U.S. officials take measures against bioterrorist attack


WASHINGTON, Reuters

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson on Tuesday told state officials to intensify preparations for a possible biological weapons attack, saying an incident was likely at some point.

“Someday we’re more than likely going to be hit by some sort of bioterrorism in America,” Thompson told a National Governors’ Association summit on domestic terrorism.

Thompson stressed that he did not know when or where such an attack would occur, but urged states to do what they could to get ready.

To prepare for the threat, he announced the appointment of Dr. Scott Lillibridge, the former director of bioterrorism preparedness and response at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lillibridge, who will coordinate national response plans, said the threat of bioterrorism was of great concern to national intelligence and security advisers.

“We’re concerned enough to shore up this vulnerability,” he told Reuters.

State governments scrambled to prepare for potential terrorist attacks following the bombings of a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, and the World Trade Center in 1993.

Dr. Thomas Inglesby of Johns Hopkins University said the United States was better prepared for chemical than biological terrorism, a troubling fact given that biological weapons are relatively easy to produce.

“We have not found a sophisticated microbiologist yet who thinks that a mass biological weapon is beyond his capacity,” Inglesby told Reuters.

States like West Virginia have had ample practice responding to natural disasters, like the weekend flash floods that devastated the state, Gov. Robert Wise Jr. told the summit. But he said the state was “far less prepared” to respond to bioterrorist attacks.

The first day of the two-day summit focused on a mock bioterrorist attack in the fictional city of Gotham.

A panel of experts, playing roles of a governor and his advisers, acted out the step-by-step responses to the crisis. Local officials then offered their suggestions for dealing with the emergency.

Attorney General John Ashcroft will address the summit on Wednesday, following an FBI discussion on the domestic terrorism threat.

Vice President Dick Cheney is leading a review of America’s ability to cope with a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. It is due to be completed by October 1.