Combating Terrorism:

Linking Threats to Strategies and Resources

T-NSIAD-00-218: Published: Jul 26, 2000. Publicly Released: Jul 26, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the threat of terrorist attacks involving chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) materials, focusing on: (1) the threat and risk assessments to help develop a national strategy and help prioritize and focus program investments to combat terrorism; and (2) observations on how other countries allocate resources and determine funding priorities to combat terrorism.

GAO noted that: (1) the first step in developing sound programs to combat terrorism is to develop a thorough understanding of the terrorist threat; (2) U.S. intelligence agencies track and analyze terrorist threats, including the threat of terrorists using CBRN weapons or agents; (3) in GAO's view, some of the public statements intelligence community officials have made about the terrorist CBRN threat do not include important qualifications to the information they present; (4) for example, terrorists would have to overcome significant technical and operational challenges to successfully make and release many chemical or biological agents of sufficient quality and quantity to kill or injure large numbers of people without substantial assistance from a foreign government sponsor; (5) these types of qualifications are important because, without them, policy makers in both the executive or legislative branch may get an exaggerated view of the terrorist CBRN threat; (6) the second step in developing sound programs is to conduct a threat and risk assessment that can be used to develop a strategy and guide resource investments; (7) much of the federal efforts to combat terrorism have been based upon vulnerabilities rather than an analysis of credible threats; (8) the executive branch has made progress implementing GAO's recommendations that threat and risk assessments be done to improve federal efforts to combat developing a national strategy and focusing resources; (9) while there has been a major effort to develop a national strategy, GAO is concerned about a lack of accountability and the potential proliferation of different strategies; (10) foreign countries also face terrorist threats and have to develop programs and prioritize resources to combat terrorism; (11) in GAO's April 2000 report, GAO discussed how five foreign countries are organized to combat terrorism, including how they develop programs and direct resources; (12) officials in the five countries GAO visited told GAO that because of limited resources, they make funding decisions for programs to combat terrorism on the basis of the likelihood of terrorist activity actually taking place, not the countries' overall vulnerability to terrorist attacks; and (13) due to resource constraints, foreign officials said their countries maximize their existing capabilities to address a wide array of threats, including emerging threats like CBRN, before they create new capabilities or programs to respond to such attacks.

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