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To buy a gas mask,
September 26, 2001 12:47 PM   Subscribe

To buy a gas mask, or not to buy a gas mask. That is the question. I found this pretend discussion, that includes real quotes from a number of intelligence official, particularly disturbing. What is the reality on this? I don't wish to be ignorant any longer.
posted by Atom Heart Mother (16 comments total)

 
That's an interesting discussion. If you want to find out more on the subject, the fas.org is a good resource. In a perfect attack the danger is huge, but few have the capabilities required.
posted by Wet Wednesday at 1:25 PM on September 26, 2001


An editorial in today's New York Times made me feel better about the immediate threat.
posted by luser at 1:27 PM on September 26, 2001


No significant chem/bio attack would be stopped by a mere gask mask, and even in minor attacks it is unlikely you'd have time to put one on. Having a mask at home won't help you at work; will everyone be walking around with a mask bag?

This is a modern-day fallout shelter impulse.
posted by aramaic at 2:19 PM on September 26, 2001


Damn New York Times and its registration.. I wouldn't think that wearing a gas mark 24/7 would be very practical, and you'd still be dead if a viral attack were released.. And you couldn't get a mask on in time if there was a chemical attack.. How depressing.
posted by Mossy at 2:22 PM on September 26, 2001


THIS ITEM IS SOLD OUT; new stock expected in January 2002

They might be utterly futile against attacks, but that has not hurt their popularity, has it!
posted by kd at 3:08 PM on September 26, 2001


I've posted this before, but haven't been satisified with the responses I've gotten. Since this thread's not getting much traffic, I will probably end up posting it again: I have a theory that as crazy as the terrorists may be, they realize that a chem/bio attack counts as an escalation from conventional attacks, and thus won't use it

Meaning all of a sudden we can use nuclear weapons as a means of retaliation, and potentially wipe much of the Middle East off the planet.

Sort of like Mandy Patinkin and Cary Elwes switching from left hand to right-hand swordfighting in the Princess Bride. Our right hand is way, way more deadly than theirs, so better for them to stick with the left hand.

Kind of sick, since it implies either some mercy on the part of the murderers of 7000 people, albeit self-serving, but it seems more plausible to me than "they can't rejigger a spray nozzle." Any thoughts?
posted by Sinner at 3:51 PM on September 26, 2001


I've thought about that myself, and I've come to the same conclusion. Bio-warfare over here means nuclear holocaust over there. Absolutely. There's no way we'd "build a coalition" and "draft a measured response".

You hear me, you crazy bio-chem-terror guys? Nuclear annihalation! For you and everyone around you! So don't even think about it!

I get the jeebies when I think about this stuff too much...
posted by Dean King at 4:51 PM on September 26, 2001


Nuclear is only relevant if you have a defined enemy. Who do you bomb when you are up against terrorists whose loyalty is to a religion rather than a country. Say the last attach had been biological, would you have nuked Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE?

That discussion has some great quotes and is a must read for all.
posted by Wet Wednesday at 5:31 PM on September 26, 2001


If the US suffered a serious bio/chem attack, Colin Powell would lose his ability to hold the administration in check -- the US would immediately incinerate any nation found to be remotely connected to the attack. Probably regardless of the political damage that would ensue -- protests by other nations would likely be met with a "your opinion is worthless" response.

If 9/11 had been a bio/chem attack, Kabul would now be vaporized. Kandahar would likely have followed, and I don't think it's too much of a stretch to believe that Iraq would be at serious risk. Any other nation that "got in the way" would also be at risk; this means Iran, possibly Syria.

The US would likely start with tactical weapons, and wouldn't resort to strategic weapons unless someone gave additional provocation.
posted by aramaic at 6:28 PM on September 26, 2001


Great article by Ehud Sprinzak on CBW: "The Great Superterrorism Scare." (Sprinzak is an extremely authoritative figure in the field. Wrote my senior paper in college on normative constraints on terrorist behavior and everyone seemed to reference him.)
posted by lizs at 8:16 PM on September 26, 2001


I think the biggest reason biological agents haven't been used yet is the same reason neither the USA nor the USSR nuked each other in the Cold War-- they couldn't do it without getting destroyed themselves.

Any bioweapon would have the potential to infect your own people, especially if you're infecting large metropolitan areas with international airports. The biological weapons probably won't be used until those using them are immune to its effects. Fortunately, this isn't that easy to do.

One last thing: If anyone was planning on hitting the USA with biological weapons (or nuclear weapons for that matter), they will have taken into account the USA's nuclear capability and have planned accordingly for it.
posted by LabTroglodyte at 8:17 PM on September 26, 2001


The quote from recent days that sticks in my head (can't remember from where, sorry), is that "this isn't something you would cook up in your garage". Apparently the Sarin gas attacks in Japan a few years ago took warehouses full of equipment, a team of collaborating scientists and a couple of years of experimenting and production before the attacks could be carried out--and that was for enclosed subway stations, not for the quantities you'd need to poison the open air. Biological agents are live germs, with them you not only have to produce big quantities, you have to keep them alive during transport to the target. (Compare taking angel fish home from the pet store in a baggie...) How are you going to ship 50 pounds of anthrax spores from Iraq to Iowa, keeping them fresh, making sure they don't leak, making sure you don't attract attention? It'll take more than a burlap bag.


Anyway, the article said that these sort of attacks take more technical sophistication than steering a plane while wielding a boxcutter. The implication is that these attacks would take some kind of institutional--state--support. In a nutshell, a biochem weapon requires a biochem factory, which can be bombed. Hopefully, and this is the big policy issue, it's bombed before the attack happens. If and when we attack Iraq, I'm willing to bet it's a proactive strike against such facilities there. But people will have to be willing to support a response to the threat of an attack, rather than waiting until thousands more people die.


Actually, the FAS, mentioned above, does have some good descriptions in their site. Yes, in theory, you can kill millions of people if everything goes right, but "proper dissemination is a non-trivial problem".
posted by gimonca at 8:27 PM on September 26, 2001



one distinction between chemical and biological weapons is that of capacity. 1/500 of a kilogram of anthrax is about as lethal as 1 kilogram of sarin, for example.
posted by Wet Wednesday at 9:02 PM on September 26, 2001


this quote is part of the discussion listed in the title thread. Kanatjan is a former First Deputy Director of the Russian Biopreparat.


DCS: Elaborating on that, let me put forward a scenario that is circulating in the media at present. New York is attacked from the air using anthrax, what would the expected mortality rate be? Let me put that to you Dr. Kanatjan.

Kanatjan: In this case, it's very easy to calculate. This work was done many years ago by an American scientist. According to his calculation, about 50 kilos of anthrax biological weapon that covers a territory with the population of about 500,000 people, would cause 100,000 deaths. Depending on the type of weapons, depending on the mode of applying, but if we use the worst case scenario, probably half the population. If the entire territory of New York City was covered with sufficient amount of this weapon, the amount of people dead would be millions.

That is frightenning.
posted by kRailey at 9:09 PM on September 26, 2001


Everyone should get a gas mask... just so you can wear it around town... Freaks people out.
posted by dawiz at 4:53 AM on September 27, 2001


I had some Taco Bell last night, and my family was begging for a gas mask.

On eBay, the suckers are selling for like $125 or above. It was stated on NJ 101.5 FM (talk radio that I like) that if you buy one you are really wasting your money. I forgot who they quoted for that one though.
posted by adampsyche at 6:07 AM on September 27, 2001


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