Global Nature of Terrorism Drives Biosurveillance
By Dialogo November 07, 2011
The global nature of terrorism and the growing potential of nations and individuals to acquire weapons of mass destruction drive the Defense Department’s effort to counter these threats, the assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs said.
Andrew C. Weber said DOD programs target nuclear deterrence, seek out early warning for infectious diseases, and bolster the ability of U.S. partners around the world to prevent, prepare for and respond to events involving WMD.
“Our national security strategy makes preventing and preparing for the possibility that terrorist groups would acquire weapons of mass destruction, whether it be biological weapons or nuclear weapons, our first priority,” Weber said during an interview here with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel.
The 2001 terrorist attacks on New York, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon drove home the global nature of terrorism, the assistant secretary said.
Later that year, he said, a series of anthrax attacks in the United States caused defense officials “to focus more attention on the possibility that terrorist groups would acquire biological or nuclear weapons and use them against cities here or around the world.”
Since 9/11, he added, the Defense Department has broadly improved its response to terrorist nuclear, chemical and especially biological threats, which can be accessible to small groups, terror cells and even individuals.
“This is why it’s so difficult to disrupt and to learn about these types of attacks while they’re being planned,” Weber said, “so we need to be very prepared.”
American forces are now vaccinated against anthrax and smallpox, he said, and the department has stockpiled antibiotics against potential biological attacks.
“In a sense, we have taken parts of the biological threat off the table,” Weber said, “by improving our capability for medical countermeasures and early warning and surveillance.”
To keep terrorist groups from getting access to materials needed to construct biological weapons, he said, DOD has helped strengthen biosecurity at laboratories in the United States.
“We also have launched a program working with partners around the world to make sure public health and veterinary laboratories that have dangerous pathogen strains that cause diseases like anthrax and ebola are better secured,” the assistant secretary said.