Combating bioterrorism needs to be a collaborative effort, ISBI founder says

"I would argue bioterrorism is the most viable threat of an enormous magnitude, far more than a nuclear attack," Barry Kellman, president of the International Security & Biopolicy Institute said. "There are many threats.

Besides serving as president of the ISBI, Kellman is also the institute's founder. He says he founded the institute because the security challenges brought by emerging sciences are not being dealt with by any NGO or on any international plane.

"There's really no one step to combat bioterrorism," Kellman said. "It's really a matter of many steps, none of which is fail safe by itself but all of which contribute.

"We have to be making it more difficult for bad guys to get what they need to make these weapons. We need to tighten security at laboratories, we need better knowledge about where lethal pathogen strains are located, to strengthen our abilities for detecting behavior and our ability to respond to a bioattack if it happens."

Kellman said that the United States is better situated for a bioattack than almost any other nation, save for a few Western European nations, but said that the level of U.S. preparedness is not the problem.

"We need to be talking about a global capacity to stockpile and deliver countermeasures," Kellman said. "If you want to damage the United States, from a terrorist perspective, there are ways to do this extremely effectively that do not entail an attack on the U.S. homeland.

"There are ways that our economy could be catastrophically devastated and our political system substantially set back in terms of our global leadership that have nothing to do with a centralized domestic attack. Our vulnerabilities do not stop at the border's edge."

Kellman cited South Asia, the U.S.'s allies in Africa and most of eastern Europe as especially susceptible to a bioattack and said that the most effective way to combat the devastation that would follow would be to both develop treatments and vaccines as well as create a delivery system to get them where they are needed when they are needed.

"It's not just building a ship to fight it. We can't think about the the way we think about more traditional threats to our security. We need to have the technological capabilities and the organizational capabilities to wield them. It's a complex system that we have to develop and we're nowhere close to even beginning to think along those lines."

"The major problem, though, is that there's no global body for action. Realistically, we're not going to create one because we're dealing with something that, in the catastrophic sense, hasn't happened. It's very hard to build political consensus for action on something that hasn't happened but that's what leadership is about. It's dealing with tomorrow's threats, not yesterday's."

The next move, Kellman says, would be a global infrastructure for medical countermeasure preparedness and to have the capacity to deal with an unknown set of circumstances.