The following is from a Press Release of the US Department of Defense
The global nature of terrorism and the growing potential of nations and individuals to acquire weapons of mass destruction drive the Defense Department’s effort to counter these threats, the assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs said….
To keep terrorist groups from getting access to materials needed to construct biological weapons, he said, DOD has helped strengthen biosecurity at laboratories in the United States. “We also have launched a program working with partners around the world to make sure public health and veterinary laboratories that have dangerous pathogen strains that cause diseases like anthrax and ebola are better secured,” the assistant secretary said. Some kinds of biological attacks by terrorists, he said, could look at first just like natural disease outbreaks. “We might not know about it until people or even animals show up sick or start dying,” he said, “so the best thing you can do [is] to have a global early warning system for biological attacks, whether they are deliberate or natural.”
The Defense Department has several programs that involve global biosurveillance, Weber said, including the Global Emerging Infections Surveillance and Response System, or GEIS, a division of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center. For 50 years, he said, DOD has had a network of biomedical laboratories in countries around the world that are part of this system. The laboratories allow DOD scientists to develop drugs for rare diseases that are not endemic in the United States but that may be in countries where U.S. forces are deployed, Weber said. “…“The Department of Defense has a liaison officer assigned to WHO Headquarters,” he said, “and recently the U.S. government signed an agreement with WHO [to fund] some efforts to enhance capabilities around the world to monitor infectious diseases.”
“With the revolution in biotechnology … the range of threats is potentially infinite,” Weber said, “so we need a rapid response capability after exposure, once we identify what is causing the disease, to develop a drug quickly, within weeks or days, rather than the years … it takes now.”..“Agencies like DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency have been very active in funding biodefense research,” Weber said. The focus, he said, is on finding rapid ways to respond to a biological attack from an unknown agent, quickly characterize it and develop a countermeasure. “Rather than having a drug or a vaccine for every potential [threat],” Weber said, “we need a capability to respond quickly, to be able to characterize what is causing illness, and then to develop as quickly as possible a medical countermeasure to save lives.”
By Cheryl Pellerin, Global Nature of Terrorism Drives Biosurveillance, American Forces Press Service, DOD, Oct. 27, 2011