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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 25, April 1998

US Stresses Threat of CBW Terrorism

In late April, the Senate Intelligence Committee and Judiciary Subcommittee on Technology and Terrorism held joint hearings on the theme of the threat to the United States of a terrorist attack involving chemical or biological weapons (CBW). The Administration's stated position is that a terrorist CBW is now inevitable; as the Chief of the Army's Chemical and Biological Defence Command, Major John Friel, stated on 2 April at Command Headquarters in Aberdeen, Maryland, it is "no longer a question of 'if' but 'when'" a CBW attack will occur. According to Senator Carl Levin (Democrat - Michigan), referring on 22 April to classified testimony presented a few days earlier, the official assumption now is that there is a "high degree of likelihood that such an attack would occur in ten years."

Two of the main witnesses at the hearings were Louis J. Freeh, Director of the Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI), and Attorney General Janet Reno. On 22 April, Reno stressed the urgent requirements of contingency planning. In particular, she said, "we need to make sure we have a significant stockpile - and I don't think we do - of vaccines and other medications." Reno added:

"Those medications would be strategically placed throughout the country under a procedure that would maintain the shelf-life of stockpiles and would facilitate their prompt availability in the event of a major chemical or biological incident..."

Reno added that legal loopholes existed enabling people to possess chemical and biological materials which could be used to make weapons or cause an incident; the Justice Department, she added without giving details, was working hard to amend the laws concerned.

Freeh, also speaking on 22 April, referred to the organizational struggle revolving around the elaboration of counterterrorism policy and enforcement; there were moves, he said, to transfer primary responsibility for foiling attacks from the FBI to the Secret service. Freeh argued strongly that the FBI's current lead-role "needs to be maintained and should not be modified in any way."

Reports: Threat of biological terrorism high, United Press International, 2 April; US weighs vaccine storage for biochem threat, Reuters, 22 April; Reno, FBI head report on terrorism, Associated Press, 22 April; Legal loophole may help terrorists, United Press International, 23 April.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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