- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Crop-dusting aircraft and other planes equipped for "agricultural operations" grounded Sunday "for national security reasons" were barred again yesterday from taking to the air.
The flight ban is scheduled to end just after noon today.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued the initial stand-down following reports that one of the suspects in the Sept. 11 attacks, as well as several other suspicious persons with no obvious reason for their interest, had been inquiring about the speed of crop-dusting aircraft, their fuel loads and cargo-carrying capacity. Moreover, it was widely reported over the weekend that investigators had found crop-dusting manuals in the possession of at least one potential terrorist suspect.
This is deemed significant because the swift, maneuverable crop dusters are considered ideal vehicles for delivering chemical or biological weapons over population centers or for contaminating water supplies or crops. So even though there have been no reports that terrorists actually planned airborne attacks with weapons of mass destruction, the FAA acted. An agency spokesman said the agency was just being careful "erring on the side of caution."
Still, the FAA's action and other precautions being taken, along with the appointment of Tom Ridge, Pennsylvania's Republican governor, to head the new Office of Homeland Security, indicate government officials and defense analysts now regard heightened civil defense as an imperative. Terrorists' use of crowded airlines as missiles has convinced them that America's foes have no moral compunction against using weapons of mass destruction.
In fact, Osama bin Laden said three years ago that in today's wars there are "no morals." And yesterday Dr. Gro Harlem, head of the World Health Organization, told Western Hemisphere health ministers meeting in Washington that "we must prepare for the possibility that people are deliberately harmed with biological or chemical agents."
The complacency that in the past caused officials to blink when focusing on the worst possible terrorist threats the possibility of chemical, biological and radiological attacks is yielding. And members of Congress and various federal officials now admit the nation has been left ill-prepared to defend against previously unthinkable assaults with such weapons.
Kevin Briggs, a former Pentagon official who now heads the U.S. Preparedness Institute and directs the American Civil Defense Association, says the government's inclination to prevent panic has discouraged honest discussion of the kinds of threats the U.S. population could be facing. Consequently, there has been little effort to provide information on methods individuals can use to survive if germs, viruses, poison gas or "suitcase" nuclear bombs are used against them.
Russian suitcase bombs were first disclosed in 1997 and later produced by U.S. forces. They weigh about 80 pounds, fit into a duffel bag and have a 1,000-ton explosive charge capable of leveling everything within a half-mile radius of the Capitol. Terrorists also could use cheap "dirty nukes," small bombs composed of inexpensive, low grade and accessible uranium wrapped around a charge of dynamite or home-made explosive. Exploded dirty nukes release invisible, lethal radiation.
It's not that the government has totally ignored defending against such weapons.
The weekly Budget Bulletin published for members of the Senate confirms that "efforts to counter the unconventional threats of terrorism have moved from relative obscurity to become a familiar element of the national security debate."
Familiarity, however, seems to have bred contempt.
Raymond J. Decker, the General Accounting Office's Director of Defense Capabilities and Management, reported in April that the government had not resolved "key problems."
Forty agencies now have a hand in shaping policy and planning counter-terrorism strategies, programs and activities. And at least until now, there has been "no consensus in Congress, the Executive Branch, the various panels and commissions and among organizations representing first responders" on ways to improve the federal response to terrorism, Mr. Decker has said. "First responders" are fire and rescue and other emergency organizations of state and local agencies.
Organizational concerns aside, the GAO has found that the United States currently lacks sufficient supplies of antibiotics to counter the effects of biological weapons like the plague and a myriad other diseases. It has been widely reported that most hospitals lack decontamination showers, breathing equipment for medical teams, nerve gas antitoxins or even a rudimentary plan for coping with a large-scale emergency resulting from a chemical or biological attack.
Moreover, Bronius Cikotas, a biological warfare specialist with the Defense Association, says "our major cities and communities with high population concentrations do not have sensors that can be used to detect the release of chemical or biological weapons."
Says Mr. Cikotas, "I am most concerned about biological threats. They are the most difficult to deal with. Nuclear may be a problem small, tactical devices rather than something very big."
"Basically, I think the public should know there is the possibility of attacks," he says, noting a Sept. 17 assessment by Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, chairman of one of the prestigious congressional commissions, that the likelihood of attack is low but the consequences would be devastating. "I think we should present the facts and give the public ideas of what the government can do and what people themselves can do. We don't have years to prepare," Mr. Cikotas says.
Among the facts that the new chief of homeland defense must act on, culled from Centers for Disease Control documents and other government sources:
The ingredients for making biological agents and weapons are available in nature and can readily be obtained from collections of germ and virus cultures held by private companies in industrialized and in some developing nations. Biological agents make attractive weapons because most can replicate after being disseminated.
The methods for producing various biological agents are explained in easily obtained literature to which terrorist groups have access.
A single laboratory could produce enough of a given germ or virus for "most terrorist purposes," as one study puts it, and a facility for large-scale production of biological weapons could be built for less than $10 million.
A small group of persons scattering germs, viruses or poisons could infect large numbers of a targeted population. Symptoms could develop in a day and last two to three weeks, causing immense social disruptions and a chaotic medical situation.
Consider the most frequently discussed biological, or "germ warfare" weapon anthrax.
About 10 grams (0.35 of an ounce) of anthrax spores to cite just one example can kill as many persons as can a ton of the nerve gas Sarin, and just 0.6 milligrams (or about 1/2000 of a gram) of Sarin can kill one adult. A Department of Defense document explains the germ this way:
"Anthrax is the preferred biological warfare agent." The reason: "It is highly lethal." One gram [0.035 of an ounce] of anthrax contains 100 million "lethal doses" and the disease is "100,000 times deadlier than the deadliest chemical warfare agent."
Anthrax is a "silent, invisible killer." When inhaled, it is "almost always fatal." It is cheap, easy to produce, and easy to make into a weapon. Besides, anthrax spores are "extremely stable" and can be preserved almost indefinitely as dry powder. In a freeze-dried condition the disease can be loaded into munitions or spread "as an aerosol with crude sprayers."
Biological warfare specialists say that effective sprayers can be mounted on pick-up trucks, lugged onto a small aircraft or otherwise easily mobilized. And as the Defense Department document concludes: "Knowledge [about anthrax] is widely available. Currently, we have a limited detection capability."
The United States has limited protection because, since World War II, it has worked on the theory that the best defense is a good offense.
Mr. Briggs, the defense specialist, explains the defense policy has been one of "mutual destruction," meaning that this nation would respond with annihilating nuclear force against any nation that attacked with weapons of mass destruction. However, the force now attacking is not a nation. It is described as an amorphous, decentralized, multinational network of small units. The old U.S. policy can't be effectively employed against it.
Defense specialists are saying the United States may have to borrow tricks from the small, less powerful nations that after World War II considered a good homeland defense the best offense. Their policy has been to make attacks ineffectual and less likely by assuring that use of weapons of mass destruction in their nations cannot guarantee mass casualties or maximum disruption.
Switzerland, Israel, Norway and other Scandinavian countries require, for example, that new homes and public buildings contain hardened, dual purpose shelter areas that can be sealed in the event of biological, chemical, or radiological attack. Throughout the Scandinavian nations, there are gymnasiums, garages, sports arenas and other public buildings whose secondary function is to protect and house residents in the event of an attack or natural disaster. Similarly, most homes have hardened and well-provisioned garages, game rooms, workshops or basements.
Phone directories contain lists of shelters and maps that show how to reach them, and the public is taught about the capability and impressive limitations of certain biological agents.
They're told how masks similar to surgical masks can protect against certain germ and virus weapons, how gas masks protect against certain nerve gases, and, for instance, how to convert vacuum cleaners into filters that will screen out germs and gases. Jury-rigged vacuums can be used to create a low pressure environment within a home that will keep poisoned outside air from entering.
"In our nation, people have been inoculated against thinking about such things. Some even say, 'Why bother? In a major attack, we'll all die anyway,'" says Mr. Briggs.
But he adds, "There's much people can do to save their lives if they only knew about it." Among his many other duties, the new chief of homeland defense must determine when, how and if they will find out.

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