WASHINGTON – As the nation prepares to mark the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent anthrax attacks, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Tuesday introduced legislation to prevent and prepare for terrorist attacks from biological weapons and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
The Weapons of Mass Destruction Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2009 responds to a statement by the Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell in December 2008 and the findings of a Congressionally-mandated WMD commission that a WMD terrorist attack is more likely than not to occur by 2013 and that a biological attack is more likely than a nuclear attack.
“The approaching eighth anniversary of the 9/11 and anthrax attacks reminds us that we cannot let our guard down against the constant threat of terrorists intent on doing us harm,” Lieberman said. “This legislation provides a comprehensive framework for protecting the United States from weapons of mass destruction and biological attacks, in particular, which the experts say is more likely than a nuclear attack.
“Our bill would strengthen security at labs using the most dangerous pathogens, improve our capabilities to assess the threat of terrorists acquiring WMD, ensure that citizens get critical safety information, and develop a means for quickly delivering life-saving drugs to areas that have been attacked.
“We dare not bury our heads in the sand and ignore the very real risks we face from a terrorist WMD attack. This legislation would help prevent such an attack and better prepare the nation to respond should one occur.”
“As the Commission noted in its comprehensive report, terrorists have been active since the attacks of September 11, 2001,” said Sen. Collins. “America must not become complacent. Terrorists haven’t given up; they haven’t gone away. Our enemies remain fixed on their avowed goal of committing mass murder.
“Nuclear proliferation and advances in biotechnology could give terrorists new means to wreak death and destruction around the world,” she said. “That is why the Commission’s report is a call to action. And this legislation answers that call by proposing aggressive, urgent steps that will help safeguard our nation, particularly against the threat of biological attacks.”
The Lieberman/Collins legislation implements the recommendations of the Commission for the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, and would improve biosecurity by identifying the most dangerous pathogens and then requiring the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop security standards for laboratories that handle those pathogens, including risk assessments, personnel reliability programs, and physical security.
The bill also would improve U.S. prevention against and preparedness for an attack in an effort to minimize casualties and prevent mass destruction. It would:
· Require DHS to designate the most dangerous pathogens which have significant potential to be used effectively in a biological attack.
· Require DHS to set new security standards for labs using the most dangerous pathogens, including risk assessments, personnel reliability programs, and staff training.
· Require a national strategy for dispensing antibiotics and other medicines to the public and expand a pilot program for using the Postal Service to dispense them.
· Require communications plans to convey instructions to the public – including whether to evacuate or shelter-in-place – in the critical moments after an attack.
· Support a National Bioforensics Analysis Center to identify the perpetrator of a WMD attack rapidly.
· Provide personal medical kits to emergency responders in order to enable them to respond quickly to a WMD attack without jeopardizing their own safety.
· Require DHS and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to provide better terrorism threat and risk assessments to the public.
· Promote citizen and community preparedness for WMD attacks, including by authorizing grants to States.
In addition, the legislation requires the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to develop a strategy for improving intelligence on WMD and terrorism, including hiring scientists and improving language capabilities. Finally, the legislation requires that the Secretary of State promote international adherence to agreements such as the Biological Weapons Convention, provide biosecurity training to countries that possess dangerous pathogens, and assist countries with training and equipment to improve global disease surveillance.
The WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2009 is the latest example of the Committee’s leadership in countering terrorism and preserving homeland security. Since 9/11, the Committee has authored a series of landmark legislation that: created the Department of Homeland Security, the DNI and the National Counterterrorism Center; reformed the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Hurricane Katrina; and implemented the full spectrum of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations.