Microbe: Are We Ready for the Next Plague?

By Alan P. Zelicoff; Michael Bellomo | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
PROJECT BIOWATCH
Plague Vials Vanish in Texas

To date, we've been fortunate in the United States to have avoided a large-scale bioterrorism attack. Even though many national leaders believe that bioterrorism represents the single largest threat to the United States1—at least when measured in terms of casualties or economic devastation—terrorists have not yet chosen to use this kind of weapon. Perhaps they have been caught by our intelligence agencies before they could develop or use such weapons. But an alternative explanation is that terrorists tend to stick with what they know, and conventional explosives (albeit delivered by less-than-conventional means) have been enough to change our lives forever after September 11, 2001.

Most people believe that terrorists want to “send a message” more than bring down a society. If that truly is the case, then after 9/11 it was not surprising to see anthrax show up in what appears to have been a smallscale attack using an unconventional delivery system. The anthrax letters were guided missiles of paper and pathogens, sent to their targets not by Global Positioning System satellites but by the ink of a ballpoint pen scratching out the address on an envelope. These were weapons, and they were specifically designed to send a message and generate terror. The terrorists seemed to be saying: “We can get to you and your leaders with multiple weapons and through many means that you cannot possibly anticipate.” (At the time of this writing, those responsible for sending the anthrax letters have yet to be identified and no arrests have been made.)

If biological weapons are going to be the next step beyond the use of

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