- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2001

Terrorists assemble their weapons of mass destruction in secret then attack without warning.

But what if the authorities had the benefit of early warnings advance information on the bomb-making of the terrorists, international and domestic, who slaughtered hundreds each time they struck in the tragedies of Pan Am 103, New York City´s World Trade Center, Oklahoma City´s federal building, U.S. military barracks in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia?

Think of the lives that could have been saved, the tragedies that could have been averted, if the authorities had been able to act decisively to deny those terrorists the bombs and materials they used in their cowardly political acts.

Now think about the far greater danger that imperils all citizens of the planet if rogue terrorists are able to buy or steal poorly secured weapons of mass destruction nuclear, biological, or chemical that can kill not just hundreds, but hundreds of thousands of people in a single strike. And think about how vital it is that when the authorities have the benefit of early warnings advance information they act decisively to prevent weapons of mass destruction from falling into the hands of terrorists.

The other day in D.C., just such an early warning was sounded loudly and clearly. It was sounded by a man who knows what he´s talking about, former Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn.

"Much of Russia´s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and materials are poorly secured; it´s weapons scientists and guards poorly paid," Mr. Nunn said in a March 29 speech at the National Press Club. "We have a vital national security interest … in working with Russia to make sure that weapons of mass destruction do not end up in the hands of those who would not hesitate to use them against America and our allies or against Russia."

The Georgia Democrat took early retirement from the Senate in 1996 and, as happens only occasionally in Washington, he is still working for what has become his ongoing cause. Mr. Nunn is the co-chair of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a new organization that seeks to promote public awareness and official action to reduce threats posed by weapons of mass destruction. His job is to provide the expertise and direction. The other co-chair is Ted Turner, founder of CNN. His job is to provide the funding.

Mr. Nunn´s message should have been major news everywhere. But no. There is nothing much for today´s tabloidy TV newscasts no flames, no dames, no name-calling games when an ex-senator in a suit reads a speech. Even if it is an early warning that can save the planet from a nuclear tragedy. So C-Span and NPR pretty much had the story to themselves.

Mr. Nunn cited some early successes: "In 1994, in Prague, authorities confiscated 2.7 kilograms of extremely potent nuclear bomb-making material… . In 1998, an employee at a Russian nuclear weapons laboratory was arrested trying to sell nuclear weapons designs to agents of Iraq and Afghanistan."

But he noted that weapons of mass destruction especially in the former Soviet Union are increasingly vulnerable to preying terrorists. "Throughout the 1990s, thousands of Russian weapons scientists saw their jobs cut or wages slashed, and thousands responsible for the security of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and materials went months without pay. During this period, Iranian intelligence officers began making recruiting trips to Russia, offering biological weapons scientists many times their pay to move to Iran."

And Mr. Nunn recalled the vow of the richly financed leader of the terrorists who prey: "In 1999, terrorist Osama bin Laden, said: 'To seek to possess the weapons that could counter those of the infidels is a religious duty.´ " On the day of Mr. Nunn´s speech, the New York Times led its front page with an exclusive detailed report by correspondent Judith Miller about the Bush White House´s new comprehensive review of all programs designed to help Russia safeguard its weapons of mass destruction and destroy those that are obsolete. The U.S. government spends $760 million a year on these programs.

While Mr. Nunn welcomed a Bush administration review to improve efficiency, he said: "I am puzzled as to recent rumors which indicate that budgets for these essential threat reduction programs may be seriously reduced. If true, this would be heading backward. No one knows how long the present window of opportunity will remain open."

And Mr. Nunn added, accurately and urgently: "No investment pays a higher dollar-for-dollar dividend in national security than investment in threat reduction. None."

Martin Schram is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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