Biological Warfare

Biological Warfare

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There is no longer a question of whether or not a bioterrorist will attack, but rather the question remains, when will they attack? “It is highly likely that a terrorist group could threaten or attack Americans with germs within the next few years,” according to President Clinton. (Solomon)     
     Biological warfare intentionally uses viruses, bacteria, fungi, or toxins from living organisms and death or disease in humans, animals, or plants. Fermentation can be used to produce such bacterial agents as anthrax, brucellosis, cholera, meloidosis, plague, q fever, or tularemia. Other viral agents are smallpox, cimean congo HF, rift valley fever, and vee. Use of these types of viruses and bacteria are becoming widespread in many areas of the world because they can affect many people efficiently and are cost effective.
     Biological weapons can ve traced back to Exodus when God placed the ten plagues upon the Egyptians, as a result of Pharaoh’s refusal to free the Jews from slavery. These plagues included blood, frogs, vermin, flies, murrain, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and the slaying of the first born. Even though this type of warfare may have had origins as early as Exodus, the methods of making these germs is described in scientific literature and is no secret to terrorists.
     This germ warfare is an especially serious threat for several different reasons. The first reason is the ability of these germ agents to be undetectable to spy technology. Secondly, the warfare labs that are used to produce these germs are difficult to detect, and major nations sometimes work together collectively to produce these agents for use in warfare. Most importantly, it is against this threat that there may be no defense.
     Even though bioterrorism has been banned, it poses the greatest threat upon the Western World because of the mobility of their population. For this reason it is necessary for extremists to use aerosol dispersion to contaminate food, water, or air resulting in the death of every living organism.
     Two incidents in particular make this threat of a bioterrorist attack more likely to occur. The first of these occurred in Tokyo when nerve gas was unleashed in a Tokyo subway by the nihilistic Japanese cult group, Aum Shinrikyo. Twelve people were left dead and another five thousand had to be hospitalized. This incident raises an even greater concern because the taboo that once prevented terrorists from attacking no longer exists; it was broken when these warfare agents were used in the Tokyo subway.

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This occurrence opened the eyes of the world to the need for strategies that both prepare and prevent these types of terrorist attacks. The second fact is that advancements in biological technologies have become widespread throughout the world.
     A shocking number of at least seventeen nations are suspected of having or attempting to acquire germ weapons. Among the seventeen nations is Iraq. Before the Gulf War in 1991, Iraq admitted to research and production facilities and in 1995 confessed to manufacturing anthrax spores, botulinum toxin, and aflatoxin for weaponry. In 1997, Sudaam Hussein’s banning of American inspectors from investigating their development of these weapons created a widespread public concern. The world was surprised to learn that Iraq had produced enough deadly microbes to kill all the people on Earth several times over. Because certain essential details remain unknown about perfecting biological weaponry, Iraq was never able to master their bacterial agents.
     On the other hand, accidental and unpredictable situations can result from these weapons of mass destruction. In Europe, the smallpox epidemic that occurred in the 1970’s proved just how dangerous the release of these organisms could be. In 1979, when aerosolized anthrax was released from a Russian biological weapon manufacturing facility, the outcome was proven to be a lethal accident.
     Another accident that is to some extent purposeful, but is proving to be dangerous is the island in the Aral Sea of Kazakhstan. It is at this site that Soviet soldiers buried anthrax during the Cold War in a top secret operation. These soldiers assumed the anthrax would never have any effect on anyone because they had soaked it in bleach with the intention of it eventually dying off. The Monterrey Institute of International Studies calls this island “a ticking time bomb.” (Davidson) The soviet troops buried the anthrax in order to keep the international control inspectors from discovering it. Local authorities will not allow the Monterrey Institute officials to get a close enough view of the burial site; therefore, the physical state of the buried anthrax is unknown. These sixty six gallon containers that originally stored this bacteria unearthed as erosion wore away at the soil in which they lie. Animals or insect that can also cause contamination, thereby, encouraging the rapid spreading of the anthrax. Because of these potential dangers, the United States should possibly consider getting involved with the clean up effort.
     America is preparing to deal with biological warfare for several different reasons. Specifically three events have forced them to make preparations. The first event was Iraq’s deploying of missiles that were carrying anthrax germs. The second event that is also a threat is botulinum (The toxin that spreads the deadly disease botulism). The last event that has caused America to make preparations is the use of the poison aflatoxin that was used during the 1991 Gulf War. President Clinton wants to make the public aware to the fact that America is likely to be not only threatened, but also attacked with germs within the next few years. He also said that Iraq would not be permitted to produce these weapons of mass destruction.
     Surprisingly enough, the United States supplied the raw materials used by Iraq to create their biological weapons. Defenses are also being strengthened and permission for the use of almost three billion dollars is being proposed to Congress in order to combat these numerous varieties of biological warfare. President Clinton told government agencies in June of 1995 to be prepared for attacks from terrorists. But in March of 1996, the Senate brought up questions concerning America’s contingency plans and whether or not they are sufficient.
     Medical response is an aspect that is probably the most important concern, but oftentimes the most neglected area for defense. This area is neglected because of the fact that it is difficult to plan a response when different treatments are needed depending on the type of biological agent that is used. Philip Russell was quoted as saying: “Plague is different from smallpox, which is different from anthrax. We need a group of folks to go through different scenarios and think about what could be done other than counting the bodies.” (Taylor) According to these statements, more competent plans are mandatory in order to protect the United States. As a result, scientists, public health officials, policy makers, governments, and the public are all scrambling to find methods of preventing and protecting against biological warfare.
     The threat remains that a city of five to tem million people could be wiped out prior to the new millennium. For these reasons, new ways are needed to prevent these attacks. First of all, intelligence plays a major role in the necessary measures that are needed. But by limiting the attainability of the starter cultures used by biological terrorists, defenses may be able to be strengthened. Assistant Defense Secretary Harold Smith said that “Ideally we would like to develop a detection system using something remote like a laser beam that could detect and identify a biological agent at a standoff distance.” (Solomon) President Clinton made a statement pertaining to the prevention of terrorist attacks. He said that “I would be delighted if decades later, Americans can look back on these (biological) threats as the dog that didn’t bark.” (Solomon, 84)
     The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention has been organized in order to combat biological warfare. This convention is working on preventing the development, production, stockpiling, and arming of these weapons of mass destruction. On site inspectors are also being suggested to assist in this effort.
     Recently a convention was held in Geneva that involved diplomats and experts on arms control. They suggested a plan that would trigger biological terrorist laboratories. On May 22, 1998, President Clinton announced to the United States Naval Academy’s graduating class that the United States is beginning to make necessary preparations in order to counter these biological attacks. Medical, public health, and other areas that deal with emergency response are especially being strengthened. In 1997, the Department of Defense proved they were taking preventive measures when they declared they were vaccinating almost two and a half United States soldiers against anthrax.
     These actions alone are insufficient and other critical steps need to be taken. The first deals with the redefining of the efficiency of the armed forces, police forces, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other security agencies. This is necessary because each branch needs to know exactly what their responsibilities are; therefore, preventing confusion during an extreme emergency. Secondly, legal factors that deal with search and detainment need to be reconsidered in the light of civil liberty. The psychological aspect of terrorists is another area that requires further study. Also, information terrorists use to make these weapons needs to be limited. Lastly, the legal system needs to be updated on the legal proceedings of the dangers of these new toxic germs. Studies also need to be conducted in order to contract these biological diseases.
     In conclusion, these biological weapons used by terrorists are becoming a widespread threat. This threat should be viewed as inevitable because it is difficult to detect and has the potential to wipe out entire cities. Certain nations, namely Iraq, have experimented with these destructive weapons. Because of this, America is making preparations for defenses and searching for new ways that will counteract biological warfare. It is most likely that a terrorist will attack before the year two thousand and that World War III may be the “biologist’s war.” (Solomon, 104) The United States needs to step up security measures so they can be more prepared for biological warfare.


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     New Scientist          Pg. 42-43     September 1996
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