Terrorism Threat 'More Lethal Than Ever'

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

(Correction: fixes date of commission report.)

(CNSNews.com) - A congressionally-chartered panel to combat terrorism has concluded that future terrorist attacks on the United States remain a significant threat and will be "more lethal than ever before."

The Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction, otherwise known as The Gilmore Commission after its leader, Virginia Governor James Gilmore, drew a second, now-chilling, conclusion in December 1999.

"The real weapon is not the device or material involved, but the terrorist's delivery capacity and capability," Gilmore said Monday, reading from a summary of the report. "And I'm afraid that this point has been born out by last Tuesday's events."

He said the commission is responding to the attacks by accelerating the completion schedule for its third and final report. That document is due in December, but could be ready before the end of the month.

"The terrorist has the advantage. They chose the time and the place and the manner (of an attack)," Gilmore stressed. "Therefore, professionals in the security field will have to address a variety and myriad of issues in the coming years."

Offering a preview of the report, he noted the lack of a national strategy to coordinate federal, state, and local prevention and response resources.

"Having a national strategy in place that directed the response as well as prevention over a period of years," Gilmore said, "certainly would put the country in a better position than it is in today."

Other areas to be addressed in the report include health and medical issues, specifically the ability to create and stockpile serums to be used in the event of a biological or chemical attack; border security, focusing on the millions of cargo containers that enter the U.S. annually; the use of the military in response to a domestic terrorism event; addressing civil liberties and constitutional concerns; and coordination of cross-jurisdictional response.

The report will also include a special emphasis on cyber-security. Former Army Secretary John O. Marsh. Jr., heads up the commission's research into threats from cyber-terrorism. He said the law has failed to keep pace with new technology.

"The opportunities to disrupt our information systems are very real," Marsh said, listing a number of proposed statutory changes to help government agencies communicate better with one another, and to help law enforcement detect the activities of terrorists more easily.

The law, he said, must be changed to acknowledge the global nature of the terrorist threat to America.

Gilmore was quick to stress that greater security does not have to mean less freedom for Americans. "You can take actions that provide proper constitutional safeguards, and continue to do the right thing to protect the people of the United States," he said.

"The American people should not, and should not be asked to give up civil liberties. That let's the enemy win," Gilmore said.

"The goal (of the terrorist attacks) was, in fact, to establish a new future based on tyranny, force, fear; to blot out a love of liberty and freedom," he concluded. "The people who committed these crimes with those goals in mind have failed."

Other recommendations of the panel will include creation of a "National Office on Combating Terrorism" in the White House; creation of a special congressional committee on terrorism to work directly with the White House on anti-terrorist legislation; development of a system to allow federal agencies to safely share intelligence information with state and local authorities on a need-to-know basis; elimination of restrictions that prevent intelligence agencies from recruiting spies within terrorist organizations; and preparation to respond to the possibility of a terrorist attack using biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons.

The Gilmore Commission is scheduled to meet September 24th to conclude its deliberations on its final report.