13-16 SEPTEMBER 2005 - COMMITTEE ON THE CIVIL DIMENSION OF SECURITY VISIT TO WASHINGTON, D.C, AND NEW YORK
1. Twenty members of the Committee on the Civil Dimension of Security led by Chairman Michael Clapham (United Kingdom) visited the United States on 13-16 September 2005 and met with numerous government officials and non-governmental experts in Washington, DC, and New York City.
2. The purpose of the visit was to discuss the United States' civil protection architecture and preparedness in the event of a terrorist attack using weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Information gathered during the visit was used to update the Committee's Draft Special Report on "Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Detection: A Technological Overview", which can be found at http://www.nato-pa.int
3. The timing of the visit was particularly opportune, which provided a good starting point for discussions. A few days before the delegation's arrival, the country had been commemorating the 5th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagone and a few days before that the United States had gone through one of the worst natural disasters of its recent history, hurricane Katrina. In New York City, local officials in charge of counter-terrorism and emergency response were getting prepared for the high-level summit of Heads of State and Government to be held at the United Nations.
4. Against this background, the main themes of the meetings were the general organisation of terrorism preparedness efforts in the United States, and in particular issues of coordination and co-operation between stakeholders at all levels, as well as the United States' assessment of the threat posed by CBRN terrorism and measures undertaken there to detect, prevent and respond to this threat.
5. The Committee met with several U.S. Senators, government and local officials, think tank representatives and university professors. It also visited the Public Safety Integration Center (PSIC) run by Science and Applications International Corporation (SAIC) in McLean, Virginia, the Headquarters of the US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) in Washington, DC, and the Emergency Operations Centers at the New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM) in Brooklyn, New York and at the Port Authority of New York New Jersey (PANYNJ) in Jersey City, New Jersey.
6. The delegation is grateful to the US Senate delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly for its help in organising and hosting part of this visit.
7.Senator George Voinovich of Ohio, Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs' Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, and Vice-President of the NATO PA Political Committee, presented some of the progress made since 9/11 in preventing and preparing for CBRN terrorism, which he labelled the gravest threat that our societies face. One important step had been the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Several initiatives are under way to reorganise and restructure the Department of Homeland Security, drawing on the lessons learned from its first two years of existence. The US Senate itself adapted to the challenge of CBRN terrorism by upgrading its own preparedness plans. However the Senate's structures do not yet reflect the creation of a centralised governmental body in charge of civilian defence. A variety of legislative bodies claim competence over these issues, which still renders legislative oversight difficult.
8. Senator Voinovich explained the underlying principle of US terrorism preparedness, the concept of "layered defence" and pointed out that international initiatives and international co-operation contribute to reinforcing national defences against terrorism. He advocated a comprehensive approach to the fight against terror. The first priority should be to make better use of intelligence capabilities and a better allocation of resources based on risk assessments. A comprehensive strategy should also include policies to address the root causes of terrorism by spreading democracy abroad or by dealing with radicalisation our own societies.
9. This issue of radicalisation within Western societies was also addressed by Julianne Smith, Deputy Director of the International Security Programme at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Answering questions from the delegation on this difficult topic, she noted that the situation in the US was not yet as serious as in Europe. However, on both sides of the Atlantic, current policies are still far from addressing all aspects of this major problem. One example is the issue of radicalisation in prisons, which has for now only received little attention.
B. LOCAL-NATIONAL CO-OPERATION
10. Drawing on the lessons from hurricane Katrina and their potential implications in the event of a terrorist attack, much attention was devoted to the issue of co-operation between local and national authorities in dealing with emergency and terrorism preparedness. Senator Voinovich insisted that the primary responsibility should remain with the local authorities (city and state levels) and that the federal government's role is to support local preparedness and response efforts. Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon, Head of the US Senate delegation to the NATO PA, also supported this view.
11. Kerry Thomas, Deputy Director of the Preparedness Programs Division in the DHS Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness, presented the programmes run by the Department of Homeland Security to encourage and support local preparedness to emergencies and disasters. He explained that the Department of Homeland Security manages a budget of $20 million for state preparedness, which helps finance grants, training programmes (40 WMD training centres across the country), exercises (such as the TOPOFF drills), and technical assistance.
C. CIVILIAN-MILITARY CO-OPERATION
12. Several speakers mentioned the issue of civilian-military co-operation in the field of CBRN terrorism preparedness. Gerald Epstein, Senior Fellow at CSIS, pointed out that most of the technologies available for CBRN detection have been developed for the military. There are however important differences between the needs of the military and those of civilians. In particular, civilian "customers", be it first responders or local officials, do not have the level of knowledge and training equivalent to those in the military. Technology designed for the protection of civilians should therefore be adapted to suit their specific needs.
13. Senator John Warner of Virginia, Chairman of the Armed Forces Committee, discussed the role of the US military in situations of domestic emergency. Here again, lessons would have to be learned from the response to hurricane Katrina. The National Guard, which is primarily responsible in these cases, had been completely overwhelmed. The US military is in the process of re-evaluating its role in responding to domestic emergencies.
D. INTERNATIONAL CO-OPERATION AND NATO'S ROLE
14. Michael Moodie, President of the Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute (CBACI), pointed out to the delegation that both the threat of CBRN terrorism and the response are in essence international. Yet, there is for now no common view in the Atlantic community as to either the threat or how to deal with it. A consensus could and should be reached, based on a set of shared assumptions. According to the speaker, international co-operation on these issues is crucial because international borders are the first line of defence against international terrorism. Sharing experiences and resources (for example for the development of new vaccines) can also help reinforce global preparedness. Some international initiatives have already been adopted within the G7, G8 or the World Health Organisation (WHO). However, Mr Moodie regretted that NATO had for now been absent in this area. He explained that there is a sense in Washington that NATO governments are not ready to engage the Alliance in homeland defence against CBRN terrorism. Issues of competition or overlap with the European Union could also regrettably delay the Alliance's involvement.
15. Michael Powers, former Senior Fellow at CBACI, also called for a greater involvement of the Alliance in fostering the sharing of experiences across the Atlantic. Jonathan Tucker, Senior Researcher at the Monterrey Institute's Center for Nonproliferation Studies (MIIS-CNS), saw a positive role to be played by NATO, alongside other international organisations such as the OECD, the WHO or the United Nations, in developing common standards and mechanisms to improve biosecurity worldwide.
E. INFORMATION AND TRAINING
16. Many of the delegation's discussions touched upon the necessary balance between investment in technology and investment in human capital, be it responders and other emergency professionals or the population at large. Mrl Powers emphasised the need to train first responders, as well as local officials, because they are the ones to make the difficult decisions when a CBRN detector returns a hit. Proper chains of command also need to be defined to avoid both overlaps and gaps in the decision-making and implementation processes.
17. The need to inform the population at large and make people part of the global preparedness architecture was highlighted during meetings with Isaac Weisfuse, Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DoHMH) and Edward Gabriel, Deputy Commissioner of the Office of Emergency Management (OEM). Since 9/11 and already before that, New York City has put tremendous effort into programmes to educate the population to the threat of CBRN terrorism. The "Ready New York" programme includes many communication initiatives, such as brochures published in English as well as in some of the main local foreign languages and distributed through several networks, ethnic media communication plans, "what if" scenario press releases and fact sheets, alert networks, etc. This communication strategy seems to be fairly successful, since polls demonstrate a regular increase in levels of preparedness among the population of New York.
18. At Columbia University, the delegation learned about public information and training programmes for responders developed through partnerships between federal and local authorities and universities. The delegation met with Dr Stephen Morse, Founding Director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness and Wilmer Alvarez, Director of Preparedness Programs at the Mailman School of Public Health's National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP). NCDP, working together with the New York City DoHMH and with financial support from the federal Center for Disease Control, runs several curriculum development, training and competency evaluation programmes to enhance the readiness of the current and future health workforce, in the event of a major disaster. The Center's website contains many of the training materials it designs and can be used as a tool for distance learning. NCDP also works on developing a set of standards and benchmarks to allow departments of health across the country to assess their "state of readiness".
F. AN INTEGRATED PREPAREDNESS STRUCTURE
19. Mr Powers and Mr Tucker both insisted on the need to integrate all efforts aiming at the prevention and detection of CBRN terrorism. At present, no individual initiative or detection system can provide for complete protection. Therefore, the goal should be to create a "system of systems", bringing together all programmes, all competences into one integrated framework. Several speakers also underlined the need to integrate preparedness efforts for terrorist events and for natural disasters or other types of emergencies. Yet, Seth Carus, the Deputy Director of the Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction at the National Defense University (NDU) pointed out that the US administration had been slow at fostering this type of integration, for example between preparedness for bioterrorism and for natural outbreaks of disease or between preparedness for radiological or nuclear terrorism and for nuclear reactor incidents.
20. The delegation learned that more and more initiatives are being developed in the US to facilitate the integration of preparedness efforts. In the field of biodetection, Dr Carol Linden, Senior Scientist in the Office of Research and Development within the DHS Science and Technology Directorate, presented President Bush's "Biodefense for the 21st Century" initiative, which she described as an Integrated Biodefense Strategy, bringing together several federal departments and agencies under the leadership of the Department of Homeland Security. The detection pillar of this initiative is currently being developed in the form of a National BioSurveillance Integration System (NBIS), which should integrate human, animal and plant surveillance with monitoring air, food and water with intelligence data to provide overall situational awareness.
21. In the more general field of emergency monitoring and response, the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) run by the New York City Office of Emergency Management is a good illustration of an attempt at fostering co-ordination between all categories of stakeholders. When the delegation visited the EOC, it had just been activated for the extraordinary summit of Heads of States and Governments at the United Nations. With space for more than 100 representatives from City, state, and federal agencies and private and non-profit entities, the EOC functions as a central clearing house for information coordination, resource requests, and decision-making. In the event of an emergency, the Center would be activated and representatives from these organisations, who must be available within less than an hour, would be called to the Center.
22. Private corporations have also started developing integrated solutions for public authorities, aimed at improving the interconnection and communication between all the networks that could be involved in the detection and response to a terrorist threat. SAIC has developed a prototype Public Safety Integration Center (PSIC) at its offices in McLean, VA. The delegation visited PSIC and received a presentation from its director, James Morentz. The PSIC project brings together 100 companies that are suppliers of technology and solutions applicable to homeland security. It is intended to provide a model of interoperable homeland security solutions to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from all types of natural, technological, and terrorist events.
A. THREAT ASSESSMENT
23. Mr Carus insisted that a proper assessment of the threat posed by CBRN terrorism should always be the necessary first step. Yet he regretted that only recently did the US government start to routinely assess CBRN threats. Both Mr Carus and Mr Tucker underlined the need to distinguish between the threats posed by chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear terrorism. Bioterrorism in particular is very difficult to detect, because of the lag time between an attack and the onset of serious illness and first casualties.
24. Mr Powers pointed out that threat assessment and the participation of the intelligence community in this process are all the more important since there are only a few instances worldwide in which the threat of CBRN terrorism was actually realised. Intelligence reports demonstrate in particular that al-Qaeda is interested in bioterrorism. Moreover, Mr Carus pointed out that al-Qaeda has developed an ideological justification for catastrophic terrorism.
25. Dr Linden explained that the Department of Homeland Security was creating a new National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) at Fort Detrick to reinforce capabilities for threat and risk assessments and characterisation. Jonathan Tucker expressed some caution towards this new centre, warning about the risk of sending wrong signals about US intentions. The centre, which is expected to engineer pathogens in order to develop new countermeasures, should not be interpreted as a shift in US policy from a defensive to an offensive bioterror research programme.
26. Discussion of the threat also leads to the difficult question of costs and of how much is enough to tackle the threat of CBRN terrorism. Many questions from the delegation touched upon this issue. Although awareness of the threat is strong in many countries, not all countries have the same resources as the United States in terms of response.
27. Dr Linden presented the BioWatch programme, developed though a partnership between DHS, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Center for Disease Control. This programme launched in 2003 aims at creating a network of urban monitoring systems. BioWatch currently covers 30 major cities in the United States. Starting this year and until 2010, BioWatch will experience a major overhaul: it should be expanded to cover new areas, improved through the use of more efficient and cost-effective technology, and integrated in order to network sensors and incorporate initiatives developed by other departments and agencies.
28. Mr Powers, Mr Tucker and Mr Carus gave a nuanced assessment of BioWatch's success. They insisted that BioWatch was a unique and innovative experiment and, although imperfect, it has often returned better results than expected. However, BioWatch suffers some significant limitations: it is more prone to detect agents that require important doses to trigger infection, such as anthrax, than agents that are very infectious even at very low doses, such as tularaemia or botulism. It is also relatively slow, because it still requires analysis of the samples in a laboratory. Moreover, Jonathan Tucker criticised the premise of BioWatch to provide a broad deployment that is only partially based on risk assessments. In his view, priority should be given to the monitoring of high-risk areas. This would also improve the sustainability of this potentially very expensive system. In conclusion, Michael Powers underlined that, even in its improved version, BioWatch will still not provide a comprehensive solution. It would still need to be integrated within a broader network of detection initiatives and programmes.
29. Mr Weisfuse presented New York City's implementation of BioWatch to the delegation. He explained that the city was using a combination of fixed and mobile detectors dispatched at key locations. Samples collected every day from the sensors are analysed in a newly created laboratory. He admitted that this system of biodetection is still nascent and that, in the future, better technology will be available, allowing for automated analysis of the samples and better possibilities for time-stamping samples. He also explained that New York City was relying on an integrated approach, complementing BioWatch with other detection programmes, and in particular an innovative syndromic surveillance mechanism.
30. The delegation also received a presentation of another pioneering biodetection network developed by the US Postal Service (USPS) after the anthrax attacks in the fall of 2001. Zane Hill, Assistant Chief Inspector at the US Postal Inspection Service, and his colleagues, briefed the delegation on the Biohazard Detection System (BDS). USPS has deployed 1,080 biosensors at 191 of its 282 sorting facilities to detect traces of anthrax in the mail. The devices used by the Postal Service are hooked up to the stamp-cancelling machines and collect air samples at one of the early stages of mail processing, when the mail is squeezed onto the processing chain. The samples are then automatically analysed on the spot in less than an hour. Complete coverage of all facilities and all mail is expected by December 2005.
C. SYNDROMIC SURVEILLANCE
31. New York City has developed one of the most advanced syndromic surveillance mechanisms in the United States. As Mr Weisfuse explained to the delegation, syndromic surveillance is a surveillance system that allows for early detection of a deliberate (or a natural) disease outbreak, by focusing on the identification of early symptoms of a disease before the onset of severe illness. As such, it is potentially more efficient than traditional disease surveillance, because it can detect suspicious disease outbreaks sooner, permitting also the early organisation of response efforts.
32. The New York City syndromic surveillance mechanism compiles data from 911 calls, emergency room admissions, pharmacies, as well as large employee absenteeism. Overall, 60,000 points of data are collected every day and feed a daily report processed by DoHMH and compared with historical trends. If the system detects a signal, it triggers confirmation procedures, as well as a response plan. This mechanism also allows New York City authorities to pick up flu outbreaks every year earlier than any other system.
33. Mr Tucker briefed the delegation on national and international efforts to enhance biosecurity, i.e. policies and procedures designed to prevent the deliberate theft or diversion of deadly pathogens and toxins for malicious or criminal purposes. In the US, legislation restricting transfers of dangerous bio-agents was introduced as early as 1986, but was only expanded in 2002. He insisted also that, with an estimated 500,000 unregulated cultures worldwide, biosecurity is a global problem, and should therefore be dealt with internationally. NATO could play a positive role in this area, alongside other international organisations. The danger is particularly acute in states from the Former Soviet Union, where sensitive laboratories inherited from the communist era are only poorly protected.
34. David Franz, Vice President and Chief Biological Scientist at the Midwest Research Institute, presented a new initiative in the area of biosecurity, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity. This group was created as a follow-up to a National Research Council report from 2003 on "Biotechnology Research in an Age of Terrorism". The Board's purpose is to recommend strategies for the effective oversight of federally conducted or supported dual-use research. One of the working groups, chaired by David Franz, will be dedicated to the advancement of international collaboration in the development of appropriate biosecurity policies. All these initiatives in the field of biosecurity demonstrate an increasing awareness of the ambiguous relation between science and security.
E. MEDICAL COUNTERMEASURES
35. Ernest Takafuji, Director of the Office of Biodefense Research at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, presented the Department of Health and Human Services' priorities and programmes for the development of medical countermeasures to bioterrorism, i.e. vaccines and treatments. He explained that increased awareness of the bioterror threat has led to a shift in emphasis from basic research to applied science. The research community had come under heavy pressure to adapt to the bioterror challenge and focus on the development of new treatments and vaccines, especially for high-risk threats. As a result, progress has been made in many areas - smallpox, anthrax, Ebola, botulinum toxin. Current efforts include research in broad-spectrum therapies, i.e. ways in which countermeasures can address various diseases, as well as in the basics of infectiousness, pathogenesis and immunity, which could provide new ways to respond to the threat of engineered pathogens. Mr Takafuji also insisted that part of the prevention effort should focus on tackling diseases in the regions where they originate or re-emerge.
36. Mr Powers underlined the challenges in terms of vaccine availability and distribution. He explained that BioShield, the main federal initiative for the development and procurement of medical countermeasures, was a good first step but needed to be complemented by other initiatives. In particular, public authorities need to ensure that there are sufficient numbers of facilities, as well as trained staff, to distribute vaccine and treatments. The response to hurricane Katrina was a clear demonstration of the need to provide for distribution mechanisms for the underprivileged fringes of the population, who might not be able to reach distribution centres. His comments were echoed by some of the comments from the delegation, insisting on the deficiency of vaccination campaigns for first responders in some European countries.
37. Mr Weisfuse presented New York City's policy for the distribution of vaccines. He explained that the City had improved hospital preparedness through the creation of bioterrorism coordinators and preparedness centres in hospitals, and through citywide and hospital drills. 200 points of distribution have been selected and receive regular training. A voluntary Medical Reserve Corps bringing together close to 3,500 health professionals with diverse backgrounds, has also been constituted to assist with mass prophylaxis in the event of a large disease outbreak.
A. CONTAINER SECURITY
38. Stephen Flynn, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), briefed the delegation on the challenges of border protection and container security to prevent nuclear and radiological terrorism. He presented some of the initiatives developed by the United States in this field, such as the Container Security Initiative (CSI) or the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT). Yet he underlined that, although a good first steps, these programmes amounted to a system based on a "trust but don't verify" doctrine, where partner companies are considered as "safe", without being submitted to sufficiently strict standards and controls.
39. He advocated a different approach, which would rely on market mechanisms and on systematic and co-operative international mechanisms. The goal would be to create deterrence and security, while reinforcing market efficiency, thereby reconciling two objectives that are traditionally considered as conflicting. A pilot project had been conducted in Hong Kong along these lines. Every container arriving in Hong Kong terminals is screened using gamma ray imaging, radiation portals and optical recognition cameras to record the container's number. This data is then stored in a database, allowing the virtual inspection of all containers. The estimated cost of such a system is $6.50-10 per container.
B. DEVELOPMENT OF NEW DETECTION TECHNOLOGY
40. The delegation visited the offices of the Port Authority of New York New Jersey (PANYNJ) in Jersey city, New Jersey. Brian Lacey, Deputy Director of the Office of Emergency Management, presented the Port Authority's structure and activities, as well as its Emergency Operations Center. The discussion then focused on the programme run by the PANYNJ in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security for testing new detection technologies. Dr Huban Gowadia, Program Manager of the Science and Technology Countermeasures Test Bed at DHS, explained that the programme's mission is to assess new technology and adapt it to the needs of end users (first responders, law enforcement officers, etc.). The programme initially focused on radiation detection, but was currently being expanded to border security, explosives and rail security. The results of the first years of operation of this unique test bed programme in partnership with the PANYNJ had demonstrated the crucial need to impose and enforce public standards for detection equipment. Dr Gowadia insisted that there was a wide variety of available technology, but that only few manufacturers actually respected advertised standards.
41. Matthew Monetti from the Environmental Measurements Laboratory at DHS, presented to the delegation one of the radiation detection devices that had recently been tested by the PANYNJ. Known as SMART (Sensor for Measurement and Analysis of Radiation Transients), this device, mounted on a Jeep for mobility, is able to detect and identify radioactive sources. It could be used for example for secondary inspection of suspicious cargo containers.