Although the United States has spent billions of dollars preparing for a bioterror attack, the nation remains vulnerable, former New York Times reporter Judith Miller writes in the City Journal. The issue dates to Oct. 4, 2001, when a photo editor in Florida became the first reported case of inhalation anthrax in America in decades. In what became biology's 9/11, five letters containing less than a quarter-ounce of anthrax total–the equivalent of two pats of butter–killed five people, infected 17, put more than 20,000 on antibiotics, and traumatized thousands more. Decontamination alone, including at the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, took over three years and cost some $200 million.
The White House in 2006 quietly directed the Department of Homeland Security to commission studies from teams of researchers on what Americans had received for the billions of dollars spent on preparing for a bioterrorist attack since 2001. Taken together, the papers–whose contents remain secret and whose authors have been asked by the DHS not to discuss them–constitute what officials call the first “net assessment” to focus exclusively on the issue. Though many of the papers were delivered to the DHS months ago, the net assessment remains unfinished and is likely to be handed over to the next administration, officials say. Still, its thrust is that while the estimated $50 billion spent since 2001 on countering bioterrorism has left us far better prepared for a bioterrorist attack, we remain vulnerable and, in some ways, may even be losing ground.