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Anthrax, an infectious and usually fatal disease of warm-blooded animals, particularly sheep, goats, and other ruminants, that can on occasion, be transmitted to humans. Human-to-human spread generally does not occur. By common usage, anthrax also refers to the causative agent, Bacillus anthracis. This bacterium is present in soil worldwide. Anthrax is a well suited as a bioweapon because it is capable of forming hardy spores that can remain stable for decades. The deadliest form of this disease occurs when the spores are inhaled and germinate in the lungs. Death can be rapid. (Vector, 394). Biological terrorism is on the prowl in today’s world. Since our attack in New York on September eleventh, terrorism is one of this country’s biggest problems.
Robin Cook wrote Vector, one of his many books about biological warfare. This fiction talks about the collapse of Russia. At that time, many of Russia’s scientists were mad at America because they all lost their jobs. This one particular biological scientist named Yuri decided to move to New York to start a new life. The only job that he could get was to be a cab driver. This was because he has Russian credentials, which was not accepted in the United States. This make Yuri mad, so he decided to get back at NY. He wanted to attack NY with a biological weapon. He had the knowledge and skills to create anthrax. Now he just needed the manpower and a lab. Yuri joined forces with a white hate group with the same goal in mind. They wanted to release anthrax in two doses. The first dose was to be released in an air conditioning duct at a heavily populated building. The second dose of anthrax was to be put in a pesticide truck and released in mainstream NY. The plan was set, but Yuri had only one problem. He could not develop enough anthrax for both releases. So he used baking powder to trick the white hate group in believing that it was the anthrax that was suppose to be release in the air duct. Yuri had the real anthrax ready to go in the pesticide truck. The hate group later found out what Yuri had done and killed him.
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There are many people in the world like Yuri. They are just filled with hatred, and have the skills to do something about it. “It’s not a question whether bioterrorism will occur, but rather when?” (Vector, 387). This is the issue we are facing in today’s world.
In 1984, followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh contaminated drinking glasses and salad bars in an Oregon town with salmonella. No one died; 751 people came down with the nausea, severe diarrhea, chills, fever and dizziness that mark salmonella poisoning. It was the first, and so far only, biological-weapon attack in the United States. (Newsweek, 24).
The threat of bioterrorism has risen progressively in the world, particularly over the last decade. Consider for example of Aum Shirikyo, the apocalyptic sect that released sarin gas in the Tokyo subway in March 1995. All they had to do was fill plastic bags with the nerve agent sarin, slipped into a subway station and puncture the bags with an umbrella. These attacks are proof that biological terrorism is logistically possible. Bill Patrick express his feelings that, “unless something is done, the possibility of a bioweapon attack by agents of Osama bin Laden is highly likely.
The thought of this puts fear in our hearts. Luckily it’s not easy to mount a germ or chemical assault. Terrorists would have to obtain pathogens, culture them in vast quantities and the hardest of all, weaponize them.
Obtaining the Pathogen is fairly easy for terrorist due to terrorist-friendly states. Anthrax is a relatively common veterinary disease. Molecular biologist Paul Keim of Northern Arizona State University, “If a cow dies of anthrax it will bleed out its nose. All you have to do is scrape up a little blood”-or even get spores from the soil or a carcass-“put it in a petri dish, and you have anthrax.” (Newsweek, 25).
The problem for terrorists is that a petri dish or anthrax is not a weapon of mass destruction. Unless your goal is the assassination of a single individual, you need pounds and pounds of this pathogen. Anthrax spores must reach the lungs to do some damage. “Making a powder is a hurdle for the bad guys,” says retired Col. David Franz. It’s very difficult to dry anthrax without killing it. The material also needs to be the perfect size. If it’s too large the material won’t reach the lungs, too small will be exhaled right back out. Weaponizing germs is not a basement production. It requires expertise.
Biological or chemical terrorism still seems highly improbable in the near term. The gas masks and Cipro bought in the aftermath of Sept. 11 may have long since deteriorated before such an attack becomes more likely than being struck by lightning. Biological terrorism is a problem for the long term, for the time when the memory of recent horrors has dulled. In short, this is a kind of threat that we are not very good at addressing. But in the new world created by the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, we would do well to be ready. (Newsweek, 29).
Begley, Sharon. “Unmaking Bioterror.” Newsweek Oct. 2001:
Cook, Robin. Vector. New York: Berkley Books, 2000.