US not ready for bioterrorism attack: Top panel

Amid warning that terrorists were seeking to use WMD, a top counter-terrorism panel on Tuesday warned that the US was not prepared for a bioterrorism attack.

Last Updated: Jan 27, 2010, 00:17 AM IST

Washington: Amid warning that terrorists
were seeking to use WMD, a top counter-terrorism panel on Tuesday
warned that the US was not prepared for a bioterrorism attack.

"Nearly a decade after September 11, 2001, one year
after our original report, and one month after the Christmas
Day bombing attempt, the United States is failing to address
several urgent threats, especially bioterrorism," said Bob
Graham Chair of the bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of
Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism.

The Congressional mandated Commission today released a
report card indicating that the US government is not taking
the necessary steps to protect the country from the threats
posed by WMD and terrorism.

"Each of the last three administrations has been slow
to recognise and respond to the biothreat. But we no longer
have the luxury of a slow learning curve, when we know
al-Qaeda is interested in bioweapons," he said.

Of 17 grades, the report card includes three failing
`F` grades on rapid and effective response to bioterrorism;
Congressional oversight of homeland security and intelligence;
and national security workforce recruitment.

Fortunately, all three grades could be substantially
improved by committed leadership in Congress and the
administration, the report said.

"We are also enormously frustrated about the failure
of Congress to reform homeland security oversight," said Jim
Talent, vice chair of the Commission.

Both Graham and Talent are former US Senators.

"The Department can?t do its job, if it is responding
to more than 80 congressional committees and sub-committees.
This fragmentation guarantees that much of what Congress does
is duplicative and disjointed," Talent said.

The Report Card also includes `A` grades for achieving
specific actions related to a review of domestic programmes to
secure dangerous pathogens, for finalising and approving an
Interagency Bioforensics Strategy, and for conducting
recommended reorganization inside the National Security
Council, the Commission said in a statement.

In December 2008, the Commission released its `World
at Risk` report with a unanimous threat assessment: Unless the
world community acts decisively and with great urgency, it is
more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be
used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end
of 2013.

"That weapon is more likely to be biological than
nuclear. The Commission identified a series of recommendations
and specific actions that Congress and the administration
should take to change the trajectory of risk," the statement

"Today’s report card evaluates steps taken to
implement these recommendations and to protect the United
States from the threats of WMD proliferation and terrorism,"
it said.

The Commission said the threat assessment was based on
multiple factors.

"There is direct evidence that terrorists are trying
to acquire weapons of mass destruction and acquiring WMD fits
the tactical profile of terrorists," it said.

According to the Commission, the terrorists "also have
global reach and the organizational sophistication to obtain
and use WMD".

"Finally, the opportunity to acquire and use such
weapons is growing exponentially because of the global
proliferation of nuclear material and biological
technologies," it said.