WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States remains
"dangerously vulnerable" to chemical, biological and nuclear attacks
seven years after the 9/11 attacks, a forthcoming independent study
And a House Democrats' report says the Bush administration has repeatedly missed opportunities to improve the nation's security.
The recent political rupture between Russia and
the U.S. only makes matters worse, said former Rep. Lee Hamilton,
D-Ind., who helped lead the 9/11 Commission and now chairs the
independent group's latest study.
Efforts to reduce access to nuclear technology
and bomb-making materials have slowed, thousands of U.S. chemical
plants remain unprotected, and the Bush administration continues to
oppose strengthening an international treaty to prevent bioterrorism,
according to the report by the bipartisan Partnership for a Secure
The group includes leaders of the disbanded 9/11
Commission, the bipartisan panel that investigated government missteps
before the 2001 terror attacks on the United States.
"The threat of a new, major terrorist attack on
the United States is still very real," says the report to be released
Wednesday, the same day a congressional commission will hold a hearing
in New York on nuclear and biological terrorism threats.
"A nuclear, chemical or biological weapon in the
hands of terrorists remains the single greatest threat to our nation,"
the report said. "While progress has been made in securing these
weapons and materials, we are still dangerously vulnerable."
Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, had harsher
criticism of the Bush administration's efforts. Their report, written
by the staffs of the House Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs
committees, found little or no progress across the board on national
"The Bush administration has not delivered on a
myriad of critical homeland and national security mandates," said the
Democrats' report that was released Tuesday.
"The administration has just failed to act in so
many ways," said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. "Let's say that we've
been fortunate that we have not been attacked" since 2001, said
Thompson, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee.
Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke called
the House report "egregiously political and insulting." He said
committee staffs did not consult the department during their research
and put partisanship above national security.
The independent report focuses narrowly on weapons of mass destruction.
The report and supporting studies describe a
failure of international cooperation to prevent terrorists from
obtaining weapons of mass destruction, which they call a major problem.
Many countries continue to ignore a United Nations mandate to prevent
the spread of weapons; the ability of many countries to monitor
potential bioterrorism is "essentially nonexistent," and dangerous
chemical weapons stockpiles remain in some countries, including Russia
and Libya, the report said.
Russia has been a significant player in U.S.
efforts to secure nuclear weapons and to eliminate inventories of
chemical weapons in the former Soviet Union. That cooperation could be
jeopardized as the two countries face off over the Russian invasion of
Georgia and concerns about a U.S. missile defense base in Poland,
The independent report, however, doesn't tell
the whole story either, said Bryan Wilkes, spokesman for the National
Nuclear Security Administration.
"By any objective standard — ranging from the
security of Russian nuclear weapons material, to the installation of
radiation detectors, to conversions of nuclear reactors — we are much
safer than we were 10 years ago," he said.
Bush on Monday canceled a civilian nuclear cooperation deal with Russia.
"The things we do to penalize Russia will make it more difficult for us to deal with Russia on other matters," Hamilton said.
State Department spokesman Robert Wood said he
hasn't seen the independent report. But he said there have been a
number of successes in recent years, including negotiations to
dismantle North Korea's nuclear program and Libya's agreement to end
its nuclear and chemical weapons program.
"We have been engaged multilaterally with a
number of countries to deal with this issue of weapons of mass
destruction," Wood said.
Wood said he also has not seen the Democrats'
report. "I fundamentally reject the charge that the administration has
made the world less safe from terrorism," he said.
House Democrats also blasted Bush policy in
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia as damaging to national
security. U.S. efforts to combat terrorists in Pakistan have suffered
because of "unyielding support for a military dictator"; Iraq has
drained resources from the fight in Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia
continues to serve "as a major source of terrorist activity," the
Democrats' report states.
The independent study, however, did credit the
Bush administration with progress in a number of areas. It cited
improved U.S. port security, reduction of military chemical stockpiles,
increased U.S. funding for securing nuclear weapons sites in Russia and
new international programs aimed at preventing crimes involving