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Improving Civilian Medical Response to Chemical or Biological Terrorist Incidents: Interim Report on Current Capabilities
The rapid breakup of the Soviet Union was accompanied by well-publicized concern about the security of its nuclear arsenal. Other “weapons of mass destruction,” namely, chemical and biological agents, drew less attention, but the extent of the Soviet chemical arsenal and the large Soviet biological weapons program are cause for concern about sales to or theft by terrorist groups and rogue states. Even more disturbing is the fact that some chemical and biological agents, and devices to deliver them efficiently, can be inexpensively produced in simple laboratories or even legally purchased. Very small quantities can cause massive numbers of casualties, covertly if the perpetrator so desires. The Tokyo attack, which may have been initiated prematurely because of well-justified suspicion that Japanese police were about to launch a preemptive strike, employed a very crude delivery system; otherwise, the number of casualties might have been far higher.
The United States government, while continuing to pursue the goal of preventing other countries from acquiring chemical and biological weapons, has recognized the need to address possible use of these agents by individuals or groups unlikely to be deterred by threats of economic sanctions or massive retaliation. In the past decade, Congress has passed three major laws aimed at preventing the acquisition and use of chemical or biological weapons by states, groups, or individuals. The Biological Weapons Act of 1989 makes it a federal crime knowingly to develop, manufacture, transfer, or possess any biological agent, toxin, or delivery system for use as a weapon. It calls for heavy criminal penalties on violators and allows the government to seize any such material for which no legitimate justification is apparent (P.L. 101-298). The Chemical and Biological Weapons Control Act of 1991 (CBWCA) established a system of economic and export controls designed to prevent export of goods or technologies used in the development of chemical and biological weapons to designated nations (P.L. 102-82).
The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 expanded the government's powers under CBWCA to cover individuals or groups who attempt or even threaten to develop or use a biological weapon. It also broadens the definition of biological agent to include new or modified agents produced by biotechnology and charges the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with creating and maintaining a list of biological agents that potentially pose a severe threat to public health and safety (P.L. 104-32). CDC is also charged with establishing regulations for the use and transfer of such agents that will prevent access to them by terrorists. CDC's new regulations, effective April 15, 1997, identify 24 microorganisms and 12 toxins, possession of which now requires registration with CDC and transfer of which now involves filing of forms by both shipper and receiver (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1997).
In addition to congressional action, Presidential Decision Directive 39 (PDD-39), UnitedStates Policy on Counterterrorism, was issued in June, 1995. It specifies the responsibilities of federal agencies and their relationships to one another in the conduct of crisis management and consequence management. As defined in PDD-39, crisis management involves actions to anticipate and prevent acts of terrorism. United States law assigns primary authority for these