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equipment. “For instance, a few hundred micro-liters of scrapings from
the blistered mucosa of an FMD-infected animal, or blood from an animal
hemorrhaging from ASF, or a handful of wheat tillers heavily infected by
the stem rust pathogen can provide more than enough agent to initiate an

Attacks of Grave Concern
Livestock Diseases
Attacks against livestock could take advantage of farm animals™ living con-
ditions to accelerate the spread of disease. Feedlots commonly hold up to
100,000 head of cattle, and poultry production units can house a million
birds. In the United States, thirty feedlots fatten over ¬ve million head of
cattle, and the thirty-two largest packing plants process over 80 percent of
all beef.
Some diseases are essentially untreatable; at least twenty-two live-
stock diseases have no vaccine.65 Infected carriers must be isolated
and destroyed. If one animal in a herd is identi¬ed as infected, usu-
ally an entire herd must be destroyed. Worst are diseases that vaccines
have long eradicated from a region. Because vaccinations have ceased,
deliberate re-introduction of the disease would face no existing immu-
nity or responsive veterinary infrastructure. Foot and mouth disease
can become airborne and travel as far as 60 kilometers over land and
300 kilometers over sea; it can also be spread by animate vectors and
through direct contact with an infected animal. Bio-offenders could use
multiple agents, attack many sites simultaneously, or use drug-resistant
organisms.66 Igniting an extensive pandemic is challenging, yet smaller
attacks could entail merely spraying viral preparations with a simple atom-
izer, perhaps where animals are densely penned (as in chicken houses
or piggeries). Even if each attack is eventually contained, the threat of
new attacks could arouse economically ruinous quarantines and trade
In 2003, two U.S. government expert panels assessed the threat from
animal pathogens that could be used for bioviolence and established
research and development priorities to reduce these threats: The Inter-
agency Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Counter Measures Work-
ing Group “ Animal Pathogens Research and Development Subgroup
(2003), and a White House Of¬ce of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)

Agroterrorism Countermeasures Blue Ribbon Panel (December 2003).67
Ten animal diseases were identi¬ed for urgent vaccine and antiviral
research and development; signi¬cant investments were recommended.
Perhaps the livestock disease of greatest concern involves prions “ par-
ticles of protein that alter normal proteins in the body and can cause incur-
able neurological ailments (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad
cow disease in cattle; Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or CJD in humans). It is
infectious through consumption of infected meat regardless of cooking; an
attack against animals could be transmitted to humans. It was once com-
mon practice to feed cattle ground-up bits of other animals; if the disease
was in this feed, it could readily spread to other animals. In the 1990s in
the United Kingdom, an outbreak of mad cow disease and the subsequent
discovery that CJD had caused over a hundred human fatalities ultimately
caused as much as $50 billion in losses.68 Most developed nations now
prohibit feeding livestock the ground brains or skeletal remains of other
animals, but there is dispute about whether the disease can be transmitted
via consumption of still-allowed muscle tissue.

Crop Diseases
Attacks against crops are easy to execute. Pathogens can be obtained
virtually anywhere; methods for preparing the seed stock are widely
understood; and large quantities of the agent can be produced with little
more than a backyard garden. A perpetrator could mix the spores into fertil-
izer and hand-spread it in an unprotected ¬eld. Spores could be loaded into
a crop duster and sprayed over a large area without special preparation;
natural weather conditions would continue to spread the pathogen. All this
activity could be performed with scant risk of detection by law enforce-
From an offender™s perspective, the problem in using crop diseases
is that, at least in developed nations, effective mitigation and response
measures could limit the harm. Large agri-business has ready access to
response tools such as antifungal crop sprays, soil treatments, and alterna-
tive seed grain cultivars speci¬cally bred to be disease-resistant. Reversing
crop damage is impossible, but these techniques can stop the spread of
disease quickly and prevent soil contamination from threatening future
crops. However, in less developed nations where sophisticated farming
techniques are not widely practiced, the ¬nancial costs of combating a
crop disease outbreak could be prohibitive for impoverished farmers. The
high concentration of monocultures (single species) limits genetic diver-
sity thereby reducing resistance to contagious diseases. An epidemic could

spread throughout the region, threaten the entire crop for the year, and
contaminate the soil with fungal spores that could threaten future crops
as well.
A quandary of agroviolence against crops is distinguishing wrongful
from legitimate activity. Drug control efforts of the United States and the
United Nations have supported use of virulent strains of fungi, notably
Fusarium, against crops of opium, poppy, coca, and cannabis. The work
is alarmingly analogous to the Soviet Union™s anti-crop bioweapons pro-
grams and raises concerns about dual use pathogen research: the differ-
ence between anti-drug-crop programs and agroviolence programs is that
the targeted crop is designated as “illegal.” But that can be an inconsistent
justi¬cation for in¬‚icting widespread agro-disease. Moreover, deliberately
releasing plant pathogens to destroy drug crops could provoke drug crim-
inals to retaliate by attacking food crops thereby initiating a sustained
exchange of bioweapons.

International Prevention Systems
The good news about agroviolence is that the international system to pre-
vent the spread of crop and livestock diseases is quite sophisticated. The
OIE has robustly risen to the challenge. It informs governments about
diseases and how to control them, assists States in implementing consis-
tent regulatory systems, and helps coordinate resources and information
ef¬ciently in the event of disease.
The international system to control crop diseases is supervised by the
International Plant Protection Convention69 (IPPC, under the auspices
of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO]) which
promotes standards to prevent the spread of harmful plant pests and
pathogens. Also noteworthy is that the international system to prevent
traf¬c of diseased animals and plants (whether unintentionally or delib-
erately smuggled) is among the world™s most sophisticated regulatory sys-
tems, jointly supervised by the FAO and the World Customs Organiza-
tion (WCO). Yet, there is widespread concern that more action is needed.
According to the United States National Research Council,

The United States should investigate the global eradication of those ani-
mal diseases posing signi¬cant threats and cooperate with international
agricultural and wildlife experts in doing so. A continuing international
mechanism to identify measures needed for global eradication of partic-
ular diseases should be established. Through such a mechanism, a global

vaccination and eradication strategy could be developed with the partici-
pation of diverse experts and stakeholders.70


A handful of agents are widely cited for their previous development or
use as bioweapons. Today, these agents might seem less threatening; there
are dif¬cult obstacles to using them for mass catastrophe. A sophisticated
weapons program, however, could develop very dangerous strains. Four
of the most prominent agents are brie¬‚y mentioned here.

Japan, the United States, and the former Soviet Union developed plague
as a biological weapon.71 Plague is infamous because of the Black Death
pandemic that swept through Europe killing up to one-third of the conti-
nent™s population. A more recent pandemic began in 1855 in China, spread
worldwide, and killed over twelve million people.
The bacterium, Yersinia pestis, is naturally available in infected rodents.
In its most dangerous pneumonic form, it is a highly contagious disease
that can spread by respiratory droplet to people within two meters. It
can cause death within days if not treated; because its clinical symptoms
resemble progressive pneumonia, rapid diagnosis and treatment is dif¬-
cult. In 1970, the World Health Organization reported that 50 kilograms
(111 pounds) of aerosol plague disseminated over a city of ¬ve million
could infect up to 150,000 inhabitants with pneumonic plague and could
cause as many as 36,000 fatalities. The aerosol would remain viable for a
period up to an hour after dispersal and could spread up to 10 kilometers
(6.2 miles). This amount of aerosol disseminated over New York City could
infect more than 243,000 people.72
A plague vaccine was discontinued in 1999. The disease is treated by
administering prophylactic antibiotic drugs within twenty-four hours after
the onset of symptoms.73 In the event of a plague epidemic, health of¬-
cials would likely administer these drugs to people with a fever or a cough
without awaiting de¬nitive proof that they have the disease. Although
most public health systems throughout the developed world have ample
antibiotics to limit the disease™s impact, a widespread attack in develop-
ing nations could exhaust drug stockpiles rendering health care systems

These numbers should not disguise plague™s signi¬cant drawbacks for
use as a weapon. Yersinia pestis is sensitive to sunlight and heat and does
not survive long outside a host. It is dif¬cult to handle and aerosolize.
If there are a limited number of victims, it is relatively easy to prevent
plague™s spread. To become an epidemic, plague requires a critical mass to
develop the cycle of transmission whether via direct contagion or indirectly
via ¬‚eas. A highly contagious strain of plague would have to be widely
disseminated in order to infect many people simultaneously so that the
number of infected persons would overwhelm a health system™s ability to
distribute antibiotics. That said, a large plague attack using vectors (¬‚eas
or mosquitoes deliberately infected and released) in the developing world
could be regionally devastating. Moreover, the Soviet bioweapons program
is reported to have modi¬ed plague for easier dissemination. Whether
today™s bio-offenders have comparable capabilities is unknown.

The Japanese, the Soviet Union, and the United States extensively
researched tularemia during World War II. The Soviet Union is widely
believed to have intentionally caused tularemia outbreaks among German
soldiers in Eastern Europe during World War II to slow their advance. Dur-
ing the Cold War, both the United States and the Soviet Union weaponized
the disease; the Soviets weaponized it for use in a specially devised
Tularemia is contracted through the skin, mucous membranes, gas-
trointestinal tract, and lungs. It is transmitted either by insect bites or by
inhaling the bacteria. Tularemia is a threat because it is highly infectious.
On average, ten organisms of F. tularensis can cause illness if inhaled.
Virulent strains of the bacteria have been reported to cause 30“60 per-
cent mortality if left untreated, but the overall fatality rate for tularemia is
around 7 percent, dropping to 2 percent if treated with antibiotics. It is con-
sidered more as an incapacitating agent. Microbiologists can transform F.
tularensis with plasmids to enhance its virulence and make it resistant to
certain antibiotic drugs.74
The WHO estimated in 1969 that an aerosol dissemination of 50 kilo-
grams of tularemia over a city of ¬ve million people could incapacitate
250,000 and kill more than 19,000.75 However, the disease is dif¬cult to
propagate and is subject to environment stresses. A military bioweapons
attack using tularemia might in¬‚ict catastrophic damage, but dissemina-
tion problems could inhibit its use as a terrorist weapon.

Q Fever
Q fever, short for Queensland Fever, is a zoonotic disease caused by one of
the world™s most infectious bacterium, Coxiella burnetii“ a single organism
can generate infection. The bacterium itself can be acquired from cattle,
sheep, goats, and other herd animals. Culturing the bacteria using rou-
tine laboratory techniques is dif¬cult, but dissemination is not arduous.
The bacterium is highly resistant to heat, drying, disinfectants, and other
environmental factors.76
The most common acute form of the disease has a very low death rate,
only 1“2 percent. The chronic form of the disease, however, has a much
higher death rate of 65 percent but can take from one to twenty years to kill
the victim. A vaccine for Q fever has been developed but is not commer-
cially available in the United States. Also, people who have previously been
exposed to the bacteria are strongly advised against receiving the vaccina-
tion because of potentially severe complications. A population would have
to be preemptively vaccinated before an actual terrorist attack.77 Antibi-
otic treatment is available but would be effective only if administered soon
after infection.

Ricin, a toxic protein extracted from castor beans, is extremely lethal if
inhaled, ingested, or injected directly into the bloodstream. No antidote
exists. It is highly stable and less affected by meteorological conditions than
most bacteria. Ricin toxin is most reknowned as a means of assassination.
The Soviets used it to assassinate Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov in
1978 by injecting a 1.7 millimeter-wide ricin pellet underneath his skin with
a modi¬ed umbrella tip.78 The ease of obtaining the poison and lethality
of infection make ricin a credible biomurder threat, but disseminating
lethal doses to many people is challenging “ more challenging even than
disseminating other toxins. If the objective is to cause mass casualties,
enormous amounts of the agent would have to be released into the air in
hopes of infecting people inhalationally.


Bioscience is racing forward into directions that science ¬ction writ-
ers could barely have imagined only a short time ago. Simultaneously,
other technologies such as micro-engineering (nanotechnology) and

information technology are eroding the line that separates the life sciences
from other disciplines. It is now possible to create viruses from chemi-
cals “ the “creators” of the polio virus referred to it as an animate chemical
compound.79 The day is not far off when more complex life forms can be
similarly re-created. Easier than creating altogether new living organisms
is manipulating existing life with new attributes. Altogether, emerging sci-
ences offer radical transformations in medicine, agriculture, and technol-
ogy. Where they will lead us, even in the span of a few decades, is virtually
A major note of caution is in order. Much is possible, but it is not alto-
gether certain which discoveries offer serious potential for bioviolence.
Scienti¬c advances certainly thicken the fog of bioviolence prevention,
but less certain is whether we should fear Frankensteins lurking in the
shadows. Even if the threat of nightmares erupting from bioscience is real,
how imminent is the peril? Scientists agree that genetically engineering


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