U.S. 'losing ground' on terror risks

Obama's Transition

December 04, 2008|By Cynthia Dizikes | Cynthia Dizikes,Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - President-elect Barack Obama will likely confront a biological or nuclear attack at home or abroad if the United States and its allies do not act decisively to prevent it, according to a report released this week by a panel created by Congress.

The report found that the United States had taken important steps to counteract nuclear proliferation and, to a lesser extent, biological terrorism, but had "not kept pace with growing risks."

The nine-member, bipartisan commission presented its conclusions yesterday to Vice President-elect Joe Biden and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, Obama's nominee for secretary of Homeland Security.

"We have been losing ground, and we are less secure today than we have been in the recent past," said former Sen. Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who is the commission chairman, as the panel released its findings yesterday.

The report concluded that biological agents pose the most imminent threat to the United States among weapons of mass destruction. The spread of biotechnology, and the corresponding rise of poorly secured and regulated pathogens around the world, has put the United States in an increasingly precarious situation, Graham said.

The Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism said American security is threatened by nuclear weapons programs in Iran and North Korea, as well as in Pakistan, given its history of political instability and arsenal of several dozen nuclear warheads.

"What we're saying in this report is: Look, this is urgent and important, and it has to constantly be at the top of the menu," said former Sen. Jim Talent, a Missouri Republican and the commission's vice chairman.

The report, which was ordered by Congress last year to serve as a road map for the next administration, made several recommendations about reorganizing agencies aimed at slowing the spread of nuclear weapons.

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