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July 1, 2002
Volume 80, Number 26
CENEAR 80 26 p. 5
ISSN 0009-2347


HOMELAND SECURITY

R&D BLUEPRINT FOR FIGHTING TERRORISM
NRC panel outlines ways to prevent terrorist attacks, mitigate consequences

WILLIAM SCHULZ

A report describing the "many ways in which science and engineering can contribute to making the nation safer against the threat of catastrophic terrorism" was released last week by the National Research Council (NRC). Whether the Administration or Congress will heed NRC's advice is unclear, but initial reactions seem mostly favorable.

8026NOTW1.bransc
Branscomb
PHOTO BY WILLIAM SCHULZ
The report is a complex document--there are approximately 150 recommendations--that emphasizes science as "but one element in a broad array of potential approaches to reducing the threat of terrorism." Study panel cochairs are Lewis M. Branscomb, emeritus professor of government at Harvard University, and Richard D. Klausner, executive director of global health at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle.

"The scientific and engineering community is aware that it can make a critical contribution to protecting the nation from catastrophic terrorism," Branscomb commented. "Our report gives the government a blueprint for using current technologies and creating new capabilities to reduce the likelihood of terrorist attacks and the severity of their consequences."

But "it's not exactly a blueprint" for government, says White House Office of Science & Technology Policy Director John H. Marburger III. "It's more like a resource book--a source of good ideas and guidance." Marburger told House Science Committee members at a hearing on homeland security last week that he does not think the NRC report is incompatible with ideas for the Department of Homeland Security proposed by President George W. Bush.

The NRC committee considered nine areas that represent targets, means of attack, means of response, or some combination thereof. Those areas correspond to report chapters such as "Nuclear and Radiological Threats," "Human and Agricultural Health Systems," and "Toxic Chemicals and Explosive Materials."

One "take-home idea" from the report calls for the creation of a nongovernmental Homeland Security Institute, says NRC committee member Vincent Vitto, president and CEO of the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Cambridge, Mass.

Such an institute, Vitto continues, would be useful as a place where a systems approach could be taken to analyze the nation's infrastructures and the interactions between those infrastructures--communications, transportation, finance, and so on--to better determine vulnerabilities.

8026NOTW1.Hitchens
Hitchens
Such an institute would be a good mechanism for setting counterterrorism R&D priorities, says Frank G. Hoffman, a security expert and former staff member of the U.S. National Security Commission, chaired by former Sens. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) and Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.). Hoffman opposes relying on federal agencies like the CIA or the FBI for such work. "Those aren't the best models."

"Right now, there is a gold rush mentality among contractors, universities, and the military services, with everyone scrambling to make the case that his or her pet project should be funded under the rubric of fighting terrorism or protecting the homeland," says Theresa Hitchens, vice president of the Center for Defense Information. "While the [NRC] report is interesting, and it is true that new technologies are needed, policymakers can't lose sight of the need to find a rational way to set homeland security and antiterrorism priorities and to fund those priorities accordingly."

At a hearing specifically on the NRC report, Science Committee Chairman Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-N.Y.) said, "We have to be sure that there is a clear focus on--and locus for--research in the [Administration-proposed] Department of Homeland Security."



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IN BRIEF:
ELECTRIFYING
8026NOTW.kite
In June, 250 years ago, Benjamin Franklin and his son William supposedly performed their famous experiment. Flying a kite with a key attached into storm clouds hovering over Philadelphia, Franklin discovered that lightning is a form of electricity.

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