Capitol Briefing on Biological Weapon Threats

A March 19th briefing at the US Capitol brought together a panel of experts to discuss the threat of biological weapons.  The briefing, titled “Deterring Biological Threats”, was hosted by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and focused heavily on the historical records of the destructive potential of the Cold War bioweapons programs in the US and the USSR.  With more modern threats, such as Al Qaeda’s well-documented search for Anthrax, the amount of interest in biological attacks appears to be increasing.  The means of actually deterring and preventing these biological threats remain less clear.

The session opened with taped comments from Bill Patrick III, one of the last surviving members of the former US offensive bioweapons program, which was discontinued by President Nixon in 1969.  Patrick, who worked on the program from 1951 through its closing, described tests conducted by the US Army to assess the viability of biological weapons.  Using relatively less dangerous bacteria that are transmitted in the same way that Anthrax is, the army conducted tests in US cities that showed the potential for hundreds of thousands of infections from an attack, and significant deaths even before spread of an infection beyond people who were exposed to the initial attack.

Washington Post contributing editor David Hoffman followed up this presentation, discussing the Soviet bioweapons program during the years after the approval of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, which entered force in 1975.  Hoffman described his research on the covert offensive weapons program, which continued under the guise of a civilian agency, Biopreparat.  The program produced the capacity to manufacture massive quantities of Anthrax and Smallpox.  Though there is limited objective evidence assessing Soviet ability to deliver these weapons, the philosophy appears to have been to follow up nuclear attacks with biological and anti-crop attacks as part of a total war plan intended to leave no survivors.

Finally, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a Senior Fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, discussed his recent report on Al Qaeda’s efforts to acquire Anthrax.  Though much of this story is incomplete – many of the details are still classified – the details that have emerged show organized and persistent efforts to pursue the acquisition of the disease.

The CNAS briefing series is scheduled to continue, with the next seminar on April 16th.

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4 Responses to “Capitol Briefing on Biological Weapon Threats”

  1. Ross March 22, 2010 at 2:45 pm #

    Ayman Zawahiri and Anthrax: The Infiltration of US Biodefense (powerpoint)

    http://docs.google.com/present/edit?id=0AUOvQm3wQZPEZGY3bW44czRfMGZma2pmd2hu&hl=en

  2. Ryan P April 5, 2010 at 8:56 pm #

    I believe that we should use biological weapons, because its a better thing to use than nuclear weapons. Also they are more accurate that an airstrike. this would help our country because they work fast and effiecently. Even though some people oppose using these kinds of weapons, we should use biological weapons because it is a fast and effiecent way to win a war.

  3. Ryan p April 26, 2010 at 10:24 pm #

    I believe that we need to use biological weapons so that we can protect ourselves, from a more dangerous type of war. This is because if we do not use these types of weapons there could be some serious consequences.
    One of the reasons we need to use biological weapons is because it is an efficient way to eliminate the enemy. This is because any disease we would use would go all the way through the area that they are hiding out.
    We should also use these weapons because they work quickly. These weapons would work quickly because once the enemy is infected they will almost die for sure. Also even if some of the people do not get infected, if they stay with the infected people they will probably get sick.

  4. Ryan phibbs April 28, 2010 at 8:01 pm #

    I believe that we need to use biological weapons so that we can protect ourselves, from a more dangerous type of war. This is because if we do not use these types of weapons there could be some serious consequences.
    One of the reasons we need to use biological weapons is because it is an efficient way to eliminate the enemy. This is because any disease we would use would go all the way through the area that they are hiding out.
    We should also use these weapons because they work quickly. These weapons would work quickly because once the enemy is infected they will almost die for sure. Also even if some of the people do not get infected, if they stay with the infected people they will probably get sick.

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