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Pentagon’s Counterterrorism Effort Gets $1.67B From House Committee

By Dan Morgan

In the first attempt by Congress to adjust the defense budget to new security threats, a key House committee has added $1.67 billion for Pentagon counterterrorism efforts, including $50 million to test equipment that could detect small, smuggled nuclear devices.

Under a plan approved by the House Appropriations Committee -- and strongly recommended in an unclassified report by the independent Defense Science Board -- Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would have 180 days to select four military sites for the tests, which would involve trying to pinpoint the presence of nuclear materials or even a warhead, sources said.

Advanced detection devices exist at several of the nation’s nuclear laboratories and have been used by the Energy Department’s Nuclear Emergency Search Team.

But scientists and congressional officials said this week that they have never been brought together in a way that would enable local law enforcement agencies to ferret out suitcase-size weapons smuggled into U.S. ports or past border guards.

The broader test of the equipment is ordered in a new counterterrorism title added to a $317.4 billion defense appropriations bill for 2002 that could reach the House floor next week.

Although the test had not been requested by the Pentagon, congressional officials noted that President Bush has voiced concern about the threat from a small nuclear device.

Speaking by phone Nov. 6 to a Warsaw conference on terrorism, Bush warned that al-Qaida was “seeking chemical, biological and nuclear weapons,” making it a “threat to civilization itself.”