WMD nonproliferation needs more attention

Inadequate efforts to prevent proliferation of WMD presents serious security risk

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Keeping weapons of mass destruction (WMD) out of the hands of terrorists is cited as the top priority for America’s national security, but efforts to prevent WMD proliferation have not met the challenge, according to government and nonprofit watchdogs. The 9/11 Commission wrote that “the greatest danger of another catastrophic attack in the United States will materialize if the world’s most dangerous terrorists acquire the world’s most dangerous weapons.” In 2005, in a follow-up progress report, WMD nonproliferation programs scored a “D” on the report card released by the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, led by 9/11 Commission chairs Thomas H. Kean and Lee Hamilton. “Preventing terrorists from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction must be elevated above all other problems of national security because it represents the greatest threat to the American people,” the report warned. In 2008, the Partnership for a Secure America, a bipartisan national security group supported by the 9/11 Commission leaders, followed up on the work of the Public Discourse Project. The partnership’s overall grade for “WMD Terror Prevention” was a “C.” The weakest spots in WMD prevention, according to the report: integration of U.S. programs to prevent nuclear terrorism and the uncertain long-term prospects for those programs; U.S. efforts to recognize chemical threats; detection of covert bioterrorism preparations and U.S. disengagement from the international Biological Weapons Convention. As part of its package implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations, Congress created a senior White House position with the title coordinator for the prevention of weapons of mass destruction proliferation and terrorism. But the Bush administration has yet to appoint someone to the position. Experts say that the threat of terrorists obtaining WMD is very real. “We assess that Al Qaeda will continue to try to acquire and employ chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear material in attacks, and would not hesitate to use them,” said Ted Gistaro, the chief transnational threats officer with the Director of National Intelligence in August 2008. Although the White House did not respond to a request for comment, in December spokeswoman Dana Perino said, “We recognize that there is more to do, but what we have done is provided a really good foundation for the next team to be able to take that on and continue to try to keep us safe.”

Follow-up:
Congress created a Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, led by former senators Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat, and Jim Talent, a Missouri Republican, to “address the grave threat that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction poses to our country.” The commission’s report, released in December 2008, warns that “more likely than not” terrorists will use weapons of mass destruction in an attack before 2013 and criticizes the Bush administration for its lack of attention to the threat of bioterrorism attacks, as compared to nuclear attacks.