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A Bioterror Alarmist as Top Homeland Security Scientist?

Noah Shachtman at Danger Room has an alarming post about Tara O’Toole, the Obama administration’s pick to become Undersecretary of Homeland Security for Science and Technology. While O’Toole has an impressive resume — CEO of the University of Pittburgh’s Center for Biosecurity and chairwoman of the Federation of American Scientists — she also spearheaded a series of bioterror exercises, known as Dark Winter and Atlantic Storm, that subsequent research found significantly overstated the lethality of biological agents like smallpox.

To George Smith, a protein chemist and senior fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, these exercsies show O’Toole to be “the top academic/salesperson for the coming of apocalyptic bioterrorism which has never quite arrived. [She's] most prominent for always lobbying for more money for biodefense, conducting tabletop exercises on bioterrorism for easily overawed public officials, exercises tweaked to be horrifying. [And she] has never obviously appeared to examine what current terrorist capabilities have been… in favor of extrapolating how easy it would be to launch bioterror attacks if one had potentially unlimited resources and scientific know-how.”It’s a “superb appointment if you’re in the biodefense industry and interested in further opportunity and growth,” he tells Danger Room. “Alternatively, a disaster if threat assessment and prevention ought to have some basis in reality.”

The administration sent O’Toole’s nomination to the Senate yesterday.

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