Germ Warfare: New Threat from Terrorists

By Sternberg, Steve | Science News, May 18, 1996 | Go to article overview

Germ Warfare: New Threat from Terrorists


Sternberg, Steve, Science News


Imagine a weapon so stealthy it's invisible to spy technology, a weapon that detonates without a sound and begins piling up casualties days before anyone notices something is amiss.

No, this isn't the latest version of Star Wars-it's germ warfare. Though banned by federal law and international treaty, biological weapons pose a new threat, scientists say-this time from terrorists emboldened by the breakdown of international order and the rise of extremism.

"Events in the last few years have eradicated taboos against biological warfare. Once it was thought to be too horrific, now it's just a tool of the trade," says Kyle B. Olson of the Arms Control and Proliferation Analysis Center in Arlington, Va.

"The threat of biological warfare is growing because it is so easy, because it can kill so many people, and because an infectious disease can have a long-lasting impact," asserts Kathleen C. Bailey of the Lawrence Livermore (Calif.) National Laboratory.

Building a nuclear capability would cost $1 billion or more, require 1,300 engineers, and take years. Developing biological weapons could cost less than $100,000, require five biologists, and take just a few weeks, using equipment that is readily available almost anywhere in the world. …

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