Bipartisan WMD commission: U.S. failing to address urgent biothreat

Published 24 October 2009

Interim report assesses progress in preventing WMD proliferation and terrorism

The United States is failing to address its most urgent threat — biological proliferation and terrorism — concluded a report issued Wednesday by the bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. The Commission also felt the Obama Administration has given appropriate high-level attention to the nuclear threat but noted the challenges loom large.

The Commission cited a range of missteps on biosecurity that lead to its conclusion: No senior-level advocate for biosecurity in the administration, attempted funding “raids” on two critical biopreparedness programs, and lack of appropriate disease surveillance.

The clock is ticking,” said Commission chairman and former Senator Bob Graham (D-Florida). “The United States has taken action, but we have not kept pace with those who would do us, or the world community, harm. The terrorists are flexible and increasingly capable. The executive branch, the legislative branch, and even the American people must do more.”

The biological threat is often misunderstood,” added Commission vice chairman and former senator Jim Talent (R-Missouri). “But the fact is, it is only getting easier and cheaper to develop and use biological weapons-and our best response is to mitigate the effects through faster, safer vaccines and therapeutics. It’s essential that the US government move more aggressively on this front.”

Specific concerns raised in the report, relating to U.S. biosecurity, include:

  • Developing a common understanding of the biothreat. While the National Security Council is developing a Bioweapons Prevention Strategy — the first of its kind — there is a lack of common understanding across the Administration and Congress about the threat of biological terrorism.
  • Executive responsibility. Although the president appointed a WMD coordinator, the Commission strongly recommends the National Security Council needs a senior official whose sole responsibility is to improve America’s capability for biodefense.
  • Funding for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and Project BioShield at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). These programs develop and purchase medicines to prevent and respond to biological, radiological, or nuclear attack.
  • Disease surveillance. The nation needs to improve domestic and international disease surveillance in order to quickly recognize a disease emergency, whether natural or manmade.

The Commission found greater progress in regard to the nuclear threat, noting that 2010 is a critical year for global security and the international nuclear nonproliferation regime. President Barack Obama has made a series of significant speeches related to nuclear nonproliferation, endorsing the thrust of the Commission’s recommendations. However, real