THE ULTIMATE BIOTERRORIST:
THE AGENTS OF BIOTERRORISM WE DISCUSSED IN CHAPTER 3 have a common feature that distinguishes them from other agents of terror, such as explosives, chemicals, and nuclear devices: they are themselves not the product of human invention. They arose in nature. Most of them, at one time or another, have given rise to events—often repeatedly, throughout history—that closely resemble what we imagine a bioterrorist attack would be like. These events occurred without human causation, as a result of the constant attempts of various microbes to invade the human body and use it as a place to rear their young.
In fact, the greatest threat we face from biological agents of death today is not from humans—it is from nature itself. A bioterrorist attack that could kill hundreds, possibly thousands, of Americans is a possibility, but, as we will discuss in chapter 9, one with low probability. A pandemic caused by a naturally occurring biological pathogen that could kill tens of thousands, possibly millions of Americans is an absolute certainty. Natural pandemics1 are a regularly occurring phenomenon throughout history.
Historically, the most problematic pathogens for humans have been Yersinia pestis (plague) and the smallpox and influenza viruses. Our understanding of the natural ecology of Y. pestis in human and animal hosts makes it pretty unlikely we will ever