The federal government is probably better prepared today to prevent a September 11-style terrorist attack than it was 10 years ago, according to a panel of former homeland security and intelligence community leaders. But the government still struggles with turf battles and a lack of urgency when it comes to other potential threats, these experts warned at a forum about lessons in government management learned from the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
“The next crisis may not be terrorism,” noted Mike McConnell, who served as director of national intelligence from 2007 to 2009 under President George W. Bush and President Obama. McConnell named food or water shortages or a cyber attack as examples of possible future crises.
The forum Thursday was hosted by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington.
Former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff warned that bioterrorism needs to be treated with a higher sense of urgency. “We know this is a real threat,” said Chertoff, noting that the ingredients and know-how for creating bioterror weaponry with anthrax is readily available. “It’s not a far-fetched thing.”
Chertoff recalled “resistance from the health community and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration” to suggestions that the antibiotic Cipro, for treating anthrax, be distributed in advance to people living in high-threat areas.
“The FDA’s general reaction was, no, these are prescription drugs, and everyone has to see a doctor first,” Chertoff recalled. “I guarantee the day after an anthrax attack, that would not be a problem.”
Added Max Stier, president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service: “We’re typically fighting the last war, but the truth of the matter is there are any number of threats we face, and the government needs to be both flexible and totally adaptable to prepare for them.”