Legislators begin debate on anti-terror costs

Posted: Tuesday, January 15, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Lawmakers began dissecting Gov. Tony Knowles' $102.1 million anti-terrorism package in a committee hearing on Tuesday.

While giving support for some of Knowles security measures, some legislators openly questioned how much of a terrorist threat Alaska faces.

''As I travel around the world, hardly anybody knows Alaska is part of the United States,'' said Rep. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River. ''I don't know how we get on their radar screen.''

Knowles' anti-terrorism package includes $46.7 million in state spending with the balance of it coming from federal and other funds.

The proposal would expand statewide emergency systems, strengthen pipeline security and add 66 new Alaska State Troopers and a number of constables and village public safety officers.

At a House Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Maj. Phil Oates, adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard and commissioner of the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, said the threat is real.

He showed the committee a video, which included footage from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington and included numerous Web pages of terrorist organizations, such as Hamas and the Iraq Action Coalition.

''The evildoers are open for business and ready to recruit you,'' Oates said. ''Indeed, I believe there is a threat to Alaska.''

Oates said terrorists might see opportunities to create economic damage or make a statement by hitting the trans-Alaska oil pipeline or an oil tanker at Valdez.

''The biggest trap you can get into is thinking your enemy thinks like you,'' Oates said.

Rep. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, agreed, saying there's a danger in assuming Alaska is not significant enough to warrant attention. The USS Cole was not the mightiest U.S. warship, but that did not prevent it from being attacked two years ago, he said.

Oates also said the state could suffer collateral damage from a biological attack outside the state, such as a deliberate attempt to spread smallpox.

Military and Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, wondered whether smallpox is much of a threat since only two countries -- the United States and the former Soviet Union -- retained samples of the disease.

Health and Social Services Commissioner Jay Livey said the unknown is whether any of the disease escaped the former Soviet Union.

''It's a question of risk,'' Livey said. ''On the one hand, the risk may be low, but on the other hand, if you don't respond to it, the results are cataclysmic.''

Although Chenault raised few other questions Tuesday, in a news release issued before the meeting he expressed skepticism about some elements of the package, such as a new $13 million food safety lab, $1.9 million for ''war insurance,'' $3.5 million for portable bridges and $6.8 million to bombproof airports.

''At first blush, the governor seems to be using terrorism as an excuse for bigger government,'' Chenault said in the news release.

Chenault praised other ideas in the plan, such as expanding statewide emergency radio systems or upgrading pipeline security.

The committee will continue its hearing Wednesday morning.

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