Invisible Threat

It's bad enough to catch a disease naturally but to take a disease and turn it into a weapon, to enhance the disease, to make it more virulent or more contiguous or more resistant to known vaccines it just kind of goes off the charts there. It's turning Mother Nature against us. Weapons that destroy by spreading deadly diseases have a long and unhappy history. Billions of dollars have been spent by governments to create pathogens that can cause fatal illnesses. Even today some countries are stockpiling just such a deadly arsenal.

In a widely reported news conference Syria has admitted as much. The World Health Organization called the deliberate contamination of our food one of the major biological threats of the twenty first century. In the modern globalized economy where food gets transported all over the world there are a lot of opportunities for somebody to contaminate the food with biological agents. It is kind of frightening when you think of the multitude of different pathogens somebody could introduce, either in a large population or a small targeted population. There are cases in our not so distant past where people have done that.

The most serious biological attack in US history was carried out not by foreign terrorists but by the followers of a homegrown religious cult. Salad bars in ten local restaurants were deliberately contaminated with salmonella. Seven hundred and fifty one people were poisoned and forty five hospitalized as disciples of Guru Rajneeshee sought to incapacitate voters and see their own candidates win the 1984 Wasco County election.

The salmonella incident occurred in the United States but biological attacks could happen anywhere in the world and so far there has not been a coordinated global plan about how to deal with this. The word terrorism evokes images of airplanes crashing into office towers or bombs blowing up in markets. These remain real threats. So do attacks by chemicals, mustard gas, defoliants, or nerve agents, but there is something even more insidious - biological weapons.

That's the whole point of terrorism, to put enormous psychological pressure on the audience that they're trying to reach, if we're talking about biological agents. They're unseen in many cases, you can't smell them so for that very reason those kinds of weapons have a much more powerful psychological impact on target audiences. Even killing five people with a bio-agent would be scarier than killing two hundred people with an explosive device.

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