Guard wrote in its message addressed “you @#&%^$#* idiots. “

The message, which would have been intercepted by intelligence and military agencies across the region, is nearly certain to force the American vessels placed in the sphere by CentCom, the U.S. Middle Eastern military command, to seize the vessel.

This action, though not confirmed by CentCom, would be against usual U.S. policy on piracy in the region, where the U.S. does not have official diplomatic relations with many of the players, including Yemen and Somalia’s Puntland itself.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remained largely out of view during the crisis, though her office did confirm the cargo of yellowcake shortly after the message, received by INN reporters in nearby Eyl, went out.

The White House never issued a comment, nor did the NSA or the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Clinton announces news conference

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will hold a news conference to comment on the seizure of the Straat Malakka and the American efforts to track the pirated ship. INN reporter Kelsey Allen will be attending the conference.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Collision interrupts chase

There’s been a collision between the Russian destroyer that’s been following the pirated MV Straat Malakka and an Iranian destroyer Jamaran that has been trailing behind the Russian ship Pyotr Velikiy, according to Captain Stepan V. Verderevsky.

Verderevsky said the Iranian ship attempted to pass the Russian ship and Verderevsky then moved his ship into a blocking position.

Both ships are damaged and no longer following the Straat Malakka.

At last report the ships were approximately 65 miles off the Somalia coast, headed for the pirate haven of Eyl. Two U.S. destroyers, the USS San Antonio and the USS Mahan were confirmed to be working with the Russian ship to intercept the pirated Panamanian ship. There’s no word on whether the U.S. ships have been involved in the collision.

UPDATE: U.S. Navy ships, presence of UAV confirmed

U.S. Navy CentCom confirms the identities of two naval ships working with the Russian military to intercept the pirated vessel.  Vice Admiral William Frost said in the news conference that the USS San Antonio and the USS Mahan, along with the Russian vessel, are an estimated 60 miles from the coast of Eyl, Somalia.  Frost also confirmed that there is a UAV monitoring the situation.  

USS Mahan Courtesy of U.S. Navy


This is part of a foreign policy simulation for the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce. The events depicted are not actually happening.