Taking Bio-Warfare Seriously

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Taking Bio-Warfare Seriously Sunday, September 23, 2001; Page B06

IN THE WAKE of the terrorist assaults, this country can no longer afford to be complacent about the possibility of biological terrorism. Biological attacks are often dismissed as far-out science fiction or as beyond moral imagination. They are neither. The terrorists have no moral limits, and a crude attack with biological weapons is probably simpler to pull off than what the terrorists accomplished already. Moreover, the country is woefully unprepared for germ warfare. This is an area that needs sustained, high-level attention.

Several of the most dangerous biological warfare agents -- plague and anthrax, for example -- respond to antibiotics, so quick detection of an outbreak and rapid availability of drugs could save huge numbers of lives. But it is critical that adequate supplies of drugs be available and that plans exist for efficient distribution. Yet the planning has been caught up in turf battles, and a serious attack would likely overwhelm the medical system. Moreover, supplies of vaccines for such diseases as smallpox and anthrax are limited.

Another problem -- one the Bush administration has sought to address in its proposed anti-terrorism legislation -- is current criminal law and the regulatory control over potentially deadly microbes. The law forbids only the possession of such materials "for use as a weapon," putting an onerous burden on prosecutors to show malevolent intent in order to bring a case. Moreover, the law specifically exempts "prophylactic, protective, or other peaceful purposes" from its coverage, giving would-be terrorists a potential defense in any case the government does pursue. Designing an appropriate legal regime is difficult, both because the microbes in question are naturally occurring and because the same microbes that can serve as deadly weapons are also essential for research into curing and preventing disease. But this should not prevent the development of a rigorous licensing and regulatory regime and stiff criminal penalties for those who cultivate biological warfare agents without permission.

2001 The Washington Post Company


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), September 23, 2001


Crazy laws and unduely restrictive legislation, supposedly to protect civil rights, are hamstringing us from developing effecient anti-terrorist tools.

-- Sparky (case@webtown.com), September 24, 2001.

There is a certain irony in the claim that "terrorists have no moral limits" since the United States government finances the world's largest research effort into biological warfare, maintains probably the world's largest stockpile of lethal pathogens, and has itself used biological warfare without compunction-- a recently posted article casually mentioned how the U.S. government gave blankets infected with smallpox to native americans.

The idea that the U.S. can defend against biological warfare is as much fantasy as the idea of a missile defense system. Unless of course the planners have already decided to accept a certain number of casualties when the defense is inevitably breached.

-- Neil R (nmruggles@earthlink.net), September 24, 2001.

It's always nice, in a time of national peril, to hear from the wacko fringe. Patriotism be damned, eh?

-- Brady (bradyjr@yahoo.com), September 24, 2001.

Neil, yes you are correct in stating "the U.S. government gave blankets infected with smallpox to native americans". The practice was started by the English in 1762 when they gave infected blankets to the Indians that had supported the French. The soon to be Americans quickly learned how effective this type of warfare could be. It was used against the plains Indians in the 1830-80 period.

-- Joe (CactusJoe001@AOL.com), September 24, 2001.

What country or region has been the main source of terrorists in the last 30 or 40 years going back to the terrorist attacks at the Olympics in Germany? Excluding Ireland of course because they basically keep it inside the country.

Is your answer the middle east?

Then how difficult would it be to screen them from visiting our country?

We can't because its discriminatory. We can't do ANYTHING about terrorism as long as its discriminatory to think that any specific group is responsible for terrorism UNTIL they actually do it. Example: no one is allowed to touch an illegal alien except for the INS. Once they breach the border they are home free until they commit a crime. Same for terrorists. We can't be discriminatory, its part of our constitution. Terrorism cannot be abolished EVER unless we take it to THEM and whittle the SOBs down until they're extinct and that also is IMPOSSIBLE. Welcome to the future and the ultimate religious fanaticism which is being allowed to prosper and grow. In case anybody doesn't realize it, the Taliban is a lot like Hitler as they take over Afghanistan and now Pakistan however its couched under the guise of religion therefore untouchable. Its a lose/lose/lose proposition for us.

-- Guy Daley (guydaley1@netzero.net), September 24, 2001.

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