Ministers are secretly establishing an "Armageddon agency" to respond to devastating terrorist attacks on Britain, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.
Neither Parliament nor the public have been told how far the Government has gone to put the service - which will deal with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks - into operation over the course of 2004.
The body, called the Government Decontamination and Recovery Service, is such a sensitive topic even within Whitehall that it is deliberately known only by its initials - GDRS. Even then it is hardly mentioned, even in official documents.
It is based in Margaret Beckett's Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and, according to a top official, it has been ready to respond to an attack since last April. It has appointed specialist contractors to tackle incidents, has a senior Defra civil servant directing it, and at present has a core staff of about 15 officials.