Five Years (Updated)

In an article in the New York Times Eric Schmitt reports that the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, a bipartisan commission established by Congress in 2007, has produced a report warning of the likelihood of an attack on the United States with an unconventional weapon within five years:

WASHINGTON — An independent commission has concluded that terrorists will most likely carry out an attack with biological, nuclear or other unconventional weapons somewhere in the world in the next five years unless the United States and its allies act urgently to prevent that.

In a report to be released this week, the Congressionally mandated panel found that with countries like Iran and North Korea pursuing nuclear weapons programs, and with the risk of poorly secured biological pathogens growing, unconventional threats are fast outpacing the defenses arrayed to confront them.

“America’s margin of safety is shrinking, not growing,” the bipartisan panel concluded.

The report doesn’t appear to be available to the public yet. When a link to the report is available, I’ll report it.

The report singles out Pakistan as the single most important security priority before us:

“Were one to map terrorism and weapons of mass destruction today, all roads would intersect in Pakistan,” the report states, citing the country’s terrorist haven along the border with Afghanistan and its tense relations with nuclear rival India.

“Pakistan is an ally, but there is a grave danger it could also be an unwitting source of a terrorist attack on the United States — possibly with weapons of mass destruction,” the report said.

The report apparently takes President Bush to task for failing to devote adequate attention to the possibility of bioterrorism. It also characterizes Congressional oversight of the issue of weapons of mass destruction as “dysfunctional”.

This certainly isn’t good news albeit unsurprising. I look forward to seeing the contents of the report or at least an executive summary. I’ll be especially interested in the Commission’s suggestions for preventing a terrorist attack using unconventional weapons that’s planned in, say, Pakistan (per the article’s implication) within five years.

I’m willing to bet a shiny new dime that neither the report nor the comments to this post will produce either of my top two preferences in this area.


WMD blogger Armchair Generalist has the following interesting observation in his reactions to the WP article on the report due out on Wednesday:

…the idea that a biological attack could be equal to the DHS scenario of a 10-kT nuke is unusual, to say the least. It would have to be a pretty significant amount of anthrax and a pretty efficient delivery device, which is why there are analysts (like me) that have to disagree.

The Washington Post article quotes the report as balancing the likelihood of a bioterror attack against the damage of a nuclear attack:

“The more probable threat of bioterrorism should be put on equal footing with the more devastating threat of nuclear terrorism,” the draft states. It calls on the Obama administration to develop a comprehensive approach to preventing bioterrorism and to “banish the ‘too-hard-to-do’ mentality that has hobbled previous efforts.”

I can’t say I agree with that reasoning. It’s the potential harm that an attack could cause that makes us concerned about nuclear attack rather than just the fact of it.

I’ll be interested in seeing the specific prescriptions of the report. Technology aside I’m skeptical that any civilian lab has the culture necessary to respond to a bioterror attack with an unknown pathogen. To my knowledge we only have one lab set up to handle such a thing (although I’m sure some smart commenter will correct me if I’m wrong on that).

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.