September 11, 2001

September 11, 2001 | News Releases on Department of Homeland Security

U.S. Faces Uphill Battle in Preparing for Bio-Terrorist Attack, Analysts Say

WASHINGTON, Sep. 11 2001-The United States is woefully unprepared to handle a terrorist attack involving biological or chemical weapons, some of which are relatively easy to obtain and disseminate, a new Heritage Foundation paper warns.

"The United States lacks a coordinated and tested way to respond to biological or chemical attacks," say Jack Spencer, a Heritage defense policy analyst, and Michael Scardaville, who focuses on homeland security. "This deficiency invites terrorists to continue their efforts to develop these weapons."

President Bush's creation of the Office of Homeland Security is a step in the right direction, they say. "But as the events of Sept. 11 show, it is well within the grasp of terrorists to develop the capabilities and means to carry out such attacks on America."

Biological weapons-which date at least to 1346, when Mongols catapulted corpses contaminated with plague over the walls into Kaffa (Crimea)-can be produced cheaply from widely available substances that are manufactured for legitimate research, or obtained from soil or infected humans or animals, the analysts say. After that, nothing more complex than a brewery is required to prepare them for use.

Biological weapons include anthrax, which can be cultured from any soil that supports livestock, or small pox, which can be found only in U.S. or Russian laboratories-although clandestine supplies may exist. They can be spread most efficiently by aerosol sprays, but also by explosives or by contamination of food and water supplies or animal feed. The symptoms from infection by small pox and anthrax take so long to appear, the analysts say, that by the time they are detected it may be too late to treat the victims or prevent mass casualties. Less than a gram of a biological or chemical weapon, produced and released with maximum efficiency, could kill everyone in a domed football stadium, they say; 250 pounds of anthrax distributed efficiently could wipe out a city the size of Washington, D.C.

Biological weapons programs reportedly exist in a dozen countries, the Heritage Foundation analysts say, particularly in the Middle East and China. Countries listed as "proliferation concerns" by the Stimson Center, a Washington-based think tank specializing in defense issues, include China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Libya, North Korea, Syria and Taiwan. The list also includes Iraq, which has produced large quantities of anthrax and botulinum toxins (the most poisonous substance known to man) but is not believed to have perfected a way to deliver them.

The Heritage study includes two possible scenarios for how terrorists could spread such weapons-either by missile warhead or by aircraft-and show how wide an area would be affected and how many deaths could result.

America has begun to develop "push packages" of pharmaceuticals, medicines and bandages to handle potential attacks, the analysts note. President Bush has increased spending on bioterrorism by nearly 20 percent over last year, and he has asked Vice President Cheney to coordinate a response to such an attack. But more must be done, they say-and quickly.

"The United States is far from invulnerable to those wish it harm," write Spencer and Scardaville.

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