Expert questions dimensions of bioterror threat

Published 24 February 2006

Since 2002 the United States has spent at least $33 billion to combat the threat of biological terrorism. The trouble, says University of Maryland’s Milton Leitenberg, is that the risk that terrorists will use biological agents is being systematically and deliberately exaggerated. In any event, the U.S. government has been using most of its money to prepare for the wrong contingency.

A pandemic flu outbreak of the kind the world witnessed in 1918-19 could kill hundreds of millions of people. The only lethal biological attack in the United States — the 2001 anthrax mailings — killed five. These facts notwithstanding, the annual budget for combating bioterror is more than $7 billion, while Congress just passed a $3.8 billion emergency package to prepare for a flu outbreak. Leitenberg says that the exaggeration of the bioterror threat began more than a decade ago, after the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo group released sarin gas in the Tokyo subways in 1995, and has grown since 9/11 and the mailing of anthrax-laced letters to Congress and media outlets in the fall of 2001.

-read more in Leitenberg’s Los Angeles Timesarticle