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The GAO (Government Accountability Office) is calling for the FBI to develop a comprehensive framework for future anthrax investigations. After the 2001 anthrax attacks, FBI called in contractors to develop and validate several genetic tests to analyze samples of a strain of anthrax for the presence of certain genetic mutation. The genetic tests conducted by the FBI’s four contractors were generally scientifically verified and validated, and met the FBI’s criteria, according to a new GAO report. However, the report also found that the FBI lacked a comprehensive approach, or framework, that could have ensured standardization of the testing process. As a result, all the contractors developed their tests differently, and the contractors could not ensure a level of statistical confidence for interpreting test results. Thus, GAO recommended that the FBI develop a framework for validation and statistical approaches for future anthrax investigations. The FBI agreed with the GAO’s recommendations.
United States Intelligence Agencies have briefed the President and the Congress that the chances of another terrorist attack on the United States is almost 100 percent. Because there is a possibility that such attack may include the use of biological weapons (most likely anthrax), many individuals are concerned. What is anthrax?
According to the Center for Disease Control, anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis (industrial anthrax). Anthrax most commonly occurs in wild and domestic lower vertebrates (cattle, sheep, goats, camels, antelopes, and other herbivores), but it can also occur in humans when they are exposed to infected animals or tissue from infected animals.
The Department of Defense considers anthrax to be highly dangerous because it is:
- One of the easiest biological agents to manufacture
- Relatively easy to develop as a weapon easily spread in the air over a large area
- Easily stored and dangerous for a long period
Anthrax is most common in agricultural regions where it occurs in animals. These include South and Central America, Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East. When anthrax affects humans, it is usually due to an occupational exposure to infected animals or their products. Workers who are exposed to dead animals and animal products from other countries where anthrax is more common may become infected with Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax in wild livestock has occurred in the United States.