Sat, Dec 27, 2008 - Page 7 News List

US forecasts threat based on global turmoil

PREDICTING THE WORST Homeland Security officials are especially pessimistic about biological threats, saying militants will try to conduct an attack in the next five years

AP , WASHINGTON

The threat to the US over the next five years will be driven by instability in the Middle East and Africa, persistent challenges to border security and increasing Internet savvy, a new intelligence assessment said.

Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks are considered the most dangerous threats that could be carried out against the US. But those threats are also the most unlikely because it is so difficult for al-Qaeda and similar groups to acquire the materials needed to carry out such plots, the internal US Homeland Security Threat Assessment for this year to 2013 said.

The al-Qaeda network continues to focus on US attack targets vulnerable to massive economic losses, casualties and political “turmoil,” the assessment said.

Earlier this month, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction remained “the highest priority at the federal level.”

Speaking to reporters on Dec. 3, Chertoff explained that more people, such as militants, will learn how to make dirty bombs, biological and chemical weapons.

“The other side is going to continue to learn more about doing things,” he said.

Marked “for official use only,” the report did not specify its audience, but the assessments typically go to law enforcement, intelligence officials and the private sector. When determining threats, intelligence officials consider loss of life, economic and psychological consequences.

Intelligence officials also predicted that in the next five years, militants would try to conduct a destructive biological attack.

Officials were concerned about the possibility of infections to thousands of US citizens, overwhelming regional health care systems.

There could also be dire economic impacts caused by workers’ illnesses and deaths. Officials were most concerned about biological agents stolen from labs or other storage facilities, such as anthrax.

“The threat of terrorism and the threat of extremist ideologies has not abated,” Chertoff said in his year-end address on Dec. 18. “This threat has not evaporated, and we can’t turn the page on it.”

These high-consequence threats are not the only kind of challenges that will confront the US over the next five years.

Militants will continue to try to evade US border security measures and place operatives inside the mainland to carry out attacks, the 38-page assessment said. It also said that they may pose as refugees or asylum seekers or try to exploit foreign travel channels such as the visa waiver program, which allows citizens of 34 countries to enter the US without visas.

Long waits for immigration and more restrictive European refugee and asylum programs will cause more foreigners to try to enter the US illegally. Increasing numbers of Iraqis are expected to migrate to the US in the next five years; and refugees from Somalia and Sudan could increase because of conflicts in those countries, the assessment said.

Because there is a proposed cap of 12,000 refugees from Africa, officials expect more will try to enter the US illegally as well.

Officials predicted the same scenario for refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Intelligence officials predicted the pool of radical Islamists within the US would increase over the next five years partly because of the ease of online recruiting means.

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