09-19-2005, 12:45 AM #1
Is the government preparing for good reason?
WASHINGTON – On the heels of numerous reports suggesting al-Qaida has already infiltrated the U.S. with nuclear weapons and operatives, the FBI has joined the Pentagon in simulation exercises dealing with the threat of nuclear terror.
The FBI conducted a drill in North Carolina last month in which the Joint Terrorism Task Force, based in Fayetteville and Charlotte, dealt with a scenario of "a murky band of terrorists with plans to unleash a weapon of mass destruction."
"The week-long ordeal in mid-August played out with hostages, a chlorine spill, the pneumonic plague, and radioactive contraband that threatened to spread the terrorists' menace far and wide," the FBI reports.
The goal was to practice cooperation with local law enforcement in the event of a real threat.
"The series of incidents was, thank goodness, a simulation," explained the FBI. "But the scenarios – called Operation Orbit Comet and centered at the U.S. Army’s Fort Bragg – were realistic and designed to test how the military and North Carolina law enforcement authorities would respond. For our SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics) teams, agents specially trained to intervene in high-risk events like hostage and barricade situations, the exercise was a valuable opportunity to work closely with other first responders."
Much of the action in these drills takes place behind the scenes – invisible to the public, the FBI says. But the most dramatic role in this exercise was played out by SWAT members who were called in from Charlotte and Columbia, S.C., to negotiate with hostage-takers who had commandeered a bus carrying a congressional delegation.
"We don't want the first time we need to work with them to be the real deal," said Kevin Kendrick, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Charlotte field office. "This gives us a chance to interact…and see what we need to do better."
In the drill, negotiations broke down, the SWAT team "assaulted" the bus and within five minutes had all the occupants cuffed and seated outside the vehicles.
Soon after, the FBI reported, the SWAT team converged on a house where terrorists had holed up with more hostages. When negotiations broke down, the team went in. A helicopter hovered overhead at 4,000 feet, filming everything so officials could evaluate the operation in the months ahead.
The FBI simulation was taking place within days of a Pentagon exercise scenario in which authorities tried to arrest a terrorist discovered unloading an improvised nuclear weapon in the port of Charleston, S.C.
In that scenario, the bomb was detonated, killing 10,000, injuring 30,000 and exposing as many as 100,000 to high levels of radiation, as WorldNetDaily reported. It involved thousands of civilians, military personnel and local and federal officials.
"Sudden Respond 05" was led by Virginia's Fort Monroe-based Joint Task Force-Civil Support and was designed to simulate a nuclear terrorist attack that the highest U.S. officials, including President Bush, have said is the No. 1 threat facing the nation.
The drill, one of many like it scheduled around the country, was not designed to stop a nuclear terrorist attack but to deal with its devastating aftermath. The exercises took place from Aug. 15 through Aug. 19. Drills in other parts of the country will focus on 15 other scenarios involving the detonation of terrorist weapons of mass destruction.
Organizers say the nuclear drills should not frighten civilians but instead encourage them to learn how to protect themselves if such an attack – which some officials have referred to as inevitable – should occur.
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Paul McHale in an interview in July said the Pentagon, in partnership with other federal departments, is contemplating "truly catastrophic" scenarios that go well beyond recent exercises designed to test the reaction of civilian and military forces to biological and chemical weapons attacks.
Sudden Response 05 did not, however, attempt to deal with multiple coordinated attacks like those plotted by al-Qaida in its decade-long "American Hiroshima" scenario. Earlier this year, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz approved an "execute order" that directs the military to be prepared to respond to more than a single domestic attack involving chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapon.
In the Charleston drill, the man in charge on the ground was Russell Thomas, chief of the local Fire Station No. 9. He called Gov. Mark Sandford, who scrambled everybody left in South Carolina who might be able to help. He also called Washington, and at 10:45 p.m., President Bush declared a national disaster.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency was alerted by the Department of Homeland Security. The Defense Department is next in line and the task force was mobilized.
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