Fighting Back Against Terrorism

In an effort to stop terrorists bent on getting and using nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, the United States is pushing spending on anti-terrorism to historic heights.

CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart investigated this counter-terror program and has a first look at what you're getting for the money.

If ever there was a defining moment in the war against terrorism, it was rush hour on March 20, 1995, in the downtown Tokyo subway. An apocalyptic Japanese religious sect filled plastic bags with sarin nerve gas, punctured them with an umbrella and killed 12 people. The whole world took notice.

"There's no question that the U.S. and like-minded countries really got their head snapped back by the attack," said Paul Bremer, terrorism expert.

Tokyo was the first definitive proof that madmen could build weapons of mass destruction - those chemical, biological or nuclear weapons usually found only in the arsenals of superpowers. And no world leader was more impressed than President Bill Clinton.

"Armed with these weapons, which can be compact and inexpensive, a small band of terrorists could inflict tremendous harm," said President Clinton.

So the preparations have begun. Convinced that it's no longer a question of if we'll be attacked but when, Mr. Clinton has quietly pushed spending on anti-terrorism to historic heights - $10 billion this year alone, the bulk of it devoted to weapons of mass destruction measures.

Emergency training has been started for 120 cities considered likely targets. An animal disease center on Plum Island off New York is being turned into a top-secret lab to study human bio-weapons.

And even Lawrence Livermore Labs in California, once famous for designing nuclear bombs, is now busy finding ways to thwart biological and chemical terrorism.

"This device here can read 10 different organisms at one time," said Fred Milanovich of Livermore Labs.

Livermore, in fact, is already rushing to re-engineer a machine, which is set for use at this summer's political conventions, into a handheld version that can quickly detect chemical or biological weapons.

If the device ever gets small and cheap enough, one could go in every police car.

And in worst-case scenarios, police are going to need them.

At a federally funded Texas A&M training center, police and firemen from across the country use a fake train wreck to practice dealing with a terrorist nerve-gas attack. The initial thing they usually learn is that the first of them to respond may be among the first to die.

Millions of dollars also are being pumped into protective clothing. Eventually every cop, fireman and paramedic in America will have such gear. Every small-town police department will have a portable decontamination center. All a mayor has to do is ask.

Click here for more on the threat of terrorism from an interview with G. Kemble Bennett.
"I think you'll see the doors really start opening up in February or March of this year," says G. Kemble Bennett, director of the emergency training center at Texas A&M. "They'll start to see the monies get to the localities to get the equipment. They'll start to see the training programs."

It all looks and sounds so thorough, so well thought out. It makes you wonder, however, why more and more of the nation's top experts on this deadly subject are starting to ask: Are we paying too much attention to the wrong kind of threat?

For more information, read Jim Stewart's report: A Realistic View of Terrorism?