The latest batch of Wikileaks cables is out. They show acute concerns about the possibility of a rogue state nuclear attack, the possibility of Al Qaeda building radioactive dirty bombs and the possibility of Al Qaeda acquiring a nuclear weapon. As well, they fret about rogue states and terrorist groups getting their hands on biological and chemical weaponry (CBW).
CBW is what keeps US military strategists up at night. During the George H.W. Bush administration, it was learned that the Soviet Union had embarked on a vast biological weapons program. At its peak, the program employed over 22,000 people, virtually all of them focused on weaponizing genetically-modified biological agents. This work was described in terrifying detail in Richard Preston’s classic work, “Demon in the Freezer.” The program produced a lot of “intellectual capital” for building biological weapons.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, the people who held that “intellectual capital” (in their brains) dispersed, only to re-emerge a few years later in places like Syria, North Korea, Iraq and Iran. U.S. intelligence spent vast sums tracking these bio-weaponeers. Many were offered jobs in the U.S. But too many remained “at large.”
The effort to track down former Soviet bio-weaponeers went into overdrive after 9/11. A global manhunt was undertaken. Countries around the globe contributed to the effort.
The effort was quite successful. But disturbing reports continued to fill the President’s Threat Matrix report, the daily intelligence briefing on how the world might end.
Later on in the George W. Bush administration, a package was delivered to the President’s science advisor. It detailed how, using strings of molecules purchased from the back pages of science magazines, one could create a genetically modified polio virus. Vaccination would be no defence. This virus would EZ-pass right through it.
As it happens, the men who put together the genetically-modified polio virus were prominent scientists, well known in the world of biology and genomics. They posed no threat. But what if the package had scientifically described a genetically-modified weaponised smallpox, which could be contracted by twelve suicide spreaders, their only task to cough on people in public places?
What could the military do about that? Smallpox takes some time to incubate. The suicide spreaders could wander around O’Hare for two days, looking perfectly healthy, and no one would be the wiser. A day or two after that, they would begin to get very, very sick. By the seventh day, they would probably be dead.
But in the early days, by coughing a lot, they would be spreading the virus at a central node of American transportation. No “ring” strategy (surround the virus and cut off its spread) would be possible.
This is the U.S. military’s “nightmare scenario.” If North Korea tries to launch a nuclear attack, it will be destroyed in 24 hours. If Al Qaeda puts a dirty bomb in the Paris Metro, it’ll be open season on them. The order will be: shoot first, ask questions later and don’t sweat collateral damage.
But if someone puts genetically-modified weaponised smallpox into general circulation, it won’t even be clear who did it, at least initially. And there is literally no defence. People have to breath.
This is asymetrical warfare at its most acute. You don’t need to read Wikileaks to know that its pretty much all anyone in the military thinks about when they think about future threats.
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