An independent commission has concluded that terrorists will most likely carry out an attack with biological, nuclear or other unconventional weapons somewhere in the world in the next five years unless the US and its allies act urgently.
In a report to be released this week, the congressionally mandated panel found that with countries like Iran and North Korea pursuing nuclear weapons programs, and with the risk of poorly secured biological pathogens growing, unconventional threats are fast outpacing the defenses arrayed to confront them.
“America’s margin of safety is shrinking, not growing,” the bipartisan panel concluded.
Prepared before last week’s deadly terrorist attacks in Mumbai — which US officials say were most likely carried out by Pakistani militant groups based in Kashmir — the report also singled out Pakistan as a top security priority for the coming administration of US president-elect Barack Obama.
“Were one to map terrorism and weapons of mass destruction today, all roads would intersect in Pakistan,” the report states, citing the country’s terrorist haven along the border with Afghanistan and its tense relations with nuclear rival India.
“Pakistan is an ally, but 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 report is the result of a six-month study by the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, which Congress created last spring in keeping with one of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.
The nine-member panel received classified briefings, conducted several site visits, including meetings in Russia, and interviewed more than 250 government and independent experts in several countries.
The New York Times obtained a copy of the report’s 18-page executive summary. Details from draft chapters of the report on the threat of bioterrorism were published on Sunday by the Washington Post
The panel’s 13 recommendations focus on fighting the threat of bioterrorism, including improved bioforensic capabilities, and strengthening international organizations, like the International Atomic Energy Agency, to address the nuclear threat. It also calls for a comprehensive approach for dealing with Pakistan.
Overall, the findings and recommendations seek to serve as a road map for the Obama administration.
The report states in the opening sentence of the executive summary: “Unless the world community acts decisively and with great urgency, 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.”
Commission officials said that date is a judgment based on scores of interviews and classified briefings conducted by members of the panel — led by former senators Bob Graham and Jim Talent — but does not represent a new formal assessment by US intelligence agencies.
Several of the recommendations are not new and have been pursued with varying degrees of success by the Bush administration. On Pakistan, for example, the panel urges the Obama administration to work with Pakistan to eliminate that country’s terrorist havens, secure its nuclear and biological materials, counter extremist ideologies and constrain a “nascent nuclear arms race in Asia.”