Bob Graham, others talk national security at UF
Published: Friday, October 4, 2013 at 6:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 4, 2013 at 6:19 p.m.
After 9/11, U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., co-chaired the commission on weapons of mass destruction that looked at the intelligence community before and after the attacks.
The commission predicted that a weapon of mass destruction would be used somewhere on the globe before the end of 2013, and it would be a biological or chemical weapon and not a nuclear weapon, now former Sen. Graham said Friday during a panel discussion on national security at the Phillips Center in Gainesville.
“That moment happened Aug. 21,” Graham said, when Syrian forces released sarin gas on rebel forces in Damascus, killing a reported 1,400 people.
“The events from weeks ago underscore how serious the threat of use of chemical weapons is,” Graham said.
And that requires building an intelligence community able to deal with the changing landscape and moving targets that threaten U.S. security, he said.
“Scholar, statesman, soldier, spy” could be the title of a John le Carre novel, but on Friday it described the lineup of panelists assembled for the panel discussion on national security at the Phillips Center.
Florida Law Review's 2013 Allen L. Poucher Legal Education Series Panel Discussion on National Security was titled “National Security in a Changing World: featuring an Academic, a General, a Spy, and Florida Statesmen.”
Besides Graham, the former chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the panelists were Kenneth Anderson, a law professor at American University and an expert on national security; Gen. James T. Hill (ret.), a four-star general in the U.S. Army and decorated combat veteran who served in Vietnam, Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm; and James Olson, a former chief of counterintelligence for the CIA and lecturer at Texas A&M University.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., was invited to attend but sent a letter Thursday night apologizing for canceling because he could not leave Washington, D.C., due to the ongoing government shutdown caused by the budget crisis.
Friday's 90-minute discussion — moderated by Jon M. Philipson, a former editor in chief of Florida Law Review and an attorney with Carlton Fields in Tampa — covered a lot of ground, from biological and chemical warfare and the recent events in Syria to methods of gathering intelligence in the digital age post-9/11.
Graham spoke about the findings of the WMD study commission. It concluded that there was no “effective way” to defend against such an attack because of the ease in which the materials for biochemical weapons can be obtained and manufactured or assembled.
“The most effective way is a country's ability to respond,” he said.
Maintaining a strong intelligence network seemed to be the key to strengthening the nation's ability to predict where the next attack comes from, the panelists agreed. Being aware you are under attack, being able to assemble and dispatch troops to minimize the impact of the attack, learning the form of the attack and source all rely on intelligence gathering.
Chemical attacks are more insidious and strike a deeper fear than “traditional warfare” of guns and bombs, Anderson said, because of their unpredictable nature and inability to control the chemical once released.
“All of a sudden, death is drifting through the air,” he said.
From a military standpoint, such weapons can be effective in terrorizing the enemy into submission, he said, particularly in situations where an unlimited force continues to come at another force or when you have guerrilla forces scattered throughout an urban area.
Those weapons are scarier in the hands of terrorists, Hill said. “No deterrence on earth can stop someone committed to using chemical weapons,” he said.
Morality doesn't restrain terrorists, Olson said. But the U.S. has the capability to retaliate quickly.
“We depend on effective intelligence” in defending against perils both domestic and overseas, Olson said.
The last 20 years has seen an increase in recruiting intelligence officers who can speak Arabic and other related languages so they can infiltrate communities where terrorists are. The country also has developed better surveillance technology and the use of drones to monitor the communication networks and finance networks of terrorist groups.
“It is not by luck we haven't had another 9/11,” Olson said. “That is the work of our intelligence community.”
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