US panel presents sobering report on WMD threat
Wed Dec 3, 9:46 am ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) – The authors of a report warning that a nuclear or biological attack is likely within five years present their sobering findings on Wednesday to vice-president-elect Joseph Biden.
The bipartisan commission will also brief President George W. Bush on their report, which accuses his administration of failing to treat possible biological attacks with the same priority as the spread of nuclear weapons.
The report, "World at Risk," calls for decisive global action to address the threat, has been prepared by the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism.
It urges the creation of a new post in the White House that would focus solely on overseeing government efforts to prevent an attack with weapons of mass destruction.
President-elect Barack Obama will likely carry out that recommendation, the Boston Globe reported on Wednesday, citing three unnamed advisers to the next president.
"I think it is a good idea and will probably happen" soon after Obama takes over on January 20, one adviser told the paper.
The commission, which includes several Democrats who have advised Obama's team, was to brief both Biden and Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, who Obama has named as the next homeland security secretary.
The report says terrorists are likely to stage a nuclear or biological weapons attack somewhere in the world in the next five years. And it singles out Pakistan as the weakest link in world security.
Without urgent action, "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," the commission said.
"America's margin of safety is shrinking," it said.
The report's alarming conclusions met a skeptical response from some security experts. They have argued that terrorists were still more likely to use low-tech means, such as the assailants armed with AK-47 assault rifles in last week's bloody rampage in Mumbai.
Representative Jane Harman, the Democrat heading the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence and Terrorism Risk Assessment, also played down the warnings. "It's time to retire the fear card," she said in a statement.
"We need to educate and inform the American people, not terrify them with alarming details about possible threats to the homeland ... Congress has in fact done a great deal to minimize and mitigate WMD threats."
The commission has identified the main dangers as the rapid spread of nuclear technology in countries such as Pakistan and Iran; and poor security in biotech industries worldwide.
Although Pakistan is a close US ally, its inability to control swaths of territory, violent political instability, and a nuclear standoff with neighboring India make the Islamic nation the greatest risk, it argued.
"Were one to map terrorism and weapons of mass destruction today, all roads would intersect in Pakistan," the report said.
"There is a grave danger it could also be an unwitting source of a terrorist attack on the United States, possibly with weapons of mass destruction," the report added.
Asked by CNN television to respond to the report, the country's president, Asif Ali Zardari, appeared to acknowledge that Pakistan served as a base for terrorist groups.
It was a situation "which we have inherited," Zardari told CNN in an interview aired Tuesday.
"It's a part of the Afghan problem, part of the war in Afghanistan, part of the war in our northern regions. That is an issue that needs more attention. And I'm hoping that the new administration coming in will work with us to look into it for a regional solution," Zardari said.
The commission said terrorists were more likely to be able to obtain biological than nuclear weapons, with anthrax a particular danger. It warned that threats are "evolving faster than our multi-layered response."
In an interview with Newsweek magazine, former senator Bob Graham, co-chair of the commission, said he was surprised by the scale of the threats associated with biological weapons.
"When you think weapons of mass destruction, you tend to think mushroom cloud. But the ubiquitous nature of pathogens and the increasing lethality of both natural and synthetic pathogens led our commission to conclude it's more likely that an attack will come biologically rather than nuclear."
Despite the report's criticisms of US policies, the White House welcomed what it said was proof of Bush's strong security record.
"Under President Bush's leadership, extensive progress has been made on securing the world's weapons of mass destruction and protecting our citizens from a WMD attack," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.
The commission was led by Graham, a Democrat, and former congressman James Talent, a Republican.
The commission was tasked by Congress in 2007 as part of the security response to the hijacked airliner attacks of September 11, 2001 against New York and the Pentagon.http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20081203/wl_asia_afp/usattackswmdpakistan_081203144605;_ylt=Ahgncbr.CIjQXIe97pD3pUwb.3QA
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