- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 12, 2003

Be not afraid

Wednesday’s Editorial and Op-Ed pages on bioterrorism rightly point to the need for the leadership of the nation to give the threat of bioterrorism appropriate attention. However, they present a somewhat skewed view of the reality of the terrorist threat by focusing on the threat from bioterrorism.

While we, along with many other researchers, recognize the magnitude of the problems a potential bioterrorism attack on the homeland might engender, there is a need to exercise caution in assessing the reality that such an incident might occur.

Specifically, it is important to try to quantify the threat from a terrorist who decides to use biological agents and to balance the probability of a bioterrorist incident against the entire spectrum of threats terrorists may pose to the country

One of the problems with the current debate about bioterrorism preparedness is a tendency to give way to “factor certainty.” In assessing the likely threat of a bioterrorist attack, three factors need to be considered: vulnerability of the population; capability of the terrorists; intent of the terrorists. A numeric score of the threat can be calculated by multiplying the probability of each of the components. The general debate assigns a value of 1 — or certainty — to each factor. Do we have any data to suggest otherwise?

Several recent incidents should be considered when reviewing our vulnerability and the terrorists’ capability. For example, several of yesterday’s articles cited the anthrax attacks that occurred in fall 2001.

As most people are aware, the anthrax sent through the mail was of extraordinarily high quality, indicating the perpetrator or perpetrators were very capable. One estimate suggests there was enough material in all of the letters combined for 1 billion human lethal doses. If presented with that information ahead of time, an intelligence analyst surely would have rated the capability factor as a 1. However, with 1 billion lethal doses literally floating around, the attacks caused the unfortunate deaths of just five persons. In the same attacks, the treating physicians achieved 60 percent success in infected persons versus a pre-attack assessment of 90 percent lethality.

Overall, the reality of an anthrax attack was a lot less than many anticipated.

Then there is our recent experience with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Its appearance in the human population came as a complete surprise. Its case-fatality rate is similar to the lower end of a bioterrorist threat such as smallpox — 812 fatalities out of 8,400 patients, according to one report. SARS theoretically was spread worldwide, given the high rate of air travel. Yet we brought it under control in just a few months.

Moreover, there is the recent outbreak in the United States of monkeypox — actually a cousin to smallpox. Though not as lethal or as contagious as smallpox, it was identified fairly quickly, and its spread was stopped with only about 40 confirmed cases. Interestingly enough, the smallpox vaccine was used to treat those who were infected, thus curbing the spread.

The point is that those who tend to assign certainty to any of the factors in the calculation may be off by a large degree. Viruses and bacteria can be quite fragile and may not function as one might think, e.g., just five deaths from 1 billion doses. Plus, our worldwide public health system, while filled with shortcomings and manned by humans who make mistakes, is quite good at identifying and responding to unknown or unusual agents.

We must be careful in our assessments about the potential dangers of bioterrorism.

Specifically, it would be a mistake to leave an uninformed reader with an unrealistic perspective of the real threat. There is no doubt that we need to be concerned about a bioterrorist attack, and the articles published Wednesday address specific concerns about the threat and our current state of readiness to respond. But we need to balance this concern by developing many more aspects of an effective and appropriate defense against the bioterrorist threat.

This begins with our being prepared through education and awareness, by reading about the threat and understanding our individual and collective roles and responsibilities.

You need to know that you probably have a few days in which to get vaccinated or receive antibiotics — you don’t have to rush to the emergency room. It is important that we recognize the role of Mother Nature as a source of potential threats. Be concerned and be prepared for the next flu season, too. But, whether of bioterrorism or the flu, be not afraid..


Center for Technology and National Security Policy, National Defense University



National Security Health Policy Center, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies


Note:The views expressed in this letter are those of the writers and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the U.S. government.

Amnesia, Democrats and Hispanics

It is amazing how the Democrats have a selective memory and reverse roles. Now, the Republicans are letting down the Hispanics (“Democrats charge GOP letting Hispanics down,” Nation, Friday). I see it the other way. The Democrats have shown gross disrespect to the Hispanics by the vile treatment of lawyer Miguel A. Estrada, a nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The Democratic Party has a long history of being obstructionist. Just look at the antics of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont.



Knowing the Constitution

Ele Forbes’ letter (“John Leo’s constitutional ‘sophistry,’” Friday) says that John Leo is wrong in asserting in a recent column that “the Constitution and the 1964 Civil Rights Act say quite clearly that no one can be penalized or advantaged on the basis of race” and challenges him to cite “the exact text” of these laws.

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution provides: “No State shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” It was ratified soon after the Civil War, on July 9, 1868, and there is no serious question that race-based denial of equal protection was what the framers had in mind.

The Civil Rights Act is even more straightforward. Title VI of it provides: “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be … subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

The University of Michigan gets federal money, and so this was the provision of the Civil Rights Act used to challenge its discriminatory admissions policies.


General counsel

Center for Equal Opportunity


Africa editorial on the mark

A big “thank you” to The Washington Times for Friday’s editorial “Bush backpedals in Africa.” Calling Zimbabwean President Robert G. Mugabe’s policies “murderous favoritism” and a “haphazard land reform program” is spot on.

Your clear writing and straightforward approach bring a breath of fresh air to this topic. Mr. Mugabe’s tactics need to be called what they are, and, just as in your appeal to President Bush, you did not mince words.



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