Wire: Reports Say al-Qaeda Seeks WMD, US Unprepared
Off the Wire:
WASHINGTON, Jan. 26, 2009 -- Newswire services this evening reported that the United States has not done enough to protect the country against the threat of weapons of mass destruction even as al-Qaeda appears intent on staging a large-scale attack.
The French news agency AFP said a bipartisan panel warned that the government had failed to adopt measures to counter the danger posed by extremists using WMD, saying the administration lacked plans for a rapid response to a possible biological attack.
"Nearly a decade after September 11, 2001, one year after our original report, and one month after the Christmas Day bombing attempt, the United States is failing to address several urgent threats, especially bioterrorism," said former senator Bob Graham, chair of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism.AFP noted that the bipartisan commission on the WMD threat, created by Congress, had said in its initial report in December 2008 that it was "more likely than not" that a terror attack using weapons of mass destruction would be carried out somewhere in the world by the end of 2013.
He said that Washington no longer had "the luxury of a slow learning curve, when we know Al-Qaeda is interested in bioweapons."
In its "report card," the commission also gave the federal government low marks for failing to recruit a new generation of national security experts and for failing to improve congressional oversight of intelligence and homeland security agencies.
The findings came as a former CIA officer wrote in a report that Al-Qaeda's leaders have been working methodically since the 1990s to secure weapons that could inflict massive bloodshed.
Although other extremists had looked into obtaining such weapons, Al-Qaeda "is the only group known to be pursuing a long-term, persistent and systematic approach to developing weapons to be used in mass casualty attacks," wrote Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, who led the CIA's WMD department.
He acknowledged that the failure to find WMD in Iraq had damaged the US government's credibility and had spread skepticism about the threat posed by Al-Qaeda getting its hands on nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.
"That said, WMD terrorism is not Iraqi WMD," he wrote in the report released by the Harvard Kennedy School of Government's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
He argued that intelligence on Al-Qaeda's activities was much more extensive and reliable than the information about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs.
His report said Al-Qaeda's efforts to develop biological and nuclear weapons were not "empty rhetoric" and that the group's leaders appeared to have ruled out smaller-scale attacks with simpler devices.
"If Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants had been interested in employing crude chemical, biological and radiological materials in small-scale attacks, there is little doubt they could have done so by now," he wrote.
(Report from newswire sources.)