- WASHINGTON -- The bombings of two U.S. Embassies in Africa, as bad as they
were, pale against the kinds of terrorist threats envisioned by U.S. officials.
- Even as the U.S. reinforces security
abroad and at home, officials are anticipating the day when extremists
give up powerful explosives in favor of lethal microbes and toxic chemicals
capable of causing even more terror and death.
- The Pentagon, for instance, recently
staged a mock attack by terrorists, who infiltrated the building, took
hostage Defense Secretary William Cohen's staff and released the deadly
nerve agent sarin.
- The May exercise, which involved more
than 500 people, including the Pentagon's SWAT team, FBI, local police
and a metropolitan medical strike team, was intended to test contingency
plans for a domestic chemical or biological terror attack.
- Such concerns were reflected in a presidential
order, signed days before the Pentagon drill, which gave heightened priority
to counter-terrorism efforts. In June, Clinton asked Congress for $294
million in additional counter-terrorism spending to stockpile antidotes
and antibiotics and to train federal and local officials how to respond
to a chemical or biological attack.
- In a report to Congress earlier this
year, the General Accounting Office said emergency response personnel in
fewer than two dozen of 120 earmarked cities have been trained so far in
general terrorism responses under a $30 million program passed by Congress
in 1996. Chicago is among the cities where personnel have been trained.
- Also, the GAO said conventional explosives
and firearms, not exotic new weapons, are likely to continue as the "weapons
- "Terrorists are less likely to use
chemical and biological weapons than conventional explosives, although
the likelihood that they may use chemical and biological materials may
increase over the next decade," the GAO said.
- After the bombings in Kenya and Tanzania,
the FBI sent a terrorism alert to all federal government buildings, but
officials wouldn't say whether government buildings have increased security.
- In its annual report on terrorism, issued
last week, the FBI listed three instances of domestic terrorism in 1996,
the most recent year for which it releases such information. They were
the Centennial-Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta and two bombings and bank
robberies attributed to members of the Phineas Priesthood, a white supremacist
- The FBI reported preventing five planned
domestic terrorist incidents--including an attack on law enforcement personnel
and bombings of federal buildings-- that security analysts said show the
- "Do we see an increasing threat
on the domestic level? I'm afraid we do," said Clark Staten, executive
director of the Emergency Response and Research Institute, a Chicago-based
organization that advises government and business about emergency response
and security issues.
- In the aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma
City bombing, Washington has spent $397 million on security improvements
at federal buildings around the country. Along with physical measures,
such as barriers and metal detectors, the government has more than doubled
the number of guards at federal buildings to over 5,300 from 2,300.
- Robert Peck, a top official at the General
Services Administration, told a congressional committee in June that the
government has completed 90 percent of the 8,000 security improvements
recommended in the wake of Oklahoma City. "In many cases, the remaining
improvements are more difficult--they require building redesigns or renovations,"
- In recent years, the General Services
Administration, which manages federal buildings, has replaced about 40
courthouses with new, more secure buildings. In Hammond, Ind., for instance,
the new building was designed so that windows in judges' chambers are not
exposed to the street.
- The agency has identified a further 120
courthouses that need to be replaced because they are too small, have serious
security deficiencies, or both.
- At current funding levels of $500 million
a year, that will take 10 years, Peck said.
- While improving security at U.S. buildings
at home and abroad can deter attacks on them, terrorists may still strike
where they are not expected, as was the case in Kenya and Tanzania, where
the terrorism risk wasn't considered high.
- "The bad guys are going to go for
soft targets. They like easy targets," said Staten, a retired assistant
chief of the Chicago Fire Department.
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