Bioterror Threat: Myth or Reality?

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Bioterror Threat: Myth or Reality?

Monday, September 24, 2001 By Michael Y. Park

When the impossible became reality and the World Trade Center came tumbling down, America braced itself for a second wave of terror.

So when Attorney General John Ashcroft said Monday that cropdusting planes across the country had been grounded, fear of another kind of terror from the sky surfaced Ė a fear of chemical or biological attacks.

Experts have long known that biological and chemical weapons would become part of the arsenal of terrorists, the question was just when. But experts say the very nature of much-feared compounds like the anthrax-causing bacteria, along with the mechanics of cropdusters, make concerns about an imminent biological attack a little bit of a stretch.

"A biological or chemical attack is conceivable,Ē says Barbara Rosenberg, director of the Federation of American Scientistsí chemical and biological weapons program, ďBut I donít think itís very likely at the moment."

Rosenberg says a crop duster would be very useful for a biological or chemical attack -- if you wanted to attack crops.

The problem, she said, is that only a very narrow range of particle sizes Ė smaller than 10 microns Ė can lodge deeply enough into human lungs to infect or damage the body. Crop dusters are fitted with much larger dispensers meant for insects and plants. And though a terrorist could modify the plane or dispenser, Rosenberg says, it wouldnít be easy.

"Itís not extremely difficult, but you donít go out to the store and buy one off the shelf," Rosenberg said. "They might go to a scientific supplier, but it would have to be constructed to order."

Attacking humans would also require an unwieldy amount of pathogens or poison, according to Milton Leitenberg, a senior fellow at the Center for International and Security Studies and the University of Maryland at College Park.

"With chemical agents you need a very, very large amount -- thousands of pounds of agent -- in order to kill substantial numbers of people," he said. "If they made an aerosol, they would have to have hundreds and hundreds of gallons of the highest quality nerve agent."

Crop dusters can hold from 200 to 800 gallons of insecticide, but before they can be loaded, the agent must be created. In the case of a biological agent, which most experts think is more likely to be used as a weapon of mass destruction, creating enough to do damage is a major project.

In 1995, the Japanese Aum Shinri Kyo killed 12 people and injured thousands of others in a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway. But they "had massive resources and buildings that looked like small factories, scientists and money and four years to work in peace and quiet on biological weapons," Leitenberg said.

ďThereís no indication the people involved in (the World Trade Center) attacks have any of that kind of facility anywhere in this country,Ē he said. ďThis is not something youíd do in a garage."

There are three kinds of organisms scientists say might be suited as biological weapons, but each has its drawbacks.

The one most often brought up causes anthrax, Bacillus anthracis. Itís a bacterium normally seen in livestock that can be transmitted in spore form and whose fatal form causes lesions in the lungs and brain. It was an anthrax bacterial strain mistakenly released into the air that killed 66 people outside a military lab in the Soviet Union in 1979.

"Itís extremely stable and long lived, always the first choice," Rosenberg said. "But it is not spread from person to person. Each person had to come into contact with it directly."

Thereís also smallpox, or variola, a virus that is less stable than anthrax but is highly contagious and causes bleeding and crusty lesions over the body. It was officially declared eradicated by the World Health Organization in 1979.

"It readily spreads from person to person," Rosenberg said. "Infect a few people and they go out and cough and spread it through aerial contact. It spreads like the common cold, but the agent itself is fragile."

But the only two places to have supplies of live smallpox are the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and a high-security Russian installation in Novosibirsk.

The third agent often mentioned is Pasteurella pestis, the bacterium that causes the bubonic plague, or pneumonic plague if spread by aerosol. A victim of the plague gets black sores all over the body and his lymph nodes swell up painfully. With the pneumonic plague, death usually occurs in 24 hours.

But working with the plague is even more problematic.

"Itís one those agents that has been weaponized in the past, but I think itís much less likely to be used than anthrax because itís not as stable," Rosenberg said. "It requires more care, itís touchy."

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,35031,00.html

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), September 24, 2001

Answers

"But the only two places to have supplies of live smallpox are the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and a center in Novosbrisk Russia." The facilities in Russia are at least four centers. Novosbrisk being one. These are giant eight story labs with each level having two floors. Giant vats, as high as one and a half stories high, forty vats, found in one facility, all for producing weaponized grades of small pox and plague. These facilities were visited by teams from Britian and the US in the early 90's. Vast quanties of these agents (and anthrax) have been produced and stored (?) in the Soviet Union. Saddham has made over 100 tons of weaponized, freeze dried anthrax. Believe me, more than enough to do the job (killing mega populations) is avaliable somewhere. Sure enough, these weaponized versions of killer bugs is difficult to produce in the neighborhood apartment complex. But they do exist and are very stable and have been vigoriously tested by the makers, who are governments with resources, not individuals with a mere grudge and small budget. Whether they are already in this country, well, I guess, sooner or later,

-- D E Park (dpark@magaick.net), September 25, 2001.

D E Park's information is as questionable as is the phony email address used.

-- Joe (CactusJoe001@AOL.com), September 25, 2001.

I don't think that information is questionable at all, really. It all squares with the Ken Alibek horror stories about the real workings of the USSR bio-war program. I would be pretty certain that this sort of ordinance is available on the black market, (Afghanistan being close to Russia and itself an epicentre of the international black weapons trade.)

truly wish it were otherwise.

-- number six (iam_not_a_number@hotmail.com), September 25, 2001.


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