US not ready for bioterrorism attack: Top panel



US not ready for bioterrorism attack: Top panel 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 said.

"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.

PTI