Biological Terrorism: Our City Streets as the New Battlefield

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Biological Terrorism: Our City Streets as the New Battlefield The last 60-70 years of the twentieth century might be called the modern era of biological warfare. During this period, nation states developed biological weapons to be used on a far-away “European battlefield”. Even after ratification of the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972, the most impressive BW program in the history of mankind continued for 20 years, effectively cloaked in secrecy. Yet between 1970 and 1990, little thought was given to the possibility of a biological warfare or biological terrorist attack on US cities. Funding for biological defense in the US was minimal and most of the federal government was oblivious about the threat. In fiscal year 2000, the US government has committed more than $1.5 billion to military biodefense and another $1 billion to domestic preparedness for biological attack. What happened? In 1991, the US decisively engaged the Iraqi force, demonstrating vast conventional technical superiority while the world watched on CNN. Shortly thereafter, with economic implosion in the Former Soviet Union, our concern turned to the fate of tens of thousands of Russian scientists and engineers who had developed an impressive programÖwhich may never be surpassed in scale or offensive capability. We feared that lesser nations might turn to now jobless Russian bioweaponeers for help in building their “great equalizer.” All this occurred with a backdrop of increasing evidence that the dual-use nature of bioweapons programs might make treaties unverifiable. Here at home, the equally dual-use biotechnological revolution screamed forward while novels imprinted the horror of bioterrorism on our minds and experts proclaimed that “there are no... ... middle of paper ... ...se who would use these breakthroughs for evil---taking away their freedom through effective intelligence programs and law enforcement---we will be more likely to stay steps ahead as we use the technologies for good, and provide an additional deterrent to the threat. Bioterrorism presents a daunting problem to our free society, especially at the unique intersection of politics and biotechnology that occurred during the last decade of the 20th century. We may have been lulled by our prosperity and strategic isolation from major conflict into a sense of invulnerability. However, we are vulnerable todayÖand there is no reason to believe that will change in the near future. We must carefully evaluate the real threat, make the hard cost-benefit decisions and continue to build a fully integrated defense against the distortion of biology by those who would do us harm.

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