The U.S. government is “gravely and insufficiently” prepared for a domestic biological attack, found a forthcoming report.
“We’re going to see the use of biological weapons eventually. When I say eventually I don’t mean decades from now,” said former intelligence officer Asha George, co-director of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense, an advisory group under the post-9/11 Commission that convened from December 2014 to April 2015.
The panel — comprised of current and former government officials, homeland security advisers and other field experts — examined the nation’s current state of biological defense in a report to be released in October. It found that the United States is particularly vulnerable to an intentional or unintentional spread of infectious diseases like Ebola, George said.
“It didn’t seem that there was a lot of oversight and understanding in what was happening in terms of addressing bioterrorism and biological warfare in the U.S.,” George said.
The report will be response-oriented and provide specific legislative and policy-related actions to help combat intelligence gaps, she said.
Going “beyond pointing fingers,” it will address where change is needed and provide funding methods as well as pre-drafted legislation to move forward, she said.
“We want people to pick it up and go do something with it immediately,” George said. The nation’s current way of “reacting to everything as it comes” is inefficient, she added, calling for more preemptive approaches. “We have to assume the worst and plan accordingly.”
Current policy “lags behind” reality, applying old perspectives, information and beliefs to modern threats. Policies “need to catch up before we have significant events occurring here in the U.S.,” George said.
In 1975 the Biological Weapons Convention, the first multilateral disarmament treaty to ban the production and use of an entire category of weapons, was put into effect. The treaty prohibited the development, production and accumulation of biological weapons.
Panelists were concerned by the United States’ assumption that the rest of the world has shut down their biological or chemical offensive programs following the 1975 agreement. Terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, pose a strong threat to the nation, George said.
“We have to look at the activities of ISIS … and these other newish terrorist groups and not assume that they’re going to behave the way nation-states do or other older terrorist groups have behaved,” George said. “ISIS has demonstrated over and over again that they are not adhering to anything in the social mores.” Photo Credit: CDC