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Security experts warn that terrorist groups could use container ships to sneak explosives, weapons of mass destruction and even operatives into the U.S. Since 9/11, Coast Guard officers have boarded 10,000 vessels; in the nine months before 9/11, they boarded just 200. But the U.S. still inspects only 2% of incoming seaborne cargo.
Last fall's anthrax attacks sent public-health officials racing to upgrade the U.S.'s bioterrorism defenses. Federal spending on programs to combat bioterrorism has increased 10-fold, to $2.9 billion, and is scheduled to rise to $4 billion next year. How much security does that buy? According to Health and Human Services official Jerome Hauer, the number of emergency-supply caches ready to be deployed to U.S. cities in the event of an attack has increased from eight to 12; by the end of the year, the government expects to have enough doses of the smallpox vaccine to supply every American in the event of an outbreak; and the U.S. is producing new supplies of the anthrax vaccine.
But the U.S. is far from safe. Because many deadly agents can spread quickly and cut a wide swath of destruction, the responsibility for coping with the consequences of a possible attack will rest with the country's nearly 7,000 local health departments, which still must train hospitals and physicians in how to spot and treat the symptoms of bioterrorism. "We haven't really gotten stuff done yet," says Tara O'Toole, a biodefense expert at Johns Hopkins University. Government researchers are also playing catch-up: a recent Defense Department analysis found that the U.S. has countermeasures against only a third of the most likely bioterror pathogens. And like Osama bin Laden, those responsible for the anthrax terror remain at large.
--By Romesh Ratnesar. Reported by Melissa August, Sally Donnelly, Andrew Goldstein, Mark Thompson and Adam Zagorin/Washington