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Assessing A New Security Threat

Assessing A New Security ThreatTwo Fletcher students, writing with counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke, contend that a new natural gas facility in Providence would create a security vulnerability.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [06.01.05] In a risk assessment compiled at the request of Rhode Island's attorney general, counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke and a team of researchers found that a proposed KeySpan liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility in Providence could pose a serious threat to the area. In an op-ed co-written with Fletcher School graduate students Evan Pressman and Daniel Dolgin, the plan is called "counterproductive to our homeland-security effort."

"It would create a vulnerability where none previously existed, and endanger the lives of thousands of Rhode Islanders," they wrote in the Providence Journal.

Clarke, the former national coordinator for security and counterterrorism for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, authored the book Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror. His discussionof the threat of LNG facilities prompted Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch to contact Clarke and solicit a threat analysis, which Clarke completed pro bono.

In conjunction with government, military and academic researchers – including the Fletcher students – Clarke and his team submitted a150-page report to the Coast Guard and to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in May.

Dolgin and Pressman were two of the researchers who helped Clarke, the principal investigator, prepare the report.

The facility plan, according to the authors, would enable 900-foot long tankers carrying 38 million gallons of fuel to travel a 29-mile route through Narragansett Bay weekly.

While the U.S. government has deemed the plan safe, Clarke, Pressman and Dolgin disagree, citing the new dangers of the post-Sept. 11th world. In their op-ed, they note that traditional risk assessment– which would have rated the World Trade Center attacks as having an impossible chance of happening – shouldn’t be used in evaluating the safety of the LNG facility.

The optimistic outlooks for the construction of an LNG facility in Providence, they warn, are "based on the notion that because a terrorist attack against an LNG asset in the United States has never happened, it can never happen."

They added,"history is nothing more than a list of events that never previously happened."

In assessing the terror risk to the Providence area, Clarke and the Fletcher students outlined five issues: intent by terrorists to attack LNG facilities, capability by terrorists to launch such an attack, the target area's vulnerability, the consequences of an attack and recovery costs from an attack.

The authors provide alternative solutions, such as locating the facility in a non-urban or offshore location, which they say would "reduce both the attractiveness of the target to terrorists and the consequent management and recovery burdens."

They also outlined in stark terms what they view as the "cost trade-off."

"If the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approves the KeySpan proposal," they wrote in the Journal, "the federal government will be deciding that avoiding the additional financial cost to KeySpan of a more secure location is more important than avoiding the additional risk to Rhode Islanders of a catastrophic attack inherent in urban LNG facilities."

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