In Case of Emergency, Read This Blog

In Case Of Emergency, Read Blog

A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness

Peggy Noonan: Public/Government Complacent On WMD Threat (”Our Eye Is Off The Ball”), Warns Of “Second Failure Of Imagination”

June 11th, 2010 · 1 Comment

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan has a column about the nation’s lack of readiness for weapons of mass destruction (WMD), “‘We Are Totally Unprepared’: Nine years after 9/11, a chilling complacency about WMD attacks.” She writes:

The most important overlooked story of the past few weeks was overlooked because it was not surprising. Also because no one really wants to notice it. The weight of 9/11 and all its implications is so much on our minds that it’s never on our mind.

I speak of the report from the Inspector General of the Justice Department, issued in late May, saying the department is not prepared to ensure public safety in the days or weeks after a terrorist attack in which nuclear, biological or chemical weapons are used…

Noonan notes that the Justice IG was not alone in noting the lack of WMD readiness:

The report was not the first of its kind. Six months ago, the bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism gave both the Obama administration and Congress failing grades on preparedness for biological attack…

After the Inspector General’s report, Paul McHale, a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania who also served as an assistant secretary of defense under George W. Bush, told the Los Angeles Times: “There is a sense of complacency that has settled in nearly a decade after Sept. 11.” The paper also quoted Randall Larsen, the former executive director of the commission that gave the government low marks in January: “They just don’t see the WMD scenario as most likely,” he said.

They don’t? They must be idiots. They must not be reading all the government reports of the past eight years, declaring terrorist attacks on U.S. soil not only likely but virtually certain…No one wants to think about it. I don’t want to think about it. But you have to make plans. You have to imagine, you have to think about the worst case, and then you have to plan for it—literally…

Noonan says that the success in preventing another major attack has been a double edged sword in part by presenting a misimpression about the nation’s preparedness and response abilities:

Our eye is off the ball. The public, in spite of what it knows in the day to day, assumes the government is on the case. And certainly the government is on the case with regard to prevention: Not being hit again since 2001 means something, and our antiterrorism professionals, intelligence and law-enforcement agents, do impressive work. In New York the past week they picked up two apparent would-be terrorists who won’t be playing jihad anytime soon. But public awareness of prevention success gives the impression the government is similarly capable in terms of readiness and response…

On 9/11 we were rocked but held together. In a second and more devasting attack, public safety and public unity would be infinitely more stressed. The event, having had a precursor, would be infinitely more painful. You’d think this would focus the government’s mind.

We may be witnessing again a failure of imagination, the famous phrase used after 9/11 to capture why the U.S. government was caught so flatfooted and was so stunned that such a terrible thing could occur. They neglected to think of the worst thing that could happen, and so of course they did not plan for it. If agencies within the government now are having a second failure of imagination, it is not forgivable. We’re not being asked to imagine a place we’ve never been, after all, we’re only being asked to imagine where we’ve been, and how it could be worse, and plan for it.

Though Noonan was a speechwriter for Republican presidents Reagan and Bush, her general theme about the need to engage the public on WMD response was echoed by a current top DHS official Tara O’Toole in a speech this week.

These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Digg
  • Technorati

Tags: Biological Terrorism · Media · Nuclear Terrorism

1 response so far ↓

Leave a Comment