- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Osama bin Laden has learned something from America's anthrax scare. No, not that we are a nation of Chicken Littles. And not that we do a pretty good job of scaring ourselves. But that the U.S. postal system is a decidedly inefficient delivery system for carrying out a biological attack against the American people.

Indeed, for all the current hysteria about anthrax, only three people have actually died from exposure to the bacteria since the first case was reported more than a month ago. It is likely that more Americans died from being struck by lightning over the same span.

So if al Qaeda or some other terror network aims to wage biological jihad against the United States using anthrax, smallpox, botulin toxin or some other deadly bacteria or virus it probably isn't going to waste time and effort writing poison-pen letters from some Trenton, N.J., apartment.

The same goes for chemical terror. Bin Laden's operatives here in the United States could, conceivably, place plastic bags of sarin, the lethal nerve agent, on New York or Washington subway trains during morning rush hour.

But Japan's Aum Shinrikyo terrorist cult already tried such a chemical attack in 1995. And of the tens of thousands of commuters on Tokyo's subway system who were exposed to the nerve gas, only 12 actually died.

The mass murderers responsible for the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which claimed more than 5,000 innocent lives, are probably not going to be satisfied with taking three lives here, a dozen lives there.

They want to cause as many deaths as possible. And the best way to do that, using germs or chemicals, is through a weapon of mass destruction, such as a long-range missile carrying a biological or chemical (or even nuclear) payload that can be fired at the United States from, say, Afghanistan or Iraq.

Indeed, that is why it is even more imperative, in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, that the United States develop and deploy a national missile defense system as soon as possible. For our once-secure nation is in a life-or-death race with those who would lay waste to our cities and who would permanently disrupt the domestic tranquility we Americans have, until recently, taken for granted.

It is not a far stretch to suggest that the race to deploy a missile defense system before bin Laden or Saddam Hussein or some other sworn enemy of the United States gets hold of an ICBM is no less urgent than this nation's race to develop and deploy the atomic bomb before Adolf Hitler during World War II.

And it would be dangerously naive for lawmakers in Washington to think the United States has plenty of time to bring missile defense online, national security expert Richard Perle argued in a recent newspaper essay.

"While there is controversy about whether it will be three years or 10 years or some other time frame," wrote the former assistant secretary of defense, "there is no dispute that such countries as Iran, Iraq and North Korea will eventually get missiles with the range sufficient to attack us and our allies and the warheads of mass destruction nuclear, biological and chemical that could be delivered by them."

Indeed, as far back as 1997, the Clinton administration issued a National Security Council fact sheet detailing Iraq's program to develop both biological and chemical weapons. Baghdad admitted flight-testing long-range SCUD missiles with warheads designed for chemicals, including a flight test with a live chemical warhead. United Nations inspectors also found that Iraq had armed both rockets and artillery shells with biological agents.

Just imagine if an American city were ever struck by a missile fitted with a biological or chemical warhead. It could cause many times the deaths that occurred at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Yes, it is easier to carry out biological or chemical terror by using a crop duster to spray nerve gas or the U.S. mail to deliver anthrax. But those delivery systems will not produce the body counts genocidal maniacs like bin Laden and Saddam desire.

Let us have no illusions: The time will come, sooner rather than later, when an enemy nation a terror-supporting state successfully develops long-range missiles.

When that ominous day comes, the American people will be safe from biological or chemical attack only if their government already has deployed a national missile defense system.

Joseph Perkins is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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