Combating Terrorism

Threat and Risk Assessments Can Help Prioritize and Target Program Investments Gao ID: NSIAD-98-74 April 9, 1998

The United States is spending billions of dollars each year to combat terrorism, with few guarantees that federal funds are being channeled to the right programs or in the right amounts. Threat and risk assessments could help better target these funds, set priorities, and avoid duplication of effort. The government also needs improved coordination among federal, state, and local agencies. Disagreement exists in the intelligence and scientific communities over the nature of the terrorist threat, particularly the potential for terrorist incidents involving weapons of mass destruction. Although conventional explosives and firearms continue to be the weapons of choice for terrorists, the likelihood that they may use chemical and biological weapons may increase during the coming decade, according to intelligence agencies. GAO summarized this report in testimony before Congress; see: Combating Terrorism: Observations on Crosscutting Issues, by Richard Davis, Director of National Security Analysis Issues, before the Subcommittee on National Security, International Affairs, and Criminal Justice, House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight. GAO/T-NSIAD-98-164, Apr. 23 (13 pages).

GAO noted that: (1) it identified several public- and private-sector organizations that use threat and risk assessments to manage risk and to identify and prioritize their security requirements and expenditures to protect facilities, operations, equipment, and material against terrorist and other threats; (2) for example, one company adapted U.S. government threat and risk assessment standards and successfully applied them to more than 19 of its overseas operations; (3) the company's risk assessment approach involves a multidisciplinary team of experts that uses valid threat information, to make judgments about the likelihood and consequences of an asset being seized or destroyed, the asset's criticality, and the asset's vulnerability to various threats; (4) the company has applied its risk assessment process in a number of areas, from its operations and facilities in Chad to its hiring practices; (5) the NLD program is in the early stage of implementation, and most cities have not yet received training, assistance, or equipment; (6) at the time of GAO's review, threat and risk assessments were not performed by either the cities or the NLD federal program agencies for 11 of the first 27 cities selected for assistance; (7) if properly applied, threat and risk assessments can provide an analytically sound basis for building programmatic responses to various identified threats, including terrorism; (8) although threat and risk assessments are not required in the NLD program, they could help cities prioritize their investments in WMD preparedness; (9) because the program is in the early stages of implementation, opportunities exist to make program adjustments that can help target NLD and other similar programs' training and equipment investments; (10) GAO identified the following challenges to applying an accepted threat and risk assessment process to cities selected to participate in the NLD program: (a) security issues related to providing valid threat data from the intelligence community to city officials; (b) the lack of specificity in the intelligence community's threat information; and (c) the complexity and magnitude of a large city as a subject of a threat and risk assessment; and (11) these challenges could be overcome through federal-city collaboration.


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