Senate Democrats

Democratic Leaders to Bush: Hurricane Katrina Laid Waste to Gulf Coast; We Must Take Steps Now to Prevent Terrorists from Doing the Same

Washington, D.C. – House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid sent a letter to President Bush today urging that, in light of the ineffective response to Hurricane Katrina, the President initiate a review of the Administration’s strategy for preventing or responding to a terrorist act that might have similar catastrophic results. The text of the letter follows:

September 14, 2005

The President
The White House
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. President:

The ineffective response to Hurricane Katrina provided tragic evidence that, four years after 9/11, the United States is still unprepared to cope with the effects of major disasters, whether caused by nature or by a terrorist attack on an American city using weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The report card issued today by the 9/11 Commission also confirms that not enough has been done to make America safer. Our inability to prevent acts of nature compels us to focus all of our efforts on responding to them. With respect to terrorist acts, however, we have an ability to prevent as well as to respond. We are concerned that our strategy to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons is deficient, and we commend to your attention a report we have received from our National Security Advisory Group, chaired by former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, that highlights several dangers. North Korea has over the last several years reprocessed plutonium into material suitable for perhaps half a dozen nuclear weapons, and Iran, another country with a record of providing support to terrorist groups, continues its nuclear program. Efforts to secure loose nuclear weapons material and strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty have lagged, providing opportunities through which determined terrorists might be able to acquire nuclear weapons or materials. You have stated that the biggest threat facing the country is weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, in the hands of a terrorist network. We agree with that assessment. The clear evidence of a failure to plan for and respond to an event on the scale of Hurricane Katrina raises the concern that your Administration does not have an effective strategy for preventing and, should prevention fail, responding to terrorist attacks using nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction. Hurricane Katrina laid waste to the Gulf Coast. We hope that terrorists never are able to do the same. We believe there are steps that must be taken now to minimize that possibility. First, we call upon you to announce to the nation in your speech tomorrow night your support for the establishment of a bipartisan commission, modeled on the 9/11 Commission, to investigate the response to Hurricane Katrina. The American public needs an independent, objective assessment of what went wrong and what corrective actions are needed. Second, we urge you to launch a major presidential initiative to bolster America’s strategy to prevent, and if necessary, respond to terrorist attacks using nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. We believe the recommendations of the National Security Advisory Group and the 9/11 Commissioners could contribute greatly to this process. Among the results of this initiative should be a comprehensive update of your National Strategy to Combat WMD, which was last published in December of 2002. With the passage of so much time, a thorough review is necessary to assess the effectiveness of the strategy. The response to Hurricane Katrina must precipitate a broad review of our ability to respond to national catastrophes. We all agree that there is no higher priority than improving our nation’s ability to address the threat of WMD terrorism. We hope your Administration’s actions in coming weeks reflect a commitment to that priority. We look forward to working with you on this important matter. Sincerely, Harry Reid – Senate Democratic Leader
Nancy Pelosi – House Democratic Leader