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Biological Attack Preparedness a Concern in Recent Report

A report card on the U.S. government’s ability to protect its people against the threat of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism was released Tuesday morning by former Missouri Senator Jim Talent. The report is a follow up to the initial recommendations of Talent’s commission, which was released in December of 2008. KSMU’s Adam Murphy reports.

Talent is the vice chair of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. The follow up report issued by the bipartisan commission commended the U.S. government in some areas, but also pointed out other areas that need attention.

Talent says that one of the most urgent areas of concern is that of bioterrorism. The report gave the government an “F” in its response to the earlier recommendation the commission made in this area. Talent says that preparation is a key form of prevention when it comes to biological attacks.

“If you have medical countermeasures stockpiled, if you have distribution networks so you can get them to exposed people quickly, if you have surge capabilities in hospitals, if you have cleanup capabilities in place it’s a form of prevention because if the attack is not going to work and the terrorists know it’s not going to work, they’re much less likely to attack in the first place,” he said.

Talent attributes several factors to the United States’ lack of progress in the area of bioterrorism. The report also gave a failing grade to congressional oversight of the issue. Talent says there is a lack of accountability because the oversight of Homeland Security is fragmented into more than 70 committees within congress.

Talent says preparing for bioterrorism is made easier by the fact that it can be achieved domestically.

“Good news is that what we need to do in the bio area are a set of things that by in large we can do on our own. So that does hold promise that if we’ll pay consistent attention to this and do the logical thins this will get better and can get better quickly, and we certainly hope that it does,” he said.

Talent and former Senator Bob Graham, chair of the commission, announced their plan to set up a non profit organization to continue their efforts. Talent says that these issues must continue to receive constant visibility and pressure so that progress can be made.

For KSMU News, I’m Adam Murphy.