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 Panel: U.S. not prepared to
combat weapons of mass destruction

July 8, 1999
Web posted at: 2:51 p.m. EDT (1851 GMT)

                  WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is not prepared to combat the "grave" threat of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons spreading around the world, the head of a high-level government commission told CNN Thursday.

                  The panel headed by John Deutch, former director of the CIA, studied potential disasters and how various agencies would respond. "The commission finds that the U.S. government is not effectively organized to combat proliferation," the panel said in a summary of the 140-page report expected to be released next week.

                  Scenarios studied included a disgruntled Russian scientist selling nuclear-weapons fuel to Iran, or anthrax being released in a crowded subway. "These events have not taken place. But they could," the panel warned.

Report recommends more focus on threat

                  Deutch told CNN that the report recommends President Clinton appoint a senior official -- at the level of deputy national security adviser -- to devote full time to "orchestrating and improving" government efforts to combat threats ranging from bio-terrorism on U.S. soil, to efforts by rogue states to obtain nuclear weapons.

                  He said "excellent work" is being done by various officials in the Defense Department, the intelligence community, the State Department, the Energy Department and others, but that it lacks focus and should be given a higher priority. "The government is not prepared," he said.

                  Particularly alarming are threats from economic problems in Russia. Seven times since 1992, weapons-grade nuclear materials have been stolen and the Russian government doesn't know how much material it has.

                 Other dangers are posed by China's export of missiles, North Korea's ability to manufacture weapons, instability in the Middle East and Asia and terrorist efforts to obtain weapons. Congress created the panel 18 months ago to assess how the government is dealing with the threats and to offer recommendations.

Correspondent David Ensor contributed to this report

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