The national WMD commission established by Congress has given the Obama administration an "F" for failing to protect America from nuclear, chemical, and biological attacks.
"Nearly a decade after 9/11, 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," stated former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., chairman of the bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism.
The report charges the administration "is simply not paying consistent and urgent attention to the means of responding quickly and effectively so that [WMD attacks] no longer constitute a threat of mass destruction."
Surprisingly, the Commission concluded there still exists "no national plan to coordinate federal, state, and local efforts following a bioterror attack, and the United States lacks the technical and operational capabilities required for an adequate response."
An outgrowth of the 9/11 Commission report, the WMD Commission is charged with evaluating U.S. defenses against WMD attacks. The report issued Tuesday examines 17 areas deemed vital to defending against WMD.
The Commission gave the administration an F for not improving the nation's ability to respond rapidly to a biological attack inflicting mass casualties, and an F for poor implementation of the education and training programs needed to train national-security experts.
It also awarded Congress an F for poor oversight.
The vice-chairman of the Commission, former Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., stated: "We are also enormously frustrated about the failure of Congress to reform homeland security oversight. The department can't do its job, if it is responding to more than 80 congressional committees and sub-committees.
This fragmentation guarantees that much of what Congress does is duplicative and disjointed.
Jena Baker McNeill, Homeland security policy analyst for The Heritage Foundation, joined the Commission's criticism of Congress. "Congressional oversight chaos is one of the No. 1 obstacles to good policy-making on Homeland Security. It's out of control," McNeill tells Newsmax.
In another category, government oversight of high-containment labs, the administration received a D+. It said a presidential directive could be used to tighten supervision over dangerous pathogens held in these facilities.
And while the report conceded the administration had made progress in countering weapons proliferation in Pakistan, it said so much remains to be done that it could grade the item only as "incomplete."
By no means was the report one-sided against the administration, however.
In fact, team Obama was awarded an A for helping to secure dangerous pathogens, and an A for developing a national strategy for advancing the analysis biological substances.
The report also gave the administration an A- for designating a special presidential adviser on WMD proliferation. The Commission also awarded an A- to the administration for creating more efficient councils for coordination of policy.
Overall, the report rapped the Obama administration for being slow to recognize and respond to the threat of bioterrorism. While conceding that previous administrations have made the same mistake, Graham said: "We no longer have the luxury of a slow learning curve, when we know al-Qaida is interested in bioweapons."
In the report card, the Commission reiterated its December 2008 warning that, "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. That weapon is more likely to be biological than nuclear."
Officials must assume a WMD attack "will occur" unless the proper steps are taken, the report says.
The report cites several recent incidents that suggest the nation is inadequately able to defend against a WMD attack. Among them:
- The H1N1 flu scare. The H1N1 pandemic revealed detection of the mass onset of disease, which is known as "domestic disease surveillance" is inadequate. Although the administration had several months warning about the flu threat, the epidemic peaked before most Americans had access to the vaccine. The slow response showed the United States is "woefully behind in its capability to rapidly produce vaccines and therapeutics…." While the virus may not have been as lethal as some doctors had predicted, a bioattack would strike without warning. The report says the lack of preparedness "is a symptom of a failure of the U.S. government to grasp the threat of biological weapons" although it notes the administration has done a much better job of responding to the nuclear threat. Although the Heritage Foundation's McNeill says the administration did a good job of communicating with the public about H1N1, she adds: "We've still got significant information-sharing problems on this topic. We've got to … figure out much faster what the trends are."
- The Christmas Day attack. The foiled attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day suggests al-Qaida is expanding its international partnerships. While that attack failed, "the United States cannot count on such good fortune," according to the report.
- The nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea. Along with the political instability in nuclear-armed Pakistan, Iran and North Korea are cited as grave concerns. The report says the United States "must strengthen the nonproliferation regime, develop more effective policies to eliminate terrorist havens in Pakistan, and galvanize allies to stop the Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons programs."
Among the Commission's recommendations: Congress should consolidate the unwieldy number of committees and subcommittees sharing responsibility for homeland security oversight.
Also, the government must get better at early detection and diagnosis of diseases.
The Commission adds that the administration must fix what it calls the "fundamental failure" to address "a growing shortfall in our national security workforce." It states the nation needs more experts to help ward off a WMD attack.
According to author and noted correspondent Judith Miller, defenders of the president's anti-WMD policies respond that Obama's second presidential security directive was to construct a roadmap on defending the nation against biological-warfare attacks. Miller's sources say the administration intends to seek future funding increases for non-proliferation and bio-defense programs.
McNeill says improving U.S. capabilities against WMD will require much better cooperation among federal agencies.
"If the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security can't work out their problems," she tells Newsmax, "it's difficult to see how there's going to be any capable federal response to something big, which could inflict mass casualties.
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