22 May 1998: Link to White House documents
22 May 1998
Source: Hardcopy The New York Times, May 22, 1998, p. A18
By JUDITH MILLER
The Defense Department decided yesterday to spend $50 million to create biological response units in the National Guards of 10 of the most populous states, including New York, as President Clinton prepares to unveil several actions to increase the nation's defenses against germ attacks, Government officials said.
The steps are part of Mr. Clinton's determination to protect the nation against what he has called biological, computer and other "21st century threats" to American national security. The President will address these threats and his program to combat them in a speech today at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
The measures include a long-planned consolidation of the Government's system for responding to such emergencies, and the making and stockpiling of early warning equipment, drugs and vaccines. They also commit the Government to spending more money on research and development to strengthen the nation's public health system so it can respond to germ terrorism and other such emergencies.
The White House has asked Government agencies to produce within two weeks estimates of how much the new steps will cost. But an advisory panel to the President has already urged Mr. Clinton to ask Congress to approve $2 billion over the next five years to "fill in the gaps in the nation's emergency preparedness system," one official said.
Officials emphasized yesterday that the President's program would enhance the Government's ability to deal not only with germ terrorism but also with the threat of infection from new germs, like H.I.V.
"With the revolution in genetic engineering, it is now possible to unravel how germs produce infections and to develop more effective medicines in blocking them," said Frank Young, the former director of the Department of Health and Human Services emergency preparedness office who headed the advisory panel that briefed Mr. Clinton last month at the White House. "Particularly relevant is the application of biotechnology to detecting and identifying germs within three-to-four hours, rather than days."
Dr. Young declined to discuss other recommendations in his panel's 16-page report, but other officials said that the document urged Mr. Clinton to stockpile enough vaccine and antibiotics against a bio-warfare attack in which up to six million Americans could be infected.
Before the speech, Mr. Clinton is expected to sign two directives to implement his policy on terrorism. In his speech, aides said, the President will announce the creation of a "national coordinator" to initiate anti-terrorist action, secure aid and iron out Government disputes. The job will go to Richard A. Clarke, now Mr. Clinton's special assistant for global affairs.
Senior officials told several reporters about the President's speech earlier this week on the condition that nothing be written before it was delivered. But other officials described the speech's content in greater detail yesterday after two newspapers broke the agreement.
An Administration official said that the Defense Department's 10new National Guard biological response units would help police, fire and public health officials in towns and cities cope with a germ attack. In addition to New York, the designated states are emergency response centers for the Federal Emergency Management Agency: Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Illinois, Texas, Missouri, Colorado, California and Washington.