Joe Lieberman: ‘The threat of a bioterrorism attack keeps me up at night’
WASHINGTON—The consequences of a biological terrorist attack are nearly unimaginable and the possibility of such an attack remains frighteningly high, agreed several current and former Congressional members during a panel discussion entitled, The Threat of Bioterrorism: Improving America’s Response Capabilities. Several participants said that a biological attack is the most significant threat facing the country today, during the event, which was held at the Homeland Security Policy Institute and the Bipartisan WMD Terrorism Research Center at George Washington University on June 14.
“The threat of a bioterrorism attack is real,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman. “The threat of a bioterrorism attack keeps me up at night.” The reason, he said, is that the resources and means to make a biological weapon of mass destruction are broadly available. It is relatively easy to bring such weapons in the country or to manufacture such a weapon here.
Therefore, the country must continue to build its resiliency and response capabilities to a biological attack. Former Sen. Jim Talent (R-MO) said it’s hard for the government to prevent such an attack, so the focus must be on response efforts. “An effective response system will limit the number of deaths if this attack does occur,” Talent said. “But also it’s a form of deterrence because whoever is thinking about doing this believes if they do it, the U.S. is so well prepared the effect will be limited, so they’re not likely to do it.”
Raising awareness of the issue was one of the center’s earliest initiatives. While the threat of nuclear attack is very real, former Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) said that biological weapons are more likely to be used and could be more devastating. “[A] conservative estimate of deaths resulting from successful biological attack is 30,000,” said Sen. Talent. “And if they reload, because you can stockpile these weapons, and hit one city one week and another the next week, the consequences throughout the country is unimaginable. The economy would just stop.”
Part of the center’s goal was to evaluate how prepared the country was at securing against such biological attacks. The center issued a report card in 2010 and gave out several failing grades, said Graham. “The most significant ‘F’ we gave was to the question: ‘How well is America prepared to respond to an attack of bioterrorism?’ We think this is a serious national security risk.”
Despite the likelihood of a biological attack, it remains off the radar for many Americans and political leaders. “It’s been hard to bring attention and focus to this problem,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI). He also emphasized that just because Osama bin Laden is dead, the threat from Al-Qaeda to turn to biological weapons remains very real. “Nothing has been abandoned and just because we’ve taken a significant player off the battlefield does not mean aspirations go away,” he said.
Lieberman discussed legislation that he intends to introduce in the next Congressional session, which builds on legislation he introduced to the House in 2009, that didn’t pass. The new bill will include a mandate to develop a national biological defense strategy, he said. A recent report issued by the Government Accountability Office found that the country has an uncoordinated biodefense program.
The bill Lieberman plans to introduce will also include provisions to strengthen the detection of biological weapons, improve law enforcement training on biological weapons of mass destruction, including decontamination and recovery methods from such an attack. The bill could possibly include creating a special assistant to the president specifically for biodefense, however, Lieberman said he still contemplating that provision.
Source: Security Director News