- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2001

The nightmarish terrorist attack of Sept. 11th succeeded in part because it was simply unimaginable.
That assault has made other horrifying attacks by nuclear, chemical or biological weapons all too imaginable. Just last week, Bill Gertz of The Washington Times revealed that Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda has attempted to acquire such weapons from organized crime groups in Russia.
Other organized groups in Russia have certainly had access to biological weapons. Over two years ago, Ken Alibek, a former leader of the Soviet biological weapons program, testified to Congress that many members of his program had moved to rogue states, such as North Korea and Iran. Mr. Alibek also noted that Moscow State University had provided training in germ warfare techniques to numerous scientists from such states, and he pointed out that thanks to Russia's new openness, "The billions of dollars that the Soviet Union and Russia put into biotechnology research are available to anyone for the cost of a translator."
Currently, the United States seems ill-equipped to handle the attack that might be perpetrated by such expertise. During a germ-warfare exercise titled Dark Winter which ran this past June, a dozen experts and political leaders were unable to control a simulated attack of the smallpox virus on America.
One of the most glaring problems that Dark Winter pointed to was the failure of state and federal offices to coordinate their actions during such an attack. President Bush has seemingly reduced that difficulty by appointing Gov. Tom Ridge to direct the new Office of Homeland Security. However, Mr. Ridge will need to be empowered with all necessary authority to ensure that in case of such an attack, the decision making process is coherent, and that state and federal agencies act as directed.
Mr. Ridge should also direct a buildup of vaccines and antibiotics for likely biological weapons, both of which the United States is currently critically short of. Dark Winter demonstrated that during a biological attack, such stocks are used up at astonishing rates. Additional training of public health officers into spotting such an attack, and systemic ways to handle it is also necessary.
The Defense Department also needs to become more involved. Both soldiers in the field and National Guard units (whose role in controlling the effects of such an attack may well be critical) should receive additional training in handling the effects of germ warfare and additional stocks of antibiotics and vaccines. It recently came to light that the U.S. government agencies had been secretly pursuing research on biological weapons, including the manufacture of germ bombs. Those programs should be expanded. Better understanding of the potential deployments and possible effects of germ weapons is sorely needed. Better treatments against such weapons are almost a national security requirement.
National security also dictates that the United States not sign international biological weapons treaties. While the United States may wish to reveal some of its findings from such research to known and trusted allies, there is no reason to give potential adversaries the access currently mandated by such protocols.
Ultimately, it may not be possible to prevent such a nightmarish attack, if for no other reason than even imaginations can fail. However, by taking a few needed preparatory steps, the administration will help millions of Americans sleep a bit easier.

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