BIOLOGICAL THREATS AND BIO - TERRORISM
The use of biological agents as weapons of war has a very long history. As far back as the 7th century, the Assyrians used ergot (a fungal disease found in rye) to poison the water wells of their enemies. The fungus produced a hallucinogenic effect similar to that of LSD.
In 600 B.C. purgative hellebore was used during a siege of Cirrha to cause violent diarrhea.
In 400 B.C. the Spartans used arsenic smoke to drive out the enemy during the siege of Plataea and Delium. In one of the more famous ancient cases of biological warfare, the Tartar Army catapulted corpses of plague victims over the walls of the besieged city of Kaffa to spread disease among the defenders.
In 1767 During the French and Indian War, the English gave blankets laced with smallpox to Indians loyal to the French.
On June 17, 1925 The Geneva Protocol baned biological weapons. It is the first multilateral agreement that created a prohibition on the use of chemical agents and biological agents. Japan refused to approve the ban.
In 1932 Japanese troops invaded Manchuria and began experiments using biological agents as weapons.
In 1936 Japan formed Unit 731, the worlds first bio-warfare unit, and begans field tests of biological agents on Chinese and Manchurian populations.
Between 1936 - 1941 the Japanese systematically used plague as a weapon of war on the populations of China and Manchuria.
In 1941 the British began experiments with Anthrax.
In 1941 the US begans a biological warfare program at Camp Detrick, Frederick, MD.
In 1945 the Japanese destroyed Unit 731 facilities in China and Manchuria.
In 1946 US announced its involvement in bioweapons research and made a covert deal with Unit 731 officers in which data on research would be shared in return for immunity for war crimes.
In 1956 the Soviet Union announced that they had the capability of using chemical and biological warfare agents.
In 1962 the U.S. opened the Desert Test Center at Ft. Douglas, Utah for the purpose of testing biological weapons and defenses to biological weapons.
In 1969 - 1970 President Nixon limited research on biological weapons research to defense only.
In 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (a.k.a. Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, and Stockpiling of Bacteriological and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction) was signed. Eventually 103 nations signed the convention. The U.S. signed the convention in 1975.
In 1981 and 1985 the deal between the U.S. and officers of Unit 731 was uncovered and released to the public.
Fall 2001 18 cases of anthrax occurred after anthrax was sent through the U.S. mail. Of the 18 cases, 11 were inhalation and 7 were cutaneous infections. 5 deaths occurred due to the anthrax incident. The anthrax was weaponized grade.
With the end of the Cold War and the rise militant Islamism, the threat of biological terrorism is the newest threat to the world. Until recently, the threat of the use of biological weapons was limited to their use in conventional warfare between. The anthrax attack in Fall 2001, the sarin gas attack in Japan by Aum Shinrikyo in 1995 in addition tothe group's failed attempt to release anthrax in 1993 and its failure to secure the Ebola virus in 1992 demonstrates that the use of biological weapons is not limited to Middle Eastern terrorist or rogue nations.
The U.S. took the threat of biological weapons attack seriously after the gulf war and fears that such weapons would be used in the war against Iraq. American troops were given anthrax vaccinations and weapons inspectors tried to detect and destroy the weapons in Iraq after the war.
In addition to nations like Iraq who are listed in the State Department Patterns of Global Terrorism 2001 and 2002 reports as suspected of manufacturing of biological weapons, the fall of the Soviet Union and the discovery of their advanced biological weapons industry has been a major issue in American anti-terrorism assessments. The Soviets during the 1980's manufactured various types of biological weapons for use against the West. Their program made significant advances in gene engineering creating new strains of viruses and bacteria for biological weapons. They conducted experiments with ebola and marburg, which cause hemorrhagic fever - the vascular system dissolves, as well as smallpox. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S. has been concerned with preventing (1) the biological weapon materials, (2) the expertise in making the weapons, and (3) the equipment used to make biological weapons from being secured by terrorist groups and rogue nations. This is one of the reasons many of the Russian scientists that were involved in the biological weapons programs are being hired at biological research facilities in the United States and in the West. The goal is to keep these scientist in employment (something that is in short supply in Russia) so they are not recruited by terrorist groups or countries like Iraq and Iran.
The Soviet Union was not the only country that developed biological weapons. The following countries are believed to have biological weapons and/or in the process of developing them:
- All of the above nations with the exception of Israel, Syria and Egypt signed the 1972 convention against the manufacturing of these weapons. Syria and Egypt signed the convention but did not ratify it.
Basics of Biological Weapon Design
There are two basic categories of biological warfare agents - microorganisms and toxins. Microorganisms are living organic germs, such as anthrax. The three types of microorganisms are bacteria, viruses and rickettsiae. Bacteria cause sickness by invading the tissues or through the toxins they release. Sickness occurs because the body is overwhelmed by the fast reproduction of the bacteria. Bacteria can divide every six minutes. Viruses are parasites that can only live within the cells of another organism. Viruses enter the cell of a host and use the cell to replicate. The new viruses then break out of the host cell (killing the cell) and then impregnate other cells to replicate again. Viruses cause sickness due to the cell damage to the host organism. Rickettsiae are intracellular bacteria that have the characteristics of both bacteria and viruses. Like bacteria they are susceptible to antibiotics but like viruses they can only survive inside of living cells. Rickettsiae are spread through infected insects and not from human contact. Toxins are poisons produced by the metabolic activities of the bacteria. Biological weapon development is about the selection, manufacturing, and improvement of viruses, bacteria, rickettsiae and toxins. Biological warfare research attempts to make bacteria resistant to antibiotic treatment, viruses resistant to vaccination and toxins more potent.
Biological weapon development includes the use of the following materials:
Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis (VEE)
Modern research on biological weapons began during the first half of the 20th century and despite treaties to the contrary, research on the development of biological weapons continued through the second half of the 20th century. After the second World War, the United States and the Soviet Union became the two leading powers in the research of biological weapons. The reason biological weapons were studied and developed was due to fear that "the other side" was working on them and that in the event of their use, the U.S. needed to have an appropriate response - i.e., use of non-nuclear weapons. Additionally, the development of these weapons was in line with basic U.S.-Soviet military balance theory; neither side would use such weapons because each knew the other had the weapons ready to use in response. Thus the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) theory that kept nuclear weapons under control worked as well with biological weapons.
Weaponized Biological Agents Biological agents are divided into two general types: contagious agents and non-contagious agents. U.S. research focused on non-contagious agents because contagious biological weapons proved not to be useful tactical weapons. The reason being that once used, the impact and effect of the weapons can't be contained. Non-contagious agents are better tactical weapons because the impact of the attack and the targeting of victims can be contained.
Although the threat of rogue nations and transnational terrorist groups developing biological weapons is a serious threat, it is not a simple process to make a biological weapon. Weaponizing biological agents requires the following:
Securing & using a virulent strain of a bacteria, virus or toxin. Having a stable electrical source to maintain very sophisticated equipment. High level of manufacturing knowledge and ability in handling biological agents. Ability to make a biological agent to make it free floating. Knowledge of turning the biological material into material that has primary and secondary aerosolization. Ability to make the biological material small enough (between 1 to 5 microns) to be useful as a weapon. Thus the nature of biological weapons requires a high level of sophistication of manufacturing. A useful biological weapon must be airborne and be made of the right biological agent. Aum Shinrikyo attempted to manufacture an anthrax biological weapon in 1993 but used a non virulent strain of anthrax so the attack failed.