Considering and Containing Crises: Biosecurity Beyond COVID

June 2020 No Comments

Speaker: Giordano, J. (Georgetown University Medical Center/US Naval War College)

Date: 12 June 2020

Speaker Session Summary

SMA hosted a speaker session presented by Dr. James Giordano (Georgetown University Medical Center/Naval War College) as a part of its new speaker series with the UK Ministry of Defense (MoD), entitled “COVID-19: Second- and Third-order Effects—System Shocks, Disruption, and Emergence.” Dr. Giordano first stated that there is no available evidence indicating that COVID-19 is a manmade virus. However, it is important to consider the virus’s true origin—either direct or indirect transmission from bat to human—when thinking about biosecurity writ large. He elaborated that the transmission of COVID-19 indicates that humans are intruding into other animals’ niches. Moreover, the increasing amount of gain-of-function research conducted around the world (on both COVID-19 and other viruses) has highlighted the increasing potential of an intentionally malevolent actor (or a benevolent actor who unintentionally engages in a malevolent act) to inflict damage on a population by acquiring a research sample. These actions could also lead to ripple effects and/or strategically latent effects throughout a society, thus causing even more significant harm to a society. In summary, the number of biosecurity risks and threats are increasing and present danger to US national security and stability. Dr. Giordano added that these threats and US preparedness efforts to combat these threats are not new and did not arise post-COVID. However, he questioned if the US would be sufficiently prepared for the spread of a new virus by a malevolent actor. Dr. Giordano discussed the efforts that the US could engage in, in the future and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to supplement previous efforts, including the Crimson Contagion Exercise and the 2019 Report to Senate Intelligence. These additional efforts consisted of surveillance measures (e.g., self-reporting, position and activity “mapping,” immunity passports), literature tracking, and talent positioning. He also discussed these efforts’ shortcomings, including invasion of privacy concerns and uncertainty regarding the US’s readiness to engage this bio data, given all of the safeguards, oversight, and surveillance needed to secure individual and group data. To conclude, Dr. Giordano recommended that the US government take the following measures in order to increase its preparedness to mitigate future biosecurity threats: 1) fund research in technologies, innovations, countermeasures, and solutions; 2) develop capabilities to address and defeat evolving biosecurity threats; 3) remain ahead of competitors’ and adversaries’ abilities to exploit US weaknesses, and 4) engage in a whole of nation (not just whole of government) approach leveraging all sectors of national power. This whole of nation approach requires a four thrust strategy: 1) increasing awareness, 2) quantifying the threat, 3) countering the threat, and 4) preventing/delaying future adversary effectiveness.

Speaker Session Recording

Also forthcoming!

Download Prof. Giordano’s Biography, Relevant Publication, and Slides

Download Speaker Series Description