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Statement of

Mark Gebicke

Director, National Security and Preparedness Issues
General Accounting Office

Before the

Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
U.S. House of Representatives

Hearing on Preparedness Against Terrorist Attacks

June 9, 1999

Madam Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

I am pleased to be here to discuss our prior work and observations on federal efforts to combat terrorism, especially those to prepare for and respond to terrorist attacks involving chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) weapons or devices. As you know, the President's fiscal year 2000 budget requested about $10 billion to combat terrorism. According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), about $1.4 billion of that amount was for dealing with "weapons of mass destruction." Over the past 3 years we have evaluated and reported on a number of issues concerning federal programs and activities to combat terrorism. A list of related GAO reports and testimonies is attached to this statement.

My testimony will focus on three issues. First, I will briefly describe the foreign- and domestic-origin terrorism threats, as we understand them from intelligence analyses, and discuss some issues surrounding the emerging threat of CBRN terrorism. Second, I will provide our observations on the growth in federal programs to provide training and equipment to local "first responders"-police, fire, and emergency medical services and the expansion of federal response elements and teams to deal with a possible CBRN terrorist attack. Finally, I will discuss some steps the executive branch has taken to better manage federal efforts to combat terrorism and some opportunities we see for additional focus and direction.


U.S. intelligence agencies continuously assess both the foreign and domestic terrorist threat to the United States and note that conventional explosives and firearms continue to be the weapons of choice for terrorists. Terrorists are less likely to use chemical and biological weapons than conventional explosives, although the possibility that they may use chemical and biological materials may increase over the next decade, according to intelligence agencies. Agency officials have noted that terrorist use of nuclear weapons is the least likely scenario, although the consequences could be disastrous. Although the intelligence agencies agree on these matters, we have observed many conflicting statements and views in public documents and testimony about the CBRN terrorism threat. In addition, there is an apparent disconnect between the intelligence agencies' judgments and the focus of certain programs.

Since 1996, the number of federal programs and initiatives to combat terrorism have grown significantly. According to the Office of Management and Budget, funding has also increased from about $6.5 billion in fiscal year 1998 to about $10 billion requested for fiscal year 2000. At the same time that the federal

government has created several potentially overlapping programs to train and equip local first responders to prepare for possible CBRN terrorist attacks, federal agencies have also expanded the number of federal response teams, capabilities, and assets.

The executive branch has taken some important steps toward improving the way it manages and coordinates the growing, complex array of agencies, offices, programs, activities, and capabilities. For example, OMB has issued two governmentwide reports—one in 1998 and one in 1999—on funding levels and programs to combat terrorism. In addition, in December 1998, the Attorney General issued a classified 5-year interagency plan on counterterrorism and technology. The Attorney General is also establishing a National Domestic Preparedness Office at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to try to reduce state and local confusion over the many federal training and equipment programs to help them prepare for terrorist incidents involving CBRN weapons. While these are important positive steps, we see opportunities to improve the focus and direction of federal programs and activities to combat terrorism. For example, a governmentwide strategy that includes a defined end-state and priorities is needed, along with soundly established program requirements based on assessments of the threat and risk of terrorist attack. In addition, a comprehensive inventory of existing federal, state, and local capabilities that could be leveraged or built upon is warranted before adding or expanding federal response assets. Without these fundamental program elements, there can be little or no assurance that the nation is focusing its investments in the right programs and in the right amounts and that programs are efficiently and effectively designed and implemented.


Under Presidential Decision Directive 39 (June 1995) federal efforts to combat terrorism are organized along a lead agency concept. The Department of Justice, through the FBI, is the lead federal agency for crisis management of domestic terrorist incidents and for pursuing, arresting, and prosecuting the terrorists. For managing the consequences of domestic terrorist incidents, state and local authorities are primarily responsible. If federal assistance is requested, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the lead federal agency for consequence management. FEMA coordinates this federal support through the Federal Response Plan, which outlines the roles, responsibilities, and emergency support functions of various federal agencies for consequence management. The National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counterterrorism at the National Security Council is charged with coordinating the broad variety of relevant policies and programs including such areas as counterterrorism, preparedness, and consequence management for CBRN terrorist incidents.



Terrorist bombings of the World Trade Center in New York City in 1993 and the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 have elevated concerns about terrorism in the United States. Previously, the focus of U.S. policy and legislation had been on international terrorism abroad and airline hijacking. Intelligence agencies continuously assess the foreign and domestic terrorist threats to the United States. The U.S. foreign intelligence community, which includes the Central Intelligence Agency and others, monitors the foreign-origin terrorist threat to the United States. In addition, the FBI gathers intelligence and assesses the threat posed by domestic sources of terrorism.

What is important about these assessments is the very critical distinction between what is conceivable or possible and what is likely in terms of the threat of terrorist attack. While concerns about terrorist use of CBRN weapons were heightened by an apocalyptic sect's use of a nerve agent in the Tokyo subway in

1995, terrorists are still reportedly more likely to use conventional weapons. According to the U.S. intelligence community, conventional explosives and firearms continue to be the weapons of choice for terrorists, at least partly because chemical and biological agents are more difficult to weaponize and the results are unpredictable.

On average, from 1992 through 1998, there were fewer than four terrorist incidents in the United States each year, according to FBI statistics. Figure 1 provides FBI data on the number of terrorist incidents in the United States during the 1992-98 period, none of which were CBRN attacks.

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The intelligence community reports that some foreign-origin groups and individuals of concern are showing an increasing interest in using chemical and biological materials. The FBI also reports an increasing number of domestic cases involving U.S. persons attempting or threatening to use such materials. Agency officials have noted that, although the consequences could be disastrous, the terrorist use of nuclear weapons is the least likely scenario.

Issues Surrounding the Emerging

CBRN Terrorism Threat

Statements made in testimony before the Congress and in the press by various officials on the issue of making and delivering a terrorist chemical or biological weapon sometimes contrast sharply. On the one hand, some statements suggest that developing a chemical or biological weapon can be relatively easy. For example, in 1996, the Central Intelligence Agency Director testified that chemical and biological weapons can be produced with relative ease in simple laboratories, and in 1997, the Central Intelligence Agency Director said that "delivery and dispersal techniques also are effective and relatively easy to develop."

Similarly, an article by former senior intelligence and defense officials noted that chemical and biological agents can be produced by graduate students or laboratory technicians and that general recipes are readily available on the internet.

On the other hand, some statements suggest that there are considerable difficulties associated with successfully developing and delivering a chemical or biological weapon. For example, the former Deputy Commander of the Army's Medical Research and Materiel Command testified in 1998 that "an effective, mass-casualty producing attack on our citizens would require either a fairly large, very technically competent, well-funded terrorist program or state sponsorship." More recently, in March 1999, the Special Assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence for Nonproliferation testified that "the preparation and effective use of biological weapons by both potentially hostile states and by non-state actors, including terrorists, is harder than some popular literature seems to suggest."

We are reviewing the scientific and practical feasibility of the terrorist chemical and biological threat for the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs; the Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee; and the House Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs, and International Relations. Specifically, we are examining the ease or difficulty for a non-state actor to successfully obtain chemical and biological agents, process the materials, and make and deliver chemical and biological weapons that can cause mass casualties. We plan to issue our report later this summer.

We have also observed a disconnect between intelligence agencies' judgments about the more likely terrorist threats—particularly the chemical and biological terrorist threat--and certain domestic preparedness program initiatives. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) fiscal year 1999 budget amendment proposal for its bioterrorism initiative included building--for the first time--a civilian stockpile of antidotes and vaccines to respond to a large-scale biological or chemical attack and expanding the National Institutes of Health's research into related vaccines and therapies. Specifically, the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act (P.L. 105-277) included $51 million for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention to begin developing a pharmaceutical and vaccine stockpile for civilian populations.

HHS' legislatively required operating plan discusses several chemical and biological agents selected for its stockpiling initiatives. These agents were selected because of their ability to affect large numbers of people (create mass casualties) and tax the medical system. We observed that several of the items in HHS' plan did not match individual intelligence agencies' judgments, as explained to us, on the more likely chemical or biological agents a terrorist group or individual might use. HHS had not documented its decision making process for selecting the specific vaccines, antidotes, and other medicines cited in its plan. Thus, it was unclear to us whether and to what extent intelligence agencies' official, written threat analyses were used in the process to develop the list of chemical and biological terrorist threat agents against which the nation should stockpile. Further, we have not seen any evidence that HHS' process incorporated the many disciplines of knowledge and expertise or divergent thinking that is warranted to establish sound requirements to prepare for such a threat and focus on appropriate medical preparedness countermeasures.



Federal funding of efforts to combat terrorism has increased rapidly. According to the Office of Management and Budget, funding to combat terrorism has increased from about $6.5 billion in fiscal year 1998 to about $10 billion requested for fiscal year 2000. Overall, the number of agencies, offices, and initiatives to combat terrorism has also grown substantially. Specifically, since 1996, we have observed

growth in federal funding and programs to provide training and equipment to local first responders and, concurrently, growth and potential overlap in federal response elements and teams to deal with a possible CBRN terrorist attack. The federal response elements and assets have been established to support state or local incident commanders to manage the consequences of a possible CBRN terrorist attack.

Proliferation of Federal Programs to

Train and Equip First Responders

We have observed a proliferation of programs and initiatives across several agencies to provide training and/or equipment to local first responders for dealing with the consequences of a CBRN terrorist attack. On the surface, it appears to us that there is potential for duplication and overlap among these programs. The fiscal year 2000 budget request proposed $611 million for training, equipping, and exercising cities' first responders in preparation for a potential terrorist attack and for strengthening public health infrastructure. Table 1 summarizes some aspects of selected federal training and/or equipment programs available to state and local agencies to build or enhance their CBRN response capabilities.

Table 1: Selected Federal CBRN Consequence Management Training and/or Equipment Programs

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