Publications / SAND Report

The acquisition of dangerous biological materials: Technical facts sheets to assist risk assessments of 46 potential BW agents

Astuto Gribble, Lisa A.; Gaudioso, Jennifer M.

Numerous terrorist organizations have openly expressed interest in producing and deploying biological weapons. However, a limiting factor for many terrorists has been the acquisition of dangerous biological agents, as evidenced by the very few successful instances of biological weapons use compared to the number of documented hoaxes. Biological agents vary greatly in their ability to cause loss of life and economic damage. Some agents, if released properly, can kill many people and cause an extensive number of secondary infections; other agents will sicken only a small number of people for a short period of time. Consequently, several biological agents can potentially be used to perpetrate a bioterrorism attack but few are likely capable of causing a high consequence event. It is crucial, from a US national security perspective, to more deeply understand the likelihood that terrorist organizations can acquire the range of these agents. Few studies have attempted to comprehensively compile the technical information directly relevant to the acquisition of dangerous bacteria, viruses and toxins. In this report, technical fact sheets were assembled for 46 potentially dangerous biological agents. Much of the information was taken from various research sources which could ultimately and significantly expedite and improve bioterrorism threat assessments. By systematically examining a number of specific agent characteristics included in these fact sheets, it may be possible to detect, target, and implement measures to thwart future terrorist acquisition attempts. In addition, the information in these fact sheets may be used as a tool to help laboratories gain a rudimentary understanding of how attractive a method laboratory theft is relative to other potential acquisition modes.