Biodefense expert says cooperation between health and security officials lacking

A biodefense expert and former U.S. assistant surgeon general recently said that U.S. health and security officials are incapable of making themselves mutually intelligible.

Kenneth Bernard, who has held senior biodefense positions in the World Health Organization and at the White House, made the comments while speaking at a Washington, D.C., symposium on the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program, according to

Bernard said it is critical for America's defense that health and security officials make viable partnerships, but was particularly critical of the role played by health officials.

"Health people will say something like, 'Well did you know that smallpox killed 300 million people in the last century, more than all the wars combined?' Okay, that's great. So what?" Bernard said, reports. "Health people need to start understanding the mindset of people who have to deal with real security right now."

Security officials, Bernard added, should be careful not to cede biodefense responsibilities to public health officials. He said that at the World Health Organization's 2011 assembly, only Iran brought a security specialist, despite the fact that the assembly debated the future of smallpox stockpiles.

Bernard said that biosecurity was not seen as a critical issue while working for President Bill Clinton.

"Things have really changed," Bernard said, reports.