BIOTERRORISM THREATS HIGHLIGHTED IN HEARING
By Michael B. Kraft
State Department and non-government experts have told Congress that a biological weapons attack is a clear and present danger and that countering the threats overseas is essential to protect the United State.
The issues were discussed at a hearing Thursday by the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade on "the National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats," chaired by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-California).
Mr. Vann H. Van Diepen, the acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, testified that “The biological threat has several important components, including intent from groups that have expressed interest in obtaining biological weapons and expertise, emerging infectious diseases that create new opportunities for havoc, and growing biotechnology capacity in areas of the world with a terrorist presence.”
The State Department official said “a biological weapons attack is a real and present danger, particularly in light of the 2001 anthrax attacks.” He added that “We have tangible evidence that Al Qa’ida leadership directed a focused effort to develop the capability to conduct a biological threat with anthrax.” He did not elaborate.
At the hearing, Prof. Barry Kellman, President of the International Security and Biopolicy Institute (ISBI), said “Homeland security is international security and vice versa. We cannot wall ourselves from worldwide bio-attacks.”
He added that “global biopreparedness must be a high foreign policy priority of the United States, working with our allies and the international system. This means having a global network of stockpiled medicines linked to delivery systems to get them to where they are needed quickly with effective plans to ensure smooth distribution.”
Steven Rademaker, a former assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, who also served on the Congressionally mandated WMD Commission added that: “ It is possible …with proper preparation and with effective detection and monitoring, to mitigate the damage caused by a biological attack. Indeed, highly effective response capabilities are probably our most effective means of preventing a biological weapons attack. “If terrorists or other potential attackers are satisfied that any biological attack on us will likely fail, in the sense that it can be expected to cause few or no casualties due to our ability to rapidly detect and mitigate the effects of the attack, they will be much less interested in attacking us with such weapons.”
During the March 18 hearing, subcommittee chairman Rep.Sherman placed into the record the extensive survey
that the ISBI prepared at the panel’s request on U.S. government agencies, policies and programs to help other countries strengthen their biosecurity. (The study, which co-authored, included interviews with many government officials. I am a board member of the ISBI, a non-profit organization that was established last year.)
For additional details on the testimony at the House hearing see my report on the blog section of the ISBI web site.
March 21, 2010 04:52 PM