A New Kind Of War: Biowarfare And Info WARFARE
Hwa A. Lim, Genetically Yours, Bioinforming, biopharming, and biofarming, (World Scientific Publishing Co., River Edge, New Jersey, USA, 2002), Chapter 13.
“One hundred kilograms of anthrax spores could wipe out am entire city in one go. It is only a matter of time before bioterrorists strike.”
- Robert Taylor, Bioterrorism Special Report: All Fall Down, New Scientists, September 19, 1998.
1A New Kind Of War
The full effects of the horrendous September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center Towers in New York City are still to be felt. During the two fiscal quarters prior to the incident, the United States had been experiencing economic downturn. The September 11 incident exacerbated the gloomy outlook.
Since the end of the Cold War, the Western world has been experiencing an unaccustomed respite from the fears of large-scale violence. No longer do the two superpowers – United States and the Soviet Union – appear ready to bury civilization under a barrage of nuclear missiles. Military analysts warn that we should now be on our guard against a new type of savagery that kills civilians but spares their homes and offices, strikes without warning, and against which there may be no defense. What is more, this threat requires no radically new technology. The laboratories of academia and the biotechnology industry indirectly contribute to its development. The threat is bioterrorism.
Many experts say that it is no longer a question of whether a major bioterrorist attack will occur, but when. When is now. The United States is currently besieged by bioterrorism. For now, the bioagents is anthrax, spread by the U.S. postal system.
Yet hitherto, people understand natural calamities – earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes; people understand man-made destructions – explosions, buildings collapsing, viruses and worms on computers; but very few understand chemical and biological weapons. Not everyone lives or works in tall buildings, not everyone travels on airplanes, not everyone has access to the Internet. But everyone receives mail - important mail, much reviled junk mail, unwelcome bills, and now mail laced with deadly agents.
In the terrifying anthrax maelstrom within weeks after September 11, 2001, the mail system has been swept to the center of the vortex. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the U.S. government has sought to drop bombs on and inserting elite ground troops into Afghanistan. So far the pay off has been little. Instead, the U.S. is not only being forced to play defense, but also to play on its home court, whether by the enemy apparent, or by some other unknown parties. The frontline soldiers in the war on terrorism were supposed to be in protective vests, well armed, well trained and well protected. Instead, the battlefield has turned out to be the postal facilities, where workers are girded in nothing more than blue slacks, short sleeve shirts, and shoes.
The U.S. Postal Service handles more than 200 billion pieces of mail per year or 600 million pieces per day. Its efforts to calm the fear of its 800,000 employees, and the 7 million Americans who visit the post office daily have been far from satisfactory. For a few of the employees, it is postal mortem. For a few of the customers, it is death on arrival. For many, it is mass hysteria.
In a fundamental way, the recent events unfolding in the United States of America have transformed the country into the United States of Anxiety. The anxiety is very different from the risks that we are used to facing – the risk of getting cancer, the risk of dying in an automobile accident, the risk of our kids getting hurt playing in the neighborhood – because in all these cases, we as a nation can fundamentally change the odds.1
Daniel Creson, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Medical School and a veteran of many disaster relief efforts, describes response to fear as a two-prong phenomenon. The daylight (understanding of what is previously puzzling), rational part of the brain is full of reassurance, but the deeper, instinctual part is not so sure! Even when we are outwardly calm, we are inwardly anxious. Reasons get set aside. Reinforcers of the emotional response surround the public, and rumors run rampant. The psychological impact of chemical or biological weapon is much greater than the physical impact.
Anthrax is not contagious, but fear is. As America learned of new cases of anthrax within weeks after September 11, 2001, an epidemic of vulnerability and panic spread. It was an epidemic with apparent physical symptoms, some of which even wears striking resemblance to early anthrax. In reality, they may portend an outbreak of mass psychogenic or sociogenic illness, more often known as mass hysteria. Mass hysteria emerges from a largely or completely baseless belief that produces ill effect on the mind or the body.2
We are warned to watch out for flu-like symptoms of anthrax just as we head into the flu season, a disease that hits 95 million Americans each year and could still kill about 20,000 annually, more than anthrax might. Combine the current crop of mixed messages, the coming flu season - early anthrax symptoms resemble flu, and continuing terrorist threats, the result may be a truly debilitating epidemic of mass hysteria.
3High Tech, Low Tech And No Tech
A few hundred kilograms of a properly ‘weaponized’ bacterial preparation, carefully dried and milled to a precise particle size, has the potential to wipe out the inhabitants of an entire city in a single strike. A nuclear bomb in the hands of a deranged person has long been the stuff of nightmares, but the materials needed to make such a device are hard to obtain and exceedingly tricky to assemble. Biological weapons are not nearly so difficult to manufacture, though making them into a form for mass destruction may be quite involved.
Biological weapons have been with us for more than half a century, but military commanders consider them too unpredictable and slow-acting, preferring the touch-of-a-button reliability of explosives. What is more, the international condemnation that the use of biological weapons would provoke gives any rational military strategist pause. Biological weapons were also an unlikely choice for most politically inspired terrorist organizations. Traditionally, political terror groups were trying to get a seat at a negotiation table and to establish the legitimacy of their cause. That goal would not be met by resorting to bioterrorism.
Even so, terrorist experts have feared that the probability of a surprise biological attack on an unprotected city had increased. Many point to a new brand of terrorism - epitomized by Aum Shinrikyo - that lacks the restraints imposed by a political agenda. These are those who do not seem to care about establishing legitimacy, but just want to strike a blow in anger and kill as many people as possible.