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Last Updated

22 Aug 2003

Source: New York Times, October 1, 2001


Defense Secretary Warns Of Unconventional Attacks


WASHINGTON, Sept. 30 -- Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld warned today that he expected the enemies of the United States would eventually help terrorist groups obtain chemical, biological and possibly even nuclear weapons technology.

His remarks echoed other administration officials who have stepped up warnings on the spread of chemical and biological weapons, the threat of attacks against Americans overseas and the need for stronger antiterrorism measures at home.

Appearing on television, Attorney General John Ashcroft said the United States remained under threat of new attacks within its borders. Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff, said the administration believed that Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network may already have the means to use chemical and biological agents as terror weapons. On Friday, the State Department issued its latest warning of potential terrorist attacks against Americans traveling abroad.

The remarks by the three senior officials on separate programs were not based on any new intelligence, their subordinates at the Justice Department, the Pentagon and the White House said later.

President Bush and members of his cabinet have been urging Americans to resume flying, but the State Department has warned Americans traveling abroad.

''The U.S. government remains deeply concerned about the security of Americans overseas,'' the warning said. It said the fears were ''based on threatening rhetoric from extremist groups and the potential for further terrorist actions against American citizens and interests.''

Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Rumsfeld appeared to be highlighting the risks from terrorism that have prompted their departments to propose new strategies for combating terrorism. Mr. Ashcroft is pushing Congress to enact quickly a package of bills that would give the government significantly more authority to detain suspected terrorists, conduct electronic surveillance and seize assets of suspected terrorist organizations.

''We believe there are substantial risks of terrorism still in the United States of America,'' he said on the CNN program ''Late Edition.'' ''As we as a nation respond to what has happened to us, those risks may in fact go up.''

Mr. Rumsfeld said the Pentagon believed that several nations that support international terrorists have either developed or are trying to acquire chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, and that the dissemination of those weapons seemed a realistic concern.

''It doesn't take a leap of imagination to expect that at some point those nations will work with those terrorist networks and assist them in achieving and obtaining those kinds of capabilities,'' Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Mr. Rumsfeld, speaking on the NBC program ''Meet the Press,'' did not name those terrorist-supporting nations. But a Department of Defense report released in January said that Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan and Libya all have active chemical or biological weapons programs. In addition, Iraq and Iran are trying to acquire materials for nuclear devices, the report said. Those nations all are on the State Department's list of governments thought to sponsor international terrorism.

Mr. Rumsfeld is preparing to release the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review, an assessment of the nation's defense needs mandated by Congress. The document, which will be sent to Congress on Monday, focuses heavily on the need to protect the United States against terrorism and ballistic missile attacks, and on the proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Mr. Rumsfeld said today that the military was in the process of adjusting its command structure to deal with terrorism. ''There's always been terrorism,'' he said, ''but there's never really been worldwide terrorism at a time when the weapons have been as powerful as they are today, with chemical and biological and nuclear weapons spreading to countries that harbor terrorists.''

The defense secretary's concerns were repeated by Mr. Card. ''I'm not trying to be an alarmist,'' Mr. Card said on ''Fox News Sunday,'' ''but we know that these terrorist organizations, like Al Qaeda, run by Osama bin Laden and others, have probably found the means to use biological or chemical warfare.''

But for all the concerns that terrorists armed with chemical or biological weapons would have for the general public, Pentagon officials say they are most immediately worried about the safety of American military forces.

Asked today whether the United States was worried that military conflict in South Asia might destabilize Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons, Mr. Rumsfeld said yes. And asked if the United States would soon turn its attention to nations other than Afghanistan that support terrorism, like Iraq, Mr. Rumsfeld replied, ''I think we're already turning our attention to other states.''

He added, ''If Al Qaeda is in 50 or 60 countries, which we know, then clearly this is not a one-country problem.''

The administration's warnings about chemical and biological weapons were also picked up by Representative Henry J. Hyde, the chairman of the House International Relations Committee. On ''Meet the Press,'' Mr. Hyde, Republican of Illinois, said biological weapons ''scare'' him more than nuclear weapons because they can be brought into the country ''rather easily.''

But on the same program, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Delaware Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it was unlikely that terrorists had the technology to develop extremely deadly biological weapons. Terrorists might have access to weapons that use anthrax or smallpox strains, he said.

''There are those serious things,'' he said, ''but we can deal with them.''