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Public Statements

Hearing of the Counter-terrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee - WMD Terrorism: Assessing the Continued Homeland Threat

Hearing

By:
Date:
Location: Unknown

I'd like to welcome everyone to today's hearing of the Subcommittee on
Counterterrorism and Intelligence.

I look forward to hearing from today's expert witnesses from the Aspen
Institute Homeland Security Group who are here to update the Committee
on the Recommendations of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons
of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, also known as the WMD
Commission.

It easy to forget that just one week after the terror attacks of September 11,
2001, a bioterrorist mailed letters containing anthrax spores to the offices of
several news media and two United States Senators. The toxic material
infected 22 people and took five lives.

Dozens of buildings were contaminated with anthrax as a result of the
attack. The decontamination of one postal facility took 26 months and cost
$130 million. The United States Environmental Protection Agency spent
some $40 million to clean up government buildings in Washington, D.C. In
all, at least 17 post offices and public office buildings were contaminated.
According to the FBI, the damage from the anthrax attacks cost $1 billion.

Despite the loss of life, this was a relatively unsuccessful attack. Had the
bio-agent been stronger, had the dispersal of the toxin been more
widespread, or had this been a sustained campaign by a terror group or
hostile nation state, hundreds of thousands could have been killed and there
would have been untold billions in economic and infrastructure damage.

In 2008, the Congressionally mandated Commission on the Prevention of
WMD Proliferation and Terrorism concluded that unless the world community
acts decisively and with great urgency, it is likely that a weapon of mass
destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the
end of 2013.

We know that former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had called for the
development and deployment of biological weapons before his death. We
know that al Qaeda's strategy against us and the West is one of "death by a
thousand cuts," and al Qaeda would love nothing more than to severely
hamper the American economy with a bio-terror attack.

For instance, just before his death in 2011 American cleric Anwar Awlaki was
publicly calling for such action, saying, "the use of chemical and biological
weapons against population centers is allowed and is strongly
recommended."

In addition to the al Qaeda threat, we know of active WMD programs in
Syria, Iran, and Pakistan, which could easily be used by hostile governments
or passed to allied terrorist organizations in order to threaten the United
States. Considering the political volatility in the Middle East, particularly in
Syria, the ability of these nations to properly secure their chemical and
biological weapon capabilities from hostile terror groups should also be of
paramount concern for us.

The threat of rogue regimes such a North Korea using such dangerous
weapons or selling them on a black-market to the highest bidder are both
security concerns as well.

WMD terrorism is a continuing and serious threat to the homeland. Four
years after the WMD Commission released its sobering assessment, the time
is ripe for reanalysis to ensure that resources are being targeted wisely.
The Aspen Institute's WMD Working Group has assessed that WMD terrorism
is a continuing and serious threat to the U.S. Homeland. At today's
hearing, we will hear from the Institute on where we are and where we need
to go.

This report reminds us that some of the building blocks for weapons of mass
destruction are appropriately and legitimately used in the U.S. for medical
and other peaceful purposes. So we must also ensure that certain biological,
radiological, nuclear, and chemical materials never fall into the hands of
domestic terrorists or others who would do us harm.

A host of government agencies are already working diligently on numerous
aspects related to international proliferation and security, as well as the
security of biological agents here at home.

For instance, the Intelligence Community continues to engage friendly
countries in intelligence gathering and sharing regarding bioterrorism and
the Department of Justice performs background checks on people who seek
to possess certain dangerous pathogens, such as researchers and hazardous
material drivers.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has also played a large role on
ramping up the preparedness apparatus and since 2004 has spent at least
$70 million developing more than 20 CBRN risk assessments.

In March of this year, this Committee marked up legislation I proposed in
order to establish weapons of mass destruction intelligence and information
sharing functions of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at DHS and to
require dissemination of information analyzed by the Department to entities
with responsibilities relating to homeland security.

This is a threat that I take very seriously, as the results of a successful CBRN
attack on the homeland would be catastrophic.


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