Air Force News

Weapons of mass destruction subject of counterproliferation center's efforts

Released: 1 Nov 1999

by Andrew Reese
Air University Public Affairs

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. (AFPN) -- Dateline Tokyo, March 20, 1995. In the middle of the morning rush hour, 10 terrorists board five trains at different stations. At a predetermined time, the 10 fanatics, part of a high-tech doomsday cult, puncture bags of sarin gas wrapped in newspaper as they leave their trains.

Twelve people die, and thousands more are incapacitated from exposure to the nerve gas. Police later discover that the same group is working on biological weapons and has attempted seven such attacks, including one against a U.S. naval base in Japan.

During the same year, a member of an Ohio hate group aquires a culture of bubonic plague bacteria, but he is arrested before he can use it.

They sound like stories ripped from the pages of a Tom Clancy novel, but the nuclear, chemical and biological threat to America isn't just pulp fiction, according to members of the Air Force Counterproliferation Center at Maxwell. The combination of rogue states, terrorist threats and easier availability of so-called "weapons of mass destruction" opens up frightening new possibilities - ones for which the Air Force must prepare.

"When the Soviet Union dissolved a few years back, the defense community was able to take a look at other problem areas around the world," said Col. Robert Sutton, CPC deputy director. "We discovered a lot of things that raised concern. Weapons of mass destruction were proliferating quickly and creating problems that we needed to address in innovative ways."

Enter the CPC, a small group of military personnel and national security analysts dedicated to expanding knowledge about how to counter the threat from weapons of mass destruction. It serves as a resource for the Air Force, providing education and research.

"The world is full of potential adversaries with weapons of mass destruction or (who are) attempting to acquire them," CPC director Barry Schneider said, "and our role is to help identify potential threats and propose new ways to address them."

To do this, Schneider said, the center uses several approaches. It provides counterproliferation courses, briefings, and materials to Air Force personnel and civilian leaders. The center also publishes books and studies; has established a counterproliferation information clearing house and Web site; helps place officers into counterproliferation positions; and gives faculty and curriculum support to enhance counterproliferation education and research at Air University schools.

"We've done as much as humanly possible with the resources we have to get the word out about counterproliferation issues," Schneider said. "We're well situated here because 17,000 Air Force people come through this base every year. We can potentially reach a significant percent of those people as they transit through Maxwell.

The center has now set its sites beyond Maxwell, hosting a conference to bring together top counterproliferation experts from around the world for its first major conference.

Distinguished guests arrived at Maxwell Air Force Base Nov. 1, for a three-day counterproliferation conference. Attendees represent all Air Force major commands, commander-in-chief headquarters staffs, the Air Staff, the Joint Staff, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

The conference, titled "Preparing the United States Air Force for Countering Chemical and Biological Warfare," is featuring some of what Schneider calls "the best and brightest in their fields," experts in chemical and biological warfare.

Conference speakers include Dr. Ken Alibek, the former chief scientist in the Soviet Offensive Biological Warfare program; William Patrick, Alibek's former American counterpart; Maj. Gen. Walter Busbee, former assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Counterproliferation and Chemical/Biological Defense; and Dr. Jay Davis, director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

The goal of the conference, as the title suggests, is to inform Air Force personnel on how to prepare the Air Force to counter chemical and biological warfare threats and to understand what steps still need to be taken to defend against them.


** U.S. Air Force Counterproliferation Center