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Remarks by United States Attorney William M. McSwain at the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council Conference on Bioterrorism

PHILADELPHIA – Earlier this week, United States Attorney William M. McSwain was honored to deliver opening remarks at the Eastern District of Pennsylvania’s annual Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council (ATAC) Conference in Philadelphia.  The conference drew attendees from a variety of fields, including medicine, public health, and law enforcement.  U.S. Attorney McSwain was introduced by Ronald Stanko, Deputy Director, Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security.

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

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Thank you, Ron, for that introduction, and thank you all for traveling to Philadelphia to be here today.  On behalf of my Office, we are honored to host today’s annual ATAC conference.  The Eastern District’s Anti-Terrorism Advisory Committee was created in the aftermath of 9/11, when the U.S. Department of Justice directed each United States Attorney’s Office to form an Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council whose charge was clear: to promote information sharing between federal, state, and local authorities; to serve as a coordinating body for carrying out the anti-terrorism plan; and to provide an organizational structure for responding to any future terrorist incidents in that district.

And we gather here today to continue to carry out that mission.

I would like to thank those who made this conference possible.  From my Office, thank you to Tom Perricone and Christine Sykes, Chief and Deputy Chief, respectively, of our National Security unit; Michele Mucellin, our Law Enforcement Coordinator; and Mickey Pease, our Intelligence Analyst.

From outside of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, thank you to Michael Harpster, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Field Office and Kevin Bosch, Special Agent and Weapons of Mass Destruction Coordinator of the FBI’s Philadelphia Field Office; Nancy Baron Baer, Regional Director, and Jeremy Bannett, Associate Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League; Stacy Irving, Senior Advisor for Homeland Security Planning Programs and Strategic Partnerships at the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center (or the DVIC); and last but certainly not least, everyone from the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security, especially Col. Marcus Brown, the Director, Ron Stanko, the Deputy Director, and Kristin Daniels, Outreach Coordinator, who have been a real driving force in organizing this conference.  This day would not have been possible without all of your dedication and hard work.  Please join me in giving the conference planners a big round of applause.

There is no question that we live in dangerous times.  Safeguarding our national security is – and always must be – the number one priority of the U.S. Department of Justice and every United States Attorney’s Office in the country.

Our law enforcement and intelligence communities have no greater responsibility than the safety and security of the American people.  Every citizen should both feel safe and be safe, whether at their place of work, traveling on an airplane, or gathering to worship.  We are blessed to live in the strongest, freest and most resilient country in the history of the world, and we thrive because of our shared values of freedom and liberty.  It is our solemn duty to protect those values and the American way of life by prevailing over our enemies.  We can only succeed in confronting and combatting terrorism with the collaboration and partnership of every person in this room.

As we will hear today, some of the most urgent threats to our safety and security involve biothreats.  Whether a natural outbreak, an accidental release, or a deliberate attack, biological threats can present grave health, economic, and national security impacts.  Therefore, promoting our health security must be a national security imperative.

            As biothreats continue to evolve in the 21st century, so must our biodefense capabilities.  Conceptually speaking, biodefense entails a range of coordinated actions to counter biothreats, reduce risks – and prepare for, respond to, and recover from incidents.  Today’s conference brings together thought-leaders in several key fields involved in this critical task.  Today you will hear from experts in the fields of public health, epidemiology, medicine, and law enforcement.  They all share the same goal:  to manage the risks to human life posed by biothreats that could cause catastrophic harm.  And, as you will see from the distinguished group of speakers gathered today, the knowledge and expertise drawn from each field plays a critical role in our continued health security.  

            First, we must understand the nature of the biothreats that presently exist.  Several of our speakers will touch on that topic, but it will be explored in detail in two presentations:  the morning presentation entitled “The Inevitable Threat of Bioterrorism and Pandemics,” by Dr. Ali Khan, Dean, College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center; and in the afternoon presentation on Agroterrorism by Dr. Gary Smith, from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

            Second, we must identify best practices for mobilizing and coordinating federal, state, and local law enforcement’s response to a bioterrorism attack or disease outbreak.  Several presentations will touch on that topic, but the panel discussion, “Elements of Emergency Response,” with Rhona Cooper, Clinical Coordinator from the Pennsylvania Department of Health; Kristin Faust, Countermeasures Coordinator from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and John Wojtowicz, Senior Inspector, U.S. Marshals Service, will address that topic in depth. 

            Third, we must draw on past experiences so that we can develop a deeper understanding of how to respond to future health security crises from a public health point of view.  We will hear from Samuel Shartar and Sharon Vanairsdale, senior administrators from Emory University Hospital, who will discuss the lessons learned from the hospital’s remarkable handling of its treatment of four patients suffering from the Ebola virus.  Over the past year, Emory physicians, nurses, and scientists have worked with the Centers for Disease Control and other institutions to share lessons of preparedness, prevention, and treatment with groups (like ours) throughout the United States. 

            And finally, we will hear from several speakers that will bring the law enforcement perspective to bear on these threats, highlighting some of the investigatory tools we have to address bioterrorism and health safety preservation.  

  • Supervisory Special Agent Edward You of the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate will discuss “Safeguarding the Bioeconomy”;
  • FBI Special Agent Kevin Bosch, Weapons of Mass Destruction Coordinator, and Elizabeth Negron, of the Bureau of Epidemiology, Pennsylvania Department of Health, will discuss “Principles of Joint Criminal and Epidemiological Investigation of Biological Agents and Toxins”;
  • FBI Special Agent Thomas Stewart, Weapons of Mass Destruction Coordinator, will review the investigation and prosecution of U.S. v. Betty Jean Miller, a case in which a 70-year old woman was charged with possession of ricin in her home. 
  • And finally, Paul Nardella, Assistant Area Port Director, Area Port of Philadelphia, and Douglas Wiegelt and Jennifer Torres, both from the Centers for Disease Control, will end the day with their presentation entitled “Enhancing Health Security at our US Borders and Beyond.”

While I’m on the topic of law enforcement, there is one group among us, in particular, that deserves special recognition today for working tirelessly to keep our communities safe.  Actually, this group deserves our thanks every day, but especially today – as we are in the midst of National Police Week. 

That group, of course, is our police officers.  If you are a police officer in attendance today, please stand up.  To you, I say this:  You are our mightiest counterterrorism tool.  You are the heroes – those among us who put your lives on the line, every day, to keep our communities safe.  Thank you for your service.

In conclusion, the goal of this year’s ATAC conference is to improve our District’s readiness and response capabilities to combat biologic and pathogenic threats.  The breadth of disciplines represented here today attests to the myriad ways our nation is fighting terrorism.  The fact that there are over 300 medical professionals attending this conference today, alongside an almost equivalent number of law enforcement officers in the audience, confirms the need for these kinds of opportunities to share insight and information.  I look forward to the exchange of ideas and opinions that today’s conference will bring.

            Again, I want to thank everyone for being here today.  May God bless you and the United States of America.  Thank you.

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