Combating Terrorism:

Threat and Risk Assessments Can Help Prioritize and Target Program Investments

NSIAD-98-74: Published: Apr 9, 1998. Publicly Released: Apr 14, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the implementation of the Nunn-Lugar-Domenici (NLD) domestic preparedness program, focusing on: (1) threat and risk assessment approaches used by several public- and private-sector organizations to deal with terrorist and other security risks; (2) whether 11 of the first 27 cities selected for NLD training and assistance used threat and risk assessments to establish requirements for dealing with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) terrorist incidents; and (3) the challenges of using formal threat and risk assessments to help define requirements and prioritize and target NLD program resources.

GAO noted that: (1) it identified several public- and private-sector organizations that use threat and risk assessments to manage risk and to identify and prioritize their security requirements and expenditures to protect facilities, operations, equipment, and material against terrorist and other threats; (2) for example, one company adapted U.S. government threat and risk assessment standards and successfully applied them to more than 19 of its overseas operations; (3) the company's risk assessment approach involves a multidisciplinary team of experts that uses valid threat information, to make judgments about the likelihood and consequences of an asset being seized or destroyed, the asset's criticality, and the asset's vulnerability to various threats; (4) the company has applied its risk assessment process in a number of areas, from its operations and facilities in Chad to its hiring practices; (5) the NLD program is in the early stage of implementation, and most cities have not yet received training, assistance, or equipment; (6) at the time of GAO's review, threat and risk assessments were not performed by either the cities or the NLD federal program agencies for 11 of the first 27 cities selected for assistance; (7) if properly applied, threat and risk assessments can provide an analytically sound basis for building programmatic responses to various identified threats, including terrorism; (8) although threat and risk assessments are not required in the NLD program, they could help cities prioritize their investments in WMD preparedness; (9) because the program is in the early stages of implementation, opportunities exist to make program adjustments that can help target NLD and other similar programs' training and equipment investments; (10) GAO identified the following challenges to applying an accepted threat and risk assessment process to cities selected to participate in the NLD program: (a) security issues related to providing valid threat data from the intelligence community to city officials; (b) the lack of specificity in the intelligence community's threat information; and (c) the complexity and magnitude of a large city as a subject of a threat and risk assessment; and (11) these challenges could be overcome through federal-city collaboration.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Strom Thurmond National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1999, section 1404, requires that the Attorney General, in consultation with the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and others, shall develop and test methodologies for assessing the threat and risk of terrorist employment of weapons of mass destruction against cities and other local areas. The results of the tests may be used to determine the training and equipment requirements under the Nunn-Lugar-Domenici Domestic Preparedness Program. The FBI has begun exploring at least one methodology discussed in the report and recently testified that it intends to perform a pilot risk assessment based on an adapted methodology.

    Matter: Congress may wish to consider amending the Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction Act to require that threat and risk assessments be included and funded as part of the assistance provided under the act. The legislation should specify that the assessments be a federal-city collaborative effort, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) taking the lead in facilitating such assessments, with inputs and assistance from the intelligence community and appropriate federal agencies, including the Department of Defense. The legislation should further provide that the assessments be used to guide decisionmaking to determine cities' training and equipment requirements and their priorities in alignment with the most likely threat scenarios with the severest consequences.


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