Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

The Obameter

Expand federal bioforensics program for tracking biological weapons


"Barack Obama and Joe Biden will expand the U.S. government's bioforensics program for tracking the source of any biological weapon so that the U.S. will be able to rapidly identify any adversary who uses a biological weapon and respond surely and swiftly."


Updates

Main facility is now operational

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama said his administration would "expand the U.S. government's bioforensics program for tracking the source of any biological weapon so that the U.S. will be able to rapidly identify any adversary who uses a biological weapon and respond surely and swiftly."

First, some background on bioforensics. It means the use of sophisticated scientific techniques to identify a country, group or individual responsible for the use of a biological weapon in order to pursue legal prosecution or military retaliation.

The key progress on this promise stems from work on an important research facility -- the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center at Fort Detrick in Maryland -- that's now operational.

The new facility includes a National Bioforensic Analysis Center, which directly addresses the issues raised in this promise. The center "conducts bioforensic analysis of evidence from a biocrime or terrorist attack to attain a ‘biological fingerprint" to help investigators identify perpetrators and determine the origin and method of attack,” says the office's website. "NBFAC is designated by Presidential Directive to be the lead federal facility to conduct and facilitate the technical forensic analysis and interpretation of materials recovered following a biological attack in support of the appropriate lead federal agency.”

Secondarily, a new National Bio- and Agro-defense Facility in Manhattan, Kan. -- which would address biological threats to American agriculture -- is moving forward. The center is designed to replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center on Long Island, N.Y., which is nearing the end of its practical life.

The first stage of construction of the new center is scheduled to begin in February 2012. Operations will be transferred from Plum Island beginning in 2017, with the transition process scheduled to be complete by 2019.

Combined, these steps add up to a Promise Kept.

Sources:

National Security Council, National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats, November 2009

Website for the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center

Website for the National Bio- and Agro-defense Facility

Interview with Raphael Della Ratta, project manager with the Partnership for Global Security, Nov. 3, 2011

Administration puts emphasis on tracking sources of biowarfare agents

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama said his administration would "expand the U.S. government's bioforensics program for tracking the source of any biological weapon so that the U.S. will be able to rapidly identify any adversary who uses a biological weapon and respond surely and swiftly."
 
First, some background on bioforensics. It means the use of sophisticated scientific techniques to identify a country, group or individual responsible for the use of a biological weapon in order to pursue legal prosecution or military retaliation.
 
The National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center, part of the Department Homeland Security, includes the National Bioforensic Analysis Center. Construction was recently completed on a $143 million laboratory facility at Fort Detrick, Md.
 
The administration has done at least two additional things to advance bioforensics. One is to give bioforensics a prominent mention in the National Security Council's November 2009 paper, "National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats."
 
The second is to establish a Task Force on Microbial Forensics under the auspices of the National Science and Technology Council. It is jointly chaired by the CIA, the FBI and Homeland Security.
 
"The Obama administration has made significant progress in developing, first, a governmentwide research and development strategy for microbial forensics, and second, a coherent interagency process for identifying the perpetrators of a biological weapons attack that incorporates microbial forensic evidence, along with intelligence and other sources of information," said Jonathan B. Tucker, a senior fellow with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California.
 
Tucker added, however, that the effort is still "embryonic, and there is much room for improvement."
 
In particular, "the big test will be the fiscal year 2011 request," said Raphael Della Ratta, project manager with the Partnership for Global Security. That request will be made public in a matter of weeks.
 
We'll see how the funding stream plays out for fiscal year 2011, but for now we'll rate this promise In the Works.

Sources:

National Security Council, "National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats," Nov. 2009
 
Jonathan B. Tucker and Gregory D. Koblentz, "The Four Faces of Microbial Forensics" (in Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy, Practice, and Science, Volume 7, Number 4), 2009
 
Department of Homeland Security, web page for the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center, accessed Jan. 11, 2010
 
E-mail interview with Jonathan B. Tucker, senior fellow with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, Jan. 11, 2010
 
Interview with Raphael Della Ratta, project manager with the Partnership for Global Security, Jan. 11, 2010