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US Looks At Bioterrorism 167

ChelleyBean writes "A group of security experts have put together an elaborate simulation that lawmakers viewed on Monday. The goal was to show one possible scenario should the US be hit with a bioterrorist attack. What purpose the exercise was to serve is not mentioned, but one would assume either someone wants more money to beef up defense or someone is looking for a new scare tactic for the next election. " I firmly belive this scenario is far more compelling and dangerous then rogue nuclear missiles - check out my review of Living Terrors for more information.
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US Looks At Bioterrorism

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  • One of the "interesting" properties about biological weapons (from a security standpoint) is that, despite what you hear about "gene" patenting, much of the information you need to set about doing something "not-so-nice" is obtainable, and much of the raw materials you would need can be had w/o too much trouble (compared to say, bomb grade radioactive material).

    For example, (for now) you can download DNA sequence information for various pathogens from the NIH (variola [], ebola [], et cetera). (although there are rumors that these sequences have already been "edited", i.e., you guys better start downloading potentially risky sequence information now and start mirroring before it's "pacified" or just simply censored).

    couple this sort of information to the large scale dna synthesizers that exist today (e.g., here [] or here []) that almost anybody can buy for around $100,000...

    add in a bunch of "sex on steroids" strategies for mutating stuff in the lab (e.g., molecular breeding of viruses []) just to overcome any prophylatic modifcations made by the notional "they"...

    et cetera. the simple fact is biology is hackable, and we're gonna have to learn how to deal with it. no you can't easily make ebola for cheap from scratch today, but the day when you can isn't far off.

    so, it's not surprising that people are concerned about this. the DoD seems to be taking some decent first steps. for example, one recent DARPA program whose goal is to synthesize arbitrary 10,000 nucleotide fragments of DNA within a 24-hour response period (see here [], section 2.1 of the first word document) only really makes sense in the context of a rapid-response DNA vaccination program.

    It seems like (at least) one other obvious thing that needs to happen soonish is for one (or more) of the national labs to establish large scale conventional vaccination production capability.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I would put the large scale attack that the exercise postulated as low probability.

    However, the point of terrorism is not how much actual damage can be done, but the mental impact it has. Suppose that Group X claims it has put a bio agent the the resovoir that supplies your town's water. Are you going to get a glass of water from the tap? Just for credability maybe they did put some in the water in the next state over but the Authorities say that it wasn't enough to do any real harm. Now what about the claim for dumping in your water? Scared yet? I was in the grocery store watching on the night of 12/30/99, they were bringing bottled water out on pallets and it went like _snap_ and it was all gone.

    Terrorists are trying to cause political change through their actions, they don't need to destroy much.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I used to work at US Government research lab and had friends working in the bio-weapons division. Before you laugh, it's not like Aliens or anything like that. The principle research was on methods to combat bio-weapons spread in the general population like the small-pox example.

    The biggest fear was not some rouge govenment creating some disease we don't have a cure for but rather the poliferation of some easily obtainable disease that we do have a cure for but don't have enough vaccines. Once a disease has been 'erradicated', vaccines are made in much smaller quantities because there's no money to be made in stockpiling them.

    This could be our civilizations Achilles heel. At least with nukes, the people who get radiation poisoning are not contagious.
  • Just like little kids don't understand that there is a lot of things that can happen and they will be dead, most of adults believe that it's impossible that there can be a real and absolutely unavoidable threat to their lives, leave alone a threat to lives of a lot of people at once. I have news for them -- each of you can die at any time. Anyone with a sufficient amount of persistence and time can kill any number of people with trouble becoming significant if the desired number of victims is in the range of millions or tens of millions.

    If by any chance I was what you would describe a "psycho", had a desire to kill you (or even you plus some large number of people) and ignored all other consequences of my actions, I would accomplish it with my existing level of education, available materials and money. Same applies, I believe, to CmdrTaco, Hemos, JonKatz, most of your former teachers in high school, most of your neighbors, most of your relatives unless they are very, very old or very, very young, your mailman, a salesperson in the nearest store, garbage truck driver, and quite possibly a newspaper boy. And there is absolutely nothing you, or anyone else can do about it. If you want to be "safe" against that I would recommend you to kill yourself, so no one else would. This is the bad news. The good news are, people relatively rarely kill other people, and even more rarely kill large numbers of other people. Even mobsters. Even muslim terrorists. Even disgruntled postal workers. And people never kill tens of millions of people at once, at least they never did. They don't do that because even seriously screwed up people that may have a desire to kill someone don't have enough motivation for relatively complex process of preparing and performing murder, or especially a mass murder, and because most of people really hate to have even a remote chance of being convicted murderers. So unless Toys'R'Us will start selling terrorist kits for $9.99 with no cooling off period, it's very unlikely that someone will kill you and few millions of people around you.

    This brings another, more general, thing -- every system has a situation when it fails, and everyone who denies it about whatever he is selling or supposed to be responsible for, is a liar. Any car will be smashed, killing everyone inside, if driven into the wall at high enough speed. No bank will keep its money if robbers will arrive in a bunch of tanks. All airplanes can fall. Nuclear reactor on a power plant, no matter how "safe" it was designed, will blow up if enough idiots will run it for few years. Same applies to chemical plants, oil refineries, ballistic missiles. Earth itself has some chance of being smashed by something large and fast that may hit it. One can decrease the probability of a failure, but eliminating it is impossible. This means, there is always a point where it takes an unacceptable amount of resources to achieve some level of "safety" no matter how important or noble the goal of achieving "safety" in that particular situation is. There is always a point beyond that where "unacceptable amount of resources" becomes "complete lunacy". And I don't think, I know, what is beyond that, but it certainly isn't pretty. The fact that by painting scary enough picture of death and destruction it's possible to drive this safety-obsessed society to any level of effort necessary to achieve this kind of "safety" at the expense of everything else, scares me more than anything a bunch of scaremongers can invent.

  • Come on would he real type ack! I think not, well maybe if he was transcribing it to some else.
  • The arguement that liberal gun laws will cause more terrorist acts is...idiotic.

    1. Terrorist Acts are not caused by firearms.
    2. Nations with strict firearms laws can also have massive terrorist acts. Israel, Japan, UK, Germany, Russia, Eastern China. All have strict gun ownership laws and all have been the targets of terrorist acts.

    3. The US has to be concerned about actual terrorism, it's happened in NYC, OKC, and came close to happening in LA on the Y2K. It's happened to US Embassies in Africa, and US military housing in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

    Read some about IDF preperations and you will see that they plan for unconvental warfare.
  • Back in those days(General Sheridan's time), it was real easy to heat up(burn wood, coal, etc) so people could cope with the freezing months in the north.

    Nowadays, we have Air Conditioning, which lets us southerners cope with the hot months.

    Really not that different - instead of being stuck inside for 3 months in the winter, we're stuck inside for 3 months in the summer.

  • by SpiceWare ( 3438 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @03:01PM (#63804) Homepage
    while the survivors are scarred for life. More info on First Contact: Smallpox []

    While I'd survive the initial round(born in 66, before immunization for Smallpox stopped in the early 80s), there's no telling what would happen afterwords - other diseases would probably run rampant due to the overwhelming effect of dealing with dead.

  • Smallpox vaccinations lose potency after 20 years.
    Better get a booster!
  • Wow! They got Tom Clancy to make modifications to his book "Executive Order." Let's see, substitute smallpox for eboli... Keep the bit about martial law... Fortunately, President Jack Ryan saves the day! You da Man! Unfortunately, what he have now is Dubya. You da Shrub!

    This reminds me of an old quote made about some athlete with a rather dubious IQ. "If he was any dumber, we would have to water him."

  • My wife says I'm a biohazard when I break wind.

  • Yeah, showing politicians film strips about potential situations really prepares us well for such attacks.

    *gas slowly wafts into the senate through an air vent*

    "Oh my god! We're under biological attack!"

    *panic ensues*

    *a lone figure stands up on the podium...*

    "Wait, folks! I was here the day they showed us that film strip! I KNOW JUST WHAT TO DO!"

    Let's be realistic, folks. Biological terrorism is the newest scare tactic. While the potential for serious danger is obviously there... frankly this _does_ sound like the prep work for asking for more defense money. The executive branch just isn't the place that's going to be making any useful decisions about how to prevent such an attack.

  • Human beings require very productive weapons to kill each other will. And nuclear weapons just aren't efficient enough. A biological weapon or a neutron bomb is far better at killing.

    My EAD 137 teacher (Engineering Applied Science), who knows his shit (works at Lawerence Livermore National Lab (LLNL)), said Nuclear Weapons will be ecilpsed by far better killing weapons. Which makes sense. You only get a 3 percent conversion of E=MC^2 with nukes.

    Of course one thing I aways thought strange about his work... was that everyone says cold fusion is impossible right? Well at LLNL they are buidling the NIF (National Ignition Facility) that is supposed to help in making sure the nuclear stockpile is ready to go. If you actually look at what they are doing, they are trying to aim 196 lasers at some Tritium... For what cause? Cold fusion on a small scale:).
  • Yeah "hot enough to fuse!". And if you can get a lot of them to do that, without a nuclear reaction to implode them, is that not cold fusion? :)

    Let's not mince words. I think it's pretty cool what the NIF is going (trying) to do, but it's still chasing cold fusion.

    They want to do it on a small scale to study the reaction for the nuclear stewardship program, OK. Cold fusion in a box...
  • by Jeremi ( 14640 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @02:59PM (#63811) Homepage
    It has already happened in Japan : the sarin gas attack in spring 1995 in the metro in Tokyo.

    Nah. The sarin attack, while terrible, was the release of a poisonous chemical. The attack described here is the release of a dangerous living organism.... the gift that keeps on giving, if you will.

  • But Janey doesn't panic. She remembers what they taught her in school. That's right, "Duck & Cover."
    --South Park

  • But since 'early adoption', haven't been used by armies, not even by Nazi-Germany.

    Iraq used nerve gas against Iran in the Iran-Iraq war of the 80's and they also used it against the Iraqi Kurds. Maybe that's why Bush the Senior called Saddam "worse than Hitler"?


  • Your wife is wrong of course. That's chemical warfare.
  • by Rombuu ( 22914 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @02:42PM (#63815)
    What purpose the exercise was to serve is not mentioned, but one would assume either someone wants more money to beef up defense or someone is looking for a new scare tactic for the next election.

    Yeah, god forbid we would want to actually plan ahead for somthing like that... damn, what an asshole.

  • This guy said protecting democracy in America. How about protecting THE REPUBLIC.

    Or do former high level defense department officials have no clue what the difference is.

  • Or a small clear plastic bag broken with an umbrella point. Like the Ohm Shinri Kyo incident in Tokyo the threat is more likely to come from inside the country than out.

    I was supposed to be at Tsukiji station at that time, luckily a phone call delayed my departure.

  • "Before you can protect your people you must first realize there is a threat"

    America, Home of the Threat Du Jour:

    The British
    The Japanese
    The Chinese
    The Libyans
    The Iranians
    The Iraqis
    The Chinese (again)

    Who's next?

    That's "foolproof" by the way.

    "Paranoia the destroyer" - The Kinks

  • My wife's a doctor, and went to a conference last year attended by a bunch of military types. There was a presentation on biowarfare. The CDC had done a test...

    They'd sent Anthrax samples to the 15 or so facilities in the US that are capable of detecting the toxin, without telling them, to see if they'd detect it.

    The vast majority of those facilities mis-diagnosed (I think it was 13?), mostly thru laziness.

    So if there *was* an Anthrax outbreak in the US, the chances of the labs picking it up in a timely manner is VERY LOW INDEED.

    Needless to say there's been some follow-up on this, but it's scary as all hell that the labs would miss Anthrax (even though I'm told it's similar to some very common germ - one of the streps, I think).

  • No, you'd still get it.

    The smallpox vaccine is only good for a dozen years or so. We're ALL vulnerable to it, and there's nowhere near enough synthetic vaccine to make much of a difference. More is being made (big facility in the UK is gearing up) but we're a good six - ten years away from start of production.

    And don't get me started on Anthrax...

  • I have to wonder if the .mil folks know something here that we don't. The above argument convinces me that rogue missile attacks are unlikely, but they are still going for it gung-ho, despite the prohibitive cost and potentially destabilizing effects it may have.

    They weren't going for it gung ho until Congress pushed the money on them they didn't ask for, and until the new administration made it national policy that we will deploy a missile defense come-hell-or-highwater in a timeframe that is pure bullshit. I frankly think its dangerous reliance on wishful thinking, but I'm not one of those who lays responsibility for this at the feet of the military. The impetus for missile defense (at least in the last few decades since the ABM treaty) has always come from the political side, who are much more accustomed to trafficking in the appearance of security than our fine military establishment.

    The things that our .mil folks know are (1) it is the duty of the US military to implement the defence policy of the constitutional authorities of the United States no matter how ill advised from a foreign policy standpoint and (2) if they don't do their best to make a functioning missile defence, others less scrupulous or more credulous will be put in charge.

  • Well....

    I suppose the starwars-as-instrument-of-world-dominion scenario plausible, but it attributes a level of cleverness the missile defense advocates that is to me implausible. There is plenty of historical precedent for people undertaking absurd projects out narcissistic confidence their own infallibility.

    However, the scenario you describe is important in two respect. First, it will seem plausible to leaders in other countries who attribute a higher level of wisdom to our leaders than they deserve. Second, it the thing is built and it works more or less, this scenario could well play out regardless of the fatuous intentions or our government.

  • AFAIK there isn't even a simple policy that says that the CDC is in charge and can ask for manpower help from the military if things get really hairy.

    I expect that if things do get hairy, then the CDC will be able to get, or take, all the help they need from anyone they can get their hands on, without many questions being asked. ;-)

    What they may be lacking in is preparation and planning.

    It may relieve you to know that there is at considerable bioterrorism response money being spent (considerable by public health, maybe not military standards) and programs are being developed in both Atlanta and in state public health departments to respond to bioterrorist attacks. Unfortunately I don't know the full extent of the effort since it's only tangential to my involvement with public health issues, except that I know some of the people working on this.

    If this issue receives a shot in the arm (or a kick in the pants) then probably a good response system could be put together reasonably fast, so long as some crusading congressman doesn't screw it up by putting the money and programs in the wrong place. It isn't so much that there isn't anybody working on it, its just not terribly big or visible now.

    If you are seriously interested, try going to CDC's Search Page [] and typing "bioterrorism". Over six hundred documents are returned, including ones describing the smallpox scenario [].

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @06:38PM (#63824) Homepage Journal
    As somebody who's worked in the field (I did some work on detection systems) I can say that bioterrorism scares the shit out of me. It's something that's much more easily within the reach of a private organization than nuclear weapons, can cause a lot of damage, and would be very tough to stop once it got underway.

    Sure, remember Om Shin Rikyo's fooling around an anthrax? They actually went as far as test releases of anthrax a couple of times, I think in a subway and on the American embassy in Japan. Fortunately, it is hard for somebody just screwing around to get their hands on a sufficiently virulent strain. They didn't manage to infect a single person. However, a competent biotechnologist might do absolutely frightening things with the flu.

    It's also something that has not been adequately planned for, IMO, to the point that there's not even a reasonable idea about who would be in charge of dealing with it if it did happen.

    I think the right people for this job are the CDC.

    For one thing, is very likely that when we are attacked by a serious pathogen, we won't initially know that we were being attacked until considerable detective work had been done. The smallpox example was deliberately contrived. If people starting dropping dead with smallpox, it'd be virtually certain that the Russian government was responsible, since they're the only ones likely to have it available. If we face the flu, or tuberculosis, or some novel tropical disease, whether it is or is not deliberate will have to be determined after the fact, even if somebody claims to have introduced the pathogen deliberately.

    Strengthening our civilian (and Public Health Service) capacity to respond to emerging pathogens is not only the best way to be prepared for bioterrorism, it is useful, possibly vital in itself. Historically, we have had in the US huge outbreaks of deadly influenza (the 1918 Flu Pandemic -- visit an old graveyard sometime and do a tally of death dates). There have been outbreaks of hemhorragic Yellow Fever (not the relatively mild kind that is like a bad flu -- the bleed from your eyeballs variety that kills painfully) that have emptied entire cities(Philadelphia 1794; Jacksonsville 1888). Most recently, we have had a terrifying out break of hantavirus in the four corners area in 1993; had a similar infection emerged in an urban area the effect would have been catastrophic. These were all natural events that any bioterrorist would consider a great success, had they been artificial.

    Secondly, the CDC has the technical facilities to investigate highly dangerous pathogens. They have what I believe is one of the few remaining BSL-5 lab in the world (I believe the Pentagon has one too), now that Europe has shut down theirs. The CDC also has the technical knowledge and experience in responding to new pathogens. When Ebola broke out, it was a team of CDC scientists that went to Africa to chase it down.

    What I am sure of is that this would be a very bad program to put under the military. While the military does have significant public health needs and capabilities (particularly around protecting troops from insect borne illnesses), it would be folly to try to create a duplicate set of military capabilities purely for bioterrorist attacks.

    (1) We must maintain civilian (or quasi civilian) capacity to respond to pandemics anyway. Providing a similar capability in the military would take money away from crafting a single, more effective response.

    (2) In the event of an outbreak, we're asking for the response to be hobbled by jurisdictional issues until it could be determined whether or not we had a bona fide bioterrorism event.
  • Ok then, describe the symptoms of this easily recognized disease.

    Well, headache, fever, vomiting, in the earliest stages. Could be the flu. A rash a little later. Could be chicken pox, or any other of a number of things. End stage, when it is creating the pus filled "poxes" is when it is most easily differentiated from anything else. By that time you're horrendously contagious and it's too late.

  • In the book mentioned in the article the venue is the "Mall of America" in Minneapolis.
  • Biological warfare is much ballyhooed, but in reality it's very difficult to get a biological attack to succeed, and it requires the prolonged effort of many well-educated folk. There have only been a few biological assaults in history, and they haven't been terribly successful. The average terrorist would probably seek something a bit simpler, like a chemical attack on people or food supplies.
  • Noam Chomsky's view is, to put it in one sentence, "BMD is irrational when viewed from the perspective of survival, but rational when viewed from the perspective of US hegemony, i.e. using the threat of overwhelming force to deter resistance elsewhere". Or, even more simply, "The ultimate effect of BMD is offensive, as opposed to defensive.": 3c homsky.htm

    He quotes Andrew Bacevich (National Interest, Summer 2001) as saying BMD "will facilitate the more effective application of U.S. military power abroad".

    He also makes the point made above that smuggled attacks are far more likely that ballistic missile attacks.

    His previous work on "rogue states" being a propaganda term is well worth reading. Just look on google.

    Since I know that many slashdotters are too lazy or busy to click on links (myself included), here are the first few paragraphs of the article:

    Hegemony or Survival Part One

    By Noam Chomsky

    At the end of June,, the UN Conference on Disarmament concludes the second of its year 2001 sessions. Prospects for any constructive outcome of disarmament efforts are slim. Discussions have been blocked by US insistence on pursuing ballistic missile defense (BMD) programs, against near-unanimous opposition.

    On the purpose of BMD, there is a fair measure of agreement across a broad spectrum. Potential adversaries regard it as an offensive weapon. Reagan's SDI ("Star wars") was understood in the same light. China's top arms control official simply reflected common understanding when he observed that "Once the United States believes it has both a strong spear and a strong shield, it could lead them to conclude that nobody can harm the United States and they can harm anyone they like anywhere in the world. There could be many more bombings like what happened in Kosovo" -- the reaction of most of the world to what was perceived as a reversion to the "gunboat wars" of a century ago, with the "colonial powers of the West, with overwhelming technological advantages, subduing natives and helpless countries that had no ability to defend themselves," doing as they choose while "cloaked in moralistic righteousness" (Israeli military analyst Amos Gilboa). The reaction to the US-UK Gulf War was much the same among the traditional "natives and helpless countries." Fortunately for its self-image, Western ideology is well-insulated from such departures from right thinking.

    China is also well aware that it is not immune. It knows that the US and NATO maintain the right of first use of nuclear weapons, and knows as well as US military analysts that "Flights by U.S. EP-3 planes near China...are not just for passive surveillance; the aircraft also collect information used to develop nuclear war plans" (William Arkin, _Bull. of Atomic Scientists_, May/June 2001).

    Canadian military planners advised their government that the goal of BMD is "arguably more in order to preserve U.S./NATO freedom of action than because U.S. really fears North Korean or Iranian threat." Prominent strategic analysts agree. BMD "will facilitate the more effective application of U.S. military power abroad, Andrew Bacevich writes (National Interest, Summer 2001): "By insulating the homeland from reprisal -- albeit in a limited way -- missile defense will underwrite the capacity and willingness of the United States to `shape' the environment elsewhere." He cites approvingly the conclusion of Lawrence Kaplan: "Missile defense isn't really meant to protect America. It's a tool for global dominance," for "hegemony."
  • Don't you read the news? This is propaganda talk, spewed out every day of the week. It's not cluelessness, it's PR.

  • Here's an interesting site: [] It details some of the effects of a agrobio attack. If you're a terrorist, your goal is to destabalize, right?

    Now consider:
    The effects of hoof'n'mouth disease has done in the UK - especially to their agri-economy in the short term. Also consider what it may mean in the long term - higher demand on calves, etc.
    How easily hoof'n'mouth can be transported.
    How easily hoof'n'mouth spreads among sheep/cattle
    The relative lack-of effects on humans (not so much worry about the feedback property)
    The common american practice of factory/intensive farming. (better spreading conditions)
    The population difference between America and Britain - and hence the food requirement difference.

    So far an agrobio attack sounds pretty good for a willing terrorist. Wipe out the midwestern states cattle industry just by taking a nice tour of the countryside and some farms for a few days. Watch New York and LA go into riot mode as the price of food triples.

    Now consider that as far as cattle diseases go, hoof'n'mouth is pretty benign. Imagine some sort of combination between mad cow and hoof'n'mouth - easily spread, humans get it from eating the animal, and brutalizes the food production industry.

    And hey, this still even leaves the option of using the TNT while the country is dealing with the food shortages.. double whammy.

  • Actually I think this premise is in the book "vector".
  • Tom, if you aim a boatload of big lasers at a bb size pellet of about anything, it gets DAMN hot ! The goal of the laser fusion program is to get the fuel compressed enough and hot enough to fuse!

  • Of the big 3 terrorist weapons, chemical, biological or nuclear, biological is the one that scares me the most. For a chemical attack, a fairly large ammount of material must be acquired and processed, and delivery to a significant portion of the population would be very difficult. The results would be terrible for the relatively few victims, but of marginal consequence for the nation. A nuclear attack would also be limited, unless a terrorist gained control of a significant portion of a nations nuclear forces. One bomb One city means that relativly few cities would be hit. A biological weapon??? you can brew it in a basement and for some pathogens, the victims can carry it around and infect quite a few other people before showing serious symptoms. If the proper venue for dispersal were chosen ( can you say Olympics?? Sure! ) you can affect a worldwide class of victims. There is much talk about the displaced Soviet nuclear engineers, and the threat that they pose for nuclear weapons. What about the similarly displaced Soviet bio-techs ? I read a novel with the premise of a Right-Wing militia type group using a former soviet biotechnician to brew up anthrax. It was a compelling read ( sorry I can't remember the name of it - I will look for it at home )

    meanwhile - hold your breath.

  • Here's some more info, from DoD, on bio-terrorism response. []
  • In a town where the major defense contractors can spin reality to match their 5 year business plan, what could the *real* reason be????? The real reason could be that the vendor who designed the simulation is the prime or a partner of the prime who intends to *help* us out of this mess. These are the same folks who hyped Y2K and then moved on to that awesome threat of hackers to our national security and now WMD looks like the next cash cow.

    My employer is a key player in our nations WMD response. For that reason (and because I am a mindless cow who read everything that is commented upon on slashdot) I read Living Terrors. I think it did a good job of helping the reader to envision the circumstances and aftermath of a bioterrorism event. After that, the authors agenda got so ridiculous that the train left the tracks. Right, lets put the MDs in charge in an civil emergency. I would like to watch that sitcom on TV. Also, as to accuracy, his 'facts' about my agency were incorrect and easily verifiable.

    If you want to know what the *real* reason is, find out the sponsor (senator/representative), the prime vendor and whose district they are from and find out who their paid lobbyists are.

    Inquiring and cynical minds want to know.
  • Ballistic missile defense against ICBMs is just a 21st century Maginot line. How many ballistic missles have been launched in anger against US territory? Zero. How many people have been killed by truck bombs or small-boat bombs against American targets abroad? Hundreds.

    The use of small terrorist cells to strike soft American targets abroad serves the purpose of rogue states much better than a clearly visible missile attack. Can the US retaliate for the bombing of the Cole? Only if we can figure out who did it. In the meantime, our influence is reduced in the Middle East because any U.S. military or diplomatic staff is reduced for security reasons.

    If Iraq launched a ballistic missile against the US with a weapon of mass destruction, we'd have a clear-cut casus belli, and could immediately embark on the military destruction of Saddam's regime. Fund a few wackos to sail a bomb-laden raft to the USS Cole? The US suffers a huge black eye and is reduced to complaining to the Yemenis that they aren't letting us investigate properly.

    For those of you too ignorant to remember, the Maginot line was a massive fortification France erected along the Franco-German border before WWII. It did hold up for a pretty long time against the eventual German attack. Unfortunately, that defensive effort took place while the main German force swept to Paris through the Low Countries, simply bypassing the Line.
  • No, what I am saying is that we ought to defend against threats according to their real likelihood, and the real costs of the defense.

    We assembled an extremely (multi-trillion dollar) expensive nuclear deterrent against the real threat posed by the Soviets (domination in Europe through intimidation of the US) who had thousands of missiles. That's proportionate. Spending hundreds of billions of dollars on something that has to run 24-7 around the world to protect against something that is just not likely to happen is not. That's even before considering the technical obstacles (e.g. anti-simulation decoys) that could make mid-course BMD fail in realistic cases anyway.

    If someone suggested we give billions of dollars to Tinkerbell to sprinkle pixie dust on the continental US to protect us from rogue states, they would be laughed at. So far, the proposed defenses don't amount to much more. It will take years of testing to prove otherwise.

    Are you seriously suggesting that the former USSR would sell ICBM's to the highest bidder? With targeting information? It's hard to believe the US wouldn't be able to identify the hardware by satellite imagery, and link it to the source. How could they be sure they weren't going to end up in the hands of Chechens, or some such? And why wouldn't they also sell sophisticated decoys to defeat BMD?

    I think Bin Laden is happy with things pretty much at the current level. Low enough that he can still raise funds and get protection from sympathetic Muslims, high enough to remain a hero to anti-Americans everywhere. Killing thousands of innocents on American territory would be beyond what the regional governments would tolerate. Killing hundreds while attacking infidel incursions into Muslim regions is more acceptable.
  • "but one would assume either someone wants more money to beef up defense or someone is looking for a new scare tactic for the next election."

    Or, maybe, they might just want to practice before the real thing happens.

  • They have stopped. If you are an "old" foggy like myself, then you are vaccinated. However, my children were not. The US keeps approx. 12 million units of the vaccine in storage for response to an outbreak.

    My name is not spam, it's patrick
  • "I can say that bioterrorism scares the shit out of me."

    Agreed. I had a biochemical expert from (name slips my mind at the moment, but it was a gov't agency) come and lecture to my class on the history of modern espionage, and the stuff he talked about was bone chilling. The ease with which anthrax and other agents can be grown in large quantities is startling, and distribution is as simple as a canister and a small commuter plane. And the US is woefully unprepared for such a disaster, with hospitals being private industry. I think the only nations that could possibly have a chance of dealing with a large bioterrorist act would be those with government subsized health care over in Europe. Even then the sheer quantity of people versus that of drugs or vaccines is bound to cause trouble.

    Detection methods, such as Portable Spectrometers, are researched and quite feasible, but according to our expert, they arent used everywhere the should/could be. As it stands, only severly Draconian measures could ensure national survival, but at the same time destroying national cohesion. While it is used as a buzz-word for defense spending, it is a very real and very deadly of the things that makes me not want to live near Washington DC and attend school near Baltimore..inviting targets there :-\
  • Scientists accidentally create [] a blueprint for biological weapons that can be used by any number of domestic terrorists who can deploy weapons that won't be stopped by any number of "missile defense sheilds".
  • If we want to find the BIO terrorists, we really only have to look in the mirror. [], is one example, but there are thousands of sites on this subject. Just do a google search on Monsanto to see the innumerable ways that they have screwed little farmers [] (who didn't even want their product, but were charged anyway when pollen from other fields spread to their lang.)

    If you are a US citizen then you already live in the ultimate BIO terrorist state baby.

  • A biological weapon??? you can brew it in a basement

    Never taken microbiology, have you? Keeping just the bugs you like alive without being eaten by other bugs, while maintaining sterile conditions around it is tricky. Think of chip-manufacturing clean-rooms and you get the idea. The budget required to keep such an operation successful is huge, even with a surplus of underpaid, talented Russian engineers on the market.

    I'll repeat the other posters who know what they're talking about - for your money, explosives are still by far your best bet. They will be for a very long time. There will certainly be more effective weapons produced, as per the Human Condition Algorithm:

    if(!extinct) {buildBetterWeapon()}

    But terrorists? Get real.

  • Those purple elefants are a greate point you made, but the rest... You see, no one in the rest of the world wants US defending them. It's just like that gun activists in your country - people must have the right to protect themselves. Or you would rather take the guns away, forget the 2nd Amendment and claim that the Government will protect them? And the Kyoto Accords have MUCH to do with this. As I see, Bush denouncing them acted (again and again) on behalf of corporate lobby, not the people. Nothing strange, nothing new. But the contamination of atmosphere is already causing global warming and climate change. I too believe that our stupid species will survive even the next ice formation period (or whatever this is in english), but not so our civilization. If you prefer living in igloo and eating raw fish for next several thousand years only to back your government's action, thats fine, but I'm not. (global warming according to recent studies CAN lead to change of ocean currents tracks, which will in turn cause unpredictible climate change, not excluding global ice formation (i.e. Antarctica-like climate for up to 55th parallel and more.))
  • If there was a slightest chance that your congressman ever notice a letter from Russia telling him/her what to and what not to do, i'd write it instantly. As there's no such chance, I personnaly urge you to write such a letter, hoping that the US will at last stop supporting totally corrupt, effectively crime state known as Russia, where I am being lucky to live. (it's being much more free than any of other G8 countries and many others, by the way, one just needs to adopt a lifestyle) And, well, while a good volcanic eruption can of course affect global temp to some extent, it won't nevertheless compare to total effect on environment cased by the US industry (not to mention US-sponsored, via transnational corporations). Having studied environmental engineerieng for 5.5 yrs, I'm now in serious doubt that even restrictions an order of magnitude stricter that Kioto's will significantly offset the harm what was done. We're doomed, pal. Let's have fun!
  • I've just recently stubmled upon this in some newspaper, the materials seem to have been declassiffied not so long ago and no one yet bothered to un a full-featured story. Don't think that there's something on the net. The SU was different country back then, they just put those drunkards back to where they belong and strengthened the system, no international incident, no outcry - nothing.
  • Now just remember how and why the cold war started in the first place.
  • It's real funny to watch all those idiotic claims like SDI revived, etc, rogue-countries, etc, when a 40-year-old design aircraft (sessna-like) can penetrate country's air defence for about 300 km a t least. Recently learned that in about mid-1970s two dead-drunk Finns flied 350 or so kilometers into (now former) Soviet Union, amnaged to reful at an Air Force airbase, and all attempts to intercept them failed.

    Now what it takes to launch an unmanned low-speed low-altitude recon craft (similar to those used in Gulf War), with a 50kg nuclear warhead (i.e. 15-50 Kt) or just a can of spores from an innocent-looking fishing vessel?

    Who would care to design, build, test ICBMs?

    And that's NOT to say of domestic terrorists.
  • Rare, yes. Unheard of, no.
    Think of places like Tokyo Subway system with Sarin Gas (Aum Shinrikyo cult - now nicely renamed and distancing themselves from Tokyo and Sarin).
    The think of bomb attacks - if Macveigh had been a biologist, what could he have done with (for example) an anthrax bomb? (Not hard to create - read "Cobweb" by Neal Stephenson for more details!) If other terrorist organisations (the IRA/Real IRA in the UK for instance) got into Biowar, it would be a lot nastier than most of us can imagine.
  • by jon_c ( 100593 )
    The company I work for (a biotech) makes machines which are being used to research chemical warfare defense and detection.

    The detection has to do with running assays on the air for certain properties, considering that our product uses micro-beads to analyze the results, I don't really understand out that would work; fill the air with micro-beads and reagents?

    The defense is an idea where the army could deploy trucks with out device attached, the idea is that we can quickly test men for signs of some airborne decease's, anthrax for example.

  • I'm just glad that someone is thinking about things like this and not ignoring them in favor of the huge threat (sarcasm) from rogue missles.

    GW has done a marvelous job of not getting us all killed by our allies yet but he's working hard at it. The entire missle defense idea is lunacy if we follow GWs thinking (or not-thinking). We have a treaty with other nations that says we won't do this. IF we do then we are breaking a treaty. I don't know about you but whenever I break a treaty in Civilization someone attacks my ass. Has GW even played Civilization? Maybe he should. I heard a reporter on NPR the other day say "if the US were to unilaterally abrogate the ABM treaty then in the eyes of the rest of the world the US would be a rogue nation." aint that some shit. for a minute there i though i was the only one that thought breaking treaties was a bad idea. I don't care if we are the richest most powerful nation in the world. if we break a treaty that makes us assholes. Its bad enough that most of the world is pissed that we won't be backing the Kyoto accords. Jesus I can't wait for the next election. I don't care what GW does as president so long as he stop making us all look like the arrogant asshole that most of the world already thinks we are.

    finally who are these rogue threats we're worried about? Korea? if GW doesn't do something stupid (I have every confidence he will) then madeleine and Bill did a pretty good job of setting us on the road to a peaceful conclusion to the N.Korea problem. Iraq? iraq can't tie its own shoes. they don't have shoes. They are not a threat. Milosevic? hard to puch a button from behind bars. again not a threat. Pakistan or India? again not a worry. They have enough fun hating each other to worry about hating us too. lastly Iran? Iran wants coke and McDonalds as much as the rest of the world. Everyday they grow closer and closer to being better adjusted members of the world community. And don't forget these rogue nations wouldn't hate us so much if not for our meddling where we don't belong. The US has been for too long the stranger on a street that decides he knows more about how I should argue with my girlfriend than I do. Nobody like that kind of guy. These nations (some of them) have good reason to hate us. Iran started hating us when we decided they couldn't choose their own government. We'd be in a different situation now if France had felt the same way in 1776. I'll climb down off my soapbox now.
  • marginally succesful? tell that to the japanese that died. financially strapped bands? Osama is loaded and has tons of willing followers ready to die for the cause. I would think it would be tons easier to infect one of those followers with anthrax then smuggle him into New York than it would be to steal a missle. You can't hide a missle under your overcoat. Its a god damn missle! Anthrax you can hide inside yourself and if you can keep yourself from puking on the plane and not dying until you get to LaGuardia you can kill tons of people that will just spread around the world in days.
  • From experience, I can safely say that most of the central states aren't real nice to live in unless you like large tracks of barren land.
    IIRC, there's one major technology player in the area, Creative Labs has a building out in Stillwater, OK. Not exactly a techs greatest job market, of course, not many places are currently.
  • Even without a terrorist threat, planning for the next pague is smart. Just in case the man starts stuffing dead monkey carcases up his bum and catches a nasty new virus and decides to take a trip to the US on his anus-mobile.
  • The "scare tactic for the next election" thing strikes me as a bit funny, too. He's got three years to go, and I doubt hyping bioterrorism until Nov 2004 will be extremely effective with the public. And remember, GHW Bush was very popular coming out of the Gulf War, and did that get him another term?
  • Actually, I believe it's better expressed as

    if(!extinct) {fork(); buildBetterWeapon();}

  • seems like security agencies are always trying to scare up a little extra money for defense funding.

    the amount of man and brain power required to actually execute a bioterrorist attack is so far out of scale with the amount of damage that can be caused vs. say, a U-Haul full of dynamite ... the report looks more like a hard-sell to politicians than anything else.

    scary? yes. realistic? no.

  • I certainly agree that the CDC should be the responsible agency; it makes sense for the reasons you point out. The point is that as it currently stands nobody is officially in charge. AFAIK there isn't even a simple policy that says that the CDC is in charge and can ask for manpower help from the military if things get really hairy. That's indicative of the general level of planning and thought that's gone into defense against biological weapons, and I find that scary.

  • I frankly think its dangerous reliance on wishful thinking...

    I don't even think that it's being thought of even at that level; it's not clear to me whether the advocates of BMD even care if it's possible. The goal is to spend a big chunk of cash on an expensive military project, and the prospects of developing a useful system out of it are secondary. Spending money on expensive military projects like this has three big benefits from the point of view of its advocates:

    1. It shovels lots of money into the pockets of their friends in the Military/Industrial complex. You know that some of that money is going to find its way back into somebody's campaign fund.
    2. It siphons money away from other potential uses, like social programs. I'm not sure why these people hate social programs so much, but it clearly isn't a general distaste for the government given how much they like using government money and power to further their own agendas
    3. It gives them a big flag to wave at the next elections. There's nothing like blasting your opponent for not wanting to protect motherhood and apple pie to garner a few votes.

    To meet these goals a project must be emotionally compelling, expensive, and far enough from being successful that you can keep throwing money at it for a long time. I'd say that BMD meets them pretty well. There's nothing like the threat of a city or two being blasted to provide emotional appeal (and forget about other ways that a bomb could be transported to them). Anything having to do with space is going to be god-awful expensive. BMD is also great in that you can almost always show some results (See! We were able to hit a missile when we knew when and where it was coming and it didn't have countermeasures.) but a system that can handle realistic threats will likely remain out of reach for the forseeable future. It's a big hole that you can keep shoveling money into forever while bashing anyone who complains that doing so it pointless.

  • Let's be realistic, folks. Biological terrorism is the newest scare tactic. While the potential for serious danger is obviously there... frankly this _does_ sound like the prep work for asking for more defense money.

    As somebody who's worked in the field (I did some work on detection systems) I can say that bioterrorism scares the shit out of me. It's something that's much more easily within the reach of a private organization than nuclear weapons, can cause a lot of damage, and would be very tough to stop once it got underway. It's also something that has not been adequately planned for, IMO, to the point that there's not even a reasonable idea about who would be in charge of dealing with it if it did happen.

    OTOH, reasonable contingency planning and research into detection systems are not terribly expensive; my guess is that they're currently spending substantially less every year on bioterrorism than on one of those stupid anti-missile tests (as if a "Rogue" state would use a missile instead of smuggling a warhead into the country on a ship). Some simple precautions would not cost much, on the grand scale of things, while substantially helping the current woeful situation.

  • Actually its a little tougher then this, however you could ship the chemicals to make your own. Of course you have to create anthrax that has the correct spore sixe. Too little or too big it has no effect. This happened in japan befor the verve gas on the subway incident. some dump a bunch of anthrax into tokyo, but the spores where to big.
  • Having run similiar simulations, I can assure you it is realistic. God help us if some creates an airborn eboli. we will all die. this is not an overstatement. Using small pox for this simulation was pretty typical, and is well known.
  • I would imagine they used small pox because it is a well known contagen. really the only hope of the country survivng is to isolate people, maintain the highest measures to keep the military intact,ramp up vaccine production under military control(millions would still die befors production really gets going, but it would still save some), close down our borders and shoot down any vessal attempting to enter.
    Harsh? yes. But extinction is harsher.
  • Actually your money would be best spent in global covert mission to seek out people doing this.
    Small pox was used in the simulation because so much is known about it, and there is little vaccine.
    There are many other biologicals then small pox, and it would be impossible to know in advance how to make the particular vaccine.
  • Exactly. Sometimes it just feels like all the catastrophy movies (or even the good old Bond-movies with evil satellites that send virus pods to earth) have created these images in peoples' minds, images that stick so well as to make these scenarios somehow relevant and compelling. They must have something similar to what urban legends have, something so intriguing and interesting that people forget to objectively think about situation.

    One more thing is that another drawback for diseases is the feedback; you can be quite sure your precious little Ebola-infection will reach terrorists home country in few weeks (if not before). And somehow I think not all terrorists are Hollywood variety of wild-eyed raving lunatics that really just aim at highest number of people dead in the most horrible way possible. Oftentimes it seems to be more about publicity (which is of course not to defend terrorism in any way or form).

    Finally... if a terrorist group got to choose whether to (a) kill president of USA or (b) kill 100.000 Joe Sixpack americans, which one do you think they'd choose? You can do one of these with firearms, for the other nuclear bomb would be more appropriate (and like you say, the best way for terrorists to get a bomb would be to steal an existing one... perhaps easiest to just get access and enough knowledge to detonate one where it's stored; should be close enough to some decent target, like army camp)

  • I wasn't implying nukes would be the way to go (or ICBMs), agree with you there. And yes, of the weapons of mass-destruction, chemical ones do seem most applicable (and the only one that has ever been 'succesfully' field-tested in Japan?). And finally, nerve gases are pretty old stuff (developed on early 20th century and used on 1st world war)... But since 'early adoption', haven't been used by armies, not even by Nazi-Germany.

    I still wouldn't think that even chem attacks are as viable as more traditional methods, but at least they are marginally more believable than the 'alternatives' presented. But why use chem weapons? Any Joe Six-pack can shoot a rifle (and assault rifle is easier), it doesn't take a genius to build bombs (much less to detonate). It is still much more effort in all respects to mess with 'more advanced' stuff. And with chemical warfare, the results are not necessarily much more wide-spreading than with explosives.

  • Read: I tried to think why you are wrong but couldn't think of anything, but I'll flame on anyway.
  • About McVeigh... The question is, if he could have, would he have? Bio/chem-warfare are old ideas, something armies have practically abandoned (except for Iraq and perhaps some other rogue nations) as impractical. I'm not so sure terrorists would consider them more practical either. The sarin gas attack is about the only example, and that probably should hint at impracticality... And it had to be carried out in a carefully selected location to make it more likely to succeed (poor ventilation to make sarin levels toxic enough to kill fast... I know, nerve gases are designed to not need big concentrations, but still).
  • I firmly belive this scenario is far more compelling and dangerous then rogue nuclear missiles - check out my review of Living Terrors for more information.

    And I firmly believe it's a typical straw man. Nuclear, chemical, biological... Big countries with fat armies can and do develop them; for terrorists good old explosives are much more cost-effective. In this case I'm kind of wondering what kind of (bio-)gas are military (and some political) leaders have been inhaling.

    Why on earth would a terrorist group waste their resources on complicated/expensive (nuclear, ballistic missiles), error prone and unreliable (biological) or combination of both (chem) "weapons"?!?!

    Biological attacks are (at least on current level) probably the most highly overrated threats of them all, though. It not only includes risky feed-back property of nuclear stuff (you think your disease will stay in enemy territory for long?), and either slow-incubating ineffective (low lethality) aspects (like HIV) or fast and kind of effective disease that quickly runs out of steam (Ebola). Its only perceived benefit is that "it's scary stuff!", kind of whizz-bang - factor of warfare. Bit like nerve gases, except less effective, and harder to control. But seems to sell real well.

    So, here's the scenario: terrorist groups are delighted to see da Big Nation wastes its resources on fighting straw-men, and at same time plan new ways to stick more good ole TNT up Uncle Sam's ass (usually abroad as it's easier that way).

  • In light of this, I really do wonder what the point of the missile defense is supposed to be. Why would a rogue state fire a very easily tracked missile at the country with the largest--operational--nuclear and most powerful military? Even crazy leaders know that the US response to such an attack would be overwhelming, vindictive and thorough. I don't think so. Even if you had a state with nuclear weapon and a serious grudge, they'd look for a non traceable way to deliver it. Say, like putting it in a container on a ship set to detonate within a couple of miles of port. Then again, why bother with a nuke when you can do something like release plague infected rats in large city? Of course bombs of any kind have a significant terror factor.

  • I wonder how many of the analysts who put this together were scolded about too much roleplaying games when they were teenagers? In the eighties they were demon worshipping geeks, now they're high level security advisors. Although I'd guess that this crowd was more into the Avalon Hills games than D&D.

  • Hmmm...I actually think that money we are spending on missile defense is better spent on disease control (aka public health) anyways.

    Making massive lethal doses of anthrax or some other airborne contagion is pretty easy. That is probably the reason some folks refer to biological weapons as "a poor man's nuke". Basically, all you need is a home brewing kit and some know-how. Well, bottling and transporting could be a bit more risky...

    However, the smallpox scenario is pretty unlikely, but smallpox is an easily recognized disease. The "S" word is enough to make anyone's ears pop up. Better than anthrax (too many people might think that is a band or a bug spray).

    Realistically, if the event were to happen in the US, anybody who has ever had US military service would be unaffected. Anyone vaccinated prior to, oh, about 10-15 years ago would also likely be unaffected. As for everyone else, getting cowpox ain't that hard (that IS the vaccine, btw). Find a farmer or rancher.

    Now, anthrax, that would be easy to make and spread around. Not much you can do about vaccinating either (limited effect and duration). Problem is that the stuff lives in the soil forever. Not a big deal if you are a terrorist, I suppose.

    Plague, though, now that could be made just as easily, and vaccination lasts for quite a while. Different types of plagues with different types of vectors (bubonic is just one...there is another that is spread airborne, and is more lethal). That is where the DoD scenario would really hit the fan, since AFAIK the vaccine only lasts for about 10 years, and most folks never go back for a booster unless they study bats or other stuff like that for a living. Hmmm...maybe I should get shot again, but that stuff hurts like heck.

  • These two things scare the heck out of me. Want to ship some plutonium across the country? You're going to have a good bit of paperwork to fill out. Want to ship some anthrax? Fill out a UPS bill and maybe put a biohazard sticker on the side (it may not be this easy, but this is what I've been told). Given the potential damage a biological organism could cause if it were introduced into a major population center, I really hope something comes of this.
  • It has already happened in Japan : the sarin gas attack [] in spring 1995 in the metro in Tokyo. If it can happen in Japan, it certainly can happen anywhere in the US and other countries.

    Although this event was very high profile because of the way the perpetrators operated (suicide-style operation in a dense metro line), actions like putting micro-organisms or poisons in the water reserves of a city, for example, are much more likely to happen and would create massive losses of lives. The frightening thing is, it takes guts to go in a metro station and release gas, but it doesn't take any to pollute water, any crackpot could do that and pretty surely get away with it.

  • by nick_davison ( 217681 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @05:38PM (#63909)
    For those governments with money to invest but no desire to go to the trouble of inventing their own biological weapons, here's an easier way to bring down the US government...

    1. Buy Monsanto.
    2. Do nothing. (See 3)
    3. Monsanto's god awful care of limiting the spread of its genes mixed with stupid patent law should ensure that within a few years you 'own' the entire US harvest. []
    4. Charge through the nose for basic crops/refuse to supply them unless the government does as they're told.

    Wait a moment, that is what Monsanto's doing. Silly me. Still, so long as we spend money worrying about external threats, who needs to worry about fixing the laws to protect from external ones.

  • W. wants to rehash Cold War treaties and technologies. Lotta good anti-missile-missles are when you can carry a hairspray can on the NYC Subway and kill hundreds. Maybe we can get an Dewline of Syringes up in northern Canada, eh?

    All your .sig are belong to us!

  • An earlier poster observed that the government shouldn't spend money on defending us from just one threat, but that's all most politicians (and the public) can concentrate on at once. This is not a slight tward politicians or the public. It's mere mob psychology. Some lobying group paid for the development of the scenerio, in order to (rightly or wrongly) convince the public and thereby politicians thar there is something more important to spend money on than ABM, and realistically, I would agree with them, although that doesn't take away from the fact that the thing was probably generated as a media and lobying ploy.

    It's a sad comentary on the American condition that it takes demonstrations like this to get the attention of our elected leaders and the public (through the gigantic media machine that we've allowed to be created over the past 50 years).


  • So they spend money on -gasp- pure research. Good luck getting funding from a VC for R&D that will probably not pay out in the short term (if at all). If the Army has money for this kind of thing, more power to those still trying to scrape together a living in the BioChem / MicroBiology field.

    For the same reason, more power to the next gen star wars - or even a Mars mission for that matter... beats them blowing cash on the really wierd stuff that defines "pork barrel".

  • Speaking of Anthrax - I remember a while back they found live spores after they soaked Anthrax in bleach and burried it. Could not find the NYT link, but did find this [] which talks a bit about the Russian site.

    We think folks might have displaced a little radioactive fuel / warhead- it is way to easy to "lose" this type of payload.

  • Take a look at [] if you are interested in some scary - not ment to be fiction - reading.
  • and I'm going to play them back without telling anyone they're fake and scare the shit out of my kids
    Being a Dad can be loads of fun sometimes
  • I for one think that this is nonsense. Bioterrorism poses some serious challenges to the would-be terrorist. It is technically extremely difficult and costly. In fact, it has been attempted befure (Aum Shinreikio had tried 5 bioterrorism and 4 chemical attacks before actually being marginally successful with the Sarin Gas attack in the Tokio subway). That money is precious to terrorist organizations and would be hard to come by.

    Think of the amount of damage if Aum Shinreikio had been using conventional explosives! Chemical and biological weapons do not make compelling weapons of mass distruction by small financially-strapped bands...

    At least until the price of biotech labs comes down the real threats are conventional and computer oriented. That is where we should be focusing our energy.

    As far as nuclear terrorism goes, it would, I think, be a greater threat because if one warhead could be procured (though theft) and, say, detonated in the heart of the Smithsonian Institute, the results would be disasterous... Moreso than any chemical or biological attack that could be currently executed.

    But still, this is unlikely. The real threats come from small groups who do not have extravagant funding or scientific resources. As such conventional explosives are the largest threat, with virus-based attackes (computer--) as the second largest.

    Sig: Tell all your friends NOT to download the Advanced Ebook Processor:

  • If there is only one dose of smallpox vaccine for every 23 Americans, whom do you vaccinate? he asked.

    Evidently someone has not studied their medical history. Smallpox has a number of less nasty relatives which could probably be easily procured (swinepox, cowpox, etc.)-- not as effective as a vaccine but helpful. In fact that is where vaccines originally came from. THe cowpox virus was discovered by Dr. Edward Jenner in the 19th century (I think) and named Vaccinia (from the Latin for cow). He used it as a replacement for smallpox innoculations and was able to demonstrate that it was at least as effective and much more safe.

    In other words, ignorance of history is the biggest enemy here because it makes people not see ways to prevent an epidemic.

    However, I agree with you when you say,

    the amount of man and brain power required to actually execute a bioterrorist attack is so far out of scale with the amount of damage that can be caused vs. say, a U-Haul full of dynamite ... the report looks more like a hard-sell to politicians than anything else.

    Sig: Tell all your friends NOT to download the Advanced Ebook Processor:

  • Osama is loaded and has tons of willing followers ready to die for the cause. I would think it would be tons easier to infect one of those followers with anthrax then smuggle him into New York than it would be to steal a missle.

    At the cost of millions of dollars, assuming that you could hire ex-soviet scientists to make your attack actually work. Lab equipment, supplies, etc. are not free and, in fact, they are usually expensive. Bioterrorism would not be a trivial undertaking even for a large band of terrorists.

    Conventional explosives are simply more a more effective means of killing people and making your point (not that I am advocating terrorism).

    Sig: Tell all your friends NOT to download the Advanced Ebook Processor:

  • However, the point of terrorism is not how much actual damage can be done, but the mental impact it has. Suppose that Group X claims it has put a bio agent the the resovoir that supplies your town's water. Are you going to get a glass of water from the tap? Just for credability maybe they did put some in the water in the next state over but the Authorities say that it wasn't enough to do any real harm. Now what about the claim for dumping in your water? Scared yet? I was in the grocery store watching on the night of 12/30/99, they were bringing bottled water out on pallets and it went like _snap_ and it was all gone.

    Good points. However, the logical extension of your argument is that the hype about bioterrorism could actually mean that it doesn't have to be a real attack... It seems that the truth of the matter would be better security than claiming that it is a great threat...

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  • Actually, a smart terrorist/rogue government would go after the food supply rather than the population. A fast spreading plant virus or blight would either seriously damage or even wipe out the food supply in one growing season. And if the government sponsoring the terrorist were smart, they would have already engineered thier own crops to be resistant to the blight.

    You might be right, but it would still cost too much to be really attractive. Also a diverse set of crops would mean that the damage would be there but not enough to cause famine, and to attack all crops would simply be WAY beyond the means of any hostile foreign country, not to mention terrorist band.

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  • Ok, so if it has happened before, why won't it happen again? You can't just say "well, I think it's too expensive for terrorists (none of which I know anything about) to use biological weapons to attack an enemy. That's about as bad as saying "Well, most terrorist groups don't have much money, so the chances of them buying nuclear weapons is slim, so let's not even consider the chances of someone trying to nuke New York.."

    My point was that these were sort of as effective as Germany's early attempts of WWI Chemical warfare. In WWI, Germany had experimented with placing sneezing powder in shrapnel shells in order to state that the weapons were not in violation of international law (which prohibited asphyxiants or irritants as the sole agents delifered by artillery shells). The results were quite interesting. Evidently no one considered that in order to be affected by the sneezing powder, you would have to be close enough for the scharpnel to be effective... In fact, the British never knew that chemical agents were used in this manner until after the war...

    Aum Shinreikio tried to use biological agents and did so without infecting any known victims. They tried various schemes of chemical warfare and eventually resorted to carrying Sarin gas in airtight plastic bags and puncturing them with their umbrellas. I think 8 were killed (more would have been killed with conventional explosives).

    My point is that making something dire happen here is almost impossible.

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  • by Schpoonk ( 243228 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @02:55PM (#63928) Homepage
    AAA++++ seller!!! Would definitely buy from again!! Shipped immediately, no fuss!! Highly recomm....ack! <clunk>
  • So the question is, is this a real threat?

    Does it warrant more money in the area of defense?

    The Lottery:
  • Frank Herbert book where a biophysicist(!?), distraught over the death of his wife at the hands of IRA terrorists, develops a bug to hit them back. He spreads it by spraying it on currency, and mailing it to the target nations.

    While the bugs would have to be rather hardy to live on currency for any period of time, if it could be managed, it would be one heck of a way to spread - particularly if you used $100 bills (the most numerous type in existance, and the most widely used of the US currencies outside of the US).

  • I have seen this before. It's called "The Stand" and is a book from Stephen King.
    There are lots of books and movies about this matter.
    What really surprises me is that only now (after all the books, movies and publicity about Biological Warfare) the Lawmakers are starting to think about it.
    Planning ahead ? I don't think so. Only in the sense that nobody tried it yet. But the idea has been around for a long time.

  • Bullshit. Since R. M. Nixon official banned production of and research into biological weapons in the United States in 1972 (73?) USAMRID (US Army Medidical Reasearch for Infectious Diseases -- Pronounced You-Sam-Rid) has been the nations epicenter for research into Biological weapons prevention. Of course, only the army works on it. While both the CDC and USAMRID have the facilities to work with dangerous bugs, only USAMRID has the clout necessary and the internal connections to get their findings listened to.

    This has been another useless post from....
  • I suppose the starwars-as-instrument-of-world-dominion scenario plausible, but it attributes a level of cleverness the missile defense advocates that is to me implausible. There is plenty of historical precedent for people undertaking absurd projects out narcissistic confidence their own infallibility.

    There you go.... think of missile defence as the high tech equivilient of the Maginoit Line :-)

    This has been another useless post from....
  • I'd like to know a whole lot more about the basis of this computer simulation, because from the article it sounds like statistics and science are very quickly abandoned in favor of an "oh my god!" societal collapse scenario.

    The above is a link to a PDF file of a report by the Henry L. Stimson Center that concludes that the threat of chemical and biological terrorism have been represented as much more serious than they actually are. It is the result of 2 years of research. We have many choices to make as a society and we better be damn sure we're making them based on the best information. The doom scenario is scarier and sexier so it gets the press and the alarming books written about it: I recommend this report strongly to anyone that wants to hear the other side. The bottom line is it is far from "easy" to make effective chemical or biological weapons, and their effectiveness is not nearly what some claim.

    This being said, it is also true that we should be bolstering our systems to deal with epidemics of infectious diseases in general. This is an area that gets frequently neglected in public funding of science and health care, and by nature it is an issue where when your REALLY need it, it's too late to prepare.

    So by all means, lets make an integrated and practical approach to beefing up our defenses to empidemics a national priority, but let's do so with an eye towards the full range of likely and pragmatic scenarios - the preponderance of which have nothing to do with terrorism or warfare.

  • by snake_dad ( 311844 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @03:09PM (#63943) Homepage Journal
    Not another virus related article..

  • It is possible to innoculate yourself with a live strain of smallpox. That is how it was done a long time ago. The process is somewhat umpleasant and occasionally has that "Nasty Horrible Death" side-effect, but it could be a pragmatic option under the scenario described (not that I'd want to try it). I'm sure things would still get all buggered for a while though ....

You know, Callahan's is a peaceable bar, but if you ask that dog what his favorite formatter is, and he says "roff! roff!", well, I'll just have to...