U.S. in 'Grave Danger'
Former senators urge that emergency steps be taken
USA Today  (Oct 25, 2002)

WASHINGTON -- The United States remains ''dangerously unprepared'' to prevent or respond to a terrorist attack, a report due out today by the Council on Foreign Relations says. The report urges the government to take emergency steps to protect American lives and the nation's economy.

More than a year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, virtually every segment of society -- from state and local governments to private industry -- is ill-prepared to respond to new threats, even as a looming war against Iraq heralds ''a time of especially grave danger,'' the report says.

Similar reports in recent months have also warned that the nation is unprepared. This one, however, is likely to get more attention because it comes on the heels of new warnings from top intelligence officials that al-Qaeda is regrouping and because it was authored by former senators Gary Hart, a Colorado Democrat, and Warren Rudman, a New Hampshire Republican.

Hart and Rudman have become standard-bearers among national security experts in large part because of a report they released before last year's terrorist attacks. As chairmen of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, they warned in early 2001 of impending attacks involving weapons of mass destruction and said the government was unprepared to respond.

Council on Foreign Relations President Leslie Gelb wrote that the new report does not place ''political blame'' for the government's shortcomings.

In interviews, however, Hart and Rudman said there's plenty of blame to go around -- from the Bush administration to Congress to private industries that are reluctant to pay the cost of stepped-up security and to share information about their vulnerabilities.

Legislation to create a department of homeland security, now stalled in a dispute over labor-protection laws, ''should be enacted on an urgent basis,'' the report says. The report's authors also chide Congress for failing to pass spending bills that would start billions of federal dollars flowing to cash-strapped states for training and other programs to respond to the threat.

''It's deplorable,'' Rudman said of Congress' failure to act. ''If we're not willing to spend money on our personal security, then we're going to get what we deserve.''

Hart called protecting the United States ''the government's first obligation'' and said he's stunned Congress and the administration haven't done more.

''Outrageous, I suppose, is the best word,'' he said. ''What interests me as a student of the American government is why the American people put up with it.''

Among the report's findings:

* 650,000 local and state police officers still ''operate in a virtual intelligence vacuum,'' without access to federal terrorist watch lists.

* Airport security has improved, but only a tiny fraction of the nation's ships, containers, trucks and trains are inspected.

* Police, fire and medical emergency personnel lack training and equipment to respond to a biological or chemical attack.

* The nation's energy industry -- from refineries to pipelines -- is virtually unguarded.

* The National Guard lacks the training and equipment it needs to help civilian authorities respond to an attack.

''After a year without a new attack, there are already signs that Americans are lapsing back into complacency,'' the report says.

''Given the stakes -- potentially the loss of thousands of innocent American lives and the mass disruption of America's economy and society -- there are things we must be doing on an emergency basis to reduce our vulnerabilities at home,'' the report says. ''Quickly mobilizing the nation to prepare for the worst is an act of prudence, not fatalism.''

 

 

 


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