Former Sen. Talent warns of bioterror risk

Former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent warned that a terrorist attack is "more likely than not," barring urgent action in 2008 and plans to release a new report reiterating the current threat of a biological attack.
Talent is the vice chairman of the national Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism and co-authored the report with former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), the chair of the commission. The report includes worries about cuts in security spending and will grade the nation on its preparations to withstand bioterrorism, St. Louis Today reports.
"I don't think we've made that progress on the biological side," Graham said, according to St. Louis Today. "Some of the most powerful pathogens are available in nature. There are others that can be manufactured in the lab, and there are thousands of people around the world who know how to weaponize them."
Public health experts have pointed to cuts in the commitment to biosecurity, including a cut in dispensing security grants to 33 urban areas, a reduction in federal support for public health preparedness by 37 percent since 2005, a Homeland Security funding cut of 60 percent of its research projects in the last two years and 29,000 jobs cut from local health departments since 2009.
"American people make some assumptions that somebody is taking care of them, partly because this is so scary," Jeffrey Levi, the executive director of the Trust for America's Health, a nonprofit group with a goal of preventing epidemics, said, according to St. Louis Today. "But that doesn't translate to policy-makers putting resources there."
Since the federal budget remains uncertain for the new fiscal year starting Oct. 1, it makes it difficult to plan for long-range Homeland Security projects that don't have immediate results.
"The work we're doing in biodefense won't get done unless we do it," Dr. Tara O'Toole, Homeland Security's undersecretary for science and technology, said, according to St. Louis Today. "The notion of a bioattack sounds outlandish and farfetched to some people, but it's really not. It's easier to imagine that happening than a nuclear attack orchestrated by terrorists."
Talent said that a major concern is the potential failure to recognize the threat, even during such lean times.
"We have to admit there's a problem," Talent said, according to St. Louis Today. "And then, if you absolutely don't have the money to deal with it, you'll at least know where you need to jury-rig a solution. There's a price to strength, and these are judgments that leaders have to make."