ASSESSING THE THREAT
MAKE NO MISTAKE—A BIOTERRORIST ATTACK COULD HAPPEN. But how likely is it that it will happen? No one can ever know for sure; that is why some level of preparation is certainly essential. On the other hand, a crippling pandemic caused by a variant of the H5N1 flu virus, or some emerging pathogen we haven’t yet heard of, certainly will strike us at some point. The question we must ask ourselves—and our leaders—is, what are the most intelligent and effective ways we can prepare ourselves for each of these unpredictable threats, and how much of our limited resources should we invest in defending ourselves against each?
In this chapter, we try to assess the threat of bioterrorism in three ways. First, we ask what we have learned from the three episodes of bioterrorism or biocrime described in chapter 2 that may be of use in judging the likelihood of future bioterrorist attacks. Second, we look at the possible pathogens terrorists might use against us, and how well prepared we are to defend against them. Finally, we ask who could—who would—carry out a bioterrorist attack against us.
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
Although it is arguable whether the attacks mounted by the Rajneesh cult should be considered bioterrorism, they have