Cover Image


View/Hide Left Panel


Before 1990, little thought was given to the possibility of biological warfare or a biological terrorist attack on U.S. cities. Even as recently as 1997, the U.S. Department of Defense spent approximately $137 million on biodefense to protect the deployed force, while academia, industry, local governments, and the rest of the federal government were oblivious to—and in some cases, doubtful about—the threat of biological warfare.2 In fiscal year 2000, the United States committed more than $1.5 billion to military biodefense and another $1 billion to domestic preparedness for biological attack. The responsibility for research, development, policy, and planning is now spread among the Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, Defense, and Energy, with the Department of Justice responsible for crisis management (intelligence, law enforcement, and education of first responders) and the Department of Health and Human Services responsible for consequence management (surveillance, epidemiology, reference laboratory and field diagnostics, triage, and postexposure prophylaxis and therapy). Anthrax letters have resulted in American deaths from inhalation anthrax, the first since 1978. Although the loss of life has been minimal—we lose 20,000 to 80,000 Americans to influenza each year—the psychological and economic effects have been significant. Before September 2001, our emergency responders were dealing with about 200 biological hoaxes each year, up from approximately 20 to 30 in 1997. In just weeks since the anthrax letters, we have seen many thousands of biological hoaxes and copycat letter attacks.


The process of research, development, and production of biological weapons is an extremely difficult intelligence target because legitimate vaccine and agricultural production facilities can be used to make illegal biological weapon agents. Basic research can be done in academic, industrial, or government public health laboratories. The scale-up of agent lots can be done in pharmaceutical or agricultural facilities. Weaponization and field testing may be more difficult to disguise, but the previous Iraqi regime successfully tested aerosol dissemination equipment on aircraft by flying modified crop-dusting equipment out of a cropdusting airfield. Although the previous Iraqi regime had successfully developed and field-tested biological agents (Bacillus anthracis, botulinum toxin serotype A, and aflatoxin) in bombs, rockets, and agricultural sprayers on conventional aircraft, our best information suggests that they were nothing more than high-level bioterrorists.3

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement