NEW YORK (AP) -- Sen. Charles Schumer is calling for a review of
the federal response to the recent outbreak of West Nile-like virus
and says the U.S. government should appoint a terrorism czar.
Although the CIA concluded the outbreak was not the work of
terrorists, Schumer asserted in a letter to the U.S. General
Accounting Office that the outbreak provides an opportunity to
assess the federal government's ability to respond to a potentially
catastrophic biological attack.
"I don't want to be alarmist, but we must be as prepared as
possible," Schumer said Sunday.
He said the outbreak revealed troubling gaps in emergency
preparedness for a biological attack and called the outbreak the
closest example yet of what a such a terrorist assault on the
United States might resemble.
The mosquito-borne virus was first detected in early September.
It was the first time that particular strain of encephalitis virus
was found in the United States.
It has killed six people and infected 55 others in the
metropolitan area and has been detected in numerous birds.
Schumer said he planned to ask President Clinton to appoint a
high-level domestic terrorism official to coordinate and evaluate
federal response to terrorist acts.
"Right now the response is fractured all over the federal
government," he said, adding that the fact that the recent
outbreak went misdiagnosed for three weeks underlines the need for
a federal director.