From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The Bush administration has not done enough to confront the national security threats of tomorrow, from bio-terrorism and cyber-terrorism to the potential for nuclear weapons to get into the hands of not only nations but individuals, Obama said Wednesday.
The Illinois senator, who has spent this week talking about national security issues, hosted a panel with experts on how to confront the security challenges of the 21st century, saying that as president he would work with government, industry and academia to prevent these kinds of attacks and prepare for them should they ever occur.
Former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn and Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh -- both of whom have worked on national security issues and whose names have come up amid speculation over potential running mates -- joined the Illinois senator on the panel. It was his first appearance with either politician on the campaign trail, though Obama traveled to Iraq with Bayh in 2006.
The presumptive Democratic nominee complimented Bayh -- calling him "one of the finest senators, prior to that one of the finest governors that we've had in the country" -- as well as Nunn and Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, who was not present.
"Other than the fact that he's a Republican I can't find wrong anything with that guy," Obama said to laughter and applause. "He is a great friend and much of the work that I've done in this area has been with him and his office. His staff is outstanding. We've traveled together, and so I want to make sure to acknowledge his outstanding leadership along with Sam Nunn in some of these critical areas. The two of them working together probably did more in the 1990s and continue to do more than just about any other American citizens in making sure that we are safe from cataclysm, and so we are very grateful to both of them for their outstanding efforts."
Bayh, who introduced Obama, had kind words for the senator from the neighboring state.
"Sen. Obama was speaking out about the importance of supporting the Nunn-Lugar initiative and the risks of nuclear proliferation when he was running for the Senate, a long time before he was running for president, so you were ahead on the curve on this from a long way back, just as on Iraq," Bayh noted.
In his brief opening remarks, Obama noted what the 9/11 Commission called America's "failure of imagination" when it came to anticipating future threats and tied the issue to Iraq, arguing that the Bush administration had wasted resources because it had invaded and occupied Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with al Qaeda and had no weapons of mass destruction, rather than adjusting to the stateless threats of the new century and taking steps to secure dangers technology like nuclear weapons.
"It's time to look ahead at the dangers of today and tomorrow rather than those of yesterday," he said. "America cannot afford another president who doesn't understand the threats that confront us now and in the future."
The senator has spent this week talking about national security issues, an area where polls show voters favor John McCain even as Obama leads his Republican rival overall among registered voters in several national polls. In the latest Washington Post/ABC poll, the Arizona senator was seen as the one with greater knowledge of the world by more than 2 to 1 and also beat Obama when it came to the question of which candidate was more trusted on the issue of fighting terrorism.
Obama said he would make cyber security a top priority of his presidency by appointing a National Cyber Advisor to help implement a national cyber-security policy.
He said he would invest in efforts to improve analysis, information sharing and the capacity of intelligence agencies to identify and intercept dangerous bio-weapons around the world, proposing to invest $5 billion over three years to create an international intelligence and law enforcement infrastructure to take down terrorist networks and said improving the education system, especially in the areas of science, engineering and computer programming was key to keeping America safe.
Also on the panel were Dr. David Relman, a professor of medicine at Stanford University; Dr. Tara O'Toole, who is CEO and Director of the Center for Biosecurity at the Univ. of Pittsburgh Medical Center; Dr. Graham Allison, a professor of government at Harvard's Kennedy School, Alan Wade, former CIA chief information officer and Paul Kurtz, a cyber and homeland security expert