Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Congressional WMD & Terrorism Commission Sounds Alarm Bell Amidst Worries Of Unconventional Nuclear & Biological Attacks, Dysfunctional Congressional Oversight

Posted by proliferationpr on December 1, 2008

“Unless the world community acts decisively and with great urgency, it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013…”

 “Congressional oversight is dysfunctional…”

-soon-to-be released report from the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism (CPWMD);  executive summary

As noted earlier on Proliferation Press, the CPWMD will be releasing Wednesday what appears to be a dreary look at the WMD proliferation threats facing our country and the world. In the backdrop of last week’s terrorists attacks in India and the likely role some commission members may play in the Obama administration, well-timed leaks to the NYTimes and Washington Post are promising the commission’s report some limelight from policy makers and journalists alike.

A November 30th report in WaPo focused on the threat of biological attack. It highlights a serious gap in American’s security system: that many research labs equipped with dangerous biological materials evade federal regulation since they are private and hold pathogens not on the government watch-list of known biowarfare agents. According to the report, this means there are currently non-regulated labs holding the SARS virus—the virus used in a series of biological attacks in 2001, resulting in 5 deaths.

Not to be left out, the NYTimes today released a report outlining the report’s executive summary.

The Commission recites a typical litany of policy prescriptions: renewed efforts to curtail Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs; improved defenses against bioterrorism; and a new energy in multilateral approaches to containing the threat of WMD proliferation and terrorism—with particular focus on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Yet what is most worrisome is the report’s dismal assessment of Congressional oversight in regards to WMD proliferation and terrorism. After seven years it appears the US Government has failed to lay out and comprehensive and peer-reviewed strategy for combating the gravest threats to American security. Having already ceded most of its war-powers authority, can Congress really afford to be as a impediment to prudent policies that aim to prevent another 9-11?

Before highlighting sections of the NYTimes report, there are topics

  • Discussing/proposing an effective form of Congressional oversight over the gravest threats to American security, or simply pointing how ‘how’ the current Congressional oversight is dysfunctional. Is the key problem a lack of executive-congressional communication? Overlapping committees? Or is it simply a product of the White House running executive agencies, with Congress seen as too much a source of undesired leaks, partisan back-biting and echo-chamber discussion?

  • A system of distinguishing the ‘must-have’ from the ‘wish-list’. Pointing out flaws in the current system is valuable, but only if tied to a frank discussion of American capabilities are and how to best use them toward preventing WMD proliferation and terrorism. For example, how can America work towards both a proliferation-safe Pakistan and the need to safeguard American laboratories with SARS; and let’s not forget the looming threat of a radiological device stored away in a commercial ship’s cargo going off while docked at an American port.  

  • A rubric by which to judge success of failure. While both the WaPo and NYTimes reports suggest critical administration and Congressional failings, how do individual mistakes add-up to a conclusive judgment on US efforts to combat WMD proliferation and terrorism? (And will the general public ever know of covert policy successes?)

From the NYTimes report:

The panel’s 13 recommendations focus on fighting the threat of bioterrorism, including improved bioforensic capabilities, and strengthening international organizations, like the International Atomic Energy Agency, to address the nuclear threat. It also calls for a comprehensive approach for dealing with Pakistan.

Over all, the findings and recommendations seek to serve as a road map for the Obama administration.

The commission urges the Obama administration to work to halt the Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons programs, backing up any diplomatic initiatives with “the credible threat of direct action” — code for military action, a commission official said.

Two weeks ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran had produced roughly enough nuclear material to make, with added purification, a single atom bomb.

The commission also criticized the administration and Congress for not organizing themselves more effectively to combat the threat of unconventional weapons. The report recommended a single White House-level office or individual responsible for directing the nation’s policy to prevent the spread of unconventional weapons and their possible use by terrorists.

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