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USIS Washington 
File

26 July 1999

Byliner: Preparing For A Grave New World

(By William S. Cohen) (1210)

(Mr. Cohen is the Secretary of Defense. The following op-ed column by
him appeared in The Washington Post July 26. COPYRIGHT: 07/26/99 --
Public Domain -- no republication restrictions. Please Credit the
Washington Post.)

In recent months, the eyes of the world have rightly focused on the
threat to American interest and values in the Balkans. At the same
time, we cannot afford a national case of farsightedness that
precludes us from focusing on threats closer to home, such as the
potential danger of a chemical or biological attack on U.S. soil.

The United States now faces something of a superpower paradox. Our
supremacy in the conventional arena is prompting adversaries to seek
unconventional, asymmetric means to strike our Achilles' heel. At
least 25 countries, including Iraq and North Korea, now have -- or are
in the process of acquiring and developing -- weapons of mass
destruction. Of particular concern is the possible persistence in some
foreign military arsenals of smallpox, the horrific infectious virus
that decimated entire nations down the ages and against which the
global population is currently defenseless.

Also looming is the chance that these terror weapons will find their
way into the hands of individuals and independent groups -- fanatical
terrorists and religious zealots beyond our borders, brooding loners
and self-proclaimed apocalyptic prophets at home.

This is not hyperbole. It is reality. Indeed, past may be prologue. In
1995 the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo used sarin gas in its attack on
the Tokyo subway and also planned to unleash anthrax against U.S.
forces in Japan. Those behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing were
also gathering the ingredients for a chemical weapon that could have
killed thousands. In the past year, dozens of threats to use chemical
or biological weapons in the United States have turned out to be
hoaxes. Someday, one will be real.

What would that day look like? A biological agent would sink into the
respiratory and nervous systems of the afflicted. The speed and scope
of modern air travel could carry this highly contagious virus across
hemispheres in hours. Indeed, the invisible contagion would be neither
geographically nor numerically limited, infecting unsuspecting
thousands -- with many, in turn, communicating the virus to whomever
they touch.

The march of the contagion could accelerate astoundingly, with doctors
offering little relief. Hospitals would become warehouses for the dead
and the dying. A plague more monstrous than anything we have
experienced could spread with all the irrevocability of ink on tissue
paper. Ancient scourges would quickly become modern nightmares.

Welcome to the grave New World of terrorism -- a world in which
traditional notions of deterrence and counter-response no longer
apply. Perpetrators may leave no postmark or return address -- no
tell-tale signs of a missile launch, no residue of TNT that can be
traced to a construction site, no rental truck receipts leading to the
foolhardy suspects. In fact, their place of business may be a number
of countries that are conducting bioengineering under the guise of
pharmaceutical research. Penicillin for the poor, or ebola for the
enemy? Who is to say, and with what deterrent is America left?

Preparation is itself a deterrent. By minimizing the death and
destruction would-be terrorists hope to spawn, we reduce the
likelihood they will even try. Yet a chemical or biological strike on
American soil could quickly surpass any community's ability to cope.

As part of a federal interagency effort launched last year by
President Clinton and led by the National Security Council, the
Defense Department is doing its part to prepare the nation for the
catastrophic consequences of an attack that unleashes these horrific
weapons. Because it has long prepared to face this grim possibility on
the battlefield, the military has unique capabilities to offer in the
domestic arena as well.

Several core principles are guiding our efforts. First, any military
assistance in the wake of a domestic attack must be in support of the
appropriate federal civilian authority -- either the Department of
Justice or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Second, an
unequivocal and unambiguous chain of responsibility, authority and
accountability for that support must exist. Third, military assistance
should not come at the expense of our primary mission -- fighting and
winning our nation's wars. A special Task Force for Civil Support is
being created to ensure that we have the military assets necessary to
help respond domestically while still meeting our foremost mission.

Fourth, our military response efforts will be grounded primarily in
the National Guard and Reserve. In contrast to their more familiar
role of reinforcing active-duty forces overseas, our guard and reserve
are the forward-deployed forces here at home. Special National Guard
teams are being positioned around the nation to advise and assist
communities upon request.

Finally, we must not and trample on American lives and liberties in
the name of preserving them. Fears about the military's role in
domestic affairs are unfounded, as evidenced by a long history of
reasonable and successful military support to communities ravaged by
natural disasters, such as fire and flood.

As in the past, any military support will be precisely that --
support. Both legal and practical considerations demand it. The Posse
Comitatus Act and the Defense Department's implementing policies are
clear -- the military is not to conduct domestic law enforcement
without explicit statutory authority, and we strongly believe no
changes should be made to Posse Comitatus. Also clear is that the
military's unique assets are most valuable when used to supplement --
not supplant -- continuing federal, state or local efforts. This is
one of the reasons we are helping to train the local emergency "first
responders" in 120 cities under a program mandated by Congress and now
being transferred to the Justice Department.

But merely managing the consequences of an attack is not sufficient.
We must be vigilant in seeking to interdict and defeat the efforts of
those who seek to inflict mass destruction on us. This will require
greater international cooperation, intelligence collection abroad and
information gathering by law enforcement agencies at home. Information
is clearly power, and greater access to information will require the
American people and their elected officials to find the proper balance
between privacy and protection.

There need be no fear or foreboding by the American people of the
preparations of their government. On the contrary, the greater threat
to our civil liberties stems from the chaos and carnage that might
result from an attack for which we had failed to prepare and the
demands for action that would follow.

Mere months before the attack on Pearl Harbor shocked America out of
its slumber, Walter Lippmann wrote, "Millions will listen to, and
prefer to believe, those who tell them that they need not rouse
themselves, and that all will be well if only they continue to do all
the pleasant and profitable and comfortable things they would like to
do best."

The race is on between our preparations and those of our adversaries.
We are preparing for the possibility of a chemical or biological
attack on American soil because we must. There is not a moment to
lose.

(Mr. Cohen is the Secretary of Defense.)