Bioterror Attack Likely in the Next 5 Years, Congressional Report Says

By Eliza Strickland | December 2, 2008 1:13 pm

biological agentSomewhere in the world within the next five years, terrorists are likely to use a biological agent like anthrax or Ebola in a major attack, a new congressional report predicts. The report acknowledges that terrorist groups still lack the needed scientific and technical ability to make weapons out of pathogens…. But it warns that gap can be easily overcome, if terrorists find scientists willing to share or sell their know-how. “The United States should be less concerned that terrorists will become biologists and far more concerned that biologists will become terrorists,” the report states [AP].

The report, which will be officially released on Wednesday by the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Terrorism, covers the threat of both biological and nuclear attacks. It argues that bioterrorism is a greater threat: Nuclear facilities are closely guarded, the report says, while many civilian labs contain dangerous pathogens and could more easily be breached. The number of such “high-containment” labs in the United States has tripled since 2001, yet U.S. officials have not implemented adequate safeguards to prevent deadly germs from being stolen or accidentally released, it says. “The rapid growth in the number of such labs in recent years has created new safety and security risks which must be managed,” the draft report states [Washington Post].

The list of pathogens that could be “weaponized” by terrorists includes anthrax (which was used in the 2001 scare that is now thought to have been carried out by government scientist Bruce Ivins), a deadly Ebola virus, and more benign germs that could be genetically modified to resist antibiotics or vaccines. The commission’s chairman, former senator Bob Graham, also cited the 1918 flu virus as a potential danger; that virus, which killed millions, has vanished from the population but was recently recreated in a lab. “Today it is still in the laboratory, but if it should get out and into the hands of scientists who knew how to use it for a violent purpose, we could have multiple times the 40 million people who were killed 100 years ago,” he said [CNN].

Although the Bush administration spent more than $20 billion on biodefense research and on drug stockpiles, the bipartisan report still argues that the administration did not devote enough resources to the threat. “The more probable threat of bioterrorism should be put on equal footing with the more devastating threat of nuclear terrorism,” the draft says. It calls on the Obama administration to develop a comprehensive approach to preventing bioterrorism and “banish the ‘too-hard-to-do’ mentality that has hobbled previous efforts” [Los Angeles Times].

Related Content:
80beats: Army Researcher’s Alleged Anthrax Attack Raises Concerns Over Biodefense Labs
80beats: An Accident at Biohazard Lab Would Cost Billions
DISCOVER: Public Health Coordinator Donald Henderson Waging War on Bioterror
DISCOVER: Infectious Defense asks whether a determined bioterrorist can be stopped
DISCOVER: How to Spot an Invisible Attack

Image: flickr / judy_breck

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Jeremy

    12 monkeys?

  • Mr. Gently

    12 monkeys..

  • Kathy

    Whoa, scarey, creepy, terrifying and we’re supposed to exactly do……What?

  • Thomas Powell

    Looking at an attack, bio or otherwise, in the next 5 years, would not surprise me. I feel that within a few years, we could be looking at a conflict of global proportions. Treaties will be signed and coalitions will be formed, sides taken and a clear view of what we as a nation, faced with hard-ships and tragedy, will do.
    There are a few questions I have, and I doubt there will be any answer other than the “future and what it brings”. What do I do to prepare for something of this magnitude? How do I employ myself to a position of survival, when I can’t create a defense? Do I carry on as I and millions of other Americans do, by sleeping at night, uncaring, breathing the danger and fear they fume through our televisions, hour after hour, day after day?
    Or do I just “sit” and wait? Waiting for the fate of my country, the place I live, my only home. In a couple of years, I should be supporting myself (I just turned 18 a month ago) and I should have some kind of clearance regarding this issue.
    I refuse to allow someone I have never seen, talked to or been formerly acquainted with, dictate my future. Decide the way I live or even disrupt my life. Hopefully in the near “future”, I will be able to cope with the fact that my life will be forever in danger, until my death.

  • Marv

    These reports aren’t so much to scare the public into doing something themselves, as much as to help to guide government spending in the area of terrorism protection.
    However, one thing that the public can do is to make sure they keep all their normal vaccinations up to date.
    They should also encourage our government to act a bit more responsibly in interacting with other countries, treating them as partners in suppressing terrorism rather than as terrorists themselves. Perhaps if we promulgated a less militaristic and overbearing approach, followed the Geneva Convention a bit more closely instead of using rendition and places like Gitmo, it would be harder for the evil-doers to recruit more and more terrorists. Since 9/11, our actions have lost us some of the high moral ground in the fight against terrorism, and until we rise again to the level where we were before the last 7 years of inept administration, we will need to worry about when the next attack will come. Being the “good guys” doesn’t mean being naive or complacent, it only means making as many friends as possible in the war against terrorism rather than making more enemies.

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  • tony

    this kind of reminds me of the games the government played with the terrorist attack scale they had for a while. What is the likely hood of an eminent terrorist attack? high.. lol


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