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Tara O’Toole to DHS science

The Obama Administration has nominated Tara O’Toole, director of the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, as the chief scientist for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

O’Toole is inheriting a deeply troubled programme. From its inception in 2002, the DHS S&T programme has been a bit of a mess. It’s been slow to release grant money, failed to justify its spending to Congress, and lost its power to other organizations such as the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. Morale has been low and staff turnover high.

In some sense she’s perfect for the job. If confirmed, she will oversee programmes such as BioWatch, which is designed to detect biological attacks. But she’s already drawing criticism over at Danger Room. Among others, George Smith, a senior fellow at, says that O’Toole is a scaremonger who will pander to the bio-defence industry.

We can probably look forward to some tough questions at her confirmation hearing.


  1. Report this comment

    Jason Matheny said:

    I’v had the privilege of working with Dr. O’Toole and have found her to be exceptionally smart, empirically-driven, and gifted as a manager. She is technically savvy across the full range of homeland security S&T issues, and with her experience at DOE and at the Center for Biosecurity, she will bring wise leadership to the DHS S&T portfolio. Jason Matheny, Johns Hopkins University.

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    Jeanne Guillemin said:

    Tara O’Toole for years promoted apocalyptic bioterrorism scenarios, notably the 2001 “Dark Winter” exercise which featured Saddam Hussein’s terrorists attacking the US with smallpox and destroying society. Vice-president Dick Cheney much appreciated this frightful vision, which was legitimated by O’Toole’s affiliation with the Johns Hopkins biodefense center she helped create. Cheney used the smallpox scare to promote support for the invasion of Iraq—which O’Toole never protested. Since 2003 O’Toole has tried to distance herself from this shameful complicity. At some point, she should take responsibility for her role in misleading Americans at a crucial time in our history.

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    Randy Larsen said:

    Regarding Jeanne Guillemin’s comments: The attackers in Dark Winter were al Qaeda, not Saddam Hussein. So much for her knowledge of the facts, unless of course she is saying there was a link between al Qaead and Saddam. Who is doing the misleading?

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    Gigi Gronvall said:

    The work of the Center for Biosecurity has demonstrated to leaders that a disease crisis (whether natural or deliberate) is substantially different than leading through other crises, and that they are unprepared. Leaders will need to tap different expertise (medical and public health), rely on different information, and will need to be prepared for an epidemic to go on for much longer than for other events. Public health and hospitals need to be up to the task to handle whatever comes their way— whether it is another SARS, H1N1 flu, or bioterrorism. Also, Jeanne Guilleman was factually innacurate— Dark Winter was about Al Qaeda, and was designed to teach political leaders the lessons of managing an outbreak, as I just described. Get the facts at

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