ADVERTISEMENT

Is a bioterrorism attack in the U.S. imminent?

As India picks up the pieces of last week's deadly terrorist attacks in Mumbai, a congressional study warns of a possible bioterror strike in the U.S. by 2013.

In fact, biological weapons–anthrax, Ebola, influenza, and other pathogens–are more likely than nuclear weapons to be used to initiate the attack, according to CNN, which obtained an early copy of the study, which officially released today by the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. Former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, chair of the panel created earlier this year to probe the possibility of terrorist hits in the U.S., told CNN that if such an attack were to occur, it would be "9/11 times 10 or a hundred in terms of the number of people who would be killed."

Biological weapons are a more likely choice than nukes, he said, because their ingredients are easier to obtain and such an attack "would be easier to carry out."

The commission's recommendations, according to CNN: the U.S. government must impose tight security at U.S. labs with such poisons on hand (a measure that might have helped prevent the 2001 anthrax mailings or at least helped law enforcement catch the culprit sooner), strengthen international treaties so that other countries also improve safeguards, enhance surveillance to detect early signs of an attack, and develop better ways to track the source of any biological weapons.

Some scientists have also been pushing for the U.S. to vaccinate millions of citizens in advance of an attack, while others say only doctors, paramedics, nurses and other first-line responders should be vaccinated to help limit damage in the event of a bioterror attack. Critics, however, caution that widespread vaccination might not be effective if a disease-causing pathogen mutates and becomes resistant to a vaccine.

Though he stressed the threat of a bioterror attack, Graham did not rule out a nuke strike, noting that as more countries develop their nuclear arsenal it becomes more likely that terrorists will also get their hands on the technology and materials.

The bipartisan report faults the Bush administration for failing to devote enough resources toward preventing such an attack, the Washington Post reported Sunday. The Post adds that, according to the report, U.S. policies have at times "impeded international biodefense efforts while promoting the rapid growth of a network of domestic laboratories possessing the world's most dangerous pathogens."

According to the New York Times, the report also singled out Pakistan, which has nuclear capability, as a security priority for the incoming Obama administration. Not surprising given that the Mumbai terrorist attacks are believed to have been executed by Pakastani militants.

(Image courtesy of iStockphoto; Copyright: Laura Stanley)

Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Back To School

Back to School Sale!

12 Digital Issues + 4 Years of Archive Access just $19.99

Order Now >

X

Email this Article

X