The Advantages & Disadvantages of Using Biological Weapons for Terrorism

July 22, 2017 | Author: Chenide | Category: Biological Warfare, Bioterrorism, Public Health, Wellness, Epidemic And Plague
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Shreya Kumar Student No: 420041793 CISS6004 The Advantages & Disadvantages of using Biological Weapons for Terrorism

Although historical accounts suggest that the use of biological agents as weapons is not a new concept, the threat of bioterrorism has received a great deal of attention in the past few decades. The anthrax attacks post September 11, 2001 along with advances in science and biotechnology, and the breadth of existing Soviet and Iraqi biological warfare programs have all contributed to bringing the issue of biological weapons into the forefront of security studies.1 This essay will examine how credible the threat of mass destruction via biological weapons by extrapolating the advantages and disadvantages of using biological weapons as compared to more traditional weapons. To begin with, the possible advantages will be discussed. Advantages of Using Biological Weapons The reasons why terrorist groups would be interested in using biological weapons are plentiful. •

Can inflict heavy causalities and can inflict mass panic (RAND 16)

Biological agents more readily available and cheaper than nuclear (rand 17). Less

technological knowledge is required to use certain bio agents than nuclear agents (rand 17) •

Undermine the economy of a nation; serious blow to the military of a country

Create a cycle of fear


Koblentz, Gregory. "Pathogens as Weapons: The International Security Implications of Biological Warfare." International Security 28.3 (2004): 84-122. Print.


Shreya Kumar Student No: 420041793 CISS6004

Only small quantities are required to cause large and terrifying effects. Another important factor is that the effects of these types of biological warfare agents are not immediate; as there is an incubation period, there will be a short or long time delay, which makes it simple to carry out a covert attack. There could also be dangerous secondary effects, due to the dramatic overburdening of the healthcare system, demands on other community services, and the risk of further epidemic spread of the disease. Biological weapons and bioterrorism preparedness: importance of public-health awareness and international cooperation).

Although the US anthrax incident has caused five deaths and accounts for a great

economic loss, the direct effects are limited. This can be compared to the mass destruction that B. anthracis would cause if dispersed on a large scale as an aerosol in a city, in the ventilation system of a large building, or in a metro system. The casualties would then amount to thousands or even more. The hospital system would be overwhelmed, and large stocks of antibiotics would be necessary to limit the consequences.

These consequences would be even worse if smallpox virus was used. It should be

noted that the technical problems when producing smallpox virus are greater than those when producing bacteria such as B. anthracis or Y. pestis. On the other hand, very small quantities of smallpox virus could initiate an epidemic in today’s world, where the population at large is not vaccinated and limited amounts of vaccines are available [5]. •

Dual use nature of bio tech. technologies developed for human welfare can be adapted

to create weaponzied agents. Malet last page. Easy accessibility. more immediate concern because of


Shreya Kumar Student No: 420041793 CISS6004

“the greater availability of the relevant dual-use materials, equipment, and know-how, which are spreading rapidly throughout the world.” That view was supported by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and ranking member Susan Collins (R-ME). Both recognized that although biotechnology research and innovation have created the possibility of important medical breakthroughs, the spread of the research and the technological advancements that accompany innovations have also increased the risk that such knowledge could be used to develop weapons.


Shreya Kumar Student No: 420041793 CISS6004

Graham and Talent acknowledged that weaponizing biological agents is still difficult and stated that “government officials and outside experts believe that no terrorist group has the •

Another supply-side issue is that inputs to biological weapons are inher-ently dual-

use. Unlike special nuclear materials (highly enriched plutonium and uranium), which are man-made at great expense and effort and produced only at government-sanctioned facilities, biological agents (with the single ex-ception of variola virus, the causative agent of smallpox) exist in the environ-ment.24 Pathogens listed by the government as potential agents for terrorists are used in thousands of clinical and diagnostic laboratories.25 The same equipment used to produce beer, for example, could be used to produce bio-logical agents. The underlying research and technology base is available to a rapidly growing and increasingly international technical community.26 (dreaded risk and control of biological weapons) •

Another problem is that the manufacture of biological weapons is relatively easy to

hide. Enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear weapons materials emit chemical signatures that can be picked up by sensors placed at long distances from the production site. There are no equivalent, easily identifiable signatures for BW production. •


efforts to characterize the terrorist threat have entailed assessments of the country's vulnerability. Exercises in the 1990s tested the U.S. government's preparedness for responding to WMD attacks. The tests revealed that hospitals were likely to quickly exhaust


Shreya Kumar Student No: 420041793 CISS6004

their supplies of antidotes and vaccines; first re-sponders (police, firefighters, and other emergency workers) were inade-quately trained and likely to succumb themselves; and coordination among federal, state, and local officials was all but nonexistent. Hospital laboratories were poorly prepared for biological attacks. Secure communication links among doctors, veterinarians, and local and federal public-health officials were inadequate. Systems for ensuring that medication and personnel were distributed appropriately were undeveloped. The public health infrastructure was-and remains-unprepared for timely response and containment of out-breaks. Moreover, critics argue that the lack of a fully coordinated global dis-ease surveillance system could obstruct early response to a bioterrorist attack. Congress enacted legislation to address some of these shortfalls, but many of these problems remain unresolved.40 A particularly frightening aspect of biological warfare or terrorism is that it may be difficult to distinguish from a natural outbreak. Although discerning natural from unnatural outbreaks proceeds more rapidly than in the past, sus-picions and fears resulting from such outbreaks can still occur. •

On the rare occasions when biological weapons were used or accidentally re-leased,

scientists and government officials often first assumed that the epidem-ics were natural outbreaks. For instance, when 751 people in Oregon became infected with salmonella in 1984, public health authorities suspected a natural outbreak, not bioterrorism. A year later, an unrelated law-enforcement investi-gation revealed that the Rajneeshee cult had deliberately spread pathogens causing the disease.43 And when Robert Stevens, an avid outdoorsman and a photo editor for the supermarket tabloid The Sun, was found to have con-tracted anthrax, Florida State health officials initially attributed the source of the disease to a naturally occurring strain of the bacteria found in some soils.44 Terrorists have yet to employ successfully biological agents to carry out mass casualty attacks. Most incidents to date have involved readily available and easily deployed food-borne pathogens, resulting in relatively


Shreya Kumar Student No: 420041793 CISS6004

few casual-ties. Although the perpetrator of the fall 2001 attacks used a highly sophisti-cated powder, the letters in the envelopes identified the material as anthrax and warned recipients to seek treatment, suggesting that the intention was not to kill people. This could change if a state chose to sponsor a biological attack or if a group managed to secure assistance from former government scientists. Moreover, as aerosolization technologies continue to improve, high-casualty biological attacks will become easier to carry out


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