BIO-SCARE – AT 9:10 A.M. ET: We don't want to cry "wolf," and I do wonder whether all the terrorism stories since 9-11 have dulled our senses. But this seems particularly important, from The Wall Street Journal:
Rapid advances in bioscience are raising alarms among terrorism experts that amateur scientists will soon be able to gin up deadly pathogens for nefarious uses.
Fears of bioterror have been on the rise since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, stoking tens of billions of dollars of government spending on defenses, and the White House and Congress continue to push for new measures.
But the fear of a mass-casualty terrorist attack using bioweapons has always been tempered by a single fact: Of the scores of plots uncovered during the past decade, none have featured biological weapons. Indeed, many experts doubt terrorists even have the technical capability to acquire and weaponize deadly bugs.
The new fear, though, is that scientific advances that enable amateur scientists to carry out once-exotic experiments, such as DNA cloning, could be put to criminal use. Many well-known figures are sounding the alarm over the revolution in biological science, which amounts to a proliferation of know-how—if not the actual pathogens.
"Certain areas of biotechnology are getting more accessible to people with malign intent," said Jonathan Tucker, an expert on biological and chemical weapons at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
Geneticist Craig Venter said last month at the first meeting of a presidential commission on bioethics, "If students can order any [genetic sequences] online, somebody could try to make the Ebola virus."
COMMENT: It is far easier to acquire biological subtances than nuclear material. While a bio-weapon might have an uncertain effect, that will not discourage terror groups. Uncertain doesn't mean failing. After all, the murder of a few hundred people in a subway or office building could start the 9-11 fear cycle all over again, which is what terror is about.
I would take this seriously. Further, many forms of technology are becoming simpler, and far less expensive. It will not be many years before a number of "developing" countries will have, in at least one lab, research center, or university, the capacity to build some pretty awful things. Nor will it be long before some third-world countries, equipped with nuclear weapons, will possess more firepower than we did in World War II.
We will have our hands full, and our weak economy will, no doubt, compromise our efforts. This is a time for great leadership. See any?
August 12, 2010