Activists say WMD threat to the U.S. remains real

Jan. 26, 2010 at 8:18 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 26 (UPI) -- The Obama administration has come under renewed pressure from congressional activists who say more should be done to eliminate or minimize exposure to weapons of mass destruction.

The latest accusations come in a "report card" from former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., and former Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., chair and vice chair of the bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism.

The activists cited instances where, they said, the U.S. government has not taken the necessary steps to protect the country from the threats posed by WMD and terrorism.

"Each of the last three administrations has been slow to recognize and respond to the biothreat. But we no longer have the luxury of a slow learning curve, when we know al-Qaida is interested in bioweapons," the former senators said in a statement publicized by the commission.

Warnings calling for a greater readiness for bioterrorism, cybercrime and cyberterrorism have come also from security industries promoting new contracts for their products and services. The companies, however, have been careful not to criticize either Congress or administration while pushing their products.

Of 17 grades, the report card includes three failing "F" grades on rapid and effective response to bioterrorism congressional oversight of homeland security and intelligence and national security workforce recruitment.

"Fortunately, all three grades could be substantially improved by committed leadership in Congress and the administration," Graham and Talent said.

There was no immediate reaction to the claims. The Obama administration in October took the initiative to raise public awareness of cybercrime and potential links with terrorism. Various administration officials have commented frequently on dangers posed by crudely put together or sophisticated weapons of mass destruction.

Graham said, "Nearly a decade after Sept. 11, 2001, one year after our original report, and one month after the Christmas Day bombing attempt, the United States is failing to address several urgent threats, especially bioterrorism."

Talent said, "We are also enormously frustrated about the failure of Congress to reform homeland security oversight."

He said, "The Department can't do its job, if it is responding to more than 80 congressional committees and subcommittees. This fragmentation guarantees that much of what Congress does is duplicative and disjointed."

The report card also includes "A" grades for achieving specific actions related to a review of domestic programs to secure dangerous pathogens, for finalizing and approving an "interagency bioforensics strategy," and for conducting recommended reorganization inside the National Security Council.

In December 2008 the commission released its World at Risk report with a unanimous threat assessment: Unless the world community acts decisively and with great urgency, it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013.

"That weapon is more likely to be biological than nuclear," they said.

Independent analysts cited problems with any progress on the commission's expectation of a unanimous threat assessment, citing difficulties experienced while seeking agreements to counteract climate change at the Copenhagen summit.

The Commission identified a series of recommendations and specific actions that Congress and the administration should take to "change the trajectory of risk." The report card evaluates steps taken to implement the recommendations and to protect the United States from the threats of WMD proliferation and terrorism.

The threat assessment was based on multiple factors, said the statement.

"There is direct evidence that terrorists are trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction and acquiring WMD fits the tactical profile of terrorists. Terrorists also have global reach and the organizational sophistication to obtain and use WMD.

"Finally, the opportunity to acquire and use such weapons is growing exponentially because of the global proliferation of nuclear material and biological technologies," Graham and Talent said.

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