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Defending America Against New Breed of Terror
Prepared Remarks of H. Allen Holmes, assistant secretary of defense for special operations, Sam Nunn Policy Council, Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, Georgia Institute of Technology, , Monday, April 28, 1997

Defense Issues: Volume 12, Number 31-- Defending America Against New Breed of Terror As weapons of mass destruction become increasingly available to terrorists, DoD takes the lead in helping American cities prepare for, and respond to, terrorist acts.


Volume 12, Number 31

Defending America Against New Breed of Terror

Prepared remarks by H. Allen Holmes, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, to the Sam Nunn Policy Council, Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, Georgia Institute of Technology, Athens, Ga., April 28, 1997.

The end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact brought with it an explosion of technology and trade and enterprise. With these changes came new opportunities as well as increasingly complex and dangerous national security threats. Events of the past year remind us that terrorism is and will remain a fact of life in international politics.

Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya and other radical regimes continue to harbor and nurture international terrorist organizations. At the same time, new movements (not necessarily sponsored by nation-states), new ideologies and new opportunities for terrorism are emerging in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and Africa. Terrorists have expanded their reach, and today, all nations and continents are vulnerable.

Terrorism has become the weapon of choice for some governments, single-issue groups and cults, because it is effective, cheap and sponsorship can be disguised or denied. In the context of the changed global environment, terrorists have become increasingly sophisticated, continually refining their technology and techniques in response to improvements in security and detection. The sarin [nerve agent] attack in Tokyo two years ago added a new dimension to the nature of the terrorist threat. Our worst fear –- a nuclear, chemical or biologically capable terrorist –- is no longer beyond the realm of the possible.

Moreover, homegrown terrorists have forced us to alter our broad assumptions about terrorist targets and tactics. When historians write about terrorism in the United States, they may well look back on Feb. 26, 1993, as the day America lost its innocence. Prior to that date, we lived the illusion that terrorism could not happen here. The World Trade Center bombing and the Oklahoma City bombing two years later shattered that illusion.

Our government is addressing the new challenges posed by terrorism. This administration inherited a well-functioning, interagency system for managing terrorist incidents, but its focus was on detecting, preventing and defeating terrorism abroad –- preparing for hostage, aircraft hijacking and barricade situations. During the last four years, we broadened the work of the interagency and incorporated two new dimensions to our combating terrorism efforts: the prospect of an incident involving weapons of mass destruction, or WMD, and the possibility of a terrorist incident on American soil.

The Nunn-Lugar-Domenici amendment to the FY [fiscal year] 97 National Defense Authorization Act provides essential authority for us to address our domestic vulnerabilities. The Defense Department, in turn, has allocated over $40 million to implement domestic preparedness programs authorized by the legislation, using our existing interagency systems as the foundation.

As we develop these domestic preparedness programs, the federal government is working hand-in-hand with state and local authorities. We have conducted a number of studies and focus groups with local, state and regional representatives to better determine the needs of first responders in the event of a WMD incident.

The Atlanta Olympics provided us with a venue by which we were able to both develop and evaluate our capabilities, identify unanticipated complexities and further fine-tune our emerging domestic response program. The primary lesson learned from the Atlanta experience was the need for an integrated systems approach. This approach must:


  • Ensure that state and local first responders, as well as hospitals, crisis managers, transportation systems and communications networks, are equally prepared for a WMD incident;
  • Improve coordination between the people that handle crisis response with those that manage the consequences;
  • Streamline lines of authority between crisis and consequence managers;
  • Develop a cooperative relationship between federal and local and state authorities, ideally achieving unity of command;
  • Integrate roles and responsibilities across local jurisdictional lines; and
  • Facilitate local and state authorities' access to expert advice and technical assistance of federal agencies.

Within the framework of the Nunn-Lugar-Domenici legislation -- and incorporating input from state and local agencies and the experience we gained from Atlanta -- we have developed a domestic preparedness program with three major components: training, access to federal assistance, exercises.

The centerpiece of this program is training. Currently, the federal government offers a number of training opportunities to state and local agencies on different aspects of responding to a WMD attack. From these training pieces we are building a multiyear training program designed to provide a basic response capability for first responders for the 120 most populated cities. This is an interagency effort. However, because of the extensive expertise possessed by our military personnel, DoD will take the lead on a significant portion of the training.

During the next two months, we will conduct a pilot training program in Denver, which was chosen because of its involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing trial and the upcoming Summit of the Eight. By the end of this year, we plan to conduct assessments for 27 major U.S. cities and begin training in nine of them. Last week, we kicked off this process with a meeting of officials from the 27 cities, where we provided each city with an overview on the overall training program and distributed a matrix of performance objectives with which to begin assessing their training needs.

As a complement to the training provided to selected cities and states, DoD is designing low-cost training packages for wide dissemination through inexpensive media such as the Internet, distance learning, video and CD-ROM. This initiative will provide extensive reference materials and self-test capabilities to state and local agencies nationwide. Already, DoD has produced a CD-ROM on management of chemical warfare injuries. Currently, a second CD-ROM is being developed on medical management of biological casualties.

DoD will also assist the Department of Health and Human Services in development of specialized medical teams for 27 major cities. These teams will be highly trained and fully equipped local response teams capable of addressing WMD effects on human health. They will be able to provide not only an initial on-site response, but also provide for safe patient transportation to hospital emergency rooms or other facilities as needed. Two such teams were formed in preparation for the Olympics and Inaugural (Atlanta and Washington).

To ensure that state and local agencies have access to existing expertise located within DoD and other federal agencies during emergency situations, DoD is establishing a 24-hour hot line linking the National Response Center with the appropriate DoD and Department of Energy experts for the emergency at hand.

In addition, the Defense Department has formed two rapid response teams capable of assisting state and local authorities in detection, neutralization, containment, dismantlement and disposal of WMD during crisis situations. We have also incorporated units such as the Army's labs and the Marines' Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF) into response plans. Both of these units were on hand to assist at both the Atlanta Olympics and the Inaugural.

For nonemergency situations, we are establishing a Technical Assistance Chemical/Biological Help Line. Moreover, we are supporting FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] in preparing a database which will provide a source of information on chemical/biological, munitions characteristics and safety precautions for civilian use.

Finally, we will undergo regular exercises to test our capabilities and evaluate our program. First, we plan to conduct exercises immediately after we complete our first responder training in a particular city (e.g., Denver: training in May, exercise in June). These exercises will allow us to provide feedback to participants, reinforce the training and evaluate the effectiveness of our training program.

Over the last two years we have conducted a wide variety of exercises to address accidents and incidents involving WMD. At the same time, we have an established interagency counterterrorism exercise program that has been in place for over a decade. Our goal is to ensure crossparticipation among the different exercise programs to maximize synergies, improve coordination and increase efficiencies -- between crisis and consequence managers, among federal and state and local agencies and among local jurisdictions.

As you can see, the government is responding to the challenge of a possible terrorist attack involving WMD on American soil. While there is no denying the threat is real, we should not let ourselves exaggerate the nature of that threat. The ability to create mass casualties with WMD depends on many factors, to include weaponization of the substance, an accomplishment that would challenge any terrorist group. The acquisition of proper material and technology as well as the development of an effective delivery means would further challenge the terrorist group. Terrorists generally prefer technology that is simple, inexpensive and easy to position without raising suspicion.

A significant concern for the U.S. is the psychological fear of a WMD attack (e.g., April 24 package in [Washington,] D.C.). The anxiety generated by such fear may pose far more difficult problems that the physical threat itself. The public must be made aware of the many limitations of the WMD threat and that there are ways to respond effectively, which their local authorities are developing.

A WMD threat presents difficult challenges, but the U.S. government will work hard with state and local partners to deter and prevent use and to minimize the effects by providing training, exercising that growing capability for consequence management and sharing expertise and state-of-the-art technology. Working together, we are taking a far-reaching and sober approach in addressing this national problem.


Published for internal information by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission. Defense Issues is available on the Internet via the World Wide Web at