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12/06/2005

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J.

I'm going to try to expound on the whole "domestic terrorist WMD incident" thing in the near future. I've seen a recap of a recent (this year) Defense Science Board report on the issue of US vulnerability to terrorist WMD, and they pretty much agree that our state of readiness is not good and we could do better. I think the real challenge is that people don't appreciate the political and economic side of this issue. To really improve the grade on terrorist WMD to an "A", it would require an unprecedented civil defense-type effort to improve intel capabilities, lock down all the loose WMD material and hazardous material sources in industry, pump up the local emergency responders' capabilities, network our medical surveillance effort, and (perhaps most importantly) educate the public. Again, if the goal is to protect the US citizens in every city (because you never know where or when terrorists will hit), it will cost tens of billions of dollars every year.

Now the parallel is the civil defense effort in the 1970s. Interestingly enough, while Congress was very willing to pay for anti-aircraft missiles and interceptors, ICBMs, bombers, and submarines with nukes, they consistently underfunded and/or denied funding for a national shelter system that (had nuclear war occurred) would have saved millions from certain death. The RAND studies proved it, but Congress believed more in the "strongest defense is a good offense" mantra. As a result, the best that could be hoped for was a civil defense warning system and designated shelter areas in existing public buildings.

The same thing is occuring today. Congress will support fighting terrorists overseas and hunting terrorists within the United States, but they will not go the distance to protect against radiological dispersal devices, chemical hazards, or CB warfare agents smuggled into the country. It's just too expensive, so they settle for partially funding what they think is the worst threat - a contagious BW attack (smallpox) or use of anthrax. Plus they throw funds to the cities and say, here's a list of equipment, do the best you can with whatever you want to buy. Oh, and the DHS's "valuable" tips to the families on keeping an emergency kit ready. That's it. I don't see it getting any better.

Kingdaddy

Remember when, in the early 1990's, everyone was in a panic about nuclear weapons, manufacturing implements, raw material, and scientific know-how that wasn't locked down in the former USSR? That problem just didn't go away.

J.

No, it hasn't gone away, but the (current) political decision makers are satisfied enough to give it lip service while underfunding or voting down those efforts (such as the proposed Lugar-Obama bill) that would address the problem. I suggest it's rhetoric for them and they expect to solve the problem by funding efforts stamping down on terrorist groups as opposed to preemptive "passive" actions.

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