Risk of bioterror is exaggerated

Bioterror is one of the biggest concerns for the American intelligence, as stated by Mike McConnell, Director of National Intelligence in The New Yorker magazine early this year. The boss of spies was particularly weary of a pandemic disease like avian influenza (bird flu), especially when used as weapon. “You could turn it into a human virus, causing fifty to five hundred million casualties.”
Jean Pascal Zanders, director of the ngo BioWeapons Prevention Project in Geneva thinks this is an exaggeration.  Zanders: “Of course, you can never tell if terrorists are making plans to strike with biological weapons. But more realistic scenarios are pointing in a different direction. One of the reasons we still haven’t suffered any terrorist attack with biological weapons is because it is very difficult. You sometimes hear stories about biological weaponry fabricated in a bathroom or so. But whoever proceeds this way, will be the first to be killed inmediately. In other words: you must have access to a well equiped laboratory.”
In 2001 anthraxletters killed five people in the US. Possibly traces of anthrax were produced in such a lab. Zanders: “By definition one can never produce more than a few grams. And since anthrax can’t be passed on from one human to another, one must have a huge productive capacity in order to strike a lot of victims. Individiuals can’t dispose of that kind of capacity.”
Apart from anthrax there is the fear of terrorist attacks with avian influenza or smallpox. Contrary to anthrax, smallpox is contagious amongst humans, as might be the bird flu in the near future. This makes the potential consequences more apocalyptic. Zanders: “The World Health Organisation is concerned about bird flu. Today already we know of a few cases of infection between humans, and the virus could further mutate in that sense. But to make the leap to terrorism? At the moment, little is known about the mechanisms of how the virus of avian influenza can infect humans, or how it could become contagious to other people. An artificial mutation brought about by a terrorist sounds like science fiction.” An attack with the smallpox virus neither seems probable, says Zanders. “The disease is exterminated. Collections of the virusses remain only in one lab in the US, and one in Russia. They are used for research under supervision of the World Health Organization.”
Zanders however is more worried about the dangers for animals and vegetation. “An enormous blow can be inflicted to economy. Consider only how the British meat industry suffered from foot and mouth disease.”

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