US Biowarfare Detection and Warning System – BioWatch – is Failing

Reinforcing my observations in an article I wrote in September 2020 about America’s failed biodefense system, a new report shows that the situation has not improved. Even after the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. ability to detect and warn of a bio attack remains broken.

After the 2003 domestic anthrax attacks, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created a program to help detect biological weapons in the United States. Unfortunately, according to a report by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for DHS, the nationwide early warning program, called BioWatch, appears to be failing.

AP reported that the DHS audit found that BioWatch “provided protection in less than half the states and couldn’t detect many of the known threats.” AP added that BioWatch:

…was capable of detecting only six of 14 biological agents known to be potential threats. It also left detection equipment exposed and unguarded.

Contrary to its stated mission, OIG’s report said, “BioWatch does not operate a nationwide early warning system,” since it has detection capability in just 22 of the 50 states.

Managed by the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office (CWMDO) at DHS, the program was “created in response to the deadly mailing of anthrax-laced envelopes to news media and government offices two years earlier.” As noted by AP, BioWatch is intended to:

…supplement existing surveillance programs, BioWatch consists of air sampling equipment and lab facilities around the nation. It was meant to reduce the time it takes to recognize an attack by monitoring for known biological agents. It costs about $80 million per year to run, according to previous government reports.

Yet, it appears to be failing. And this isn’t the first critical report.

AP writes that: “Previous reviews in recent years have faulted the program’s computer network security and said it lacked reliable data about its capabilities for detecting an attack, among other problems.”

The system reportedly relies on winds blowing in an optimal direction and can take up to 36 hours to warn of a potential attack.

Tom Ridge, former Homeland Security Secretary, and former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, co-chairs of the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense, have called for BioWatch to be replaced with a better system. But DHS believes it can make the program work.

David Richardson, an assistant secretary at DHS who runs the CWMDO, reports AP, wrote in a letter accompanying the report that BioWatch is integral to the office’s mission:

and serves as the department’s best tool to effectively prepare for, detect and respond to bioterrorism threats.

Meanwhile, CWMDO is working to correct all the reported failures.

AP noted that the “office said it would work with the organizations that host the equipment to improve security and planned to ‘enhance’ biological detection capabilities.:

CWMDO also plans to run a full-scale exercise for later this month and said it would share the information with other involved organizations by April.

Let’s see what that exercise shows, and whether the system can be fixed, or a new system is needed to replace it.

Paul Crespo

Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank.

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BrewDubbs
1 month ago

When a bio attack hits, we just let it go…. then lock down everything. We notice when everything dies….

sounds like a good place to spend billions and billions of dollars….and get nothing useful out of it… Oh, that’s what we have been doing!

Thomas
1 month ago

If you form a federal government entity, like BIO weapons you get just what you pay for , like the CDC who fail daily and now this Bio Weapons entity has failed, makes one wonder how much pork and who was appointed and who appointed the heads of departments.
And last but not least will heads roll or with the congress start another multi-million dollar commission so people like Nadler and Schitt can eat while doing business.

CHARLES NOLAN
1 month ago

There is evidence that seems to indicate that COVID-19 is a manmade hybrid. The politicians fear that the citizens would demand a military response to this Chinese Communist bioweapons attack and therefore will not allow the truth to be told.
We are working on a much more effective method to determine if a virus is infectious and if our sterilization systems will kill it.
Even if this was an accident, the military dictatorship that rules China now knows how to do this and how we will hide the truth as we suffer, rather than risk war.

Charles slavis
Charles slavis
1 month ago

When the Democrats collaborate with China to utilize biowarfare against America and the world and the military doesn’t defend America because the people put in place are all corrupt then of course are biowarfare defense is a failure

Dale A Wark
Dale A Wark
1 month ago

Does this really surprise anyone? The Dems are more concerned over allowing COVID-infected illegal immigrants to cross the border and approve pork-barrel funding for Dem-causes, and then, of course, banning children’s books, climate change, appeasing the Iranians, appeasing the Chinese, and building fences around the Congressional building. They don’t think about defense. In fact, now they are upset that Biden struck back against Iran for its missile attack on an American base — the one right thing Biden has done. Next they want to make the President need the approval of Kamala Harris and Nancy Pelosi before responding to a nuclear attack and so while the Russian or Chinese missiles are ruching through the stratosphere Biden will need to get their approval before responding. Good luck with that process – we’ll all be dead before he remembers who the VP and Speaker even are!

Billy
Billy
1 month ago

To little to late. Congress will act after the attack only.

Dale Brown
1 month ago

I guess so! They just crippled the whole world! What goes around comes around. In Jesus name!

Robert Sohn
Robert Sohn
1 month ago

May the Lord Jesus Christ give those working on Biodefense for the United States ……. wisdom on making decisions that impact our national security. Maybe, need more help from our K-9 friends. Pray for the best.

Robo
Robo
1 month ago

Can’t these people do anything? Seems failure is prevalent in gov’t and is like the standard of procedure, order of the day, fill a new “intel” cabinet, and wallah, it fails at all it does. No leadership, no good results. our perfect structured gov’t is laden with mental weaklings, not a recipe for success


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