[BIOWAR] Turning anthrax into weapon difficult (fwd)

Eugene Leitl Eugene.Leitl@lrz.uni-muenchen.de
Mon, 1 Oct 2001 12:20:02 +0200 (MET DST)


-- Eugen* Leitl <a href=3D"http://www.lrz.de/~ui22204/">leitl</a>
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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 1 Oct 2001 02:36:03 -0700
From: Wes Thomas <west@sonic.net>
To: Biowar <biowar@topica.com>
Subject: [BIOWAR]  Turning anthrax into weapon difficult

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Turning anthrax into weapon difficult

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 (UPI) -- Terrorist experts believe a terrorist attack
using anthrax is possible -- at least 10 countries have experimented with i=
t
as a potential biological weapon, though most have ended development
programs.

Some experts point to the extreme technical difficulties in turning anthrax
into a weapon, thereby reducing the potential number of deaths from million=
s
to thousands.

A 1979 incident in the Soviet Union, in which 64 people died from anthrax
inhalation, generally is believed to have resulted from the accidental
release from a biological warfare factory. Some victims were 31 miles from
the point of release.

Once the disease is contracted by inhaling the bacteria, it is almost alway=
s
fatal. The first symptoms, which appear in one to six days but are sometime=
s
reported after weeks, are similar to those of a common cold. After a few
days there are breathing problems and shock. Death follows in one to two
days after severe symptoms appear.

Heavy dosing with antibiotics prior to the appearance of symptoms can save
about 80 percent of victims.

It is not possible to assign a probability to the likelihood of an anthrax
terror attack, according to Anthony H. Cordesman, holder of the Arleigh A.
Burke chair in strategy at Center for Strategic and International Studies i=
n
Washington.

"The problem we face is that we have no way to know whether states will be
involved and use terrorists as proxies," Cordesman told United Press
International. "The other problem with anthrax and other biological weapons
is that even if they are not used in advanced form and have even only
moderate lethality, moderate lethalities can still kill hundreds to
thousands of people."

Technical hurdles are formidable, according to Raymond Zilinskas, who has
worked for the United Nations inspecting biological laboratories in Iraq.
But carrying out the attacks would require knowledge of weather patterns an=
d
microbiology that would not be difficult to acquire.

"First you have to get a virulent strain of bacillus anthracis, and that's
not easy. The (Japanese cult) Aum Shinrikyo, despite having lots of money,
molecular biologists, microbiologists and medical doctors who were members
and having good laboratories, were not able to secure a virulent strain of
bacillus anthracis," Zilinskas told UPI.

Wet formulations are difficult to disperse and making a dry formulation
poses huge technical problems. Aum Shinrikyo and the Iraqis succeeded in
making wet formulations. After the wet formulation is made, the microbes
must be harvested by centrifuging. The bacterium then must be suspended in
some medium to carry it and to keep the organism alive and yet allow for it
to be spread.

If a crop duster were used to disperse the bacteria, the device would need
to be modified. Also key is selecting the right wind conditions, coordinate=
d
with a specific flight path.

To produce the most easily dispersed dry form, the bacterium must be
converted into spores by stressing it, which requires a great deal of
expertise since the microbe itself is relatively fragile, Zilinskas said.
Special equipment for drying the spores and reducing them to a powder would
be needed.

"If you have a national bioweapons program, you can do these things after a
while," said Zilinskas, a senior scientist at the Center for
Nonproliferation Studies of the Monterey Institute for International Studie=
s
in Monterey, Calif.

Zilinskas believes that because the Iraqis were unable to solve the dry for=
m
technical problems it would not be likely that terrorists could solve them
either.

This does not rule out some type of anthrax attack but the casualties would
be lower than the catastrophic numbers envisioned by a U.S. Office of
Technology Assessment report made public in 1993, that assumed all technica=
l
problems are solved prior to the attack and meteorological conditions are
ideal.

The Office of Technology Assessment report, "Proliferation of Weapons of
Mass Destruction: Assessing the Risks," concludes an attack on a clear calm
night with 220 pounds of anthrax spores would impact an area of 115 square
miles and kill from 1 to 3 million people in densely populated areas.

David Siegrist, research fellow at the Arlington-based Potomac Institute fo=
r
Policy Studies, is aware of the report but told UPI: "Basically it would
take a lot of pathogen to do a significant amount of damage if you release
it into the environment, if only because of the dilution factor ... There
are also vagaries in the atmosphere, that unless someone is extremely
knowledgeable, they could muff the attack."

Siegrist said remote-controlled aircraft were developed by Iraq with a
capacity to carry 500 gallons of anthrax or similar bioweapon.

Strains of anthrax resistant to existing vaccines have been developed and
the vaccines that do exist are controversial. Only about 25,000 doses of
vaccine exist and these must be administered prior to exposure over a serie=
s
of injections.

Additionally, the vaccines have been linked by a number of studies to Gulf
War syndrome. Department of Defense documents claim only one in every
200,000 persons who receive the anthrax vaccine requires hospitalization.
But Meryl Nass, a physician who has studied the vaccine told UPI, "That's
completely inaccurate," and the number is much higher.

A report by the National Research Council in 2000, "An Assessment of the
Safety of the Anthrax Vaccine," concluded, "in the peer-reviewed literature
there is inadequate/insufficient evidence to determine whether an
association does or does not exist between anthrax vaccination and long-ter=
m
adverse health outcomes."

Nass said important data was ignored by the group that produced the report
and that their approach was "slanted."

(Reported by Joe Grossman in Santa Cruz, Calif.)

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