- WASHINGTON (UPI) - Counterterrorism
consultants and U.S. officials told a congressional panel Wednesday that
the threat of terrorists using "weapons of mass destruction"
against civilians is real but "overstated" by the media and in
- RAND consultant Brian Jenkins, however, said the need
public education about such potential attacks is crucial, warning the
panel, "Even if a terrorist attack involving biological and chemical
weapons were to kill only a small number of people...if we do not
well it could provoke national hysteria."
- Jenkins and other
consultants testified before a House
Government Reform subcommittee on
national security. All agreed that the
threat of a catastrophic
"event" involving weapons of mass destruction
though not impossible.
- Earlier, counterterrorism officials from the General
Accounting Office told the panel that constructing and using a biological
or chemical weapon was much harder than popularly realized.
- Jenkins emphasized
that "although I am an adviser
to the president of the RAND Corp.
my comments this morning are entirely
my own." He apologized to
the subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Christopher
Shays, R- Conn., for the
imprecision of his advice when it came to the
use of national
- "I don't think we can do well in predicting...what
happen or what might not happen," Jenkins said. "We can
that limited attacks would be more likely than large-scale attacks.
can say that crude dispersal techniques in a contained environment are
more likely than the poisoning of cities."
- He conceded that such
forecasting imprecision goes against
the grain of "the new
orthodoxy" surrounding counterterrorism
- Jenkins said
"the possibility that terrorists might
resort to chemical or
biological agents" is an idea that has been
around for decades.
"That 'it is only a matter of time before terrorists
weapons' is a relatively new idea that has in fact become part
- There have been several changes on the world scene,
said, that have moved what was once "an exotic possibility
to "the inevitability that we see today" in
the public mind.
- Jenkins cited "the growth of organized crimeand
in Russia....While we don't have, to my knowledge, direct evidence
chemical or biological substances have been stolen...in Russia, we
have certainly ample examples of other weapons being sold through criminal
- "Another factor is that today's terrorists seem
interested in running up a high body count than in advancing political
agendas," Jenkins said, with terrorists moving away from ideological
terrorism to a form "inspired by someone's vision of
- Nevertheless, Jenkins said, "We cannot conclude
catastrophic attack by someone using chemical or biological weapons
inevitable.... There is no inexorable progression from truck bombs to
weapons of mass destruction."
- He advised Congress to respond
to a potential terrorist
threat by devoting resources to those areas
that have value in themselves
outside of the terrorism arena, such as
medical response teams.
- Earlier in the hearing, Henry Hinton, assistant
general for the GAO's national security and international
told the subcommittee that his agency conducted a
of the threat from terrorist
"events" that would cause at least
- To cause such an
event, Hinton said, terrorists "would
have to overcome a number of
technical problems." He added later,
"The skills that you'd
have to have to weaponize (a chemical or biological
agent) are not that
- But under questioning from Shays, Hinton conceded that
assessment did not cover the possibility of a "rogue nation"
either carrying out such an operation itself or helping a group of
to do so.
- Shays asked Hinton directly whether he believed there
would be a terrorist attack using a "weapon of mass destruction"
in the United States within the next 20 years.
- Hinton replied, "We are
being advised (by the intelligence
- But in discussing any likelihood of such a strike,
said, "the key word is an attempt" rather than a