Former senators discuss WMD threat at Elliott School

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Former Senators Bob Graham, chairman of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, and Jim Talent, vice chairman of the Commission, discussed the Commission’s findings and recommendations since December 2008 on Wednesday morning.

Graham did not ease into his presentation; he started off emphasizing the imminence of the threat of WMDs.

“The United States is more vulnerable to an attack than it was on Sept. 11, 2001,” he said. “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.”

He also said that it is more likely that the use of a biological weapon is more likely than that of a nuclear weapon. A biological attack would involve the spread of anthrax, Ebola, or a number of other viruses.

The report, entitled “The Clock Is Ticking,” has made “thirteen recommendations consisting of 49 actions that Congress and the Administration should take to change the trajectory of the risk.”

Among these recommendations was the need for President Barack Obama to appoint “a senior official whose sole responsibility is to improve America’s capability for biodefense.”

According to the report, there are currently 108 congressional committees and subcommittees with oversight authority over the Department of Homeland Security; this excessive amount of oversight will cause “inefficiencies detrimental to maintaining security.”

For this reason, reduction of congressional oversight and the appointment of this senior official are actions imperative to reducing the risk of an attack, the senators said.

Graham, a former Democratic senator from Florida, acknowledged that Congress is familiar with the concept of a nuclear threat, but it needs to realize that a biological attack is likely to be more detrimental than a nuclear attack.

Talent, a former Republican senator from Missouri, also began with a grave statement about the probability of the threat, saying that it is “hard for us to keep in mind that this isn’t just possible, but probable,” and that “these threats are real and it is perfectly logical that [terrorist organizations] would want to do this.”

He enforced the notion that biological WMD’s have become increasingly accessible in the past decade and it is more likely that a terrorist organization, not a nation-state, would release a biological attack than a nuclear attack. He identified the need for the Department of Homeland Security to “deter the ability of a biological weapon to be a weapon of mass destruction.”

But Talent also reported some good news. The Commission was satisfied with Obama’s announcement that the U.S. would hold a summit in early 2010 to address continuing global nuclear nonproliferation efforts. Talent was also pleased with the introduction of the “WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2009”, drafted by Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins.

The bill addresses “several of the Commission’s recommendations including.enhancing capacity of rapid response to prevent anthrax attack from inflicting mass casualties.and openly and honestly engaging the American citizen,” Graham said.

Graham concluded saying that the need for the nation to prepare for an attack of mass destruction was crucial because “the better prepared you are, the less likely you are to be the target.”

After the lecture scholars expressed support and encouragement of the Commission’s recommendations and findings.

“The beauty of it is that [the Commission] is looking to find broad based solutions to the problem, not just federal solutions. They’re bringing in private industries and trying to reconcile their issues with those of the federal government,” said Dr. Donald Thompson, Senior Program Director of the Medical and Public Health Program at the Center for Infrastructure Protection at George Mason Universit.

Thompson also commended the sense of urgency with which the Commission is addressing the threat of WMDs.

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