Expert warns of bioterror threat

Dr. Jerry Jaax, a leading biologist from Kansas State University, recently announced that America faces the growing threat of biological weapons being used by terrorists and rogue nations.

The comments were made at a Huntsville, Alabama, biodefense symposium on October 19 that brought local biotech and defense companies together, reports. They reflect Jaax’s belief that, under the right circumstances, tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of people could die in a major attack.

“There is a serious problem for us out there that is not going to go away,” Jaax told before giving the keynote address at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. “We’re not going to be able to say in 15 years, ‘We’ve got it licked.’”

Jaax is currently an associate vice president and a researcher at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. The federal government has announced plans to spend $700 million to relocate a series of labs housed off the coast of Long Island, New York, to a site near the university.

There was an international treaty to end biological warfare signed in 1975, Jaax said, but it contained nothing about inspection and verification. Hundreds of tons of anthrax and other kinds of bacteria were produced in the Soviet Union without America’s knowledge after the treaty was enacted, reports.

The Russian pathogens were only destroyed in 1988, near the very end of the Cold War. When American scientists were allowed to inspect the destruction sites, they found that live spores had survived.

“They had huge programs we were unable to detect,” Jaax said, reports. “And we certainly have indications that the bad guys, the non-state actors, are saying they would do this if they could figure out a way to do it, and some of these agents don’t require very sophisticated biotechnology.”

Today’s major threat, Jaax said, is the proliferation of such knowledge from rogue nations to terrorist groups.