Expert says Intelligence Community failing on bioterrorism

In a statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security, Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Randall J. Larsen assessed the nation’s responsibility to be informed of the threat of an attack using biological weapons.

“I think we all understand that there are people and organizations out there that want to kill large numbers of Americans," Larsen said. "The Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission said there are two ways to do that, nuclear and biological, and by far, biological is easier,” Larsen said. “If the senior leaders in the Congress and Administration understood the biological capabilities now available – and even more troubling, what will be available in the next couple of years to small terrorist groups, there would be no requirement for hearings such as these.”

Larsen currently serves as the CEO of the non-profit research and education organization WMD Center, which he helped create with former Senators Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Jim Talent (R-Mo.). Larsen has also served as the chairman of the Department of Military Strategy and Operations at the National War College and the founding director of the Institute for Homeland Security.

The intelligence community, Larsen believes, is not capable assessing the threat of a biological attack.

“Frankly, I would not waste your time by recommending a briefing by the Intelligence Community on the subject of bioterrorism," Larsen said. "They would tell you they have little or no information of any terrorist group developing biological weapons capability.”

The intelligence community, Larsen said, was unable to, during 15 years of the Cold War, identify the massive biowarfare program that was initiated by the Soviet Union and included 50,000 scientists. They also missed, as Larsen pointed out, al-Qaeda’s anthrax programs in Malaysia and Afghanistan and Aum Shinrikyo’s biowarfare and chemical warfare programs.

“Do we really think there is a high probability the Intelligence Community will find a half-dozen individuals working in a makeshift laboratory with standard bio lab equipment purchased on the internet in a facility no larger than a two-car garage in a remote village in the tribal regions of Pakistan or Sana, Yemen, or the suburbs of New York City?” Larsen said.

Intelligence assessments should focus on capability, not scant or incomplete tactical data, Larsen said. The document that has proven most valuable to educate to U.S. government is the Population Threat Assessment prepared by Elizabeth George at the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Science and Technology. Larsen said it could be used to improve the understanding of the situation by the subcommittee and by other U.S. leaders.

To better prepare the country for tomorrow’s potential threats, Larsen, along with Sens. Graham and Talent, formed the WMD Center. They believe the threat of bioterrorism is increasing and want to assure that senior leaders across all levels of government understand the situation and what can be done about it.