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Yes, al-Qaeda might build crude device to kill thousands, former
CIA Senior Officer Charles Faddis told
On 6 November 2009, Former CIA operations officer Charles S.
Faddis answered ISRIA's questions
on current developments related to counter-terrorism and the
threats of attacks using WMDs. Read on:
Q. What is, in your opinion, the current state of the
U.S. Intelligence services in relation to the prevention of
terrorist attacks, particularly regarding threats of using
WMDs to conduct these attacks? Eight years after 9/11, are
the intelligence agencies being successful in adapting to the
threat posed by transnational terrorism?
U.S. intelligence agencies are doing a better job collecting
against transnational terrorism today than they were before 9/11.
They have more resources, and they have greater latitude to work.
That said, they are still not doing enough. U.S. intelligence
agencies remain wedded to a Cold War structure and a stiff, risk
averse mentality that does not lend itself to successful counterterrorist
operations. What is needed is not additional bureaucratic restructuring
but a fundamental reshaping of how operations are conducted and
how intelligence agencies operate.
Q. Given that States are still the only organizations
with the resources necessary to develop nuclear weapons or
radiological materials, and that currently there are only a
few nuclear powers, do you believe that the threat of nuclear
terrorism, although not inconceivable, is out of the reach
of terrorist groups like al-Qaeda?
I do not believe that the threat of nuclear terrorism is out
of the reach of terrorist groups like al-Qaeda. Will they be
likely to build a sophisticated weapon on a par with that of
nation states ? No. Might they, if they succeeded in acquiring
nuclear material, build a crude device that would still kill
thousands ? Yes, and it is against this threat that we must
Q. In relation to the previous question, and given that
the 9/11 attack was carried within the U.S. territory, would
you agree that a terrorist attack using WMD might be more likely
to occur by disrupting/destroying facilities inside the U.S.
(such as nuclear power plants), rather than through an action
carried from abroad?
I think that our enemies have shown that they are clever, adaptable
and brutal. They are very good at finding ways to avoid our defenses
and security measures and turn our perceived strengths against
us. If a terrorist group can seize and meltdown a nuclear power
plant on U.S. soil, it can avoid all of the technological hurdles
inherent in building a nuclear weapon. A nuclear reactor will
not explode like an atomic bomb, but the radiation produced by
a meltdown could kill tens of thousands and render huge areas
uninhabitable for generations. We need to pay considerably more
attention to the security of our nuclear power plants in the
United States and substantially enhance their defenses.
Q. Can one fear any CBRN attack in countries other than
the U.S.? Is Western Europe facing the same threat?
Absolutely, Western Europe is facing the same threat. Look at
French nuclear reactors. The British have expanded their bio
lab infrastructure as well and already experienced at least one
incident where microbes escaped a lab, even without terrorist
action. How difficult would it be for someone working at such
a facility to succeed in bringing out a small quantity of a pathogen
and then grow it in a makeshift lab in an apartment or home?
Unfortunately, not very difficult.
Q. The report recently issued by the bipartisan Commission
on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation
and Terrorism has sparked an intense debate over the alleged
inadequacy of the current administration’s policies regarding
biological terrorism. The report suggests the appointment of
a senior official within the National Security Council whose
sole responsibility is to improve America’s capabilities
for biodefense. What is your perspective on the report’s
emphasis on creating a new figure in the NSC? Wouldn’t
this action just add another layer of bureaucracy to the intelligence
agencies without a relevant improving of effectiveness?
If the appointment of a senior official on the NSC would have
the effect of jumpstarting efforts to prevent bioterrorism, then
it might be a good thing. In general, though, I am very skeptical
of bureaucratic solutions which involve the creation of new offices
and new process. We do not need more people thinking about fighting
terrorism. We need more people actually doing something. Since
the anthrax attacks several years ago, we have dramatically increased
the number of labs in the US working with dangerous pathogens.
Most of these labs sit in proximity to major population centers.
In short, we are busily breeding the very diseases about which
we worry most and prepositioning them in areas where if released
they will do the most damage. Security at most of these labs
is non-existent. We don’t need to talk about that problem.
We need to do something about it.
Q. From a broad perspective, eight years after the beginning
of the “war on terror”, what is your perspective
on the militarization of antiterrorist operations that derived
from the decision to wage war against Afghanistan and Iraq?
Has the very notion of waging a “war” against terrorism
being helpful for the more traditional antiterrorist efforts
undertaken by the US intelligence agencies at home and abroad?
I think we are relying far too much on conventional military
means in the war on terror. This is a multi-dimensional conflict.
It will be won as much by economic, political and cultural means
as it will be by force. When force is required, I think it should
be applied most often by intelligence operatives and special
forces, not by infantry brigades and attack aircraft.
Q. Finally, how would you qualify the current situation
I think the United States has to think very carefully about
why it is in Afghanistan. We went there to drive out Al Qaeda.
Somehow we now find ourselves trying to build an entire nation
state on the Western model where no such entity has ever existed.
Before we slide any further down that slope, I suggest we pause
and reflect on the likely cost.
Charles S. Faddis is a former CIA operations officer.
He retired as the chief of CIA’s WMD terrorism unit in
May of 2008. He is the author of « Beyond
Repair », an examination of the state of the CIA,
which was recently released by Lyons Press. His next book, « Willful
Neglect », a critique of homeland security, will
be on shelves in early 2010. He lives near Annapolis, Maryland
and is the President of Orion
Strategic Services, a security consulting firm.
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