Lawmakers tackle gaping flaws in WMD attack preparedness

A Senate Judiciary subcommittee will assess government preparedness for
a terrorist attack with weapons of mass destruction in the wake of a report calling Justice Department planning inadequate.

The Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security will hear
testimony Wednesday from senior Justice Department and Homeland Security
officials concerning the ability of the United States to prevent as
well as respond to an attack using a WMD.

{mosads}The hearing comes after several damning reports about the
country’s ability to prevent such an attack, including a report card this year from a blue-ribbon commission that gave the White House three failing grades on WMD preparedness.

On top of this, the
intelligence and security lapses that preceded a string of recent
domestic attacks — the deadly shooting at Fort Hood and failed bombing attempts on
Northwest Flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day and on Times Square — have
done little to inspire confidence from homeland security hawks in Congress.

The subcommittee will address specifically a May 2010 report by
Glenn Fine, the inspector general of the Justice Department, that raised serious questions about the department’s ability to respond to a
potential WMD attack.

“The Department of Justice as a whole … has not implemented adequate
WMD response plans. As a result, the Department is not fully prepared
to provide a coordinated response to a WMD incident,” the report said.

Fine is scheduled to testify at the hearing.

The report is one of several this year finding flaws in the country’s preparedness for a catastrophic terrorist attack.

January 2010, the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass
Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism issued a “report card”
assessing the government’s progress in implementing preventive
measures recommended by the commission in a December 2008 report. 

Obama administration received mixed grades in the January report,
including three Fs, for failure to prepare effectively for a biological
attack, failure to recruit and train a new generation of national
security experts and failure to reform congressional oversight on
intelligence and national security.

Retired Col. Randall Larsen, USAF, the executive director of the commission, will also testify before the subcommittee.

“We gave America, as a whole, an ‘F,’ ” Larsen said.

blue-ribbon commission, chaired by former Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and
Jim Talent (R-Mo.), was created by Congress following a recommendation
from the 9/11 Commission. Graham and Talent’s initial report in 2008
warned that a terrorist attack using WMDs was “likely” to occur
somewhere in the world by 2013, with the United States being a prime

The commission officially concluded its work in February, but
Graham, Talent and Larsen have sought to continue their
efforts by forming the Bipartisan WMD Terrorism Research Center.

said his primary mission is to educate lawmakers about the seriousness
of the threat posed by WMDs and that this will be the focus of his testimony
next week.

“Congress has got a lot on its minds, but this should be one of its highest priorities,” Larsen said.

these little battles we have to fight, I don’t think we’d have to be
doing that if members of Congress really understood the threat,” he

The commission’s latest report slammed Congress for failing to
consolidate nearly 100 committees and subcommittees that oversee some
aspect of the Department of Homeland Security.

“Virtually no
progress has been made since consolidation was first recommended by the
9/11 Commission in 2004,” the report stated.

The Obama administration disputed the commission’s findings,
arguing that the president had accomplished a “great deal” since taking

The commission’s report laid out a range of measures the
federal government should pursue to reduce the United States’
vulnerability to such an attack, including increased security and
awareness at biological research labs and strengthening international
treaties against the spread of biological and nuclear weapons.

Lawmakers have been making progress to address the commission’s concerns through legislative action.

a press conference last month, Graham and Talent joined members of the
House Homeland Security Committee to announce the introduction of the
Weapons of Mass Destruction Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2010, a
bipartisan bill that aims to enact the commission’s recommendations.

Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) described it as “a major
step forward on the threat from WMD.”

The bill is the House companion to legislation introduced by Sens.
Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) in 2009. Both bills
have cleared committee but have yet to be brought to the floor for a

Lieberman and Collins, respectively chairman and ranking member of the Senate Homeland
Security Committee, presided at a June 30 hearing on nuclear terrorism
where they heard alarming testimony from government officials
concerning the United States’s ability to prevent a nuclear attack.

Lieberman said the officials’ testimony was “a real alarm bell going off” in terms of the country’s preparedness.

threat of nuclear terrorism is growing faster than our ability to
prevent an attack on our homeland,” he said at the hearing.

Tags Susan Collins

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