WASHINGTON – Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins R-Me., said Thursday they would draft legislation to tighten oversight of high containment laboratories around the country that could handle deadly biological pathogens.
The announcement came at the close of a HSGAC hearing called to discuss the findings of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. The two primary witnesses were the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Commission: Former Senators Bob Graham, a Democrat from Florida, and James Talent, a Missouri Republican.
The Commission predicted a terror attack somewhere in the world by 2013 using weapons of mass destruction, most likely biological agents, because they are more readily available than nuclear materials and are subject to fewer controls. At the same time, the nuclear threat remains real, and the U.S. and its partners must increase their current efforts to stop nuclear materials from falling into the hands of terrorists, according to the Commission’s findings.
“We need to force the issue,” Lieberman said. “Biotechnology research can create medical and scientific breakthroughs but it can also be used to create weapons of bio-terror. And much of this research takes place in poorly secured facilities. The bottom line is we need a strong homeland and international defense to confront these dangers.”
Collins said: “The Commission has produced the independent analysis that Senator Lieberman and I envisioned when we included the WMD Commission as part of our 2007 homeland-security legislation. The mental images of nuclear blasts and mushroom clouds are powerful and frightening. But as the Commission rightly notes, the more likely threat is from a biological weapon. The spread of biotechnology, the difficulty of detecting such pathogens, and terrorists’ known interest in bioterrorism combine to produce an even greater menace. We may differ on specific recommendations, but I believe the Commission has identified vital threats and given us a clearly drawn road map toward improved security against terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction.”
The Commission findings, publicly released last week, came just days after the well-coordinated terrorist attack on Mumbai, India, which killed 188 people and injured close to 300. Among the Commission’s findings was that biological weapons pose a very real threat because of the global proliferation of legitimate biotechnology research and expertise.
In addition to recommending improving oversight of biotechnology labs using deadly biological agents, the Commission also recommended reining in the nuclear weapons programs of North Korea and Iran, better use of diplomacy, more actively confronting violent extremist Islamist ideology, and more aggressive non-proliferation efforts.
The Commission was established by the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act. Lieberman and Collins played a key role in passing that bill in 2007.
“The point here is that no one is safe from Islamist extremists and terrorism because these people have no respect for borders or the lives of the innocent people living in those borders,” Lieberman said. “The terrorists have dedicated themselves to acquiring weapons of mass destruction so they can murder and destroy on a scale previously unimaginable.”
Additional commissioners testifying were former Congressman Tim Roemer and Robin Cleveland.