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Agence France Presse February 12, 2003

US govt comes under attack for duct tape defense

By Patrick Anidjar

The US government came under attack from a top opposition lawmaker Wednesday for its duct tape response to the terrorist threat it has highlighted.

Having raised its nationwide terrorist alert level, the main advice given by the Bush administration to Americans has been to stock up on bottled water, batteries and duct tape to deal with an attack.

"This is not an adequate response to the seriousness and the extraordinary difficulties that our country is confronting as we consider what repercussions could come from these attacks," said Senate Minority Leader Democrat Tom Daschle. "I don't want to minimize whatever recommendations are made to go buy duct tape and buy plastic.

"But I must say, this administration has to do a lot better than that. They have to do a lot more than tell people that the responsibility is now on their shoulders," he said.

US authorities have indicated they are more worried about an attack on the United States than at any time since al-Qaeda operatives hijacked jetliners and attacked New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.

Intelligence information regarding plots aimed at the United States "is the most specific we have seen," CIA Director George Tenet told a Senate committee Wednesday, warning of possible attacks in the coming days during the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday following the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

The Pentagon said US fighter aircraft, air defense radars and missile launchers had been activated around the US capital.

And the release Tuesday of an audiotape believed to be the voice of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden calling on his followers to do more heightened the alert.

But the Federal Emergency Managment Agency (FEMA) has limited its advice to civilians to assemble a "disaster kit" of food, water, and plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal homes against chemical or biological attack.

The kit, it said, should also include a flashlight, portable telephone and radio, batteries medicines and blankets.

And Attorney General John Ashcroft appeared to do little to allay confusion when he, in turn, urged Americans to continue leading "a normal life."

Noting the incongruity of the level of threat and the government's advice, Senator Daschle called on the administration to "get beyond the duct tape and get to the real serious issues that we've got to face in making a coordinated effort more of a reality."

"I'm not satisfied that there is a plan today, and I think it's critical that we do a lot more" in order to bring down the level of anxiety across the country," he said.

Patrick Garrett, a terrorism expert with the GlobalSecurity.org think tank, said the comparison between government advice being dispensed today and at the height of the Cold War 50 years ago was "tangible."

During the Cold War era and its real fears of Soviet attack, the US government naively urged people to practice jumping under tables and covering their eyes and the back of the neck to protect against nuclear flash.

"Then, as today, the reality is that if a bomb gets dropped anywhere near you, you are pretty much dead," said Garrett, "especially if we are talking about dirty bombs, chemical materials, etc."

"Dirty bombs" are crude, home-made devices designed to spread radioactive, biological or chemical contaminants over a wide area.

"There are very miniscule things people can do," said Garrett. "The important thing is getting the government to put enough money and focus in heading off these threats."


Copyright 2003, Agence France Presse