By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 13, 2007 - In the years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. government has revamped its homeland security network and now is fully capable of dealing with any potential attacks on American soil, a top Defense Department official said today. The main threat against the United States is still al Qaeda and its affiliated networks, Peter F. Verga, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense, told retired military analysts during a conference call. Specifically, the government is focused on the potential that terrorist groups may use weapons of mass destruction against the nation, he said.
"We think the weapons of mass destruction (are) the thing we have to worry about most," Verga said. "That's not to say that we're ignoring what are albeit more likely things like (improvised explosive devices) and things like that. But in terms of what the Department of Defense can do inside the United States to deal with the situation, responding to the consequences of the weapons-of-mass-destruction attack are the most likely ones."
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. government has worked in the land, air and sea domains, establishing a maritime operational threat-response plan and bolstering the military's capability to support civil authorities in the event of a disaster, Verga said. The National Guard now has 52 certified weapons of mass destruction civil support teams; this number is up from nine teams on Sept. 11, 2001.
The Defense Department also has worked with the National Guard to develop enhanced force-response packages for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive threats, he said. These forces, 17 of which have been funded, fall under the control of state governors to fill the gaps between when an event happens and when the federal response takes effect.
The Defense Department strategy for homeland defense and civil support is designed to deal with a spectrum of potential problems, Verga said. The department follows a strategy of "lead, support, enable" -- the Defense Department will be in the lead for any military defense of the United States; the historic role of the military inside the United States is to support civilian authorities when responding to a disaster; and the department can enable the rest of the government by sharing competencies, such as planning.
While al Qaeda is still a threat, Osama bin Laden himself has more propaganda value than anything, Verga said. Over the years, al Qaeda has become more decentralized, and many groups are following the "commander's intent" of the organization rather than direct guidance, he explained. But bin Laden still is able to influence the media greatly, as evidenced by the recent attention given to his latest alleged video message, Verga said.
"He is able to command the attention of the world's media far in excess of what his actual impact on operations is," Verga said of bin Laden.