Christopher Shays, Connecticut


Room B-372 Rayburn Building

Washington, D.C. 20515

Tel: 202 225-2548

Fax: 202 225-2382

[email protected]


Statement of Rep. Christopher Shays

October 20, 1999

This is our fifth hearing on federal efforts to combat terrorism at home and abroad. In previous sessions, we examined government-wide spending coordination and specific programs to train first responders, deploy National Guard rapid response teams, and strengthen public health capabilities to deal with weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Underlying all that testimony was one question: How should we fix spending priorities and establish programs to meet an inherently unpredictable, constantly changing threat?

To address that question, we asked the General Accounting Office (GAO) to examine one dimension of the threat: the scientific and practical aspects of terrorists carrying out large-scale chemical or biological attacks on U.S. soil. Their report discusses the degrees of difficulty terrorists face when trying to acquire, process, improvise, and disseminate certain chemical and biological agents to inflict mass casualties of one thousand or more. GAO recommends using that type of information to improve systematic threat assessments and refine federal program targeting.

That will not be easy. By its nature, terrorism partakes of the irrational and will not always succumb to rational dissection by the tools of threat assessment and risk management. Any rigid ranking of terrorists’ histories, capabilities, and intentions appears to equate likelihood with lethality, understating the threat posed by low probability, yet highly consequential, chemical and biological attacks.

But the threat can just as easily be overstated. Vulnerability alone is an inadequate measure, drawing scarce resources in a thousand directions. Preparing for every worst case scenario is neither practical nor affordable, and carries the additional risk we terrorize ourselves by starving other fiscal priorities and surrendering civil liberties.

As the threat of biological and chemical terrorism evolves, so should our response. Just as we learned to assess, and to a degree accept, the nuclear threat in the 1950s and 60s, our assessment of the risks posed by terrorism will need to adapt to the changing world environment of the next century.

Federal programs, not known for flexibility or adaptability, will need to change as well. What will guide those changes? Increasingly sophisticated judgements or generalized fears? Prudent planning or budgetary momentum? These are the issues we will confront today, and in future hearings as our oversight continues.

Our witnesses this morning bring significant expertise and insight to our discussion of an important national security issue. We appreciate their time and look forward to their testimony.