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June 2002 Rev: Oct 2005

In terms of cost, ability to reach target, and killing ability, bacteria and viruses have no peer in the arsenal of terrorist weapons. In terms of collateral damage, certain bacteria like plague and smallpox are zero sum games in that they ultimately infect both sides. Fortunately, bioweapons have, so far, had more bark than bite.

Bioweapons may be used against both the animal and plant kingdoms. In terms of economic loss, vegetation may be more vulnerable. Infestations are less obvious and take longer to express themselves. For these reasons they are not attractive to terrorists who want big bangs and instant notoriety. A more determined group with a long view of things would attack in all ways possible.

In January 2003, seven terrorists in London were detained for possession of ricin, a poison said to be more deadly than cobra venom. It agglutinates red corpuscles. Manufactured from castor beans and pods, it is a white powder.

Anthrax Attack

Authorities in and out of government now agree that the anthrax-by-mail assault following the Trade Center bombing was an inside job, perpetrated by someone related to federal programs on anthrax. The evidence is compelling. The spores were highly refined and their genetic signature point to a single source in a US laboratory. Logic requires the attacker either be a US citizen or have close ties to the US programs.

Since anthrax-by-mail was a new concept in action, it is not surprising that the responsible agencies were caught flat-footed. That feature caused some controversy, as the last thing bureaucrats want is criticism, especially when it has some justification in the eyes of the public. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg was an early and outspoken critic and was the first to profile the anthrax attacker. She is an environmental-science professor at State University of New York with long experience in bioweaponry. She also supported strengthening the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) protocol in Geneva in 2001. The United States walked away from this protocol recently.

Professor Rosenberg's outspoken style has won her few friends in government, but even her detractors admit that she pushed the FBI forward in its hunt for the perpetrator. Shades here of Colleen Rowley.

Some Useful Links

Centers for Disease Control
Possible Bioterror Agents
Short Course in Microbiology


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