Napolitano Calls Fighting Terror 'Top Priority'
By Spencer S. Hsu
Homeland security secretary-designee Janet Napolitano called the elimination of global terrorism the top priority of the incoming administration before a private briefing today by a new congressionally chartered commission on weapons of mass destruction, presided over by Vice President-elect Joseph Biden.
"The safety of our citizens, the safety of our homeland and the elimination of the threat of global terrorism is our top priority," the Arizona governor said, addressing reporters at transition offices in Washington for the first time since being tapped Monday by president-elect Barack Obama. "We will act, in the words of the commission, with the urgency called for by the nature of the threat that confronts us," she said.
Biden and Napolitano took no questions before beginning a 45-minute private meeting with the nine-member Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, chaired by former senators Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Jim Talent (R-Mo.).
The panel reported Monday that the world is more likely than not to experience a WMD attack during Obama's term in office, particularly one involving biological agents. The country's "margin of safety" is shrinking, not growing, because of the spread of technology and scientific knowledge, the report said.
In the 161-page report, titled, "World at Risk," commissioners concluded that the ubiquity of hard-to-detect biological pathogens and the decentralization of al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda-inspired extremists are increasing the risk of WMD attacks faster than the U.S. has been able to secure dangerous materials.
"We have been losing ground and we are less secure today than we have been in the recent past," Graham said.
In particular, Talent said, "We really do think the government needs to raise the visibility of the bio threat."
Offering an example of where the Homeland Security Department "ought to be at the center" of new efforts, Talent said 15,000 researchers in government-regulated, high-containment laboratories work daily with highly contagious pathogens without a common regulatory or security regime. He said the total does not count unregulated private sector researchers or those working overseas, where there are even fewer controls.
"This is not acceptable," Talent said.
The commission also recommended greater international focus on Pakistan, a nuclear power in which al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist organizations have carved out safe havens, and endorsed the appointment of a White House coordinator for counter-proliferation and counter-terrorism efforts at the National Security Council.
The panel also suggested reforming the State Department and U.S. foreign policy agencies along the lines of defense and intelligence community reorganizations.
Napolitano said the report "clearly shows that the United States must act urgently, deliberately, and in concert with nations across the globe to adapt to the constantly evolving threat of weapons of mass destruction."
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