Obama to Appoint WMD Terror Prevention Coordinator

(Dec. 3) -U.S. President-elect Barack Obama plans to appoint an official to oversee all WMD terror prevention activities (Frank Polich/Getty Images)
(Dec. 3) -U.S. President-elect Barack Obama plans to appoint an official to oversee all WMD terror prevention activities (Frank Polich/Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama intends to assign a coordinator responsible for overseeing all efforts to prevent nuclear and other WMD terrorism, a step strongly urged by a bipartisan report issued this week, the Boston Globe reported today (see GSN, Nov. 20).

U.S. law requires the creation of such a White House post, but the Bush administration has so far resisted the mandate, the Globe reported. Obama would not, according to transition officials.

"I think it is a good idea and will probably happen" shortly after Obama takes office in January, said an Obama adviser.

Campaign documents also indicated the move.

"Everything involving nuclear weapons is inherently presidential and will require presidential leadership," a campaign Web site states. "Barack Obama will appoint a deputy national security adviser to be in charge of coordinating all U.S. programs aimed at reducing the risk of nuclear terrorism and weapons proliferation."

A major report released yesterday also recommended the creation of WMD terrorism prevention coordinator in the White House. The Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, led by former Senators Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Jim Talent (R-Mo.), cautioned that terrorists would probably use nuclear or biological weapons in the next five years unless urgent actions are taken (see GSN, Dec. 2).

"No single person is in charge of and accountable for preventing WMD proliferation and terrorism, with insight into all of [the] committees and interagency working groups focused on these issues," says the report. It suggests placing the coordinator in the National Security Council or in the vice president's office, and it recommends dropping a congressional requirement that the Senate approve the official. That provision had contributed the Bush administration's refusal to name a coordinator, the Globe reported.

"We have to make sure our own government is working effectively and somebody is waking up every day with this as their urgent call," added commission member and former U.S. Representative Tim Roemer (D-Ind.).

One expert welcomed the call for a high-level coordinator.

"Neither the Clinton administration, the Bush administration, nor the Congress under Democratic or Republican leadership has given preventive nonproliferation programs the priority they deserve," said Brian Finlay, of the Henry L. Stimson Center (Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, Dec. 3).

Commission members are scheduled today to brief Vice President-elect Joe Biden and Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, Obama's choice to lead the Homeland Security Department, on the report, according to an Obama release (Change.gov, Dec. 2).

Several U.S. lawmakers praised the commission yesterday, but one expressed concern over the report's alarmism.

"There is no greater urgency in protecting American people than addressing the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction proliferation and terrorism," said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "The report ... is a reminder that despite some progress, the risk associated with these weapons, and the technologies from which they come, continues to grow" (U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi release, Dec. 2).

"We must take every measure possible in addressing threats posed by weapons of mass destruction. We must eliminate those conditions that restrict or delay our ability to act," added Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who has supported a high-level coordinator (U.S. Senator Richard Lugar release, Dec. 2).

One key lawmaker, however, offered a more tempered assessment.

"Much in this report ... is important. However, it’s time to retire the fear card," said Representative Jane Harman (D-Calif.), who chairs the Homeland Security Intelligence and Terrorism Risk Assessment Subcommittee. “We need to educate and inform the American people, not terrify them with alarming details about possible threats to the homeland."

She argued that Congress has taken significant actions to reduce terrorist WMD threats, including passing port security legislation and funding biosecurity efforts. She praised Obama's Monday announcement of his choices for filling his top Cabinet positions (see GSN, Dec. 1).

“Yesterday’s roll-out of the president-elect’s national security team signifies that very capable nominees will use the full range of U.S. power to combat the serious terror threat. Now it’s time for the rhetoric about that threat to calm instead of inflame an anxious public," Harman said (U.S. Representative Jane Harman release, Dec. 2).

December 3, 2008
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U.S. President-elect Barack Obama intends to assign a coordinator responsible for overseeing all efforts to prevent nuclear and other WMD terrorism, a step strongly urged by a bipartisan report issued this week, the Boston Globe reported today (see GSN, Nov. 20).