Edward You, Supervisory Special Agent in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, gave a seminar entitled “Biosecurity: The roles and responsibilities of academia and law enforcement” in the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) Conference Center on Friday, June 4.

In his talk, Agent You emphasized the dual responsibilities of federal agencies and the scientific community in helping to ensure public safety from acts of bioterrorism. To meet the urgent need of enhancing protection against possible terrorist acts, the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate was founded in 2006. The acquisition of biological agents, whether manufactured, purchased, stolen, or isolated from the environment, represents a significant threat to society. Resources to combat these threats exist but it requires a community-wide effort to monitor for possible threats. You gave several examples where the vigilance of individuals had played a major role in mitigating biosecurity threats.

Said You: “The FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate recognizes the value of engaging the scientific community and has been proactively engaged in outreach activities to promote science, safety and security within academia. Our visit to Virginia Tech today is a milestone in our outreach efforts as it is the first visit we have made to a university.” The FBI’s goal is to explore the nature of the risk posed by bioterrorism, review current policy discussions to minimize those risks, and suggest actions to improve the collaborative environment to promote research and education in the biological sciences while minimizing potential national security risks.

Agent You’s key take away messages were:

  • The role of the FBI is to partner with the scientific community; communication between all stakeholders is key
  • The dual use of research findings poses a real threat but scientists can help to reduce such risks
  • The scientific community needs to be engaged on all fronts in discussions with policy makers
  • Individuals need to be aware of risks, assume responsibility, and take action

You cautioned on the importance of finding a balance between implementing safety regulations and policies and maintaining the vitality of scientific research. Scientists should not have to spend large amounts of time dealing with compliance issues that slow down their research – being part of the discussion is essential. In concluding, Agent You highlighted that the FBI has exciting career opportunities for researchers who would like to be part of its Evidence Response Team. Roles are possible as analysts, scientists, or members of the hazardous materials response team. By working together, federal agencies and the scientific community can help to counter bioterrorism and make a significant difference to public safety.

Published by Barry Whyte, June 04, 2010