In recognition of the increasingly likelihood of a CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) attack against the US, the White House released yesterday its National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats. The new strategy highlights the need for partnerships across sectors in the US and with the international community.
The strategy seeks to promote the safe and effective uses of the life sciences while combating the use of life sciences for nefarious purposes. The document points to several biological incidents that have occurred including the anthrax letter mailings of 2001, attempts by a Japanese cult to disseminate anthrax (which failed) and the revelation that al-Qaeda is seeking the ability to develop and use biological agents for terrorist attacks.
The document mapped out several objectives, including:
– Promote global health security: Activities that should be taken to increase the availability
of and access to knowledge and products of the life sciences that can help reduce impacts of
outbreaks of infectious disease whether of natural, accidental, or deliberate origin.
– Reinforce norms of safe and responsible conduct: Activities that should be taken to reinforce
a culture of responsibility, awareness, and vigilance among all who utilize and benefit from the
life sciences to ensure that they are not diverted to harmful purposes.
– Obtain timely and accurate insight on current and emerging risks: Activities that serve to
improve threat identification, notification, and assessment capabilities as well as our understanding
as to the global progress and presence of the life sciences to help identify and understand
new and emerging challenges and inform appropriate actions to manage the evolving risk.
– Take reasonable steps to reduce the potential for exploitation: Activities that are targeted
to identify, sensitize, support, or otherwise safeguard knowledge and capabilities in the life
sciences and related communities that could be vulnerable to accidents or misuse.
-Expand our capability to prevent, attribute, and apprehend: Activities that are intended
to further hone the Nation’s ability to identify and stop those with ill intent to reduce the risk of
single, multiple, or sequential attacks.
-Communicate effectively with all stakeholders: Activities that should be conducted to ensure
the Federal Government is advancing cogent, coherent, and coordinated messages.
-Transform the international dialogue on biological threats: Activities targeted to promote
a robust and sustained discussion among all nations as to the evolving biological threat and
identify mutually agreed steps to counter it.
The focus on this threat will prove to be a key component of homeland security in the coming years. Of all the available CBRN weapons, biological agents are relatively easy to acquire and in the hands of individuals with scientific training, can be quite deadly.