An Unknown Foe

Columbus, OH (TFC)—Cataclysmic, catastrophic events shape the millennia we live in—from world wars that involve every major hegemonic power and risk the lives of billions of people, to terrorist attacks that are intended to push their target audience into a specific political direction like sheep to the slaughter, to the wrath of mother nature inflicting her upmost fury on those who mistreat her, to false flag attacks that mirror one face but wear another beneath the mask. Men have learned, over time, that these events can be used to destroy their enemies—to bring their target to their knees. The ultimate weapon of war is one that can weaken an otherwise-powerful enemy before the war has ever begun. Threats like nuclear annihilation, weapons of mass destruction, and even lone-wolf attacks centered on killing as many as possible in a single attack, are often at the forefront of our fears, but what about the threat that nature itself brings to the table when men play god? There is a threat much more dangerous—and more easily attainable—than that of WMD’s or lone-wolf attacks. Something nature produces on a daily basis and man can easily morph into the Angel of Death: biological weapons.

Imagine something that can cause massive casualties, become viral in a short period of time, and have a critically-disabling effect without an adequate emergency response. A flu virus can remain on a surface for up to 14 days. By the time that Patient Zero realizes they are infected, the virus or biological agent could have already been spread to thousands of other people. Once released, a biological weapon could be emitted into the air, water, soil, or simply by human or animal contact; these can be released with or without a catalyst like explosives. Unlike the sensors used to detect potential chemical weapons in a city environment like Washington, D.C., biological agents are capable of remaining undetected for long periods of time. In order for the federal government to get involved, there must be signs of an outbreak or pandemic, and by that time, the virus will have spread to a vast amount of people and already have a critical impact on infrastructure in the nation. There are many factors that go into determining whether an outbreak or pandemic has occurred; including the incubation period, symptoms, number of patients reporting their symptoms and diagnosis.

The use of a biological weapon is not a new concept. In fact, armies dating from as far back as the 1500s B.C. have used them, including the Hittites, Assyrians, Scythians, Greeks, Spartans, Romans and Persians. Many used animal carcasses and deadly mixtures of herbs to poison the water supplies of their enemies. Scythian archers dipped the tips of their arrows in decaying bodies, and blood mixed with manure. If the strike from the arrow did not kill the target, infection from the wound was sure to. Others such as the Hittites used the corpses of plague victims to decimate their enemies—a tactic that would be emulated throughout history.

There are many other examples throughout history where biological agents were used in battles and wars to decimate opposing forces. The Tartar Forces suffered an outbreak of plague in 1346, while besieging the city of Caffa, modern-day Feodosia in Crimea. In a last ditch effort, they catapulted the bodies of plague victims into the city, which resulted in an outbreak that forced the defenders to withdraw, leaving Caffa defenseless. In 1495, the Spanish poisoned the French with wine mixed with the blood of leprosy victims. In 1650 a Polish general filled artillery shells with the saliva of rabid dogs.

The British are known to have inoculated blankets and clothing with smallpox to distribute to the vulnerable native population, in the 1700s, as well as to use individuals recently variolated with smallpox to spread the disease throughout the Continental Army.

A Confederate surgeon, Dr. Luke P. Blackburn, was arrested & charged in 1863, with conspiracy to commit murder by a Toronto court for allegedly plotting to smuggle clothing infected with Yellow Fever into the Northern states. Just over 100 years earlier, in 1793, an outbreak of Yellow Fever had plagued Philadelphia, killing over 5,000 people. In 1900, Walter Reed discovered Yellow Fever is only spread by mosquitoes, however, this hasn’t prevented the U.S. government from trying to use it as a weapon, in what was referred to as “Operation Big Buzz” in 1955.

Modern chemical and biological warfare is believed to have begun with the signing of The Hague Gas Declaration of 1899 by twenty-seven nations. The treaty is among the first to address the use of chemical and biological agents by banning the delivery of projectiles containing poisonous gasses. The German Army would later ignore the declaration by using chlorine, phosgene and mustard gas during the World War I Battle of Ypres in 1915, causing more than a million casualties of both civilians and military personnel.

Germany continued its program to develop the weapons throughout the first world war. Their research and development program led to the development of anthrax (Bacillus anthracis), glanders (Burkholderia mallei), cholera (Vibrio cholera) and wheat fungus for use as biological weapons.

By World War II, the research and development of biological agents for use as weapons had become a widespread practice. Throughout the war, Japan operated a secret biological warfare research facility in Manchuria. They carried out horrific human experiments on prisoners, exposing more than three thousand to plague, anthrax, syphilis and other agents. In 1941, the National Academy of Sciences was called upon to form a committee, the War Bureau of Consultants Committee (W.B.C.), to assess the state of knowledge in the field of biological warfare by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson who was acting on a directive from President Franklin D. Roosevelt in October 1941. This committee released a comprehensive report in February 1942 that included a recommendation that a civilian agency look further into the defensive and offensive aspects of biological warfare.

Though the committee was later disbanded as the result of the establishment of the War Research Service, a second committee was formed in 1943 to advise the W.R.S. ABC, as it was referred to, was discontinued following the disbanding of the War Research Service in June 1944. The final civilian committee on biological warfare was the DEF committee that lasted from September 1944 to 1948. At the end of World War II, the United States offered amnesty to Japanese researchers in exchange for information gathered from their human experimentations.

Research and development of offensive biological weapons continued, however.

Throughout the early 1950’s, simulated biological agents were released off the East and West Coasts of the United States to demonstrate the vulnerability of American cities to biological attacks. Another test was conducted in 1966, with the release of a stimulant Bacillus globigii in the New York City subway system.

The National Center for Biotechnology further describes the incidences in which the U.S. Government tested biological agents on its citizens:

Although some US scientists thought the Japanese information insightful, it is now largely assumed that it was of no real help to the US biological warfare programme projects. These started in 1941 on a small scale, but increased during the war to include more than 5,000 people by 1945. The main effort focused on developing capabilities to counter a Japanese attack with biological weapons, but documents indicate that the US government also discussed the offensive use of anti-crop weapons. Soon after the war, the US military started open-air tests, exposing test animals, human volunteers and unsuspecting civilians to both pathogenic and non-pathogenic microbes. A release of bacteria from naval vessels off the coasts of Virginia and San Francisco infected many people, including about 800,000 people in the Bay area alone. Bacterial aerosols were released at more than 200 sites, including bus stations and airports. The most infamous test was the 1966 contamination of the New York metro system with Bacillus globigii—a non-infectious bacterium used to simulate the release of anthrax—to study the spread of the pathogen in a big city.

In 1966, Harvard biology professor Matthew Meselson circulated a petition asking the United States to end its use of chemical weapons in Vietnam. The petition, signed by five thousand scientists, also requested that the U.S. conduct a review of its biological and chemical weapons policy. Newly-inaugurated Richard Nixon tasked his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger with heading the review process in 1969. That same year Meselson, a former colleague of Kissinger at Harvard, was asked to present a position paper on the subject. His conclusion was that “biological weapons were both dangerous because the technology could readily fall into the hands of enemy groups or nations” and “unnecessary because of the U.S.’s massive nuclear arsenal.” Many others who made submissions concurred. One week after meeting with the National Security Council on November 25,1969, Nixon delivered the Statement on Chemical and Biological Defense Policies and Programs.

In his statement he announced the end of the United States’ use of all forms of biological weapons, saying:

Our bacteriological programs in the future will be confined to research in biological defense, on techniques of immunization, and on measures of controlling and preventing the spread of disease. I have ordered the Defense Department to make recommendations about the disposal of existing stocks of bacteriological weapons.

Although Nixon’s statement omitted the use of toxins, they would later be banned in 1970. In 1972 the United States signed the Biological Toxin Weapons Convention that addressed the prohibition of the development, production, stockpiling and destruction of bacteriologic and toxin weapons. By 1973 all U.S. stockpiles of offensive biological weapons were destroyed.

Over the course of the next twenty years many countries actively participated in the development of biological weapons, including Iraq who began its biological weapons program in 1984. After the first gulf war, Iraq disclosed that it possessed bombs, scud missiles, 122-mm rockets and artillery shells armed with anthrax, botulinum toxin, and aflatoxin.

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In 1996, Congress passed the Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction Act, directing the Department of Defense to establish a domestic preparedness program to improve the ability of local, state and federal agencies to respond to incidents involving chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons and hazards (CBRN).

In addition to the aforementioned, the Act called for the establishment of a national coordinator to coordinate efforts by federal, state and local emergency & security personnel. By 1997 the US still lacked an organized, systematic program to improve the quality of national coordination and oversight.

Multiple executive orders and Department of Defense Directives from DODD 3025.1 (meant to “establish the responsibilities of the military departments and staff agencies of the Department of Defense for planning and preparations in certain civil defense and related matters”),[US DoD Directive number 200.04-1 January 24, 1952] to present day’s DODD 3025.18, an incorporation of directives 3025.1 and 3025.15, would reshape the way the military & federal agencies provide assistance to state and local governments.

Today, the United States’ Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) manages the country’s emergency responses through the use of multiple systems, which include the National Preparedness System (NPS), National Incident Management System (NIMS), and Incident Command System (ICS). The systems are designed to act as guidelines for authorities during times of crisis. To be brief, each system contains provisions for the use of the military to assist in the response to emergency situations. In the past, authorization to use the military for domestic matters was more difficult to obtain. Department of Defense Directive 3025.18 changed that. Within the directive is a phrase “Immediate Response”, which grants federal military commander’s (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps), DoD component Head’s, and/or “responsible DoD civilian officials” authority to temporarily bypass any required authorization from higher headquarters to “employ resources under their control to save lives, prevent human suffering, or mitigate great property damage” when requested by a civil authority when waiting for authorization can exacerbate the situation.

Joint rapid deployment drills, also known as CBRNE exercises, are conducted every year by federal, state and local authorities. Federal authorities include the FBI, DHS, DoD and branches of the military.

Undoubtedly, many will argue against the necessity for such drills, feeling that the perceived threat is a result of fear mongering used to convince a populace to surrender more rights for increased security from the threat, and they would be right in many other situations, but not this. The threat is very real and ever present.

The use of biological agents to kill ones’ enemies is a plague to humankind. The rise of many powerful terrorist organizations & paramilitary forces with and without foreign sponsors throughout the world increases the likelihood of a biological attack within America’s borders. Unfortunately, there is no sure fire way to prevent an attack of any nature. If a biological IED goes off very little can be done to save lives or prevent the spread of the agent without crippling our nation. The response systems in place were created to reduce & alleviate human suffering, not prevent it entirely.