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New Department to Protect Against Catastrophic Terrorism

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 14, 2002 – Terrorists aim to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear. If they do, the results would be far more devastating than what happened Sept. 11, according to White House officials.

Protecting the nation against such catastrophic terrorism would be one of the main missions of the Homeland Security Department proposed by President Bush, the officials said. The new department would lead the federal government's efforts in preparing for and responding to the terrorist threat involving weapons of mass destruction.

The department would set national policy and guidelines for state and local governments and direct exercises for federal, state and local response teams. The goal would be to consolidate and synchronize the efforts of federal agencies scattered across several departments.

The White House officials said the department would unify federal efforts to develop and implement scientific and technological countermeasures; set priorities for national research and development, and for the procurement of tests, evaluations and new technology and equipment; and focus such scientific institutions as the Livermore National Laboratory and the Plum Island Animal Disease Center on countering the threat.

The department would also sponsor outside research to invent new vaccines, antidotes, diagnostics and therapies against biological and chemical warfare agents and to identify and confirm an attack has occurred. Department officials would work to "protect the food supply from farm to fork," White House officials said.

The department would unify the nation's defenses against biological and agricultural terrorism. This would include preventing the malicious use of plant or animal pathogens to cause disease in the agricultural sector.

An example of the type of projects the department would undertake, White House officials said, would be preventing nuclear weapons and material from coming into the country. Defeating this threat would be a top priority of the department's research and development efforts, officials said.

Department officials would develop and deploy new systems for safeguarding nuclear material stockpiles and detecting movement of nuclear material. They would focus on detecting illicit nuclear material being transported on the open seas, at U.S. ports of entry and throughout the nation's transportation system.

Since early detection of biological attacks is crucial to saving lives, the new department would lead the nation's efforts in developing, deploying, managing and maintaining a national detection system, the officials said. That system would consist of a national public health data surveillance system and a sensor network to detect and report the release of biological agents in densely populated areas.

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