- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 28, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Heritage Foundation recently convened a meeting of experts to discuss “Weapons of Mass Destruction and America’s Communities,” the various ways terrorists might attack our allies and us in the future, and what might be done to stop them. You can imagine what a merry gathering this was.

The most obvious concern: the spread of nuclear weapons. There was consensus that if Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, is not prevented from acquiring nukes, the result will be a nuclear proliferation “cascade.” Before long, so many countries would have so many nuclear devices that the chances of terrorist groups getting their hands on at least a few of them would increase exponentially.

A scenario perhaps even more frightening: Terrorists using biological weapons, setting off epidemics of smallpox, Ebola virus or other hemorrhagic fevers; a crop duster spreading 10 pounds of anthrax causing more deaths than in World War II; genetically engineered pathogens - for example, a super contagious form of HIV.

We also discussed radiological dispersal devices, more commonly known as “dirty bombs.” Such weapons are fairly simple to construct: radioactive materials - e.g., radium, radon, thorium - are wrapped around a core of conventional explosives. Though the device would not carry the lethality of a nuclear or biological weapon, its psychological and economic impact could be substantial.

How else might terrorists advance toward their goal, succinctly articulated by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as “a world without America”?

Adm. Mike McConnell, who until February of this year was the director of national intelligence (America’s top spy), recently told Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes” that he was increasingly concerned about cyberwarfare, the use of computers and the Internet as weapons.

“If I were an attacker and I wanted to do strategic damage to the United States … I probably would sack electric power” throughout as much of the country as possible, he said. Adm. McConnell also worries about the possibility that a cyberattacker could destroy the electronic processes and records that keep track of money and its movements, thereby setting off an economic collapse.

Another way to destroy the electric grid as well as everything computerized: an Electromagnetic Pulse Attack. In 2001, the U.S. government established a commission to “assess the threat to the United States” from an EMP attack. The commission reported to Congress that if a nuclear warhead were to be detonated at high altitude over the American mainland, the blast would produce a shock wave so powerful that it would “cripple military and civilian communications, power, transportation, water, food and other infrastructure.”

Among the experts attending this conference, all agreed that the use of such terrorist weapons is a more serious and imminent threat than is “global warming.” Yet no summits are being organized to decide how the United States and other targeted nations can best defend themselves.

I would argue that if we are to prevent our enemies from doing the kind of damage they intend, we must play offense as well as defense. We’ll need to keep our enemies on the run, pursuing them in their training camps, laboratories and safe houses, forcing them to look over their shoulders and worry that they may be killed or captured, and being captured should not mean being presented on a global stage to spout propaganda at American taxpayer expense.

Our choice is to advance or retreat, hunt or be hunted - win or lose. There is no fortress we can build, no permanent stalemate we can achieve, no gesture or concession that will make us inoffensive to our enemies. When the barbarians are at the gate, you need to do more than lock up, and we haven’t even done that yet.

George Orwell articulated a fundamental rule of national security: “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” Much of the Western world is now led by people who believe that rule may have applied in the old days but no longer. If that doesn’t keep you awake at night, nothing will.

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.

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