Skip

"Bioterrorism: An Even More Devastating Threat"
September 17, 2001 7:40 AM   Subscribe

"Bioterrorism: An Even More Devastating Threat" Here's a link to an article that appears in today's Washington Post. It details an "easier" way to eliminate "80 percent of people infected by inhaled spores". The print version includes a map with the best flight plan and release point to effect the best results. Is this Responsible Journalism? Is it necessary to publish this sort of weakness in America's country's defenses? I don't disagree that Bioterrorism is a threat to be concerned about, just the presentation & the flip attitude of how easy it will be to pull this off. Or do we need this kind of "the-sky-is-going-to-fall" reporting to shock us into action?
posted by bhmwks (24 comments total)

 
Right! the Post writer should not reveal this because the dummies who might use it would never be smart enopugh to think about such methods. It took them all of 5 years to put together an attack that was not stopped by a billion buck a year intelligence outfit(s) so just maybe.........
posted by Postroad at 7:47 AM on September 17, 2001


Anybody know if it is possible for the public (you and me) to get an anthrax vaccination?
posted by crawdad at 7:56 AM on September 17, 2001


crawdad,

Anybody know if it is possible for the public (you and me) to get an anthrax vaccination?

I think this is unlikely. No link, because I saw this on CNN (I believe), but apparently the US government had a great deal of difficulty in its attempts to vaccinate the armed forces alone. In the end, only a small proportion received vaccination. I think you can reasonably extrapolate that it's probably not just sitting around your doctor's office...

Why? Something to do with difficulties in creating large enough quantities of vaccine and an inability to prepare for a genetically modified version of the virus (although given the - supposedly - limited resources at the terrorists' command, the likelihood of their performing genetic engineering seems pretty faint).
posted by Sinner at 8:06 AM on September 17, 2001


apparently the US government had a great deal of difficulty in its attempts to vaccinate the armed forces alone. In the end, only a small proportion received vaccination.

I thought the problems were due to members of the armed forces refusing vaccination for political reasons. My understanding was that there were very few unvaccinated people on active duty, basically just the ones who would prefer to die of Anthrax than let the government implant spy chips or whatever.
posted by yerfatma at 8:26 AM on September 17, 2001


Laughing so hard I can't control myself. Gotta love the Monday morning comedy.
posted by Wulfgar! at 8:35 AM on September 17, 2001


This was a chilling article. Reading it with my early morning coffee and spying a map of the flight path a plane might take for "maximum" anthrax coverage made me wonder for just a second about the 1st Amendment. That, in itself, is chilling.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 8:38 AM on September 17, 2001


Hardly what you'd call a responsible piece of journalism at a time when fears of additional terrorist strikes are running high.

But practically speaking, why would the terrorists attempt something of that sort? They're trying to create fear as a means to their ends. Think of the IRA bombing of Manchester (UK) back in 1996: they gave warnings about two hours before the bomb went off. If they'd simply wanted to kill people they wouldn't have bothered.

An attack of the sort outlined in that item would demand an immediate and extreme response - and if the terrorists and their supporters get wiped out then it rather negates the chances of them achieving their aims, doesn't it?
posted by arc at 8:43 AM on September 17, 2001


The story's alarmist, but perhaps the reality is alarming. I don't understand why people think the solution to a problem of this kind is to consider muzzling the press.
posted by rcade at 8:46 AM on September 17, 2001


But practically speaking, why would the terrorists attempt something of that sort?

One possibility: To provoke the U.S. into a military attack on a fundamentalist Islamic country that polarizes fundamentalists in other countries, perhaps even leading to the overthrow of governments in places like Pakistan -- putting nukes in the hands of Osama bin Laden and his allies.
posted by rcade at 8:52 AM on September 17, 2001


If somebody is ingenious enough to figure out how to obtain anthrax, they would be clever enough to figure out how to maximise coverage.. That type of journalism is bad because it makes people all worried at a time where they are uncertain and scared as to what the future could hold. Tch.

I think New York actually had lots of measures to defend against biological attack from a small plane - how long does anthrax take to kill?

Nasty - human ingenuity, eh? We are continuously finding new and interesting ways to kill each other..
posted by Mossy at 8:55 AM on September 17, 2001


The point of such an article, to me, is that it brings attention to the fact that this 'war' we're embarking on could take a very dangerous and unpredictable path. Terrorism is not a conventional enemy that we can simply bomb out of existence: it has manifold ingenious ways of getting back at us. To deal with it, you have to look at the source of the problem: what is it that drives someone to the kind of extreme we've seen already? I've not seen much coverage yet, especially from the US perspective, that is even willing to ask this question, let alone answer it.
posted by jonnyroader at 9:04 AM on September 17, 2001


One possibility: To provoke the U.S. into a military attack...perhaps even leading to the overthrow of governments in places like Pakistan.

They may well have done just that with the WTC attack: the Pakistan governments pledge of support to America and their diplomatic efforts to get the Taliban to hand over Bin Laden are not popular with sections of their population. Sorry, no link: can't find yesterday's BBC news article, possibly because it contained photos of anti-American demonstrations....

My point was more that something as heinous as a bioterrorist attack would surely provoke an even more extreme reaction by America and the rest of the World.
posted by arc at 9:18 AM on September 17, 2001


Some of the controversy around the anthrax vaccine was fear that it contributed to "Gulf War Syndrome." Some were willing to be expelled from the military rather than be forced to be vaccinated. The "Gulf War Syndrome" link is, of course, denied by the DOD
posted by airgirl at 9:50 AM on September 17, 2001


I've been worried about this for a while. I think it's irresponsible to be mentioning this in a newspaper, but then again, it's not exactly like they're announcing a new idea... I imagine terrorists thought of this a long time ago. I just hope that they never are able to develop airborne strains of viruses...

Crawdad, do I know you?
posted by Bernreuther at 10:51 AM on September 17, 2001


"Iraq is known to have stockpiled doses of anthrax, botulinum toxin and aflatoxin, a carcinogen. [United Nations Inspectors have] yet to account for some 17 tonnes of growth medium for making such weapons, and is thought to have experimented with the ebola virus and bubonic plague." (Economist, May 24 2001) [subscription required]
posted by RichLyon at 11:17 AM on September 17, 2001


"[an epidemiologist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge] believes that the food supply makes a better bioterrorist target than people. An outbreak of anthrax in Kansan cattle could devastate not only American beef farmers but their suppliers and customers—grain farmers and supermarkets—as well. Or imagine if corn or wheat was infected, either with an agent that kills it, or with a disease deadly to humans, such as botulism. The result would be food scares and soaring prices. These scenarios, Dr Hugh-Jones contends, are “far more frightening than killing a few New Yorkers.” Agricultural bioterrorism is also efficient: it would take only a small outbreak of, say, karnal bunt, a wheat disease, before foreign countries started to ban imports." (Economist, 17 September 2001) [subscription required]
(Apologies for the long quote, but most folks won't get the suscription content and I thought it was 'germane')
posted by RichLyon at 11:33 AM on September 17, 2001


The information in the article, (and far more detailed information) has been in the public domain for years. By printing the article at this time, more attention may be called to it.

There are several good sites on the net that discuss the details of possible bioterrorism attacks, just search "bioterrorism". Sorry, but I don't have time to find and link.
posted by Whistlepig at 12:32 PM on September 17, 2001


This article has a great deal of information on antrax and the vaccine.

Anthrax as a Biological Weapon (Journal of the American Medicine Assoc.)
posted by fooljay at 1:30 PM on September 17, 2001


I was worried about this Tuesday, as I once lived near chlorine and ammonia plants where everyone was aware of the risks of terrorism and knew what the sirens meant. Having read some of the statements by bin Lauden I'm less worried today - this guy is horrible but he is not Saddam Huessein. He picked the WTC as a target for a reason and this kind of bio/chemical terrorism would not have served that purpose.

I also understand why the US retaliatory effort is moving so slowly. "War" is not the right word for what we have to do; it is more like defusing a bomb.
posted by username at 1:39 PM on September 17, 2001


I don't think that the article is alarmist at all. It's extremely realistic. There are a few errors and entirely too much focus being given to smallpox, but in general is quite correct.

That said, there is very little in way of preventative measures we can or should take, besides obviating the need for such an attack and using our new-found friendly world intelligence network to find out about those who would wish to perpetrate such hell.

Both the public and the medical community should be preapred and educated however in what to do if such an attack should occur, and as far as I see, articles like this one only underscore that need and raises awareness.

You SHOULD be concerned and you SHOULD be educated.
But you should not panic and should not lead your life in paranoia.
posted by fooljay at 1:46 PM on September 17, 2001


The concept has certainly been out in the open for some time now. New Scientist has a series of articles on the subject the first of which, dealing with a hypothetical attack on Washington DC that could kill 3 million, dates back to '96.

While this is unpleasant and uncomfortable stuff I must agree with fooljay: far better to be educated about the possibility.
posted by arc at 3:17 PM on September 17, 2001


The story's alarmist, but perhaps the reality is alarming.

Paul Revere was alarmist, too. It's not necessarily an epithet.
posted by rushmc at 5:17 PM on September 17, 2001


CNN weighs in with a story:
Biological attack threat real, but small
posted by Zurishaddai at 12:53 AM on September 18, 2001


Yes. Them bacteria is reeeeeeeeal small...
posted by fooljay at 6:38 PM on September 18, 2001


« Older Is Paypal making money?   |   Onion saving new jokes for another day Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post