The Debate

U.S. Eyes Bioterrorism Threat

As Congressional progress stalls, the U.S. moves to tackle the bioterrorism threat from Asia.

I wrote last month about the importance the U.S. government should place on the threat of biological, and how domestic politics risked hampering progress on one of the United States most pressing security issues.

Congress has previously acknowledged the seriousness of the threat, with the Weapons of Mass Destruction Committee reporting to Congress four years ago that: “much more can be done to prevent biological weapons proliferation and terrorism …To date, the U.S. government has invested most of its nonproliferation efforts and diplomatic capital in preventing nuclear terrorism. The Commission believes that it should make the more likely threat – bioterrorism – a higher priority.”

Unfortunately, despite there being a bill before Congress that would likely help tackle concerns such as those highlighted by the committee – one that has bipartisan support – the bill needs to go through five House committees before the Senate even has a say.

It’s frustrating, but at least the Senate (and, to an extent, the White House) appear to be working to keep some forward momentum on the issue of bioterrorism, including the potential threat posed from Asia.

Earlier this month, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs Madelyn R. Creedon told the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities that the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which was created in 1991, is shifting its focus more on biological threat reduction.

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“We also continue to work in the states of the former Soviet Union,” Creedon said according to the U.S. Defense Department, adding that large biological security programs are ongoing in Kazakhstan.

“During the Cold War, the Soviet Union military industrial complex transformed viruses and bacteria to weapons of war, and industrial-scale biological weapons facilities were built to win the germ war arms race…With the collapse of the Soviet Union, newly independent republics faced the challenge of dealing with deadly pathogens at sites left unprotected and vulnerable to theft,” the Department noted.

On the issue of countries such as Kazakhstan, which are more advanced in their biological work, Creedon added, “you look at things like, how many collections of dangerous pathogens do they have? How are they secured? Should they be consolidated? Should you combine veterinary pathogens and human health pathogens, or does it make more sense to keep them apart?”

Such efforts unfortunately are less likely to make headlines than questionable presidential campaign proposals such as a Republican suggestion last week to revisit not just the idea of a complete border fence between the U.S. and Mexico, but a “high-tech fence” – this despite the astronomical estimated costs as noted by Robert Beckhusen and the reality that net immigration from Mexico has fallen to zero.