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Archive for Thursday, December 6, 2001

Expert warns of biological attack threat

December 6, 2001

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— The threat of a chemical and biological attack against this country increases the closer the United States gets to capturing Osama Bin Laden, a preparedness expert said.

"Washington is extremely anxious about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida using a weapon of mass destruction," said Kyle Olson, who leads a Justice Department program to address domestic preparedness and the threat of chemical and biological terrorism.

Olson, vice president of Community Research Associates in Alexandria, Va., works with governments to prepare for biological attacks. He has been working with the government since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Risks from chemical or biological warfare increase when terrorist groups realize they are losing their battle especially when losing the war means losing everything, Olson said.

Speaking to about 250 students and guests Tuesday at Johnson County Community College, Olson said four myths have allowed American government and citizens to deny that biological warfare is a real threat.

He said people believe the United States won't be attacked because it is the world's only superpower. On the contrary, that makes the country more of a target, Olson said. Terrorist groups will use sneak attacks and "asymmetric warfare," such as flying planes into well-populated buildings.

Olson said terrorist groups are not interested in winning public relations battles; their objective is to kill.

Olson said another mistaken belief is that terrorist groups are not capable of manufacturing biological and chemical weapons. In fact, he said, the technology is hundreds of years old in some cases.

The fourth myth is that the weapons are too complicated for such groups to stage a successful attack. But Olson used anthrax as an example to dispute that myth.

"The danger is out there," Olson said. "We haven't seen anything happen in a few weeks, but that doesn't mean it won't happen again."

While smallpox is a more potent threat, another anthrax attack is more likely, he said.

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