Expert slams belief that bioweapons hard to obtain

Retired Colonel Randall Larsen recently slammed the idea that biological weapons were as difficult for non-state actors to obtain and utilize as nuclear weapons.

Larsen is the former executive director of the Congressional Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism and the founder of the Bipartisan WMD Terrorism Research Center, according to

“A well-recognized terrorism expert recently claimed that obtaining deadly strains of pathogens was virtually impossible for non-state actors," Larsen said, according to "He may know a lot about Al Qaeda, but not much about biology."

Larsen credited the concept of locating, locking down and eliminating loose nuclear material as the correct strategy for preventing nuclear terrorism, but said that it was unfortunate that some believed the same strategy would work against the threat of bioterrorism.

“Responsible efforts to secure deadly pathogens in laboratories make good sense,” Larsen said, “However, no one should believe that locking them down will significantly reduce the threat of bioterrorism, and no one should be claiming that it is very difficult to obtain pathogenic strains of bacteria and viruses as one terrorism expert did [recently] at the Aspen Institute.”

Larsen referred to a paper recently published in the journal Biosecurity and Bioterrorism that clarifies his argument. According to Larsen and the writers of "Everywhere You Look: Select Agent Pathogens," the United States vigorously regulates more than 80 human and plant pathogens as part of the Select Agent Program.

The program imposes strict controls on access by U.S. researchers and laboratories, but almost all of the pathogens are also readily found in nature. Although security measures have been strengthened since 2001, they are inherently limited in their scope.

“Some have called for a draconian lockdown on America’s laboratories,” Larsen said, reports. He added that “Last year, the Senate Committee on Government Affairs and Homeland Security introduced legislation that would have moved the responsibility for lab security to the Department of Homeland Security.

“The chair and co-chair of the Congressional Commission for the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism...were strongly opposed to this initiative. One advisor to the WMD Commission, and a former director of the National Science Foundation and a professor of microbiology, stated that a misguided attempt to lock down US labs (that would seriously disrupt research) ‘would be a greater long-term threat to the US than Al Qaeda.”