While the committee understood that readers of this report might hope to find a well-defined list or set of lists of future threats, perpetrators, and timelines for the acquisition and exploitation of certain technologies for malevolent purposes, the committee also realized the futility of this approach. The global technology landscape is shifting so dramatically and rapidly that it was simply not possible for this committee—or any committee—to devise a formal risk assessment of the future threat horizon, based on the possible exploitation of dual-use technologies by state actors, nonstate actors, or individuals. Given that within just the past few years the global scientific community has witnessed the unexpected development and proliferation of important new technologies, such as RNA interference, nanobiotechnology, and synthetic biology, biological threats of the next 5 to 10 years could extend well beyond those that can be predicted today. The useful life span of any such list of future threats developed in 2006 would likely be measured in months, not years. Instead, the committee sought to define more broadly how continuing advances in technologies with applications to the life sciences’ enterprise can contribute to the development of novel biological weapons and to develop a logical framework for analysts to consider as they evaluate the evolving technology threat spectrum.
While evaluating the rapidly evolving global landscape of knowledge and capability in the life sciences and associated technologies, the committee agreed on five key findings and recommendations that it believes are strongly supported by the information presented in this report, as summarized in Box 4-1, that build on and reinforce the findings and recommendations put forward in earlier National Research Council reports, including, but not limited to, Biotechnology Research in an Age of Terrorism.1 Because it believes that continuing advances in science and technology are essential to countering terrorism, the committee’s recommendations affirm policies and practices that promote the free and open exchange of information in the life sciences (Recommendation 1). The committee also recognized the need to adopt a broader perspective on the nature of the “threat spectrum” (Recommendation 2) and to strengthen the scientific and technical expertise available to the security communities so that they are better equipped to anticipate and manage a diverse array of novel threats (Recommendation 3). The recommendations call for the global community of life scientists to adopt a common culture of awareness and a shared sense of responsibility and include specific actions that would promote such a culture (Recommendation 4). Finally, the committee recognized that no set of measures can ever provide complete protection against the malevolent use of life sciences technologies, and its recommendations reaffirm previous calls to strengthen the public health infrastructure and the nation’s existing response and recovery capabilities (Rec-