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The only USA in the West prepared for biological terrorism

Biological weapons / All seven countries that support Bush's claim against terrorism are suspected of developing prohibited weapons

Economist

Biological weapons - whether they are sophisticated products of a national military program, or basic poisons of an eccentric hazard - are the rarest of a variety of biological threats to public health. The more common risks include natural epidemics of known diseases such as influenza and AIDS, as well as industrial accidents or injuries, which allow bacteria and viruses to be released from laboratories; and increasing resistance of bacteria to antibiotics.

Compared to all these, the biological weapon is a much less probable danger. Such a weapon is also not always easy to use. Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese cult that carried out a sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, had previously carried out anthrax experiments, which came to nothing. The anthrax spores that were mailed in the US about a year ago were of a much more virulent type and were finely ground, which made it easier for them to penetrate the victims' lungs. Weather conditions, such as wind speed, may also thwart the most diabolical planning.
Nevertheless, biological weapons have terrifying potential, as was known as far back as the 14th century, when the Tatars pelted the besieged city of Capa with infected corpses. Modern biological agents are far more lethal than the most toxic chemical agents. In the 20th century, most major military powers developed biological weapons, but moral reluctance and doubts about its military value generally prevented countries from using these weapons against each other.

This hesitation became official in the 1925 Geneva Protocol and the 1975 Biological Weapons Convention, which was signed after the US abandoned its development program. But according to estimates, another 17 countries have retained some biological capability. All seven countries on the list of countries that support terrorism compiled by the USA - Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria - are among the countries suspected of developing such capabilities. As far as is known, none of the regimes that reportedly possess biological weapons have transferred such weapons to a terrorist organization.

When the UN inspectors were expelled from Iraq in 1998, they had already managed to destroy thousands of liters of anthrax and other bacteria; But it is still unknown what happened to the 17 tons of substrate for growing bacteria. Since then, Iraq is believed to have developed mobile labs for growing bacteria, and other labs are hidden under hospitals and private homes. It is also known that Iraq adapted agricultural sprays for spraying biological substances, and that it conducted experiments not only with bacteria but also with viruses. It is possible that it (as well as North Korea) has stocks of the smallpox virus.

The smallpox virus is the only disease that has become extinct in nature. The last report of a person contracting the disease was in 1979, and most people today are "immunely naïve", and exposed to infection no less than the Indians in America were exposed to diseases of the old world. America and Russia agreed to keep samples of the virus for research purposes, and according to the CIA, several countries have samples of it for use as weapons.

In "Dark Winter", a government study that was completed in June of last year and attempted to predict the effects of smallpox attacks on three American cities, it was claimed that within two months of the attack, one million people would die of the disease and two million people would be infected. The US quickly purchased vaccine doses suitable for the protection of the entire country, and is now debating whether to carry out the vaccination. In the coming weeks, the president, George Bush, is expected to announce a plan to vaccinate 500 thousand health workers, and following them another seven to ten million people will be vaccinated. It seems that the USA is the only one among the Western countries that is seriously preparing for a biological attack.

The early detection of biological weapons is of crucial importance. The protection of places prone to danger may require devices that continuously monitor the air and the particles in it. Several research groups are currently looking for antibodies that will bind to the surface of dangerous molecules. Such measures may form the basis of both detection and treatment.

Another key tactic for preventing biological attacks is investing in measures to prevent terrorists from obtaining the bacteria needed to develop biological weapons. Unlike the nuclear and chemical industries, where certain materials and certain equipment have defined military uses that are easy to control, the life sciences deal with raw materials that are common in nature. For this reason, it is mandatory for the biological industry to take measures to ensure that its products are not used to cause harm. The International Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington, along with the Institute for Biological and Chemical Weapons Control, are currently formulating a convention for the biotechnology industry, with the aim of establishing a forum where industry leaders can discuss new developments, share information about dangers and threats, and agree on a code of conduct.

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