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Warren Rudman

"No city in America is truly prepared"

By JANE AMMESON

"No city in America is truly prepared for a nuclear holocaust," says Warren Rudman, a former two-term U.S. senator, now a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifking, Wharton and Garrison, an international law firm in Washington D.C. "If a terrorist organization was able to either put together a strong nuclear device or even a dirty bomb and detonate it in a populated area, you're talking tens to hundreds of thousands of people who are either killed or would become extremely ill."

"I get invited to appear on television a lot and to talk to groups and people ask me why aren't we doing anything about it, and my answer is that evidently people have their priorities in other places. Right now one of the problems we've got is that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now costing better than 4 billion dollars a month. We are going to have deficits of maybe as close to a half of trillion dollars this year, setting all kinds of records. I suppose people think we don't have the money, but my attitude is that we don't have a choice."

Rudman, a New Hampshire Republican, isn't just repeating the latest headlines. From 1997 to 2000 he chaired President Clinton's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Along with Gary Hart, he also co-chaired the bipartisan U.S. Commission on National Security in the 21st Century, which studied issues regarding national security for more than two years. On September 15, 1999, the 14-member commission issued a report that predicted this country would be attacked by terrorists using weapons of mass destruction and that many Americans would die on U.S. soil.

The commission, which also included George P. Shultz, former secretary of state under President Reagan, and former FBI director William H. Webster, would go on to issue two more reports, the last one submitted to George W. Bush on January 31, 2001 shortly after he began his first term in office. Each report predicted dire events. Nine months later there was 9/11.

"People just didn't want to pay attention," says Rudman. "Now we've had 9/11, three years have gone by, and everybody is shuttling back and forth and assuming we are safe, though from the president right on down, everyone has said we are not safe. Well, since we have acknowledged that we are not safe, we've got to be doing something about it. Obviously, what we do overseas is important to try to suppress the terrorists, but that is in no way going to suppress all of it. These organizations are operating all over the world. There are probably cells in this country, and if they get their hands on this kind of material, we could have a terrible disaster fall on one or more of our major metropolitan areas, whether it be New York, Washington, Chicago, L.A. or a smaller place. It is a terrible concern, and we ought to be prepared to deal with it as best we can. And we are not doing that."

Rudman believes that there are numerous threats to our security.

"Everybody talks about terrorism, but I think there is a greater threat indeed, and that is nuclear proliferation &ndash not only in North Korea and Iran, but in other places, as well," he says. "I don't think there is any question that the threat not only to us but to the entire industrialized world is from the proliferation of nuclear materials. The technology to build atomic nuclear devices is well known. You've also got the same issue with biological, as well as chemical, weapons. No city in America is truly prepared for that kind of a holocaust, and we think that should have a very high priority. We've had adequate warning, yet we were not prepared to deal with it. We need first responders in the public health system, and they have to be better prepared than they are." "Our Hair Is on Fire" was a December Wall Street Journal editorial Rudman co-authored with Hart, Leslie Gelb and Stephen Flynn, all of whom served on the commission. In it they wrote:

"No major city has exercised a system for the mass distribution of stockpiled medicines to deal with a bio attack. While nothing is more essential than crisis communications, no city but Washington has established routine radio contact between its fire departments and police departments. And our ports and borders, our economic lifelines to the world, still stand almost completely exposed. These facts have been reaffirmed by countless blue-ribbon panels."

There's a lot of blame to share regarding our lack of security. Rudman and the other authors of the piece say that Congress sees homeland security funds as "just another pork barrel transportation bill." They point out that's the reason why Wyoming and Alaska are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in per capita spending for homeland security while New York and California finish near and at the bottom.

"Our prosperity is inextricably bound to the key cities and ports, but one would never know that by how these funds are dispersed," the authors write.

Having studied all this for so long, Rudman has clarity about our vulnerability, which he says he feels most people don't see. The relief that many feel because nothing major has happened on U.S. soil since 9/11 is no solace to Rudman, who notes that the enemy is meticulous in their planning and willing to go for the long term. Calling our country complacent, he says he is frustrated with the government's unwillingness to take the necessary steps to protect our country.

"I get invited to appear on television a lot and to talk to groups and people ask me why aren't we doing anything about it," says Rudman. "And my answer is that evidently people have their priorities in other places. Right now one of the problems we've got is that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now costing better than 4 billion dollars a month. We are going to have deficits of maybe as close to a half of trillion dollars this year, setting all kinds of records. I suppose people think we don't have the money, but my attitude is that we don't have a choice."

Though taking the battle to the terrorists overseas is part of keeping us safe, Rudman didn't see any need to invade Iraq.

"I am one who has never agreed that Iraq was part of the central war of terrorism," he says. "I don't think there is any history there, whatsoever. There is terrorism in Iraq, but it tends to be homegrown &ndash it tends to be people who want to participate in the insurgency against U.S. forces in Iraq. I don't think it has a real effect on Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations to the extent the administration claims it does."

In 2000, the U.S. Commission on National Security in the 21st Century recommended that a homeland security department be established. That wasn't done until two years later, long after the devastating attack on the United States. When asked now whom he would recommend to run the department, Rudman cites a list of requirements he thinks necessary to adequately head such a large group.

"I would probably pick a really brilliant retired four-star general or admiral who has been running huge commands and understands how to integrate commands," he says. "There are some extraordinary people in the military who retire at the age of 52 or so, who have commanded thousands of troops and hundreds of bases. Running this type of an organization in government is something that even someone who has run a large corporation is not necessarily too familiar with. The CEO of a company is the final authority, and with all do respect, in this nobody is the final authority. You have to learn how to work in the political system. Most of these generals and admirals understand how to do that."

Rudman keeps busy with a myriad of other interests, including conducting high-profile corporate investigations at his law firm and running the Concord Coalition, which he co-founded in 1992. The organization dedicates itself to trying to establish fiscal responsibility in the government. Rudman was one of the co-sponsors of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction Act in 1985, which tried to rein in excess government spending, and the Concord Coalition, in some ways, is an extension of that. But keeping America safe is an issue he always returns to in conversation.

"I have no doubt that somewhere in the world today somebody is planning something that is going to be very bad for us," he says. "I don't have any doubt about that at all, and all I'm saying is that no matter how good your intelligence is, you're never going to be able to sniff it all out. You cannot be right 100 percent of the time. The world is too large. It's too complex. Communications are too easy. There is no way you are going to be able to detect all of it. You can detect and prevent some of it, but it just takes one of them, just one of them. We have to be right 100 times &ndash they only have to be right once."

Published: February 01, 2005
Issue: Winter 2005