Launching a 'Homeland' Defense to Protect Itself from Terrorism, United States Embarks on Protectionprogram Reminiscent of Early Cold-War Days

Article excerpt

There is not yet an equivalent of "Bert the Turtle," a cartoon made by the US government in the 1950s to teach elementary school students about surviving a Soviet nuclear attack.

But the United States is now engaged in the most intensive self- protection drive since the civil-defense programs of those early years of the atomic age.

Instead of nationwide fallout-shelter construction and urban- evacuation plans, dozens of federal, state, and local agencies are pursuing a welter of programs - from developing a 50-state defense against limited missile strikes to shielding power grids from cybersabotage. The military is training police, fire, and medical personnel in cities to cope with biological and chemical terrorism, and there are proposals to inoculate these "first responders" against anthrax. A national stockpile of antidotes and antibiotics is being built. The military is mulling over creating a commander for national defense, and some officials see a not-too-distant day when all Americans may be offered shots against biological-warfare agents. Since 1995, President Clinton and the Republican-led Congress have boosted spending on these programs by billions of dollars. In the last two weeks, Mr. Clinton has announced he will add billions more for counterterrorism and national missile defense (NMD) in the fiscal 2000 budget he sends next month to Congress. Lawmakers are expected to embrace his plans, and perhaps inject more money than he seeks. These efforts have come to be known as "homeland defense." It is, asserts Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre, "the defense mission of the next century." Yet at a time when the US is enjoying global military supremacy and its longest stretch of peacetime economic growth, the preoccupation with self-defense is raising a host of concerns. Advocates say it is precisely because of its status as the world's sole superpower that the US is facing new "asymmetric" threats. Unable to match conventional US military capabilities, rival nations and terrorists are looking to harness the massive killing potential of chemical and biological weapons, the recipes and components of which are widely available, they say. Potential foes are also bent on disrupting communications and computer systems critical to US defenses, financial systems, and utility sectors. And "rogue" states like North Korea and Iran are developing missiles that might reach the US mainland, advocates of homeland defense warn. Clinton faces a delicate balancing act in selling these arguments to a complacent public. "I have tried as hard as I can to create the right frame of mind in America for dealing with this," he said Jan. 22 when unveiling plans for dealing with terrorism and cybersabotage. …