Langevin Remarks at IETC and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation Joint Hearing on Biological Security

Oct 2, 2020 Issues: Armed Services

WASHINGTON – Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities, offered the following opening remarks at the Subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities and House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation Joint Hearing entitled: “Strengthening Biological Security: Traditional Threats and Emerging Challenges.” Video of Langevin’s statement and a live feed of the proceedings: https://armedservices.house.gov/hearings?ID=E9283D07-0090-4D02-A1BA-ADC287D3D938

“Thank you to my colleagues on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation, and particularly Chairman Bera and Ranking Member Yoho, for hosting this timely joint hearing on biosecurity, a topic which, as we have seen of late, is vital to our nation’s security.

“Emerging biological techniques, such as gene sequencing, gene editing, and synthetic biology, are rapidly changing the scope and scale of biological threats and could lead to an increase in biological weapons. Adding to the challenge, biological weapons are relatively easy to create compared to other weapons of mass destruction. Used in concert with cyber operations, biological weapons enable a rogue actor to inflict major damage on a military power, and we are already seeing how these two domains intersect. Just last month the Republic of Georgia’s Health Ministry’s network was breached and files were stolen from a database that stores medical documents and national COVID-19 pandemic management information. We know Russian hackers have targeted organizations involved in COVID-19 research and vaccine development, including those in the U.S., U.K., and Canada.

“These attacks and the current global pandemic underscore the import of collaborative scientific research, preparedness, and security across the interagency, and with our allies, for our national and economic security. In a time when the United States is struggling to respond to the spread of a novel, highly-infectious pathogen, we must ensure the interagency is working together to respond to the current pandemic and advance the collective effort to strengthen biological security across the range of threats.

“The Defense Threat Reduction Agency, through its execution of the Department of Defense’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Biological Threat Reduction Program (BTRP) and its Technical Reachback Analysis Cell, has been receiving foreign partner requests for preparedness and detection including providing biosafety, biosecurity, and bio-surveillance support to aid in detection, diagnosis, reporting, and modeling related to the COVID-19 outbreak.  There have been many good examples of BTRP-trained local professionals in countries like Guinea, Liberia, Cape Verde, Jordan, and Thailand that diagnosed and confirmed the first cases of COVID-19 in their countries.

“Yet in the face of known and emerging biological threats and the impact they could have on our national security and economy, and as a pandemic that could arguably present the single biggest threat to our country was starting to spread across the globe, the President’s Budget Request was delivered to the Hill in February with a 36% cut to the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program’s funding from last year’s enacted level. At a time when the United States is struggling to respond to the spread of a highly infectious new virus, we are alarmed by the Department's significant reduction in the budget request for a mission of detecting and confronting biological threats to the United States. Thankfully, the House has acted, and our Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, H.R. 6395, added back $135 million to the CTR program. $89 million of that was additional funding for the cooperative biological engagement program.

“Additionally, the Department of Defense’s Chemical and Biological Defense Program (CBDP) was primed to be a key partner in the fight against COVID-19. Its Medical Program funds and manages efforts to develop medical countermeasures, vaccines, therapeutics, and pre-treatments. Its Physical Program funds and manages efforts to develop surveillance and detection technologies, diagnostics, personal protective equipment, and decontamination systems. To prepare against potential unknown threats, CBDP built expertise and capabilities to address novel pathogens, making it an ideal program to deal with the emergence of novel coronavirus. We are interested in hearing today whether the program was quickly and efficiently directed to participate in the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We look forward to hearing more about the many efforts of both Departments today; what we can do to help ensure your organizations have the authorities and resources needed to prepare for the emerging threats of both today and tomorrow; and how we can ensure that your Departments are ready and able to act swiftly and decisively in the next crisis.

“I join our hosts in thanking you all for joining us. I will now yield back to Chairman Bera.”