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I thought this article might be of interest to those who where wondering
about the domestic terrorism topic's relevancy...
Copyright 1997 Roll Call Associates
May 19, 1997
LENGTH: 2374 words
HEADLINE: Domestic Terrorist Violence Forces the United States To Anticipate and
Prepare for Violent Attack
BYLINE: By Rep. Curt Weldon
For years, the majority of Americans lived free from the fear of terrorist
attack. To the general public, terrorism seemed a distant problem facing foreign
nations or individuals traveling overseas. But the bombings of the Oklahoma City
federal building and the World Trade Center in New York served as rude
awakenings for the American people, sending the clear message that not even the
United States is immune to terrorism.
Defined by the FBI as "the unlawful use of force or violence against persons
or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population,
any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives,"
terrorism has manifested itself in a variety of forms in recent years. These
incidents have ranged in size and scope from the recent abortion center bombings
near Atlanta, to the derailment of a 12-car Amtrak train in Arizona, to the
massive sarin gas attack in the subway system of Tokyo.
Terrorism is no longer an international issue involving foreign,
state-sponsored terrorist organizations. Today's terrorist groups also include
anti-government militias, religious and doomsday cults, and racist or white
supremacist organizations. As a result, federal and local law enforcement
officials must prepare and defend against a new kind of terrorism, one in which
we must defend the American people from attacks by fellow American citizens.
And the "information revolution" has created new problems for law enforcement
officials. Included in the vast wealth of information and data on the Internet
are frighteningly detailed instructions of how to make various bombs as well as
chemical and biological agents. The Internet also provides would-be terrorists
and hate groups the opportunity to communicate with one another nearly
instantaneously. It also allows individuals who possess a hatred for the
government, a particular race, or even a religion to more easily find
like-minded individuals who share their fanaticism and are willing to act
Responding to the increased threat of terrorism, Congress passed legislation
last year that improved the ability of law enforcement agencies to prevent
incidents from occurring and funded sorely needed training for our first
Despite these efforts, there are still several important issues that Congress
and the President must address in the coming year. Of particular concern are the
growing threats of cyberterrorism - the use of information warfare as a
terrorist activity - and the use of weapons of mass destruction, especially
chemical and biological weapons.
The age in which we live is a technological marvel. Computers, whether we
realize it or not, play a significant role in our daily lives. Even the simple
act of making a telephone call depends upon a complex computer system that
routes telephone signals to unused lines.
Our nation's transportation system, airplanes and trains alike, relies upon
computers to coordinate and keep track of which flight is in which air space
and at what altitude, or which train is on which track and heading in what
direction. Yet our dependence on these technologies may prove to be our
downfall. While these technologies offer important services, they also leave our
nation more susceptible to a terrorist attack that can cripple the United
States. In fact, our reliance on computers and technology has made the United
States, "more vulnerable than any nation on earth," according to the former
Director of the National Security Agency, Admiral Mike McConnell.
Too many lawmakers, in part because of their lack of understanding of the new
technologies, do not understand the magnitude of our nation's vulnerability to
How vulnerable are we? One computer expert recently told individuals at the
Center for Strategic and International Studies, "Give me $1 billion and 20
super-hackers, and I can shut down America." An official at the Department of
Defense bettered him, saying he could do the same job for $100 million.
Teenage computer hackers have demonstrated remarkable ease in penetrating
computer security systems throughout the government. Fortunately, many of these
individuals - some of whom have demonstrated the ability to circumvent as many
as three security firewalls - do not possess malicious intent. Yet imagine what
such a capability could mean in the hands of a terrorist. Imagine the
economic panic that would occur if trading on the New York Stock Exchange was
halted by a computer virus. Even a less direct attack, such as a program that
adds random numbers in spreadsheets, could potentially result in economic
Or what if our nation's air traffic control system was disabled, causing
hundreds of aircraft in flight to receive inaccurate or incorrect data, such as
orders to proceed for landing on a runway that is already occupied? The nation's
railway system could be just as easily scrambled, with trains and engineers
informed to proceed on already occupied tracks, resulting in disastrous
collisions. Our country's entire telecommunications system could also be
disabled, jamming telephone lines nationwide and bringing business in the
country to a virtual standstill.
At a hearing I chaired earlier this year, the National Security subcommittee
on military research and development learned that the Department of Defense has
developed a program that seeks to counteract such threats by improving the
security of our military's computer network. Despite this effort, DOD security
is being increasingly challenged by resourceful and skilled hackers.
Additionally, the current research being performed is aimed primarily at
protecting our military's computer infrastructure. Increased emphasis must be
placed upon the security of our nation's non-military computer and
Chemical and Biological Terrorism
Weapons of mass destruction - chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons -
also pose a grave terrorist threat to our nation. The sarin gas attack in the
Tokyo subway system offers grim testimony to the potential danger that faces the
United States. Although I loathe admitting it, I believe that it is only a
matter of time before such an incident occurs on US soil.
Biological weapons are frighteningly easy to produce. Kathleen Bailey, a
former assistant director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, has
stated that she is "convinced" that a would-be biological terrorist could amass
a major biological weapons arsenal with $10,000 worth of equipment in a
15-by-15-foot room. Another expert has said that the process is about as
complicated as manufacturing beer and less dangerous than refining heroin. It is
because of the low cost and simplicity with which a biological arsenal can be
amassed that it has earned its nickname as "the poor man's nuclear bomb."
Already, there have been numerous attempts to obtain and use these
destructive weapons. In May 1995, Larry Harris, a former white supremacist in
Ohio, ordered three vials of bubonic plague from a Maryland firm. Only after
he called the company four days later to complain that the shipment was taking
too long to arrive did he raise suspicions, and the FBI was contacted.
Congress, in response to this incident, passed anti-terrorism legislation last
year requiring the Centers for Disease Control to more carefully monitor who is
ordering various diseases for experimentation.
In another incident, two members of an anti-government tax protest group
known as the Minnesota Patriots were convicted in a plot to kill federal
agents using a deadly toxin known as ricin, a powdered protein extract of common
castor beans. Extremely deadly - it is 6,000 times more toxic than cyanide and a
mere speck can kill upon coming in contact with a person's skin - the group
planned to apply the substance to doorknobs where it would come into contact
with federal officials. There is no known antidote for this substance, which
causes an individual's red-blood cells to explode. Frighteningly, this incident
was stumbled upon only when a wife of one of the Patriots turned in her husband
after a marital spat. She turned over to authorities a baby-food jar containing
enough ricin to wipe out a small town.
Such weapons do not even need to be used directly against the civilian
population to have a disastrous impact. Karnal bunt disease of wheat, fungal
diseases of potatoes, or even mad cow disease could be used upon our nation's
food supply, economically destabilizing the entire country and causing serious
health risks to the population. One cult in the mid-1980s actually employed such
a tactic in seeking revenge upon an Oregon town with whom it had clashed. By
spreading salmonella bacteria on the salad bars of town restaurants, the cult
infected 750 residents with salmonella poisoning.
Prevention of such forms of terrorism is of utmost importance, and Congress
has consistently provided increased support for such efforts. But as the
Oklahoma City bombing demonstrated, prevention will not always be successful.
In the case of the World Trade Center bombing, imagine how much greater the loss
of life would have been if the terrorists' plan to create a cyanide gas cloud by
placing sodium cyanide in the explosives had proven to be successful.
In such a case, you would have the firefighters and emergency personnel who
respond to the blast exposed to chemical or biological agents, thereby adding to
the victim count. The Army and Marines have both already developed impressive
chemical and biological response teams, and I applaud them for their efforts.
But by the time they arrive on the scene, you may have an incident in which
dozens of firefighters and emergency responders have already been exposed to
chemical or biological agents.
Recognizing the threat posed by such incidents, Congress took the initiative
last year in providing initial funding for the Federal Emergency
Agency and DOD to assess and improve our nation's chemical and biological
response capabilities. FEMA and DOD plan on using this funding to train
firefighters and emergency responders in responding to chem/bio incidents in the
120 largest metropolitan areas.
This is a good first step, but it does not go far enough. Congress should
increase funding for the program so that FEMA can provide chemical and
biological training to every state's primary fire and emergency training
facility. Terrorists will not always pick a large metropolitan area to launch
their attacks, and small communities deserve the right to obtain chemical and
biological training if they choose.
One other area poses a serious challenge for local first-responders:
equipment. The Pentagon has developed state-of-the-art equipment capable of
detecting chemical and biological agents in the air. Available for as little as
$2,000, this technology could prove vital in saving the lives of firefighters
and emergency responders. New chem/bio suits also would provide important
protections for first-responders.
Unfortunately, this equipment is still out of the price range for many fire
departments, which operate on limited budgets. Additionally, the ability of
firefighters to use much of this military equipment - technology that could
save a firefighter's life -is restricted by current OSHA standards. Legislation
that I will be introducing shortly aims to correct these problems by providing
local communities with the option to use a portion of their community services
block grant to purchase new equipment. The legislation would also create a
federal low-interest loan program for fire departments to use in financing the
purchase of necessary equipment.
The massive proliferation of terrorist groups poses an ever-increasing threat
to the safety and security of our nation. Congress must meet these threats with
the attention they deserve, acting to ensure the safety of our nation's computer
and communications infrastructure, increasing our proactive efforts of
prevention, and providing our country's first-responders with the ability to
respond to incidents of chemical or biological terrorism.
Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa) is the chairman of the National Security subcommittee
on military research and development.
LOAD-DATE: May 19, 1997
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