The U.S. remains woefully unprepared to protect the public against terrorists wielding biological agents despite dramatic increases in biodefense spending by the Bush administration and progress on many fronts, the Washington Post reports. Officials are more alarmed than they have signaled publicly. “There’s no area of homeland security in which the administration has made more progress than bioterrorism, and none where we have further to go,” said Richard Falkenrath, former Bush deputy homeland security adviser and now at the Brookings Institution.
Because of the technical difficulties in creating biological weapons, the chances of a devastating attack are now small. But the consequences of a big biological strike could be epically catastrophic, and rapid advances in science are placing the creation of these weapons within the reach of even graduate students, experts said. Most U.S. hospitals and state and local public health agencies would be completely overwhelmed trying to carry out mass vaccinations or distribute antidotes after a large biological attack. Overlapping jurisdiction among federal agencies working on biodefenses leads to confusion inside and outside government about who is in charge of preparations for, and response to, bioattacks. Because of the scientific complexities, no technology exists to detect a biological attack as it occurs.