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Thread: Assessing the Biological Weapons and Bioterrorism Threat

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    Default Assessing the Biological Weapons and Bioterrorism Threat

    Assessing the Biological Weapons and Bioterrorism Threat - Milton Leitenberg. US Army Strategic Studies Institute monograph, December 2005. It is nearly 15 years since biological weapons (BW) have become a significant national security preoccupation. This occurred primarily due to circumstances occurring within a short span of years. First was the official U.S. Government suggestion that proliferation of offensive BW programs among states and even terrorist groups was an increasing trend; second was the discovery, between 1989 and 1992, that the Union USSR had violated the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) since its ratification in 1975 by building a massive covert biological weapons program; third was the corroboration by the UN Special Commission in 1995 that Iraq had maintained a covert biological weapons program since 1974, and had produced and stockpiled large quantities of agents and delivery systems between 1988 and 1991; and, fourth was the discovery, also in 1995, that the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo group, which had carried out the nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway system, also had spent 4 years attempting—albeit unsuccessfully—to produce and disperse two pathogenic biological agents. The distribution of professionally prepared anthrax spores through the U.S. postal system in the weeks afterwards September 11, 2001, magnified previous concerns by orders of magnitude. In December 2002, after U.S. forces had overrun much of the territory of Afghanistan, it was discovered that the al-Qaida organization also had spent several years trying to obtain the knowledge and means to produce biological agents. These new factors shifted the context in which BW was considered almost entirely to “bioterrorism.” Within 4 years, almost $30 billion in federal expenditure was appropriated to counter the anticipated threat. This response took place in the absence of virtually any threat analysis. The purpose of this monograph is to begin to fill that gap.

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    The Challenge of Biological Terrorism: When to Cry Wolf, What to Cry, and How to Cry It
    ...the fact remains, however, that anyone approaching the subject of bioterrorism still has to be extremely careful about "crying wolf." The fact a threat exists does not define the kind of response that is needed, the priority it should be given, and the level of investment in time, expertise, and money that is required. It is all too easy to "cry wolf" in a post-9/11 world, but the risk of biological terrorism is only one more risk among thousands of other risks that affect human society.

    Triage is just as essential an element of counterterrorism as it is of medicine and public health policy. In a world where car and truck bombs can kill over 100 people without warning on a crowded street, and where there are so many other competing priorities for government action, one has to be extremely careful about giving any given threat priority over the others, and even more careful about what to call for in terms of public policy. The years since 9/11 have shown that it is far easier to throw money at a problem than it is to solve one, and it is far easier to focus noisily on the worst case than it is to produce credible risk assessments...

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    Threats Watch, 10 Mar 08: Focusing on the "Right" Biological Threat
    There is an on-going debate about the threat of bio-terrorism and the roles that natural or manmade biologicals might play. Some believe that the attention being paid to man-made pathogens (or the so-called “designer” pathogens) is misplaced and leaves the greater population open to a greater threat, those from the natural world.

    So, has the preoccupation with artificial microbes created a situation in which the government has focused more on a broad-spectrum approach to immunity instead of a “one-bug-one-drug” approach? How real is the threat posed by these synthetic germs? According to Michael Kurilla, the Director of Office of Biodefense Research Affairs at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, ‘Mother Nature is the most dangerous terrorist. The microbial world is almost unlimited in its [terrorist] potential.”

    However, despite the emergence of new diseases like SARS and the H5N1 bird flu (pandemic flu), he is also concerned about the threat caused by developments in synthetic biology and the possibility that either rogue scientists or bio-terrorists could duplicate some of this laboratory work and use the product(s) against society.....

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    Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 23 May 08: The Expanding Range of Biowarfare Threats
    Scientists are developing new substances at the cross section of biology and chemistry--such as peptide bioregulators--that could be used to incapacitate and kill. These substances defy the typical biochemical threat spectrum that includes microbial pathogens such as the anthrax bacterium and toxins such as botulinum. In The Body’s Own Bioweapons, Jonathan B. Tucker, a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, documents this research and its impact on existing arms controls. Below, Tucker and his three fellow discussants continue the debate about the impact of these new lethal and incapacitating agents and suggest ways to discourage their development....
    Last edited by Jedburgh; 05-24-2008 at 11:52 AM.

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    Default Now this is a statement with which I can wholeheartedly agree.

    Mother Nature is the most dangerous terrorist. The microbial world is almost unlimited in its [terrorist] potential

    Bioengineering pathogens is at the extremes of our abilities (man’s that is) we have recently 'created life' from scratch for the first time. This was a fairly big deal but all we did was manufacture some DNA to match that of another organism, we do not know enough to make even minor changes to the genetic sequence and be able to predict the effects. The money thrown at bio-terrorism has had two effects (well three if you include that it was diverted from some where it might have done more good) firstly it has probably increased the threat to US citizens from dangerous biological agents by vastly increasing the number of US labs licensed to work with dangerous pathogens. There has, naturally enough, been a commensurate increase in the number of lab accidents, researchers infected etc. (link to post on Texas A&M University lab failures that eventually made the CDC do something). The second, and beneficial effect, of bio-terrorism research has been the fact that a lot of it is dual use and could be of genuine benefit in what is the far greater, and very real danger, posed by zoonotic emergence - H5N1 being the poster-boy candidate. In this field, to paraphrase Ex. Sec. Rumsfeld, it is the known unknowns that we should be losing sleep over HIV/AIDS, SARS, Nipah, Ebola/Marburg etc. are all recent zoonotics. None of our (human) communicable diseases was originally a human disease from Yellow fever & Smallpox to cold & flu they have all been acquired by humans from - and since - the domestication of animals.

    H5N1 an object lesson.
    For the first time in history we have been given forewarning of an impending zoonotic emergence and it is a humbling (humiliating might be closer) lesson in how poor a match our technology is to this very basic virus' ability to mutate away from any solution we may try and develop. HIV is a classical zoonotic pandemic and despite the research effort over a quarter of a century this is the first year in which we may have broken even. A flu pandemic would follow the same course but due to the difference in its transmission method would reach the same point in the pandemic cycle in about three months. We have no vaccines and no likelihood of producing any in the foreseeable future, we have one antiviral (Tamiflu) that has shown some usefulness (not a cure but can reduce symptoms) but resistance is rapidly developing in seasonal flu and most epidemiological models show this becoming the norm early in a pandemic. Here is an enemy that is a truly worthy advisory only full scale nuclear war can come close to matching its potential for destruction of our cosy human existence.
    Y’all have a nice day now.
    Last edited by JJackson; 05-24-2008 at 01:53 PM.

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    Officer.com, 26 May 08: Bioterrorist Attack: Fact or Fiction?
    ....The point to all this is that by the end of the 2008 fiscal year DHS will have spent $50 billion on defense against bioterrorism attacks. Let's assume for the moment that the biological weapons threat is more fantasy then fact, how much law enforcement and emergency response equipment would State and local police department have bought with that amount of your tax payer dollars? Need updated cruisers, computers, commutations systems and centers, or weapons and ammo for use on your beat? Fifty billion will buy a bunch of that stuff....

    ....So what exactly have we gotten for all that money? For one thing we have a series of National Centers for study of bioterrorism organisms established at major universities around the country. That sounds good on the surface until you realize that most of these were university research departments that were hurting for grant money and all of a sudden saw a way to keep their research going under the guise of "Bioterrorism prevention".....

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    Council Member Ron Humphrey's Avatar
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    Question Interesting piece

    Quote Originally Posted by Jedburgh View Post
    One thing I wonder about the "smaller incidents is simply that as he pretty much describes it could have been worse, just would have required more detailed prep and larger manufacture capabilities. Ummm we know that any robber worth half a darn will test the waters, or scope out the job first. Then comes tha planning.

    I guess I just don't buy the don't worry so much about it as you do the responders because unless I'm mistaken those responders and their equipment generally tend to be first in line for effective fire of that type of attack. So you do still have to do everything you can to study the agents themselves.

    That said I would agree with the fact that up goes the call for something to be researched and all the sudden everyone and their grandmother are rarin to jump on the band wagon. Maybe the key here is to recognize this and make sure the dang band knows how to play and that your conductors are well trained enough to recognize when the band is stinkin up the place?
    Any man can destroy that which is around him, The rare man is he who can find beauty even in the darkest hours

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    Talking to Tom Hammes, a week or so ago, he was extremely concerned with the BIO threat, as a lot of genetic modification work is now becoming more easily accessible.
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

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    Default Some woolly thinking

    While I agree with the core of the argument in Dr. Hanson’s ‘Bioterrorist Attack: Fact or Fiction?’ That the $50 billion dollars has largely been wasted it brings up a few questions. Firstly what are these potential bio-weapons. He starts off by discussing Ricin which is not a bio-weapon it is a chemical weapon, and he mentions the film Outbreak which was not about bio-terrorism but about a zoonotics re-emergence event (the only malice was on the part of the US military which had a cure but would not give it to its citizens because of national security considerations and not wanting to admit what it had been up to) and the fact that a Maginot line across the Mexican boarder will not stop much but it will cause a fair bit of re-routing. These may seem minor quibbles but the first two are symptoms of a poor understanding of the bio-weapons threat - the good Dr. should have known better – but the general public do not have the background to understand and are so easily led – or misled. I would class the threat into three groups Major, Minor & Engineered.

    I will start with Engineered as this is the nightmare scenario used to scare up funding and is generally useful for getting your agenda through. As a threat it is a non starter as the required technology is all science fiction. What we can do – given a well equipped level 3 or 4 bio lab and access to an existing deadly pathogen – is tinker with its genetic sequence and test the results to see if they make it any more of a super bug. As nature does this all the time and on a much larger scale it is unlikely you will get anything significantly more dangerous that you started with and I can not imagine anyone would bother, if you have the pathogen and were of a mind to use it you would just release it as it is.

    Major. This is where you have a highly dangerous communicable disease (1918 H1N1, smallpox) the release is relatively simple (bio-suicide ‘bomber’ spends the day coughing and sneezing at Heathrow) the problem is it is totally untargeted the newly infected could just as easily be on there way to Mecca as Washington. This is more of an extortionist’s weapon (think Bond films).

    The Minor has a disproportionate scare effect but is like the anthrax release. This type of weapon has a low CAR (see the quote box for an explanation of terms) so spreads little or not at all, it needs a dispersal mechanism and will normally only infect those directly targeted or those in close contact with this group.

    A couple of other misconceptions re testing. I suspect most of the public think when a blood sample is tested it enters some black box procedure which then reports the pathogens found, the reality is you have to guess, based on symptoms, what you are dealing with and test for it if you do not find it you guess again and repeat. If the pathogen is new, or very rare, or only endemic in poor countries (where it is not worth manufacturing a test because they can not afford to use it) you may never find an answer.

    If what I have written is true then the key to preventing Major (or Engineered attacks) is to keep the terrorists from getting hold of any of the really dangerous bugs in the first place, so shutting down as many of the new biolabs that are working with these pathogens as possible is the first step. I still think they are a far greater danger as a source of release by accident, mental instability in a lab worker or natural catastrophe – fire, flood, hurricane, tornado and earthquake. (I am glad the Sichuan quake has been burying nuclear-labs not bio-labs).

    If you want a low cost bio-terror attack send a bunch of XDR-TB sufferers on a group holiday to Disneyland.

    When considering the epidemiology of infectious disease there are a few terms that are useful
    CAR (Clinical Attack Rate) The proportion of those exposed that become clinically ill.
    CFR (Case Fatality Rate) The proportion of those clinically ill that die.
    Ro (The Reproductive Number) This is the number of people one ill person infects.

    If the Ro is less than 1 then the infection will die out, if greater than one you have an epidemic – the higher the number the faster the spread. Each disease has a typical Ro but it is not fixed (the same disease would have a higher Ro in a city than a sparsely populated region).

    If you multiply CAR by CFR by population you get total fatalities. For the 1918 flu pandemic CAR was ~30%, CFR was ~2.5%, Ro was ~2.
    Ebola & H5N1 have a CFR of > 60%.
    Last edited by JJackson; 05-29-2008 at 11:15 AM.

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    The Ottawa Citizen, 12 Jul 08: Terrorism is Hard

    Review of the book Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear
    .......an interesting discussion of the Aum Shinrikyo "doomsday" cult in Japan. Here was an organization that had an extraordinary amount of money at its disposal, several well-equipped labs and as many as 100 highly-trained scientists, working full-time, dedicated exclusively to the task of figuring out how to inflict mass casualties upon the Japanese population, in an attempt to provoke an apocalyptic war.

    Nevertheless, over the course of 17 different attacks, using a range of biological and chemical weapons, they never managed to kill more than a few dozen people. The most "successful" was the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway, which killed 12 people and severely injured another 42.

    Many people found this attack terrifying, yet for Gardner, it was also strangely reassuring. After all, it would be difficult to imagine circumstances more propitious for the success of a terrorist plot: "A fanatical cult with a burning desire to inflict mass slaughter has heaps of money, international connections, excellent equipment and laboratories, scientists trained at top-flight universities, and years of near-total freedom to pursue its operations." Yet they came nowhere near accomplishing their ends.

    All of this goes to show that even terrorists who get their hands on biological or chemical weapons (or nuclear material, for that matter), are still a long way away from being able to hurt large numbers of people. Yet in August of 2006, 44 per cent of Americans told Gallup that they were "very" or "somewhat" worried that they, or someone in their family, would be a victim of a terrorist attack. This is a phenomenal overestimation of the actual risk.....
    Last edited by marct; 07-14-2008 at 09:34 PM.

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    NEW DELHI – U.S. officials fear lax security at Indian laboratories could make the facilities targets for terrorists seeking biological weapons to launch attacks across the globe, according to comments in a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable made public Friday.
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101217/...lsZWFrc3VzZg--

    See also

    http://www.upmc-biosecurity.org/webs...ioweapons.html

    Preventing and Deterring Biological Attacks: Priorities that Should Emerge From the WMD Commission Report pdf

    December 19, 2008
    Summary
    The Center for Biosecurity strongly agrees with the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Commission report “World at Risk” that the threat of bioterrorism is urgent, growing, and requires decisive action. Recommendations such as enhancing the nation’s capabilities for a rapid response to prevent biological attacks from inflicting mass casualties, and engaging the international community to counter biosecurity risks are valuable measures that could make an appreciable difference to national security.

    The Commission also highlights the importance of laboratory oversight and securing dangerous pathogens. Laboratory security is indeed critical and has increased greatly since the anthrax letters were mailed in 2001. However, there are inherent limitations to our ability to secure dangerous pathogens given their ready availability outside of laboratories in the U.S. and around the world. There is also a real danger that draconian or costly security measures will prevent scientists from working on treatments or vaccines that the country needs to treat emerging infectious diseases or to respond to a bioterrorism attack.
    Last edited by AdamG; 12-17-2010 at 06:24 PM.
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    RAND, 19 Jan 11: Early Observations on Possible Defenses by the Emerging Threat Agent Project
    The Defense Department is concerned about emerging chemical and biological (CB) weapon agents and the ability of U.S. defenses to counter them. Due to scientific advances that facilitate the development of new and novel CB agents and the fact that uncovering such work will be a difficult intelligence challenge, the Emerging Threat Agent Project (ETAP) undertook a study to examine the challenges of emerging CB agents and propose measures to reduce their risks.

    The authors conclude that the problem is comprised of two related components. Given the inherent secrecy with which states and other actors will conduct CB agent development, adversary programs could acquire new CB agents years before U.S. defense planners recognize those agents. And, after the U.S. intelligence community recognizes those CB agents as threats, the United States will probably need many more years to establish a comprehensive defense against them. Such gaps in CB agent defense capabilities pose a potentially serious risk to U.S. military operations....

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    Default Dutch Researcher Created A Super-Influenza Virus With The Potential To Kill Millions

    A Dutch researcher has created a virus with the potential to kill half of the planet’s population. Now, researchers and experts in bioterrorism debate whether it is a good idea to publish the virus creation ”recipe”. However, several voices argue that such research should have not happened in the first place.

    The virus is a strain of avian influenza H5N1 genetically modified to be extremely contagious. It was created by researcher Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Center Rotterdam, Netherlands. The work was first presented at a conference dedicated to influenza, that took place in September in Malta.
    http://www.doctortipster.com/6952-du...-millions.html

    In a 17th floor office in the same building, virologist Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center calmly explains why his team created what he says is "probably one of the most dangerous viruses you can make"—and why he wants to publish a paper describing how they did it.
    http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencein...orm.html?rss=1

    See also

    The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people than the Great War, known today as World War I (WWI), at somewhere between 20 and 40 million people. It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history. More people died of influenza in a single year than in four-years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351. Known as "Spanish Flu" or "La Grippe" the influenza of 1918-1919 was a global disaster.
    http://virus.stanford.edu/uda/
    Last edited by AdamG; 11-29-2011 at 02:55 PM.
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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Pandemic influenza will happen. There is no way to stop this. But this? To accelerate and inflate nature in such a manner for no foreseeable benefit to mankind? This is unconscionable. If this is not a major crime it should be.
    Robert C. Jones
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    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Default Open Pandora's Box?

    It will be interesting to see if this story gets traction in Holland, especially given the impact on the national consciousness of the Holocaust and van Gogh's murder.

    Good to know, having read the second linked article, that peer reviewed research and a scientific conference were all involved in "missing the point".

    Now can the 'door' be closed?

    Perhaps we can tease, encourage and urge our Dutch SWC member sennef@cimic-coe to add a comment?
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member AdamG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    Now can the 'door' be closed?
    I've seen this move before. It doesn't end well.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHfGSqviKlk
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    Default The Bioterrorist Next Door

    From FP Blog and possibly a better title would be 'What is the bio-scientist doing in the lab?'.

    A long article and hardly calming:http://www.foreignpolicy.com/article..._door?page=0,0

    The Dutch experiment appears to have reached Hilary Clinton's desk; slightly edited comments she made:
    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a surprise visit to Geneva on Dec. 7, addressing the Biological Weapons Convention review conference. The highest-ranking U.S. official to speak to the biological weapons group in decades, Clinton warned "The emerging gene-synthesis industry is making genetic material widely available. This obviously has many benefits for research, but it could also potentially be used to assemble the components of a deadly organism.

    A crude but effective terrorist weapon can be made by using a small sample of any number of widely available pathogens, inexpensive equipment, and college-level chemistry and biology. Less than a year ago, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula made a call to arms for, and I quote, 'brothers with degrees in microbiology or chemistry to develop a weapon of mass destruction".
    In the UK in a different field, radiology, much effort is spent on physical defences, but vetting the staff - at universities - is not included.

    I do wonder whether the "bubble" of 'trust me, I'm a scientist' is redundant.
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member AdamG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    I do wonder whether the "bubble" of 'trust me, I'm a scientist' is redundant.
    Art imitates life. Life imitates art.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    Pandemic influenza will happen. There is no way to stop this. But this? To accelerate and inflate nature in such a manner for no foreseeable benefit to mankind? This is unconscionable. If this is not a major crime it should be.
    Newsflash. Homo sapiens is a part of nature. So the question is which do you prefer? A world where mankind isn't intelligent enough to contemplate, execute and study--under controlled conditions--evolutionary pathways of pathology or a world where we just stumble across it? 1918 wasn't a fun year.
    PH Cannady
    Correlate Systems

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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    Now can the 'door' be closed?
    Why do you think it was ever closed?
    PH Cannady
    Correlate Systems

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