Thursday, December 11, 2008
Bipartisan Commission warns of biological attack by 2013
By U.S. Senator
Progress Has Been Made, But More Needs to Be Done to Protect America
Last week, a bipartisan blue-ribbon panel issued an eye-opening report that stated terrorists are “more likely than not” to use a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) somewhere in the world in the next five years.
This startling prediction is contained in the report of the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism, led by former Sen. Bob Graham of Florida. The report came on the heels of the recent terror attacks in India – events that served as a painful reminder of the continued threat posed by terrorism and the international need to work together to stop it.
Threat of Biological Attack
In working to prevent a WMD attack on our country, much of the government’s effort has been centered on stopping a nuclear attack. While taking steps to prevent such an attack is certainly important, the commission’s report says that it is more likely terrorists will attempt to pursue a biological attack, such as the release of a deadly bacteria or virus, and that we should move more aggressively to reduce the prospect of this kind of bio-terror attack.
In discussing the severity of such an attack, Sen. Graham said: “The consequences of a biological attack are almost beyond comprehension. It would be September 11 times 10 or 100 in terms of the number of people who would be killed.” He cited anthrax and the flu virus that killed millions in 1918 – which has been reconstructed and is stored in a high-security laboratory – as examples of potential biological weapons.
After the September 11 attacks, our government recognized the need to create a strategy that would address the new challenges of terrorism and WMD. In addition to a number of measures to combat nuclear weapons proliferation, steps also have been taken to prevent a biological attack. The U.S. government is leading international efforts to detect and prevent the threat of biological terrorism and has worked to strengthen domestic bio lab security. Additionally, the federal government has deployed an air monitoring system in more than 30 major metro areas around the country to provide an early warning of a bio attack and to enable a quick response.
In the event of a WMD attack on our country – whether it is biological or nuclear – the government has taken steps to prepare for the aftermath. Recently, the Pentagon announced a plan to have 20,000 troops trained and ready inside of the U.S. by 2011 to help state and local officials respond to a WMD attack or other national catastrophe.
Our nation’s health system is also preparing for the possibility of a biological attack. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has created a laboratory response network of approximately 170 public health laboratories nationwide to deal with a bioterrorism attack. In addition, HHS has provided over $8 billion in grants to states and local governments to increase hospital preparedness and response capabilities.
Ongoing Effort Needed
Even though a number of positive steps have been taken to prevent a WMD attack, the commission’s report serves as a wake-up call, reminding us that even more needs to be done if we are to stay one step ahead of terrorists intent on harming us. As Sen. Graham stated, the threat of a WMD attack is growing “not because we have not done positive things, but because our adversaries are moving at an even faster pace to increase their access” to WMD materials.
The threat of a WMD attack on our country or one of our allies is real and it must not be ignored. The U.S. must continue to lead, building on the progress made in ensuring the world remains focused on keeping WMDs out of the hands of terrorists. This effort must be aggressively pursued, because the consequences of inaction are simply too great.
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