US has urgent and growing biodefense problems, experts say

From Homeland Preparedness News

Pressing, multiplying biodefense issues plague U.S., experts say
Monday, October 16, 2017 by Kim Riley

The Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense, a privately funded group established in 2014 to ascertain the current biodefense capabilities of the United States and issue expert recommendations to encourage change, has grown increasingly worried about microbial forensics and biological attribution.

“The diffusion of technical expertise coupled with the biotechnology revolution, drastically increases the threat of bioterrorism. New technologies have decreased resources and financial requirements for entry, and increased capabilities that could be misused by a determined bioterrorist. We need core microbial forensic laboratory capabilities to enable attribution,” said Dr. Gerald W. Parker, Jr., director of Texas A&M University’s Pandemic and Biosecurity Policy Program at the Scowcroft Institute for International Affairs and associate dean for Global One Health in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Involved in biodefense since 1982, Parker recently told the panel that he feels like he has “been at the eye of the storm witnessing evolving biological threats over my career.”

“And today, I am more concerned than ever about the risk of biological threats—whether from outbreaks, accidents or attacks—and the need to underpin no-regret attribution decisions with a sound scientific foundation in microbial forensics,” Parker said during a panel meeting held earlier this month.

Attribution to determine who was responsible for an attack, whether a crime, act of terror, or warfare is essential to hold those responsible accountable for their actions, prevent future attacks and serve as a deterrent, he said.

Attribution and the supporting microbial forensic sciences also are important to exonerate and rule out suspected perpetrators, whether a nation state, terror group or criminal that is innocent, Parker said.

“The stakes could be very high, particularly when a nation state is involved or suspected, and a rush to judgment before the science and evidence are in, should be avoided,” said Parker. “Decisions to attribute, especially a nation state, will be consequential, no-regret decisions that must be guided by a strong scientific and evidentiary foundation.”


The panel is also concerned about U.S. President Donald Trump’s FY 2018 budget request, which would eliminate biological attribution and biodefense functions from DHS and close the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center in Maryland, which houses the NBFAC.

“Terminating funding would leave the country without a core investigative tool for biocrimes and bioterrorism,” panel co-chairman and former Sen. Joseph Lieberman said.

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