“Locate, lockdown, and eliminate loose nuclear material.” That is the correct strategy for preventing nuclear terrorism. Non-state actors are not capable of enriching uranium or producing plutonium. They can only buy it or steal it. Preventing the theft or sale of this material will prevent a mushroom cloud over an American city.
Preventing nuclear terrorism is simple—not to be confused with easy, but it is simple. Unfortunately, some leaders in the national security community seem to believe the same strategy of “locate, lockdown, and eliminate” will work against the threat of bioterrorism.
A short article released today at the Center for Biosecurity of UPMC by Rambhia, Ribner, and Gronvall in Biosecurity and Bioterrorism demonstrates the fallacy of this argument. The chart alone is worth a thousand words.
Some have called for a draconian lockdown on America’s laboratories. 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, former Senators Bob Graham (D-FL) and Jim Talent (R-MO), 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.”
Responsible efforts to secure deadly pathogens in laboratories make good sense. 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 last week at the Aspen Institute. This article by Rambhia, Ribner, and Gronvall should end this debate once and for all.
(Click on the chart in the article to expand.)