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Nuclear, biological attack 'likely': US commission

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Dec 2, 2008
Terrorists are "likely" to use nuclear or biological weapons in the next five years, a US commission warned Tuesday, highlighting Pakistan as the weakest link in world security.

Without urgent action, "it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013," the bi-partisan commission said in its report "World at Risk."

The report, ordered by Congress and based on six months of research, warned the incoming administration of Barack Obama: "America's margin of safety is shrinking."

The report was due to be presented to President George W. Bush on Wednesday, the White House said, and also to vice president-elect Joseph Biden, according to officials from Obama's transition team.

The main dangers highlighted by the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism are the rapid spread of atomic technology in countries such as Pakistan and Iran and poor security in biotech industries worldwide.

Although Pakistan is a close US ally, its inability to control swaths of territory, violent political instability, and a nuclear standoff with neighboring India make the Islamic nation the most lethal tinderbox of all.

"Were one to map terrorism and weapons of mass destruction today, all roads would intersect in Pakistan," the report said.

"There is a grave danger it could also be an unwitting source of a terrorist attack on the United States, possibly with weapons of mass destruction," the report said.

The commission said terrorists are more likely to be able to obtain biological than nuclear weapons, with anthrax a particular danger, and warned that threats are "evolving faster than our multi-layered response."

The White House portrayed "World at Risk" as proof of Bush's strong security record, arguing that the United States has made important strides in addressing the dangers of nuclear and germ attacks.

"Under President Bush's leadership, extensive progress has been made on securing the world's weapons of mass destruction and protecting our citizens from a WMD attack," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.

"Our WMD preparedness has been transformed," Stanzel said in comments sent by email.

Congresswoman Jane Harman, the Democrat heading the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence and Terrorism Risk Assessment, also downplayed the warnings.

"It's time to retire the fear card," she said in a statement.

"We need to educate and inform the American people, not terrify them with alarming details about possible threats to the homeland.... Congress has in fact done a great deal to minimize and mitigate WMD threats."

The commission was led by former senator Bob Graham of Florida, a Democrat, and former congressman James Talent of Missouri, a Republican.

They were tasked by Congress in 2007, fulfilling a recommendation from the commission examining the hijacked airliner attacks of September 11, 2001 against New York and the Pentagon.

The main recommendations of the commission, aimed principally at the incoming Obama White House, are:

-- Better safeguard uranium and plutonium stockpiles and step up measures against nuclear smuggling rings.

-- Toughen the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

-- Ensure access to nuclear fuel for countries committed to developing only peaceful atomic technology.

-- Prevent new countries, including Iran and North Korea, from possessing uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing capabilities.

-- Urgently tighten security in domestic bio-sphere institutes and laboratories.

-- Call for an international conference of countries with major biotechnology industries.

-- Secure nuclear and biological materials in Pakistan.

-- Constrain a growing Asian arms race.

-- Agree with Russia on extending essential monitoring provisions of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty due to expire in 2009.

-- Create a White House advisory post on weapons of mass destruction proliferation.

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