Cover Image


View/Hide Left Panel

spectrum of reactions was very broad—from the emotionally exaggerated statement of George Bush regarding “ongoing biological warfare” to the adequate assessment of Vladimir Putin that “the use of biological agents for terrorist purposes has become a reality”—society was united in its opinion that the world had changed in the course of a few days and the twenty-first century had become qualitatively different. In our opinion, despite their seemingly “modest” scale, the 13 anthrax cases resulting from this malicious act, five of which were fatal, must be condemned by mankind just as strongly as previous instances in which weapons of mass destruction were used, such as the chlorine gas attacks during World War I and the atomic bombings of Japanese cities during World War II.

The reality of the use of infectious pathogens means we must decisively reject certain stereotypical opinions that have arisen not only among casual observers but also most unfortunately even in certain professional circles, namely that biological weapons problems are mythical and illusory in nature and may even have been dreamed up by military specialists for their own self-interested purposes. Biological terrorism is an enormous social evil, an extremely dangerous phenomenon carrying with it the threat of consequences that are difficult to predict yet intentionally unfavorable. Efforts to counter it will be effective only if they come in the form of a system of balanced and coordinated measures carried out at the federal, regional, and local levels. Of course, such measures must be scientifically based, technically feasible, and economically realistic. Here, the interests of effectively countering bioterrorism both as a global phenomenon and at the local incident level require careful and comprehensive scientific research and development work on a systemic basis, with the broadest possible international integration and the involvement of a large number of competent specialists. Understandably, the results of these systemic efforts will not be immediately evident; however, due to the extreme urgency of this problem, measures must be taken now, building on the basis of a thorough assessment of the current situation and aided by the knowledge and experience that have been accumulated in eliminating epidemic foci of especially dangerous infections and overcoming the consequences of other emergency situations. On this basis, we could already propose a number of measures that, if implemented, would facilitate progress in resolving the very complex problem of creating a bioterrorism prevention and response system.

In our view, this problem must primarily be resolved in conjunction with efforts to deal with two closely linked issues, namely the biological security of the country as a whole and the sanitary-epidemiological welfare of the population. Therefore, the following actions would be expedient:

  • Assigning full authority and responsibility for leading and coordinating the bioterrorism-related efforts of various departments and agencies to those federal and local agencies responsible for overall biological security, with these agencies to include substantial representation from specialists from the State Sanitary Epidemiological Surveillance Service.

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