Cohen Unveils Program to Combat Domestic Terrorism
By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 18, 1998 Saying the "front lines are no longer overseas," Defense Secretary William S. Cohen announced a new DoD program March 17 to respond to domestic attacks with weapons of mass destruction.
Cohen made the announcement here during a speech to the National Press Club. Under his new initiative, National Guard and Reserve forces will receive training to help states and local governments respond in case of attack.
Ten Rapid Assessment and Initial Detection elements will be trained and equipped beginning in fiscal 1999. Each RAID element will have 22 trained, full-time National Guard soldiers and airmen capable of deploying to an incident scene within four hours. The teams will be supported by National Guard and Reserve reconnaissance and decontamination teams drawn from the existing force structure.
Cohen said the initiative is the "cornerstone of our strategy for preparing America's defense against the possible use of weapons of mass destruction."
"The larger meaning of this moment is that we live in a world where more powerful weapons are in the hands of more reckless people who are more likely to use them," he said.
Calling biological and chemical weapons the "poor man's atomic bomb," Cohen said at least 25 countries already have or are developing them and the means to deliver them. He added that many of the countries have ties to "terrorists, religious zealots or organized crime groups who also seek these weapons."
Cohen's announcement coincidentally follows a March 12 terrorist bomb threat against the Pentagon and a March 10 international meeting of scientists who warned the United States is unprepared for attacks by biological agents.
The new initiative also establishes the Consequence Management Program Integration Office. The office will integrate Guard and Reserve forces into the defense effort against weapons of mass destruction.
In addition to bringing the RAID elements on line, the office will coordinate all training and exercises and will purchase equipment for the units. It will also work closely with the departments of Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other federal agencies responsible for responding to domestic emergencies.
During a Pentagon briefing following Cohen's announcement, Acting Secretary of the Army Michael Walker and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs Deborah Lee echoed Cohen's warning that the threat of an attack on U.S. soil is real.
"The experts tell us it's not if, but when," Walker said. Lee said the breakup of the Soviet Union and an increasingly global economy make it easier for terrorists to acquire powerful weapons.
As the new plan is implemented, the 10 RAID elements will augment state and federal agencies across the country, according to Brig. Gen. Roger Schultz, deputy director of military support. Schultz is a key player in the new program. He is responsible for coordinating support to state and local governments during disasters.
Indeed, the RAID units being brought on-line will respond in much the same way National Guard and Reserve forces currently respond during floods, hurricanes and other disasters. Units will support local, state and federal authorities as requested, with FEMA maintaining its lead agency role.
At the briefing, Schultz said DoD requested about $49 million for fiscal 1999 to pay for the program, to include training, equipment, personnel and exercises with federal, state and local authorities.
"It's not just establishing a program where we go off to train the military. It's establishing a program where we exercise with state and local responders and the federal government. The office we're announcing today begins to coordinate those activities overall," Schultz said.
He said National Guard and Reserve integration in the new program makes sense because of their long history of helping states respond to disasters. Additionally, the Army Reserve contains nearly 60 percent of the total Army's chemical defense and medical assets, as well as the only biological integrated detection system in the reserve components.
Although it is not known yet where the first 10 teams will be located, Schultz said they will be aligned with the 10 FEMA regions in the country. He said this organizational structure will complement the Army Reserve regional support commands, which have already realigned along FEMA region boundaries. It's hoped all states will eventually have individual RAID elements, he remarked.
"This is the first step of a journey that begins here and capitalizes on the Guard and Reserve," Schultz said.