Biosecurity Threats: Homeland Security

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Homeland Security Biosecurity Threats

Some emerging biosecurity threats to homeland security are agriculture attacks, synthetic biology, drug-resistant disease emergence, and mass international migration events.

Attacks Targeting Agriculture

  • An agriculture attack is an attack targeting plants and animals cultivated for food.
  • This type of attack may use infectious agents that are transmissible between humans or between animals. Non-transmissible agents, which only affect an exposed person, are also potential threats.
  • These biowarfare agents might be sourced from nature, acquired from laboratory stockpiles, or created using synthetic biological technology. Dispersion methods are diverse and might include aerosols, water contamination, carrier humans or animals, and insect release.
  • Agricultural biothreat agents, such as foot and mouth disease, avian influenza, soybean rust, and karnal bunt of wheat, do not have to be aerosolized to be effectively spread. Such an attack would primarily cause economic damage, loss of confidence in the food supply, and possible loss of life.
  • Agricultural bioterrorism attacks may quickly halt the movement and export of livestock or the affected crop. This could result in severe economic consequences for producers, shippers, and consumers.
  • Homeland Security has a plan of action to protect the nation's food supply. This plan appears to be updated once every 5 years, so the most recent update to this plan was in 2015.
  • The capability to carry out this type of attack already exists and may have an impact within the next five years. Violent extremists and terrorists consider America's agriculture a tempting target and have indicated an interest in poisoning the food supply.

Synthetic Biology

  • Synthetic biology is biotechnology that is used to create genetic code that does not exist in nature. Synthetic biology may increase the number of actors that can create chemical and biological weapons.
  • One of the biggest concerns of the Department of Defense in this area is the ability to create deadly viruses from scratch in the lab. Other concerns include the deliberate altering of existing bacteria to make them more drug-resistant or the deliberate alteration of viruses to evade vaccines.
  • Another potential synthetic biological threat is the development of microbes that produce chemicals that harm humans or can be used in the creation of chemical weapons.
  • In 2018, a Canadian laboratory was able to synthesize a virus related to smallpox.
  • The Department of Defense commissioned a report on this topic as recently as 2018. Major advances like that of the Canadian laboratory mentioned above suggest this threat could have impacts within the next five years.

Drug-Resistant Disease Emergence

  • Drug resistance occurs when germs like bacteria and fungi develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them.
  • This appears to be a natural process that happens when microbes or viruses which are unaffected by a drug transform from a small part of the microbe population to a larger part of the population because widespread use of that drug kills off those microbes which are not resistant.
  • Drug-resistant forms of diseases previously considered treatable could become widespread again if there is a natural outbreak of resistant organisms or if such organisms are weaponized and dispersed. This could impact healthcare infrastructure and food production.

Mass International Migration Events

  • Mass migration is the movement of large groups of people from one area to another.
  • DOD officials have stated that current demographic trends will test Western liberal democratic institutions in new ways and the nature of warfare is changing. Migration events and demographic changes are generally occurrences with no adversary behind them and therefore no expressed intent to harm the United States. Nevertheless, these events have the capability to harm national security interests in the absence of mitigating factors.