Cole: Bioterrorism still a threat decade after anthrax attacks

A New Jersey bioterrorism expert recently suggested that forgetting the lessons of the 2001 anthrax attack may be dangerous when it comes to protecting the nation against future bioterrorism attacks.

Leonard Cole, the director of the Terror Medicine and Security program at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, said that despite the continuing serious threat of bioterrorism, the passage of time and budget constraints have lowered the nation's guard, the Star-Ledger reports.

"We recognize that there is a continuing serious threat, and that a combination of reasons have let us lower our guard," Cole said, according to the Star-Ledger.

Cole is the author of the 2003 book "The Anthrax Letters: A Medical Detective Story," and is the co-author of the recent "Local Planning for Terror and Disaster: From Bioterrorism to Earthquakes" with Nancy Connell.

After spending $60 billion on attempts to fight bioterrorism in the past decade, the U.S. is cutting costs. Cole said that the reduction in spending is an issue because the threat of a bioterrorism attack remains real.

The 2001 anthrax attack, which occurred just weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, killed five people and sickened 17 others. Cole said that an additional 30,000 people were forced to undergo treatment and many others were struck by fear.

"A lot of people, including in official positions, tend to think that an agent would be considered a dangerous weapon depending on how much it kills," Cole said, according to the Star-Ledger. "But in truth, an agent does not have to kill to be very effective at causing terror, including hysteria, panic, social disruption. And we saw a perfect example of that, just about 11 years ago, with the anthrax letters."

Cole testified on Thursday before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.