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Study Warns of 'Grave and Growing' Threat of Biological Weapons

A prominent research center has published a survey showing the threat of bioweapons is serious and growing. The study comes five years after the discovery of deadly anthrax in envelopes and other containers sent through the U.S. postal system. The spores killed five people and sickened 22 others. VOA's Sean Maroney has more from Washington.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies released Wednesday the findings of its survey addressing the future use of biological weapons. Since mid-October, the center polled about 340 current executive branch officials and members of Congress, as well as former senior government officials and nongovernmental experts, on how they perceived the threat of bioweapons.

Only about 50 of those polled responded to the survey. However, the center's Senior Fellow Amy Smithson who designed the survey, says that overall, biological weapons are seen as a grave and growing threat, even compared to chemical and nuclear weapons. "Biological weapons are the most insidious, the most serious threat because they're cheap, they come from nature and the release scenario can be as simple as the subway," he said.

More than half of the respondents caution that a bioweapons attack is likely within the next decade.

Quoting a former senior policy maker, Smithson says biological weapons are a "fad of this era." "Everyone with a beef, every crackpot, anyone looking to score mass casualties will see biological weapons as an option. The number of people messing around with this stuff is simply on the rise," he said.

The participants in the survey blame the increasing availability of information technology and equipment as the main reason for a rising biological weapons threat. They say the most likely scenario for an attack is on a small-scale and sporadic and would be carried out by states or terrorists to undermine public confidence in governments.

Smithson quotes former Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci, who took part in the survey, as saying the threat of a biological attack is underrated. "This is a serious threat which has not received sufficient attention. This survey indicates that a number of steps can be taken to reduce it but not eliminate this threat. We need to raise the priority of this issue," he said.

According to the study, the best way to address the threat is through international safety measures as opposed to efforts by individual states.