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 You are in: Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security > Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) > Releases > Fact Sheets > 2002
Fact Sheet
Released by the U.S. Delegation to the 5th Review Conference of the BWC
Geneva, Switzerland
November 14, 2002

U.S. Efforts to Combat the Biological Weapons Threat

The biological weapons (BW) threat is real, growing, extremely dangerous, and evolving rapidly with the pace of technology. In the past year, significant progress has been made to combat the threat. This fact sheet outlines some of the steps the United States has taken, nationally, plurilaterally, and multilaterally, to make it more difficult for countries or terrorist groups to develop and/or acquire biological weapons. It also outlines measures that the United States has endorsed to facilitate detection and response to an attack using biological weapons.

National Efforts

The USA Patriot Act, signed in October 2001, provides national security and Federal law enforcement officials with enhanced tools to better counter terrorist activities in three areas:

  • Improves information gathering and sharing;
  • Strengthens law enforcement’s ability to investigate, prosecute, prevent, and punish crimes of terrorism; and
  • Enhances immigration officials’ ability to exclude or deport aliens engaged in terrorist activity.

The U.S. Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act, June 2002, enhances controls on dangerous biological agents and toxins that could pose a threat to public health and safety. The Act requires:

  • Assessment and improvement of the integrity and security of facilities, systems, and personnel who are vulnerable to attack (includes hospitals preparedness reviews, water supply vulnerability assessments, and facility upgrades);
  • Improvement of pathogen security measures (creation of new select agent list and registration of individuals and facilities working with these select agents);
  • Establishment of criminal penalties for transfers to unregistered persons and failure to register for possession of listed agents and toxins; and
  • Improvement of public health capabilities (strengthens hospital and public health care provider response capabilities, and creates a strategic national vaccine stockpile).

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services dedicated $1 billion to upgrade U.S. public health system’s capability to counter bioterrorism. HHS has established a program focused on:

  • Preparedness of state and local health departments to respond to bioterrorism;
  • Detection of outbreaks of illness that might have been caused by terrorists;
  • Epidemiological analysis of outbreaks to identify the source(s) and mode(s) of transmission; and
  • Electronic communications among public health officials regarding occurrences of outbreaks and responses to them.

Plurilateral Efforts

In May 2002, NATO’s Defense Group on Proliferation set forth a series of mutually-supporting initiatives designed to:

  • Rapidly detect BW agents;
  • Respond effectively to a BW attack;
  • Enhance defense training and education;
  • Stockpile medical and protective equipment; and
  • Enhance NATO’s medical surveillance capabilities.

In June 2002, Australia Group members adopted tougher export measures to better control items which could be used to produce BW, including adding controls on the transfer of information and knowledge that could aid BW proliferation. AG members:

  • Adopted "catch-all" constraints;
  • Agreed to lower the threshold for controlling fermenters (from 100 liters to 20 liters);
  • Added 8 toxins to the biological control list;
  • Adopted controls on technology associated with dual-use biological equipment; and
  • Agreed to control intangible technology that could be used to advance BW programs.

In June 2002, G-8 members announced the "G-8 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction." The U.S. pledged $10 billion to enhance key U.S. nonproliferation projects in the former Soviet Union. Key BW-related projects include securing pathogens, employing former weapons scientists, and enhancing export controls and border security. The U.S. urged other G-8 states to donate $10 billion over 10 years hence the name "10+10 over 10."

The Ottawa Group (G-7 Ministers of Health plus Mexico’s Minister of Health) have met periodically since September 11, 2001 to explore ways to strengthen collaborative efforts to better prepare for and counter bioterrorist threats. The Group will meet again in December to discuss and make decisions on:

  • The basis for creating a global smallpox vaccine strategic reserve;
  • Common approaches to risk assessment and risk management strategies;
  • International cooperation on pandemic influenza preparedness; and
  • A U.S. proposal to develop an early warning global component to current disease surveillance systems.

Multilateral Efforts

In May 2002, World Health Organization (WHO) members agreed to strengthen health surveillance systems to detect any possible BW attack and improve international response to stop any resultant outbreak. WHO members agreed to:

  • Treat a BW attack as a global health threat and respond by sharing resources, expertise, and supplies;
  • Provide mutual support to enhance national BW crisis management capabilities;
  • Ensure that national disease surveillance plans complement regional and global surveillance mechanisms;
  • Collaborate in analyzing and sharing surveillance data; and
  • Cooperate to enhance national capacities in field epidemiology, laboratory diagnosis and toxicology.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will support the extension of an early warning surveillance network to an international capability. Epidemiologists will be positioned in population centers around the world. Their role will be to provide early warning by reporting the detection, diagnosis, and mitigation of illness and injury caused by biological or chemical terrorism.

The World Customs Organization (WCO) has developed an action plan to improve border security by strengthening members’ inspections of international cargo traffic.

  • WCO provides technical experts to train member states’ customs officials and help them acquire necessary equipment for border control.
  • WCO has begun information sharing with INTERPOL and WHO to combat the smuggling of biological, chemical and radioactive materials.
  • WCO has developed a restricted Customs Enforcement Network database for sharing intelligence information among member states. To implement this effort, WCO has established eleven Regional Intelligence Liaison Offices to input intelligence information.

International Maritime Organization (IMO) has an effort to stop the shipping of biological agents for hostile purposes and to criminalize the use of biological weapons on maritime vessels. In December 2002, IMO members will consider new regulations to enhance ship and port security.

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) members recently affirmed their collective commitment to battle terrorism.

  • OSCE members expressed support for export control groups, such as the Australia Group, and proposed standards for licensing and enforcement procedures related to biological weapons-relevant pathogens and dual-use equipment.
  • OSCE has sponsored a series of conferences to urge member states to comply with relevant international standards, cooperate with enforcement organizations, and continue to examine ways to coordinate on nonproliferation.


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