By Paul Sperry
© 2001 WorldNetDaily.comWASHINGTON – In policy remarks written three years ago, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice doesn't rule out the threat of nuclear strikes as an option for a president faced with a biological or chemical attack, even if one were carried out by a non-nuclear state.
With speculation growing that Iraq's biowarfare program may have been the source of the so-called Ames strain of anthrax that has killed five Americans and infected 13 others, Rice's position, though dated and based on hypothetical scenarios, may bear some relevance.
"The question is whether explicit nuclear threats in retaliation for BCW [biological-chemical weapons] use are tolerable, given the long-standing norm of non-use of NW [nuclear weapons] against non-nuclear states," Rice said.
"It may be an unpalatable policy, but one of the few available to a U.S. president should deterrence fail," she concluded.
To be sure, Rice prepared the remarks as a Stanford University political science professor for a November 1998 Hoover Institution conference on the biological and chemical warfare threat. They were published by the Hoover Institution Press in a book called, "The New Terror: Facing the Threat of Biological and Chemical Weapons."
But now, the scenario of a non-nuclear state attacking the U.S. with lethal germs may not be so far off.
Last week, a State Department arms-control official announced that Washington was worried that terrorist overlord Osama bin Laden may have been "trying to acquire a rudimentary biological-weapons capability, possibly with support from a state." He went on to cite Iraq, a non-nuclear state, as one of six countries developing germ-warfare programs.
Iraq claims it destroyed its biological weapons after the Gulf war, but it has not allowed weapons inspectors into the country to verify this since December 1998.
Ten years earlier, Iraqi scientists tried to order samples of the virulent Ames strain of anthrax from a British biodefense institute.
Lab tests have shown that the Ames strain matches the spores that appeared in attacks in Florida, Washington and New York. And according to DNA testing, the bacteria found in a 94-year-old Connecticut woman who died of inhalation anthrax is indistinguishable from Ames.
The terrorists who mailed the anthrax-laced letters praised Allah in their sinister notes, but the FBI still doesn't know if they are connected to the Sept. 11 cell or al-Qaida. They've confirmed, however, that Mohamed Atta, the suspected hijacking ringleader, met with Iraqi intelligence agents earlier this year.
Also, at the time of the Gulf war, Iraq was starting to weaponize VX nerve gas, the deadliest chem-warfare agent. VX's major penetration route is through the skin; it doesn't have to be inhaled.
By one U.S. estimate, Iraq could restart pre-Gulf war levels of production of VX within two or three years.
In her 1998 conference remarks, Rice also argued for a missile-defense shield, saying biological or chemical agents delivered by ballistic missiles are not too much less a threat than nuclear-tipped missiles.
"The recent emphasis on ballistic missile defense against nuclear attack could be important for the BCW problem, too, and ought to be pursued," she said, adding that the prospect of some of Russia's BCW stockpile leaking to rogue states "seems a virtual certainty."
Rice even revealed some of her thinking on gathering intelligence on terrorist cells in the U.S., and how such efforts might infringe on civil liberties.
She seemed to favor allowing the CIA to hire informants with shady backgrounds to infiltrate such cells, saying "we've turned squeamish and apologetic in recent years about our association with tough actors in places like Guatemala and Nicaragua during the Cold War."
"The human assets likely to be involved in BCW intelligence may be even more unsavory," said Rice, who was also Stanford's provost at the time. "Can we stomach those associations?"
She said the U.S. is "simply ill-prepared" to deal with a major terrorist attack.
"We need to devote attention to the challenges that our decentralized federal system poses for a coordinated response to a serious incident," said Rice, a Council on Foreign Relations member. "The importance of proper civil-defense measures and means of recovery cannot be underestimated as a counter to blackmail and panic."
She added: "The role of the armed forces on the territory of the U.S. is also at issue, and must be reassessed."
At the same time, Rice cautioned against overtightening security and undermining traditional American values such as openness and individual freedom.
"No one would suggest that the U.S. become 'Fortress America' in order to diminish the BCW threat, no matter how grave," said Rice, a Hoover senior fellow. "It would not work and would change dramatically who we are and what we are trying to protect."