Weapons of Mass Destruction, Terrorism, and U.S. Preparedness

October 02, 1998

"I would like to first make a few comments regarding the current state of the threat, recent U.S. initiatives with respect to domestic preparedness, and the findings and recommendations of the General Accounting Office (GAO) report on threat and risk assessments. I would also like to offer some observations and recommendations aimed at enhancing our government-wide capabilities to plan for, respond to, and manage the consequences of WMD terrorism.
Regarding the threat, there has been a great deal of discussion on the "changing face" of terrorism and the impact of advanced technology on terrorists' ways of doing business.
Without elaborating on the specificities of weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, radiological, biological, and chemical), which are very different from one another and pose extraordinary challenges, they do share certain commonalities. Terrorism is multifaceted and differs from group to group and incident to incident. Yet the single common denominator is that it is a psychological weapon, intended to erode trust and undermine confidence in our government, its elected officials, institutions or policies. What makes a WMD terrorist incident unique is that it can be a transforming event. A terrorist attack involving weapons of mass destruction would have catastrophic effects on American society beyond the deaths it might cause. While the probability of a major WMD attack may be low in the near future, the consequences are too severe to ignore. Aside from the actual physical effects and human suffering resulting from a WMD event, the psychological impact would be enormous, shaking the nation's trust and confidence in its government to its core."

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