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Blog posts tagged with 'biological weapons'

BIOTERRORISM AND THE FUTURE OF OUR FOOD SUPPLY.

(Editor’s note re-printed from Homeland Security Newswire)

The state of public health and biodefense

Published 7 September 2009

There are two bookends to U.S. concern with bioterror attacks on the United States: the fall 2001 anthrax-by-mail attacks, and the December 2007 report by a blue-ribbon commission, headed by former senators Bob Graham of Florida and Jim Talent of Missouri, asserting that of all the weapons of mass destruction, terrorists would likely use biological weapons against the United States because these weapons are easier to produce and deliver than nuclear weapons, and much deadlier than chemical weapons.

The Bush administration did not wait for the commission’s report to allocate $5 billion to its BioShield project, which distributes money to companies engaged in research and development of vaccines and treatments to counter bioterror attacks.

The interest in food safety is a more recent phenomenon, reflecting growing worries about the side effects of globalization. More and more food items – and ingredients used in food items — are imported into the United States. Trouble is, many of the countries from which these items are imported have much lower health and safety standards than the United States does – and often, even if health and safety measures are on the books, endemic corruption in many of these countries guarantees that these standards are not enforced.

What exacerbated the problem was the Bush administration’s cuts in the budget of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), making the agency’s already difficult inspection task nearly impossible. These two conflicting trends – a steady increase in the importation of food and food ingredients into the United States, and a steady decline since 2001 in the budget and inspection personnel of the FDA – combined to create an explosion of food recalls in 2007 and 2008, prompting Congress to consider much tougher food inspection regime, but also prompting the industry and individual companies to formulate their own tougher policies of health and safety standards.

Just as the growing awareness of bioterrorism has been beneficial to many biotechnology companies – especially start ups – so has the awareness of the need for more effective food safety regime. Thus, according to BCC research, the U.S. food safety testing market value increased from $2.0 billion in 2006 to about $2.1 billion in 2007, and it should reach $2.8 billion by 2012, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.8 percent. The growth rate reflects demand for pathogen testing, where implementation of standard hygiene practices and a stringent regulatory environment has slowed the incidence of microbial infections.

The research form says that the potency of toxins should propel testing for contaminants from a $78 million market in 2007 to a $135 million market in 2012, a CAGR of 11.6 percent.

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Is Al Qaeda Seeking Weapons of Mass Destruction?

By Dr. Neil Livingstone.

REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM DomesticPreparedness.com

SPRING 2009

Reports surfaced in early January that approximately forty Al Qaeda members in Algeria died from plague after the deadly bacteria escaped from a surreptitious laboratory where they were attempting to weaponize the disease. Although there has been no official confirmation that that is exactly what happened, it is clear that something out of the ordinary did occur in Algeria at that time, and the reports are part of a mounting body of evidence, both circumstantial and confirmed, that Al Qaeda is attempting to acquire weapons of mass destruction – most likely, in this situation, a bio weapon.

It has long been an article of faith that the United States and its allies would get an early warning – through an accidental release or an outbreak of some unusual disease – about the possible misuse of bio agents. Accidental releases are not common, but they have occurred a number of times in the past – most notably in 1979 in the region around a Soviet biological weapons facility in Sverdlovsk, where there was an accidental anthrax release that killed 68 people. The Soviets, of course, denied not only that anthrax had caused the fatalities but also that the facility was engaged in the production of biological weapons – in contravention of the Biological Weapons Convention. The incident remained a matter of controversy during the Reagan administration, but after the fall of the Soviet Union the Russians ultimately acknowledged what happened.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the U.S. intelligence community found substantial evidence, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, that Al Qaeda was indeed working on acquiring biological weapons – and, according to the 9/11 Commission, the effort was more advanced than previously believed. Although Al Qaeda had investigated the possible use of other dangerous agents, including plague and even ebola, its more immediate goal seemed to be to create a fully stable and weaponized strain of anthrax.

Ebola, however, is a hemorrhagic fever and one of the deadliest diseases in the world – also one of the most contagious. The good news is that there is no known incidence of it being successfully weaponized, and many experts believe that, because it outruns its hosts so quickly, it also dissipates quickly and therefore does not expand beyond a certain critical mass. The Japanese Am Shinrikyo cult – which carried out the 1995 Tokyo subway attack using Sarin (a G Series nerve agent) – tried to acquire an ebola culture but ultimately gave up and moved onto more conventional bio agents.
Weaponized anthrax also represents a formidable scientific challenge, so it is not surprising that Al Qaeda may have focused on plague – most likely bubonic plague, which was known as the “Black Death” in the Middle Ages, is considerably easier to develop, and can be created in a modest laboratory with commercially available equipment. Plague is still a problem in Africa, so it would not have been too difficult for Al Qaeda to have acquired a sample culture. Plague also would require less scientific expertise than trying to create weaponized anthrax or smallpox.

In that context, it should be remembered that Ayman al-Zawahiri (Al Qaeda’s number-two man after Osama bin Laden) is not only a trained medical doctor with a master’s degree in surgery, but also the son of a pharmacologist and a chemistry professor. In addition, he is known to have had an interest in biowarfare – and, interestingly, spent time in Russia in the 1990s. According to the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, al-Zawahiri received training from the FSB, the successor organization to the KGB, and was the FSB’s principal connection to Al Qaeda. Litvinenko, of course, became internationally famous, belatedly, when he was murdered by a dose of plononium-210, an extremely rare and costly radiological agent that, it is believed, had been slipped into his food in a Soho sushi restaurant in London.

Plague is disseminated via a “vector,” most commonly an infected flea carried by a rat, which is known as the reservoir host. Traditionally, the best way of controlling the plague has been the creation and implementation of effective rodent-management programs. Largely for that reason, most Western countries are believed to be – thanks to their modern hygiene standards and medical facilities – far less at risk from plague than are the so-called “lesser developed” countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
In addition to hard drives, floppy discs, and material gleaned from interrogations, the United States has accumulated a great deal of evidence related to Al Qaeda’s continuing, and apparently increasing, interest not only in bio weapons, but also in chemical and radiological weapons (especially RDDs, better known as Radiological Dispersion Devices – i.e., “dirty bombs”). Among the more substantive evidence confirming this theory are some NBC (nuclear, biological, and chemical) protective suits seized by British police during a raid on a Finsbury Park mosque in 2003. In addition, Jordanian authorities claimed to have thwarted a major chemical attack in 2004, and there have been credible reports that Abu Musab Zarqawi, Al Qaeda’s late leader in Iraq, had managed to acquire or develop ricin, one of the three deadliest substances on earth (the others being plutonium and botulinal toxin).

Although difficult to deliver to a widely dispersed group of human targets, ricin, a derivative of the lowly castor bean, is an excellent assassination weapon and may have been used by the Soviets to murder several heads of state and other leading Third World politicians. Another telling clue is that Al Qaeda in Iraq hired two chemists in 2004 and tasked them with trying to develop crude chemical and biological weapons. Fortunately, U.S. Marines discovered their laboratory (in Falluja) before any weapons had been manufactured. The Marines did find materials, however, that could have been used to make hydrogen cyanide. Other U.S. troops discovered caged dogs and other animals that they believed were going to be used by Al Qaeda as “guinea pigs” to test either chemical or biological weapons.
Jihadists believe that Muslims have a religious duty to wage an “offensive jihad” against infidels, and there seems to have been no lessening of Muslim antipathy toward the West in recent years. Many observers believe, in fact, that the threat of a Jihadist attack employing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) is growing rather than receding, despite the recent presidential election in the United States and the dramatic growth of homeland-security precautions against terrorism. Former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) said even prior to 9/11 that the possibility of a terrorist WMD attack against the United States is no longer a question of “if” but “when” such an attack might occur.

Nunn’s statement was echoed by former Vice President Dick Cheney in an interview two weeks after leaving office. According to Cheney, there is a “high probability” of a nuclear or biological attack against the United States within the next few years. That chilling possibility is backed up by a study cited by Gary Ackerman, research director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, in which respondents indicated that they believe there is a thirty percent probability of a WMD attack against the United States within the next five years.

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UK Reports: WMD Terror Strike on Major City ‘More Realistic’

May 2009

Terrorists attacking a major city with nuclear or biological weapons is “more realistic” than ever, British officials warned as they lifted the secrecy from six years of counter-terrorism efforts.

Called “Contest,” the U.K. anti-terror strategy contends that new technologies and lawless nations boost the odds of a WMD attack leading to massive death and destruction.

Titled “Pursue, Protect, Prevent, Prepare: The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering International Terrorism,” the 176-page report presents an updated British strategy for combating terrorism.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith describes Contest as “one of the most comprehensive and wide-ranging approaches to tackling terrorism anywhere in the world.”

Dr. Marvin Cetron, the futurist and founder of Forecasting International, a firm that advises U.S. counter-terrorism agencies, reports that British authorities have every reason to be concerned.

“The terrorists are getting better qualified, more technically trained people as we’ve seen in Britain,” Cetron says. “And they’re trying to get the capability. They’re still working on getting nuclear fissionable material. That’s a low probability, but it is a high-impact event.”

Since 2001, the report reveals, British authorities have thwarted over a dozen terrorist attacks. One measure of officials’ concern: U.K authorities have trained and equipped over 7,000 police officers to respond to WMD incidents. They have also built facilities for mass decontamination’s, should a WMD attack occur.

“Contemporary terrorist organizations aspire to use chemical, biological, radiological and even nuclear weapons,” the report states. “Changing technology and the theft and smuggling of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) materials make this aspiration more realistic than it may have been in the recent past.”

A letter from Prime Minister Gordon Brown accompanying the Contest report states: “This new form of terrorism is different in scale and nature from the terrorist threats we have had to deal with in recent decades. It is intent on inflicting mass casualties without warning, motivated by a violent extremist ideology, and exploits modern travel and communications to spread through a loose and dangerous global network.”

One question counter-terror experts will no doubt be asking: Why after six years is the British government lifting the veil of secrecy over its counter-terrorism strategy and assessments?

Smith said the government seeks to “provide the people of the UK and our partners overseas with as full and as open an account as possible of why and how we are tackling this threat.”

The new report lists four main terror threats facing the U.K., all of them linked to al Qaida:

  • The current al-Qaida organization.
  • Al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist organizations.
  • “Self-starting” terror groups, or individuals, seeking to emulate an al-Qaida style attack.
  • Groups unaffiliated with al-Qaida, that, broadly speaking, have a similar agenda.According to the report, al-Qaida is under such intense pressure around the globe that it is unlikely to survive in its current form, and will likely splinter into many smaller groups. But like a hydra that sprouts multiple cells for each one killed, U.K. counterintelligence predicts the evolution of many smaller organizations — sharing a similar ideology and working toward goals similar to al-Qaida’s.The report attributes the growing danger in part to development of technologies that enable small cells of violent fundamentalists to communicate and plan.Cetron agrees that al-Qaida is breaking into smaller parts, and concurs that in many ways this complicates matters.“Al-Qaida is finding out they can do better with small groups, people who are raised in the country itself, not people who are coming from Islamic lands.” Such “home-grown” terrorists are better able to fit in, and can move freely among the local population, Cetron says.

    Also highlighting the very real danger of terrorists using WMD was the July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate stating that al-Qaida “will continue to try to acquire and employ chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear material in attacks, and would not hesitate to use them if it develops what it deems is sufficient capability.”

    The British report cites several factors it says contribute to an unprecedented level of danger from a WMD terrorist attack:

  • Unresolved regional disputes in Afghanistan, Palestine, Bosnia, Chechnya, Lebanon, and Kashmir.
  • Extremists associated with al-Qaida who tout violence as the “religious duty” of all Muslims.
  • Radicalization, or the recruitment of disaffected citizens who join terrorist groups to carry out attacks.
  • The phenomenon of failed states, which is expected to continue indefinitely.
  • The evolution of technologies “which facilitate terrorist propaganda, communications, and terrorist organizations.” Innovations by terrorists quickly spread around the globe.As an example of how terrorists are learning from other terrorists, the Contest report cites the evolution of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which were employed with brutal effect against American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.The report states IED technology “evolved rapidly in a series of conflicts over the past 15 years,” adding, “Al-Qaida, its affiliates, and groups inspired by al-Qaida have demonstrated intent to experiment with novel explosives to maximize their capabilities and, in some cases, to deliberately circumvent protective security measures.”Cetron also reports the United Kingdom is No. 1 on al-Qaida’s list of targets. “It is the prime target. France is next, Europe in general is third, and the United States is fourth on that list.”The reason England is more vulnerable? I say, consider this: They have many people, in country, who are trained and angry. This is facilitated by the zealous nature of the far left liberal version/ideology of diversity, over-the-top tolerance and political correctness which will, in the end, be the undoing of western civilizations as our enemies understand how to take advantage of this soft underbelly of our freedoms and play us like a fine Stradivarius violin. Their only chance at victory is to steal technology, use it against us and divide us on political arguments that polarize our politicans. They will need our unwitting assistance.

    Non the less, we say be prepared for the potential of a biological attak in your community. Visit Advnt.org to see how!

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