Sur­prise ter­ror­ist at­tacks re­main top threat; nu­clear blast not likely in U.S.

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Bill Gertz

A sur­prise at­tack on the United States by ter­ror­ists is the most wor­ry­ing threat fac­ing the coun­try, while a nu­clear det­o­na­tion by al Qaeda here re­mains a low prob­a­bil­ity, the ad­mi­ral in charge of the U.S. North­ern Com­mand says.

“We’retry­ing­to­think­throughthe un­known un­knowns,” Adm. Ti­mothyJ.Keat­ing,theNorth­com­leader, said in a tele­phone in­ter­view with re­porters.

Adm.Keat­ing­made­there­marks in com­ment­ing on a na­tion­wide, mul­ti­ple-in­ci­dent ex­er­cise that on Dec. 11 in­cluded a sim­u­lated nu­clear ter­ror­ist at­tack that de­stroyed the Pen­tagon.

The ex­er­cise was de­signed to test con­ti­nu­ity­of­gov­ern­men­tande­mer­gency re­sponse af­ter a one-kiloton nu­clear blast was set off, and Adm. Keat­ing said pre­lim­i­nary in­di­ca­tions showed that de­spite the at­tack, gov­ern­ment con­tin­ued “un­abated.”

Ca­su­al­ties from the sim­u­lated blast were in the “thou­sands” and a ra­dioac­tive plume trav­eled south through Crys­tal City and Alexan­dria, Va. based on weather com­puter mod­els.

Asked about gov­ern­ment con­cerns that al Qaeda could strike the United States in the fu­ture with some type of nu­clear de­vice, Adm. Keat­ing said Dec. 8 that it is some­thing to think about but not a worry.

“On a scale of one to 10, this is around one or two for the like­li­hood of ter­ror­ists to a) get the ma­te­rial, b) as­sem­ble the weapon, c) learn how to op­er­ate it, d) trans­port it, and e) use it,” Adm. Keat­ing said on Dec. 11 in a sec­ond tele­phone press con­fer­ence with re­porters from North­ern Com­mand head­quar­ters in Colorado Springs.

“We still have no more rea­son to­day than we did last week to think thatitismore­likely­but­that­does­not sto­pus­frombe­in­gre­quired­towork through the ‘what ifs,’ ” he said.

Adm. Keat­ing said the United States was not ex­pect­ing the Septem­ber 11 at­tacks on the World TradeCen­terandPen­tagonbe­cause the sui­cide air­line hi­jack­ings were “not in our kit bag of threats.”

What wor­ries U.S. mil­i­tary plan­ners in charge of pro­tect­ing the United States are un­con­ven­tional weapons strikes or un­ex­pected forms of at­tack.

“Things like bi­o­log­i­cal at­tacks, things like mar­itime at­tacks by small boats in some num­bers,” Adm. Keat­ing said. “We’re work­ing closely with intelligence agen­cies to try and red team all th­ese.”

Adm. Keat­ing said there is no intelligence in­di­cat­ing that ter­ror­ists may be plan­ning an at­tack on the United States dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son.

“I’m not aware of any op­er­a­tions in train,” he said, not­ing that dis­cus­sions with the Home­land Se­cu­rity De­part­ment and FBI have shown no in­for­ma­tion war­ranted an in­creased con­cern of at­tack.

The joint mil­i­tary and civil­ian ex­er­cise be­gan Dec. 4 and is test­ing re­sponses­tosi­mul­ta­ne­ou­sev­ents,in ad­di­tion to the nu­clear blast:

lTwo long-range mis­sile strikes from Asia on Hawaii and Wash­ing­ton state, one that failed and the sec­ond that was in­ter­cepted by a U.S. mis­sile de­fense in­ter­cep­tor.

lA se­ries of for­eign sui­cide car­bomb at­tacks on a U.S. mis­sile de­fense base at Fort Greely, Alaska, that were coun­tered with a rapid de­ploy­ment mil­i­tary force.

lThe crashofamil­i­tary­trans­port car­ry­ing nu­clear weapons at Davis- Mon­than Air Force Base, Ariz.

lA se­ries of threat­en­ing small­boat in­cur­sions that re­quired searches and board­ings at sea.

lHi­jacked civil­ian air­craft that were used in ter­ror­ist at­tacks against Seat­tle and Van­cou­ver, Bri­tish Columbia.

Army Col. Hugh Bell, a Northcom mis­sile de­fense of­fi­cer, said the com­mand is in charge of or­der­ing the use of mis­sile in­ter­cep­tors based in Alaska and Cal­i­for­nia, if an en­emy mis­sile is launched.

“The sit­u­a­tion is that there are folks who want to in­flu­ence other coun­tries and want to get their way and one of their meth­ods is to threaten the use of bal­lis­tic mis­siles,” Col. Bell said.

Col. Bell said the dan­gers from mis­siles in­clude a rogue na­tion such as North Korea or a ter­ror­ist group that man­ages to ob­tain mis­siles for use against the United States.

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