USA — Agency Chief Outlines Threat Reduction Strategy

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23, 2011 — The Defense Threat Reduc­tion Agency is at work around the clock to pro­tect Amer­i­can forces and cit­i­zens from nuclear, chem­i­cal and bio­log­i­cal threats, the agency’s direc­tor said today.
Speak­ing to the Defense Writ­ers Group, Ken­neth A. Myers III, who also is direc­tor of the U.S. Strate­gic Com­mand Cen­ter for Com­bat­ing Weapons of Mass Destruc­tion, said the “lines of defense” strat­e­gy aims to detect, inter­dict and defend against weapons of mass destruc­tion.

“How do we make it hard­er, how do we cre­ate more lines of defense between the threats and the Amer­i­can peo­ple?” he asked.

The val­ue and effec­tive­ness of coun­ter­ing any threat from weapons of mass destruc­tion is much greater at the source, Myers said.

“The first line of defense is at the source. The sec­ond line is detec­tion [and] inter­dic­tion of these threats before they reach the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” he said. “But the oth­er major part of the DTRA respon­si­bil­i­ty is that last line of defense, here at home, and that’s con­se­quence man­age­ment.”

In the nuclear are­na, one task his agency per­forms is nuclear inspec­tions. With the New Strate­gic Arms Reduc­tion Treaty now in force, Myers said, his peo­ple are trained and ready to take on the inspec­tion duties it autho­rizes.

Car­ry­ing out nuclear weapons inspec­tions in Rus­sia is a ver­i­fi­ca­tion mis­sion, Myers explained, adding that his agency’s teams also will escort Russ­ian teams on their inspec­tions in the Unit­ed States.

“It’s a mis­sion that we’ve had for a num­ber of years,” he said. “It is one that we’re con­stant­ly trained for.”

In recent months that train­ing has inten­si­fied, Myers said, as inspec­tors pre­pare to ver­i­fy stock­piles of Russ­ian nuclear weapons.

“We’ve been involved with this treaty for quite some time,” Myers said. “We’ve under­stood from the begin­ning of the process what would be required, … [and] we’re ready to go.” New START pro­vides for few­er inspec­tions than the pre­vi­ous START treaty, he said, in part because the new treaty com­bines some types of inspec­tions, and also because “we’re talk­ing about few­er weapons. The num­bers are com­ing down.”

Judg­ments on treaty com­pli­ance are not part of his agency’s mis­sion, the direc­tor said. “We are the inspec­tors — we don’t make ver­i­fi­ca­tion judg­ments,” he said. “We report the facts. Judg­ments on com­pli­ance are made by oth­er mem­bers.”

His agency’s inspec­tors, Myers said, are the best in the world. “I’m con­fi­dent we’ll get all the infor­ma­tion we need,” he added.

While the first inspec­tions have not been sched­uled, he said, teams are “wait­ing for the call.”

In con­trast to the ver­i­fi­ca­tion mis­sion his agency will per­form under the new START, much of the threat reduc­tion effort focus­es on find­ing and coun­ter­ing risks involv­ing weapons of mass destruc­tion, Myers said. His agency is respon­si­ble for much of the sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy devel­op­ment in coun­ter­ing chem­i­cal and bio­log­i­cal weapons, he explained, and also is the banker for chem­i­cal and bio­log­i­cal defense funds.

The threat is diverse, and coun­ter­mea­sure devel­op­ment is spread across a range of efforts, Myers said.

He explained that whether a threat involves sam­ples of harm­ful virus­es or stock­piles of fis­sion­able mate­ri­als, his agency aims to build as many walls as pos­si­ble between that threat and Amer­i­can cit­i­zens and ser­vice mem­bers.

For exam­ple, in coun­ter­ing bio­log­i­cal weapons, the agency works both to con­tain the pos­si­ble spread of dis­ease agents, and also to devel­op vac­cines against those dis­eases, he said, adding that the Ebo­la and Mar­burg virus­es are an area in which the agency has seen “first-lev­el suc­cess.”

It may take 15 to 20 years for the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal indus­try to devel­op an effec­tive drug to mit­i­gate a threat, he said. “Our No. 1 goal is to short­en these time­frames — that is, to try to get solu­tions to the warfight­er … and the Amer­i­can peo­ple, should we face these types of threats,” he said.

The poten­tial for bio­log­i­cal or nuclear weapons to be used against U.S. cit­i­zens spurs his agency to move quick­ly in putting defens­es in place, Myers said.

“Our strat­e­gy is to cut the time­lines, to move faster,” he said. “At the end of the day, you have a threat, and you have a solu­tion. Try­ing to match them up as quick­ly as pos­si­ble is the chal­lenge.”

The Ebo­la virus, which occurs nat­u­ral­ly in sub-Saha­ran Africa, may be as great a threat as a man­made weapon else­where, Myers point­ed out.

“It’s hard for me to tell you that a bio­log­i­cal weapon or a vir­u­lent dis­ease is not a threat,” he said. “They’re all threats. A lot of the [rel­a­tive risk involves] the like­li­hood of find­ing them in nature, and the ease or com­plex nature of manip­u­lat­ing them.”

Many health facil­i­ties in Africa store sam­ples of dis­eases that occur nat­u­ral­ly in the region, he said, not­ing such facil­i­ties often are close to areas that may be ter­ror­ist recruit­ing or oper­at­ing grounds.

The Defense Threat Reduc­tion Agency devel­ops tools for the ser­vices to use in coun­ter­ing weapons of mass destruc­tion, Myers said, cit­ing the “mas­sive ord­nance pen­e­tra­tor,” a weapon the agency fund­ed, test­ed, found effec­tive, then hand­ed off to the Air Force. The weapon is designed to attack hard­ened con­crete bunkers and tun­nels, where weapons of mass destruc­tion com­po­nents may be stored, he explained.

“The goal is to hold deeply buried tar­gets and oth­er poten­tial threats … at risk. … I think we’ve proven we can hold deeply buried tar­gets at risk,” Myers said. “We want to work to change the behav­ior, change the efforts by some to use facil­i­ties to devel­op weapons of mass destruc­tion.”

The fact that the Unit­ed States has not suf­fered a seri­ous bio­log­i­cal or nuclear attack is sig­nif­i­cant, though the threat remains real, Myers said.

“I go to work every day with 2,000 peo­ple whose job is to stop that from hap­pen­ing,” he said.

Agency pro­grams focus on devel­op­ing tools and strate­gies to detect, inter­dict and counter weapons of mass destruc­tion, he said, in line with the president’s focus on defend­ing against nuclear and bio­log­i­cal threats.

“I believe that the poli­cies [and] the pro­grams that we have in place are mak­ing a big dif­fer­ence,” Myers said. “I think the peo­ple [and] the skill sets that we have focused on this prob­lem are mak­ing a big dif­fer­ence.”

One thing that makes the agency effec­tive, the direc­tor said, is that it has both a research and devel­op­ment arm and a full oper­a­tions side.

“You walk down the hall­way and you have a nuclear physi­cist, a micro­bi­ol­o­gist, and a for­mer Spe­cial Forces oper­a­tor sit­ting there talk­ing togeth­er, try­ing to solve prob­lems,” he said. “It real­ly is a very unique insti­tu­tion.”

His agency’s part­ners in defend­ing against weapons of mass destruc­tion include the mil­i­tary ser­vices, the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty, the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency, the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, and embassies around the world, Myers said.

“To pro­tect the Amer­i­can peo­ple, we need to devel­op as many lines of defense as pos­si­ble,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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