[funsec] A Vaccine for the Hype
Richard M. Smith
rms at bsf-llc.com
Fri Mar 31 15:49:46 CST 2006
National Security Notes is edited in Pasadena, California, by George Smith,
Ph.D. who is many things, including a protein chemist and a Senior Fellow at
National Security Notes, on the web:
March 31, 2006
National Security Notes
A VACCINE FOR THE HYPE
OUT OF THE BOX AND BOTTLE
TWO DOMESTIC RICIN CONVICTIONS
PUT THE BOTOX ON YOUR SHOES AND LEGS
A VACCINE FOR THE HYPE: Milton Leitenberg's new "Assessing the Biological
Weapons and Bioterrorism Threat"
A recent issue of USA Today delivered remarkable advice on "how to know if
you've breathed ricin" in a biological attack: " .. a large number of people
close to you suddenly develop fever, cough and excess fluid in their lungs."
One might suspect flu in the office first because ricin has never been used
in such an attack and while terrorists have shown interest in the material,
castor beans and castor plants, they have shown little or no capability in
making it into an inhaled weapon. Nevertheless, it is a sign of the times
and accompanying wisdoms that many believe such a thing likely, so likely
that authoritative sources regularly offer, at best, conjectural advice on
what to look for and what to do.
There is an antidote - a vaccine -- to such groupthinking. It is Milton
Leitenberg's "Assessing the Biological Weapons and Bioterrorism Threat,"
published by the Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College.
Leitenberg, a scholar and expert on arms control at the University of
Maryland, writes "For the past decade the risk and immanence of the use of
biological agents by nonstate actors/terrorist organizations --
'bioterrorism' -- has been systematically and deliberately exaggerated." He
immediately adds this practice "accelerated" after 9/11 and the mailings of
The first part of Leitenberg's book examines the development of national
bioweapons programs, a discussion which dovetails seamlessly into an
exploration of what is definitively known about terrorist organizations and
what is known of their capabilities. He documents four "significant"
bioterror events: usage of the salmonella bacterium to contaminate food in
Oregon, Aum Shinrikyo's "unsuccessful" work in the production of anthrax and
botulinum toxin, al Qaida's "unsuccessful" efforts toward obtaining anthrax
and the "successful" use of the same in the Amerithrax mailings.
Upon this small clutch of samples, an assortment of bioterrorism experts,
lawmen, security advisors, national political figures and academics have
built the fancy that such attacks are easy and one of the most catastrophic
threats faced by the American people. Leitenberg dissects this fraud, and
that is not his word, but mine. Because a fraud, and a substantial one, is
what it is. The elements of it are displayed in page after page in
Leitenberg's precise recapitulation of public statements, claims made to the
media and allegedly expert analyses, showing his readers who dissembled and
where the rotten bodies are buried.
Of note is Leitenberg's dissection of the process of assessment as practiced
through bioterrorism threat scenarios conducted by the US government and
private think tanks. Exercises like Dark Winter, which modeled an
"aerosolized" smallpox attack, Top Off 2 and 3, both on pneumonic plague
strikes, and Atlantic Storm, an exercise the purported to show an al Qaida
group manufacturing a dry powder smallpox weapon, were rigged. In the cases
of Dark Winter and the Top Offs, transmission rates of disease were sexed up
beyond historical averages so that "a disastrous outcome was assured" no
matter any steps taken to contain outbreaks. Eight pages are reserved to
pointedly condemn the Atlantic Storm exercise on a host of sins which can
generally be described as a bundle of frank lies and misinformation coupled
with a claimed terrorist facility for making smallpox into a weapon that
even state run biological warfare operations did not possess. And once
again, juiced transmission rates of disease were employed to grease
theoretical calamity. The reader comes to recognize the deus ex machina - a
concoction or intervention added to dictate an outcome, in these cases very
bad ones - as a regular feature of the exercises. However, the results of
the same assessments - the alleged lessons learned -- have never been
reported with much, if any, skepticism in the media.
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