FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- The H1N1 virus. The gassing of schools in Southwestern and Central Asia. These recent events are reminders of how deadly chemical and biological threats can be, whether they are natural or man-made.
U.S. officials believe that terrorists aspire to build bio-weapons. The White House in recent months has sought to beef up science and technology for global bio-surveillance to counter the threat. It is also expanding collaborative efforts with international partners.
"When we think of countering weapons of mass destruction, we have to think layered defenses. We can't just think about our borders," said John Harvey, principal deputy for the assistant to the secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs. "We have to reach out beyond our borders to try to deal with this, to build the capacity, to try to build the partners that we need."
One of the newer initiatives is the national strategy for countering biological threats, said Bill Huff, chief of the chemical and biological operations division at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. The White House last November issued the strategy, which was spawned in part by a 2008 weapons of mass destruction commission report that predicted a biological weapon attack could happen within the next five years.
"Part of that strategy is to strengthen the abilities of our foreign partners to exploit life sciences," he said.
The Defense Department is working to implement the plan, said Harvey. The United States so far has succeeded in preventing a nuclear attack because the processes to build a weapon--enriching uranium or separating plutonium from a reactor--are difficult for terrorists. But attaining chemical agents and biological pathogens are comparatively easy because the technologies are much more ubiquitous. The Defense Department wants to prevent terrorists from acquiring those tools, said Harvey.
"Our security, particularly in the chem-bio and nuclear areas, depends upon our ability to engage international partners," he said. "Get them thinking about the problem and working to help us to help identify, detect, diagnose and attribute the origin of potential weapons of mass destruction."
To date, the focus has been in Russia, where the bulk of bio-threats has historically existed. But the department is broadening its scope.
Regional combatant commanders are being asked to help engage international partners, said...