Sunday, November 26, 2006

Robert Kupperman, Expert on Terrorism, Is Dead at 71

The New York Times
Robert Kupperman, Expert on Terrorism, Is Dead at 71

Robert H. Kupperman, who more than 30 years ago was among the first officials to tell the White House of the dangers of a terrorist attack on the United States, died Friday at his home in Washington. He was 71.

The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, first diagnosed in 1990, said his daughter, Tamara Kupperman Thorp.

From 1975 onward, as an author of top-secret studies, a chairman of task forces and a lonely voice of warning, Mr. Kupperman consistently predicted that the United States would someday be the target of a major terrorist attack.

David M. Abshire, a founder of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, wrote in an August 2002 letter to Mr. Kupperman that “we might have prevented 9/11” had presidents and policymakers listened more closely to him.

Airplane hijackings and transnational terrorism were on the rise when Mr. Kupperman became the chief scientist at the federal Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in 1975. In that role, he led a task force that produced two top-secret studies, at the end of that year and in early 1976.

The studies looked at the likely effects of a spectacular terrorist assault on the United States. They investigated the possible consequences of an attack with a weapon of mass destruction and the readiness of the government to deal with a cascade of conventional terrorist assaults.

No one at the White House paid any attention, according to a study by the 9/11 Commission.

For the next 20 years, Washington “essentially ignored the issue of domestic terrorism,” Mr. Kupperman wrote in 1995. Nevertheless, the question of preventing terrorist attacks preoccupied him for the rest of his life. From 1979 on, he pursued answers at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, one of Washington’s leading research institutions.

“Terrorists are undergoing a dangerous metamorphosis — from technological clods relying on fanaticism to skilled tacticians,” he warned in a 1988 Op-Ed article in The New York Times, written with a journalist, Jeff Kamen. “The Reagan administration and its successor should prepare themselves and the public for devastating attacks.”

Seven years later, Mr. Kupperman told a Senate committee that the nation was “only marginally prepared to deal with one major terrorist incident, let alone a cascading sequence of events.”

Born in New York City on May 12, 1935, Robert Harris Kupperman was educated at New York University, where he received his doctorate in applied mathematics in 1960. His first wife, Helen Slotnick, died in 1966. Besides his daughter, Tamara, of Alexandria, Va., a White House producer for NBC News, he is survived by his wife, Barbara Norris Kupperman, and a sister, Ina Brown of Bradenton, Fla.

He taught at the California Institute of Technology and worked at the Institute for Defense Analyses before becoming the assistant director for the federal Office of Emergency Preparedness from 1967 to 1973. That year, President Richard M. Nixon abolished the office. It was resurrected in 1978 as the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In 1992, Mr. Kupperman wrote that FEMA’s “lackluster response” to the devastations of Hurricane Andrew in Florida had made it clear that it, too, should be abolished. He proposed to replace it with a small and highly professional group with the power to mobilize the American military to meet a catastrophe on American soil.