Defense Department Releases Report on 2001 Anthrax Attacks Two Years After Completion
Officials for the Department of Defense have released parts of an unclassified report on the October 2001 anthrax attacks that found the United States is "woefully ill-prepared to detect and respond" to bioterrorist attacks, the New York Times reports. The department had delayed the release of the report for two years over concerns that the information could help terrorists launch attacks on the United States, a move that "highlights the growing tension between public access to information and the government's refusal to divulge anything it says terrorists could use to attack Americans," the Times reports. The report, titled "Lessons from the Anthrax Attacks: Implications for U.S. Bioterrorism Preparedness," identified problems in "almost every aspect of U.S. biopreparedness and response." In addition, the report said that the 2001 anthrax attacks revealed "gaps in our scientific base" and problems with the U.S. public health system and laboratory infrastructure. The report also recommended a number of strategies to help prevent, detect and respond to bioterrorist attacks similar to the 2001 anthrax attacks, which killed five U.S. residents. David Heyman, director of the homeland security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote the report based in large part on discussions with about 40 government and private experts on public health, national security and law enforcement who attended a CSIS-sponsored meeting in December 2001. Heyman submitted the report in April 2002 to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which classified the report "for official use only," a move that limited access to the information to government officials and contractors. CSIS opposed the classification, but the Office of the Secretary of Defense upheld the decision of the agency. Last year, the Federation of American Scientists requested the report under the Freedom of Information Act, and defense department officials earlier this month notified Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the federation, that the department would release parts of the report. The edited version of the report was "published quietly" online on Wednesday on the federation Web site (Miller, New York Times, 3/29).
The Washington Post on Saturday examined the increased number of U.S. military personnel who have refused to receive the anthrax vaccine -- which can lead to adverse reactions such as headaches, vomiting, severe autoimmune problems and neurological problems -- because the defense department has failed to find evidence of anthrax in Iraq. The department requires vaccination for military personnel deployed for more than 15 days to "high-risk" areas for anthrax attack; the careers of those who have refused to receive the vaccine have "ended abruptly," the Post reports. In response, a number of advocacy groups and members of Congress have asked department officials to end the policy of mandatory anthrax vaccinations for military personnel deployed to Iraq. In a letter sent last week to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) wrote, "The use of a vaccination which appears to have the potential for serious health consequences for our troops in an effort to counter a threat that may not exist seems to unnecessarily expose our troops to risk" (Thompson, Washington Post, 3/27).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.