Top Threat, Ignored

The Risk Of Bioterrorism Is Huge, A New Report Makes Clear. But Few Seem To Be Listening.

December 04, 2009|By Douglas MacKinnon

A critically important bipartisan commission headed up by former senators Bob Graham and Jim Talent recently and ominously warned that, "A recent study from the intelligence community projected that a one-to-two kilogram release of anthrax spores from a crop duster plane could kill more Americans than died in World War II (over 400,000)." As a follow-up to that sobering news, they reported: "Clean-up and other economic costs could exceed $1.8 trillion."

As the Paul Reveres of bioterrorism, Messrs. Graham and Talent are warning of the gravest threat our nation faces - and basically no one cares.

Worried about your job, the economy, health care, gay marriage, or how many troops are needed in Afghanistan? Well, if the two former senators, their commission and the catastrophic prediction they are offering up are not given the immediate attention and respect they deserve, there's a good chance that none of those things will matter.

On Oct. 21, the congressionally mandated Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism appeared in Washington, D.C. to issue a "Progress Report on America's Preparedness to Prevent Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism." Heard of the report or the commission? I didn't think so - the main reason being, almost no one from the media bothered to attend or report on the commission or its findings.

Too bad for all of us. As some in the media fixate on Tiger Woods' car accident, work overtime to censor the word "Islam" from stories about jihadist terrorists, or focus on the wrong weapons of mass destruction threats, this immensely important bipartisan commission painstakingly pointed out how our nation is suicidally ignoring the easiest, most logical, and most immediate way for terrorists to hit us with a weapon of mass destruction: bioterrorism.

Most of our media ignored a report that stated, "terrorists are more likely to obtain and use a biological weapon than a nuclear weapon. ... [I]n recent years, the United States has received strategic warnings of biological weapons use from dozens of government reports and expert panels and that, unlike nuclear weapons, which require highly advanced technology, massive infrastructure and rare materials that can be closely monitored and secured, biological weapons materials occur naturally, require no significant infrastructure to produce and can be found in nearly every part of the world."

Four hundred thousand dead and more than $1.8 trillion to decontaminate our nation. Surely some in the media will find an urgency in those horrific numbers. Or the fact that before he flew a jet into the World Trade Center in New York City, Mohamed Atta tried to buy a crop duster. Or that the commission expects this to happen somewhere in the world by 2013.

Aside from being troubled by a lack of media attention to this grave threat, former senators Graham and Talent also worry that their former colleagues and institution are part of the problem. As an example, they cited the Department of Homeland Security. As Messrs. Talent and Graham pointed out, no fewer than 82 Senate and House committees and subcommittees have jurisdiction over the department. Why? While the former senators stopped short of acknowledging it, the answer is a naked grab for power and pork for members' districts or states. As simple and dangerous as that.

Although they are falling on deaf ears, the commission had immediate and obvious recommendations to try to stave off a bioterror attack. Among them:

* Congressional and government oversight of this issue should be cut drastically. The president should restructure the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council to create a White House principal adviser for WMD proliferation, who will report directly to him or her.

* Our government needs to conduct a comprehensive review of our own programs to secure these dangerous pathogens.

* We need to immediately enhance our nation's capabilities for rapid response to prevent just such a biological attack from inflicting mass casualties.

In light of this breathless warning by the commission, does anyone honestly think that those who should will drop everything to address this issue? No one I know in government believes that will happen. Complacency has set in across the nation.

Should the unthinkable happen and terrorists unleash just such a bio-attack on our nation, those who survive will have every right to hold our government and our media accountable.

Douglas MacKinnon is a former White House and Pentagon official and a novelist. His e-mail is douglas.mackinnon@verizon .net.

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