- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 21, 2001

Terrorists bent on waging germ warfare have a range of biological agents to choose from, and although all are terrifying, they are hard to use effectively.
Reports published by the Department of Defense, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) plus recent studies by counterterrorism specialists all confirm that biological weapons can be developed from a huge range of disease-causing microorganisms. Many of the available pathogens are found in countries suspected of harboring terrorists.
"Because biological agents may be cheap and easy to obtain, any nation with a basic industry or facility such as a brewery has a de facto capability to produce biological weapons," Jack Spencer and Michael Scardaville, defense analysts at the Heritage Foundation, note in a recent study on bioterrorism.
"We have to remember that none of the biological weapons are easy for terrorists to get, and once procured they are even more difficult to disseminate to kill a few people, and more difficult to cause mass casualties. But we also have to understand that events have shown that at least the first two things are possible," Mr. Spencer said in an interview.
"Terrorists can attack tens, maybe hundreds or thousands of people, but it's not likely they have developed mass weaponization," he said.
Along with other experts, Mr. Spencer said that about a dozen nations have offensive biological weapons programs, including China, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Russia doesn't claim to have such weapons. However, the Soviet Union had a giant bioweapons program during the Cold War and is believed to have stockpiled smallpox.
Counterterrorism specialists agree that terrorists who are linked to states with biological warfare programs are likely to have access to germ weapons.
Anthrax is the preferred weapon because it is common in nature and easier to process and deliver to targets than most germs. But of the rest, smallpox is perhaps the most fearsome. It spreads easily from person to person, few are immune to it, there is little vaccine readily available, and there is no effective treatment for it.
Symptoms of smallpox appear seven to 17 days following exposure and include high fever, headache, shivering, vomiting and back pain. Sores appear and spread. Victims are most infectious three to six days after the onset of fever.
In the last century, smallpox killed more than 500 million people. It was eradicated in 1980.
Plague, or the Black Death, is another favored warfare disease. During five years of the 14th century, it killed 25 million people a third of Europe's population. Between 1980 and 1994, some 18,750 cases were reported. The disease spreads swiftly, causing fever, cough, labored breathing, respiratory failure and death. However, it can be treated with antibiotics if caught in time.
Among the other commonly discussed biological agents are:
Botulism toxin: The poison is called Earth's most toxic substance. It produces symptoms within 36 hours, causing blurred vision and difficulty in swallowing and speaking. It finally paralyzes muscles and brings on respiratory failure and death. The CDC maintains an antitoxin, but it is reportedly in short supply. Iraq produced 5,000 gallons of the toxin before Desert Storm and may still maintain a supply.
Tularemia: A plague-like infectious disease, tularemia produces pneumonia, chills, vomiting, chest pain, respiratory failure, shock and death. It can be treated with antibiotics, but one researcher noted in JAMA that he knows "of no other infection of animals communicable to man that can be acquired from sources so numerous and so diverse. In short, one can but feel that the status of tularemia, both as a disease in nature and of man, is one of potentiality."
Hemorrhagic fevers, especially Ebola: A severe, virus-caused, mostly fatal disease, Ebola was first discovered in 1976. It causes fever and manifests extreme flu-like symptoms followed by hiccups, rash, vomiting blood, hemorrhaging of fluids from tissues and orifices, and blindness. Sometimes antiviral drugs prevent death, but they are in short supply. Some 30 to 90 percent of victims die.


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