As exhibit one in making that case, this week a top US Army bioterrorism specialist killed himself after learning he would be prosecuted over the 2001 anthrax attacks. Reports the London Daily Mail:
For several years after 9/11, I served on Texas' Bioterrorism Preparedness Coordinating Committee representing ACLU of Texas. I became convinced from that experience that the greatest threat of releasing toxic biopathogens comes not from Islamic terrorists but accidents or malevolent actions by an expanding cadre of US bioterrorism researchers. Quite a few of these scientists work in Texas, particularly in Galveston and San Antonio, as well as in a number of smaller labs around the state.
Biodefence researcher Bruce Ivins, 62, had been warned about the impending prosecution shortly before his death on Tuesday after swallowing a massive dose of painkillers.
He had worked for the past 18 years at the U.S. government's biodefence laboratories at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
The laboratory has been at the centre of the FBI's investigation of the anthrax attacks, which killed five people.
The anthrax was sent through the mail to media organisations and politicians in 2001 shortly after the September 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington.
The anthrax virus killed five people and sickened 17 others, crippled national postal services, shut down a Senate office building and spread fear of further terrorism.
The 2001 anthrax attack offers a perfect example how this home grown threat outpaces any bioterror threat from our nation's enemies. Referencing the case in a letter to a Texas Senate committee in 2004 (by which time investigators had identified Fort Detrick, MD scientists as the source of the attack), I wrote that:
According to published reports, that particular strain was first retrieved from a cow near the Texas-Mexico border in 1981, cultured at Fort Detrick, Maryland by US Army scientists, and turned into an aerosolized, or “weaponized” form at Dugway Army Base in Utah. The weaponized anthrax was then shipped back to Fort Detrick via commercial Federal Express delivery service. Investigators and independent analysts now believe a US-trained scientist at one of these facilities, probably in Maryland, may be responsible.Though investigators originally accused the wrong person, it now it appears undeniable that one or more US scientists were the source of the 2001 attacks.
So, as you consider bioterrorism threats to Texas, always keep in mind that in America’s highest profile bioterrorism case in history, terrorists used America’s so-called 'defensive' research offensively against us. That’s also the most likely scenario in the future.
The other, perhaps more significant danger from expanded bioterror research is the threat of pure accidents, which can create just as much threat as an overt attack. Last summer an Aggie biodefense researcher was accidentally exposed in an incident that could have easily infected others. Several other cases cited in my 2004 letter reinforce the risks from expanded bioterror research and funding:
A Texas Tech professor lost or destroyed 30 vials of Bubonic Plague somewhere on the Lubbock campus, then lied to federal investigators about it. The professor was convicted in federal court, in part, for carrying vials of Bubonic Plague on commercial airline flights to and from Tanzania without registering them with US Customs, and sending plague vials via Federal Express without informing the carrier they were transporting bioagents.
A researcher at the UT Health Science Center in Houston was exposed to Anthrax at a BSL-3 lab, doing tests on some of the Anthrax used in the 2001 attack on Washington.
A package headed for UTMB Galveston filled with West-Nile-Virus-infected bird remains exploded in an Ohio Federal Express facility, causing its evacuation.
MORE: Bioweapons an unlikely means of terrorist attack