NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Real History, Prognosis for Biological Warfare

October 15, 2001

A new book by a team of New York Times reporters about the potential for biological warfare might ease the public's panic, but won't -- and shouldn't -- reduce concern about the growing threat from these weapons, observers say.

In the book, "Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War," reporters Judith Miller, Stephen Engleberg and William Broad reviewed the history of biological weapons.

  • The former Soviet production facility at Stepnogorsk, Kazakhstan, could produce 300 tons of anthrax spores in 220 days -- enough to fill many ICBMs and wipe out America's entire population.
  • In April 1979 an accidental release from the facility killed at least 66 people.
  • In March 1995, the Aum Shinrikyo cult released the nerve agent sarin in the Tokyo subways, killing 12 and sickening thousands.
  • In 1984, the Rajneeshee cult contaminated salad bars in an Oregon town, making more than 750 people seriously ill.

Iraq, the reporters note, "learned how to make thousands of gallons of anthrax and botulinum in just a few years." But while biological weapons today are not easy for most terrorists to produce in quantity, handle or disperse, the number of potential perpetrators is growing. Also growing is their access to know-how for developing such weapons and the financing needed to underwrite their programs.

No student of the biological threat believes our assessment and response should be confined to a top-secret program. Rather, it must coordinate federal, state and local governments, and the military, intelligence and medical arenas for appropriate action.

Source: John C. Gannon (former chairman, National Intelligence Council), "Viewing Mass Destruction Through A Microscope," New York Times, October 11, 2001.


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