Various Resources

“Pakistan — a key U.S. ally in global efforts to combat Islamist militancy — is in urgent need of an estimated $4 billion in capital to avoid defaulting on its sovereign debt.”  See “Pakistan’s Capital Crisis: Implications for U.S. Policy” (pdf), Congressional Research Service, November 7, 2008.

A new Pentagon manual (pdf) issued by Under Secretary of Defense (Intelligence) James R. Clapper prescribes the implementation of the Department of Defense operations security (OPSEC) program.  OPSEC is the process of identifying sensitive information that could be exposed to hostile detection in the course of military operations, and taking steps to protect such information.  See “DoD Operations Security (OPSEC) Program Manual,” DoD Manual 5205.02M, November 3, 2008.

The state of national preparedness for a bioterrorist incident was examined last year in a newly published congressional hearing, which includes supplementary questions and answers for the record.  See “Six Years After Anthrax: Are We Better Prepared to Respond to Bioterrorism?”, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, October 23, 2007.

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  1. George Smith November 10, 2008 at 2:03 PM #

    “Six Years After Anthrax: Are We Better Prepared to Respond to Bioterrorism” is worth some comment. Keep in mind, this hearing has been overtaken by the Bruce Ivins affair. However, it contains the usual assertions on a catastrophic threat capable of taking down the nation — one which had always been predicted as an external threat, an attack easy to mount, because you could pick up the right germs anywhere.

    The Ivins case was the direct inverse: The anthrax came from the heart of the US biodefense structure and was the gold-standard in research. It was not something one could just get anywhere.

    The tone of the hearing was set by this introductory claim (who actually said it isn’t important).

    “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” And vigilant we must be.

    This also carries a second connotation. It’s used as justification for no end to defense spending on the bioterror threat. Typically, for hearings like this, there are never any critics allowed in the room — no interest in flies in the ointment in the way of reality checks — and that was the case at this event.

    One of the primary panelists was Tara O’Toole. O’Toole is famous for always describing the threat of bioterrorism in the most apocalyptic manner possible. There’s never enough funding for it and we’d better act quick, or our gooses will be cooked.

    See here for some examples taken from the press.

    In any case, her testimony before the Homeland Security committee contained the standard fact-free assertions that have come to be part of the debate.

    O’Toole: “The Defense Science Board said in 2000, 6 months before the anthrax attacks, that there are no technical barriers to terrorist groups or individuals building and disseminating a devastating biological attack. That is even more true today.”

    “I think it was the ease of carrying out a biological attack, because these organisms live naturally in the world and are available in hundreds of gene banks across the world, and also because these are replicating organisms…”

    Keep in mind that the anthrax used in the anthrax mailings — the alleged impetus for the state-of-affair evaluation of the biodefense effort — didn’t come from “hundreds of gene banks across the world.” It came from a pooled sample made under contract for the US government and stored at Ft. Detrick and, at the time of this hearing, quite a few people involved in the investigation already knew it.

    But back to O’Toole.

    “II think there is a lot of complacency and misinformation abroad in the leadership of the country about the biothreat and biodefense,” she continued at one point. “I think people think the threat is much more remote and much less potentially destabilizing than is the case…”

    Here, skepticism and reasonable criticism are written off as complacency and misinformation.

    “The fact is that the $5.6 billion in BioShield is a fraction of what we are going to need” — again, O’Toole.

    And that pretty much says it. There’s never enough money and the nation is exposed to the gravest threat.

    Here is a more recent summary of the mechanism of national biodefese as an example of national welfare available only to a select few.