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 You are in: Bureaus/Offices Reporting Directly to the Secretary > Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism > Releases > Remarks > 2004

Conference on Preventing Bio-terrorism: International Dimensions

Ambassador Cofer Black, Coordinator for Counterterrorism
Remarks at the Conference on the subject of counterterrorism
Washington, DC
April 16, 2004

(As Prepared for Delivery)

Ambassador Black spoke extemporaneously during the Conference luncheon in order to provide personal context on the subject of counterterrorism.

I most certainly welcome the opportunity to speak to this conference on the international dimension of preventing bio-terrorism. The Global War on Terrorism is being waged intensively in all regions with encouraging results. The global counterterrorism coalition that was forged post-9/11 remains united.

The recent attacks in Spain demonstrate, however, that Al-Qaida remains a potent terrorist force, and that our efforts to combat it cannot flag.

Bioterrorism and the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT)

Let me put the fight against bioterrorism in the context of our national strategy in the Global War on Terrorism.

The President’s vision and message has been crystal clear: Any person, organization, or government that supports, protects, or harbors terrorists is complicit in murder, and will be held to account.

We in the CT community are carrying out the President’s clear directive, and are taking the battle to terrorists worldwide using all the elements of national power. We are also enlisting the support of friends and allies in the international community, to great effect.

We have made great progress in marshalling the collective strength of the international community into the counterterrorism fight, but we must continue to press forward to face and defeat terrorism in all its forms and in its use of all potential weapons.

The top priority of our efforts has been on the al-Qaida organization, its affiliates, and those who support them. It remains a potent force, despite the continuing efforts of the community of civilized nations to remove this evil from the world. But as you have heard in the media, there are other terror organizations on the rise.

Al-Qaida is determined to strike the United States, our allies, and interests wherever it can, using the most destructive means at its disposal. I have no doubt that al-Qaida would use unconventional weapons if it possessed the capability to do so.

Our National Strategy to Combat Terrorism creates the policy framework for coordinated actions to prevent terrorist attacks against the United States, its citizens, its interests, and its friends around the world and, ultimately, to create an international environment inhospitable to terrorists and all those who support them. We have implemented this strategy to act simultaneously on four fronts:

  • Defeat terrorist organizations of global reach by attacking their sanctuaries, leadership, finances, and command, control and communications;

  • Deny further sponsorship, support, and sanctuary to terrorists by cooperating with other states to take action against these international threats;

  • Diminish the underlying conditions that terrorists seek to exploit by enlisting the international community to focus its efforts and resources on the areas most at risk; and

  • Defend the United States, its citizens and interests at home and abroad.

The National Strategy highlights that success will only come through the sustained, steadfast, and systematic application of all elements of national power – diplomatic, financial, law enforcement, intelligence, and military.

And to this, we must also add the public health and scientific communities. Certainly here in this symposium, your efforts to identify the vulnerabilities associated with bioterrroism and your strategies to deter bioterrorism are exactly on point.

The Bio-Terrorist Threat

Again, I warmly endorse the goals of the organizers of and participants in this conference. Your efforts fit well in the Global War construct that I have just mentioned. We should aim to reach out to the diverse internatioal community that is concerned with the problem of preventing the misuse and spread of dangerous pathogens as a weapon of terrorism.

Even while a major priority remains to combat “conventional” terrorism, we have to stay attuned to how terrorism may continue to evolve.

Indeed, the deliberate spread of Anthrax here in 2001 demonstrates that countering the bio-terrorism threat has to be an essential component of our overall strategy.

Bioterrorism is asymmetrical warfare -- the genuine article. It represents a new terrorist front -- one that will require diverse and flexible diplomatic, public health, intelligence, and international law enforcement mitigation efforts.

As you all know, we have to recognize that bioterrorism presents a decentralized type of attack -- there is no one explosion or point of impact. Rather, a deliberately planned outbreak occurs, and the infection can spread rapidly around a city, a country, a region, and potentially, worldwide.

How can we, how should we counter this?? You have already heard subject-matter experts speak to this today and you will hear more this afternoon. I fully endorse the thrust of their statements.

  • First, we have to try to anticipate the weapons terrorists may seek, whether bombs or pathogens, and prevent their illicit procurement.
  • Second, responsible national authorities must have and use the right law enforcement tools to prevent illegal or inappropriate access to sensitive laboratories and dangerous pathogens in their countries.
  • Third, both on the domestic and international levels, nations must begin to harmonize national laws -- laws that require secure access to pathogens and laws that punish their illicit use.
    • Procedures for safeguarding pathogens used for legitimate scientific and commercial purposes should be systematic from state to state, and the procedures need to be enforced.
    • Export control laws need to be practical, strong, and enforced.

  • Fourth and no less important, we have to strengthen national and international disease surveillance systems. These will help the world to identify infectious disease outbreaks and to notify national and international health and law enforcement authorities when those outbreaks occur.

Strategic Approach

In his speech of February 11, Pres. Bush spoke of the need to strengthen laws to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). He underlined the requirement for all states to criminalize proliferation, enact strict export controls, and secure all sensitive materials within their borders.

Though the President was referring to the challenge of halting proliferation in WMD generally, he also recognized how dangerous it would be if pathogens fell into the wrong hands.

As he said, “Armed with a single vial of a biological agent or a single nuclear weapon, small groups of fanatics, or failing states, could gain the power to threaten great nations, threaten the world peace.”

By encouraging engagement on the subject of bio-terrorism among concerned organizations and persons, both inside and outside governments, you who are attending this conference are taking yet another constructive step toward achieving the President’s goal of preventing WMD proliferation.

U.S. Policy

As a matter of policy, the United States encourages all countries to advance and strengthen their national capabilities to prevent and respond to the threat of all types of terrorism -- very much including biological terrorism.

I believe that the international community can and should work together to push for stronger counterterrorism efforts against bio threats -- challenging governments to strengthen nationals criminal legislation, to take immediate actions to secure access to dangerous pathogens and laboratories, to devise more stringent export controls in general, and to develop or improve disease surveillance systems.

The United States is ready to work with, and assist states and international organizations in fighting the threat of bio-terrorism.


Released on May 20, 2004

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