Friday, March 11, 2005

WaPo is so sure about biodefense

Now The Washington Post editorial page is weighing in on the Biodefense Fiasco. Now, that is, that it has been brought to their attention by 758 microbiologists complaining in an open letter that the $1.7 billion earmarked for biodefense research is distorting the research agenda, wasting scarce resources, and subverting the scientific peer review process. Where was The Post before this letter hit them over the head with a two-by-four? Same place they are now. Clueless.
If [the open letter] were intended only to get the government to think harder about the best ways to define, fund and manage biodefense work, the open letter would serve a useful purpose. If the letter were intended to point out that some basic research in microbiology, immunology, genetics and other fields could prove, in the long term, more important to the nation's biodefense than specific work on anthrax or plague, we would also agree. That, certainly, is a message that Congress and the administration need to hear.

Where we lose sympathy for the authors is when they state that funds have been diverted from "projects of high public-health importance" to "projects of high biodefense but low public-health importance." This country has already experienced one anthrax attack. Security officials have stated repeatedly their belief that al Qaeda and others continue to search for more lethal bioweapons. Surely that makes biodefense projects of "high public-health importance."
Oh, yes. Surely. Yes. Surely. Surely.

Wait a minute. Didn't that anthrax attack come out of the biodefense research establishment itself, not from al Qaeda? "Surely" doesn't that make the biodefense agenda of matter of "public health importance" because for reasons we have already given, it is a threat to public health?

Wait another minute. The Washington Post. Aren't these the same folks that issued a mea culpa because they were too gullible about administration claims in the run up to the Iraq debacle? Or was that another Washington Post?

Related item from ABC News:
No 'True' Al Qaeda Sleeper Agents Have Been Found in U.S.

Mar. 9, 2005 - A secret FBI report obtained by ABC News concludes that while there is no doubt al Qaeda wants to hit the United States, its capability to do so is unclear.

"Al-Qa'ida leadership's intention to attack the United States is not in question," the report reads. (All spellings are as rendered in the original report.) "However, their capability to do so is unclear, particularly in regard to 'spectacular' operations. We believe al-Qa'ida's capability to launch attacks within the United States is dependent on its ability to infiltrate and maintain operatives in the United States."

And for all the worry about Osama bin Laden's sleeper cells or agents in the United States, a secret FBI assessment concludes it knows of none.

The 32-page assessment says flatly, "To date, we have not identified any true 'sleeper' agents in the US," seemingly contradicting the "sleeper cell" description prosecutors assigned to seven men in Lackawanna, N.Y., in 2002.