U.S. Germ Attack
Simulation a Disaster
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Despite an enormous federal effort to prepare for a biological terrorist attack, a pretend germ warfare attack last month showed the government is unprepared to deal with such a crisis, the New York Times reported Sunday.
The secret drill simulated a small pox hybrid virus that was dropped along the Mexican-American border. Officials who participated in the drill soon found themselves arguing as they were overwhelmed by a panicked population, short of the right antibiotics and vaccines, hampered by antiquated quarantine laws and unable to get trained, immunized medical staff to the area, the Times said.
Officials said the drill was part of an ongoing effort by President Clinton to increase the U.S. readiness to deal with a terrorist attack.
The Times said that Clinton has developed a great personal interest in the possibility of a biological attack and even had his staff investigate the credibility of "The Cobra Event," a book about a terrorist attack on New York City which particularly alarmed him.
On April 10, just after working through most of the night on the Irish peace accord, Clinton met with a panel of experts he had convened to brief him on biological weapons. He also asked them to prepare a report suggesting ways the government could be better prepared to detect and deter a biological attack, the Times said.
The report, expected to be submitted this week, suggests stockpiling antidotes, vaccines and antibiotics and setting up mechanisms to make large quantities in a hurry, the Times reported. The experts also recommended strengthening the public health sector and streamlining the government processes for detecting and managing a biological crises, the Times said.
Experts widely disagreed on the likelihood of such an attack, the Times said.
In 1995 Clinton signed a Presidential Decision Directive that said the United States has "no higher priority" than stopping terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, the Times said.
This week Clinton is expected to sign two new directives that provide a sweeping plan for dealing with chemical, biological or computer-related weapons, the Times said.
The directives had created a fight in the administration with the Defense and Justice Departments objecting to the creation a powerful anti-terrorist government agency, the Times said. The current directives create a "national coordinator" with limited staff and no direct budget but the wide-ranging powers to handle government disputes and initiate action, the Times said.
Richard Clarke, now Clinton's special assistant for global affairs, is expected to become the first national coordinator, the Times said.

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