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 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.
- Drug resistance has been identified as an area of concern to national security in a survey of several US government agencies. The CDC says antibiotic and antimicrobial resistance is one of the biggest health challenges of our time.
- Each year in the United States more than 2.8 million people are infected with drug-resistant bacteria, and more than 35,000 people die from these infections. This is a threat that will continue to increase in the next five years.
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.
- Governments across Asia, Latin America, and Africa may not have the capacity to provide adequate resources and infrastructure for their populations or may be vulnerable to disasters. Mass migration events could occur which threaten regional stability, undermine governments, and strain U.S. military and civilian responses.
- Biosecurity threats of this kind may have multiple impacts such as the introduction of infectious diseases, resource inadequacy, and severe strain on healthcare and public safety infrastructure.
- The Department of Homeland Security in conjunction with the Center for Disease Control has multi-step protocols to screen travelers for certain communicable diseases. Biosensors for use in public areas are currently being developed by DHS in an attempt to develop more rapid biosecurity responses to these threats.
- This is a biosecurity threat that appears to be currently emerging, and the number of displaced people is likely to increase within the next five years. In 2018, the president of the United States addressed mass migration and the overwhelming of border infrastructure systems due to increased numbers of asylum seekers from Central America.
- Due to the nature of these mass migration events, which may be driven by conflicts or natural disasters, exact impact dates are challenging to predict.