Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Real Danger From Iranian WMD

Will the United States and/or Israel attack Iran? That is the question that is being debated throughout the world. Rather than try to answer that question, as so many others are doing, or condemn or support the Bush Administration and its allies, as again so many others are doing, I would rather point out a serious and grave risk to all human life in the event of a regional war in the Middle East. Any attack on Iran is apt to also include war with Syria and pro-Syrian/pro-Iranian forces in Lebanon as well as military action in Palestine. Additionally, Israel will be attacked from several directions and allied forces in Iraq, and other areas of the Middle East, are apt to come under direct attack.

The driving force behind the NeoCon agenda is the fear, first expressed several years ago at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, of one or more Middle Eastern states (besides Israel) obtaining nuclear weapons. Israel is a small nation, and hence a small compact target for the horrific effects of nuclear weapons. The debate, begun several years ago at Jaffee, was "do we attack the Islamic states (Iraq/etc. and the non-Arab Iran) now before they obtain nuclear weapons, or wait until they can wipe us off the map before we act".

The problem with the current strategy, with its focus on nuclear arms, is that it is simply too late in human history for this strategy.

It costs approximately US$1 million to kill one person with nuclear weapons-of-mass destruction but only approximately US$1 to kill one person with biological weapons-of-mass destruction. Bioweapons are truly the "poor man's nukes". The Iranians are known to have a biological weapons program and they, and their allies, certainly have the means to deliver biowar agents into the Israeli and European and North American homelands. Bioweapons do not have to be dispersed via missiles or bombs, they are perfect for non-traditional normally non-military delivery systems. Being very small (there are, for example, typically approximately 40 million bacterial cells in every gram of soil), they lend themselves to an enormous variety of non-detectable methodologies for delivery and use in war, both regionally and globally.

The Iranians, along with the Syrians, have what has been described as the largest chemical warfare program on Earth. But even the most persistent chemical agent is gone in a matter of hours (if it is a gas; longer for certain biochemical toxins). Biological weapons are the "gift that keeps on giving" as they replicate themselves and spread throughout the human population.

To begin to understand the truly horrific nature of the biowar threat, one only has to look to history for some "mild" examples. The Black Death bubonic pandemic, believed caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, is estimated to have killed between a third and two-thirds of Europe's population after it spread to Europe in 1347 from South-western/Central Asia. The same disease returned to parts of Europe almost every generation through the late 18th Century. The three known variant strains (biovars) of Yersinia pestis are thought to correspond to one of the major pandemics of bubonic plague [Biovar Antiqua ~ the Plague of Justinian; Bovar Medievalis ~ medieval Black Death; Biovar Orientalis ~ the Third Pandemic/China & India beginning in 1855]. Yersinia pestis can cause bubonic plague as well as pnenmonic plague and also septicmic plague.

Yersinia pestis, being a bacteria is massive when compared to a virus, and is easily treated with modern antibiotics. However, the Soviet Union's Biopreparat organization (according to a former Biopreparat microbiologist Valadimir Pesechnik) turned Black Death from a medieval plague into a 20th Century bioweapon. The Yersinia pestis bacteria was exposed to every then-known antibiotic, in a process that any advanced high school or early undergraduate college level biology class student could undertake, and the resulting antibiotic resistant Y. pestis was bred and loaded into a small number of Soviet ICBMs aimed at America. The resistant Y. pestis had also been exposed to various levels of radiation to "radiation harden" the bacteria. The intent was to hit American survivors of a nuclear war with a new and untreatable form of Black Death that itself could survive the effects of nuclear fallout.

As frighting as a totally antibiotic resistant Yersinia pestis bacteria is, it remains "child's play" compared to the more advanced recombination DNA technology used in most biowar programs. This typically involves the combining of viral DNA into new virus, "designer virus". The Soviets, according to Dr. Ken Alibek (aka Dr. Kanatjan Alibekov) years ago engineered a new virus that combined elements of Smallpox and Ebola. With the genetic engineering of viruses those doing the "designing" can engineer into the virus a wide number of different characteristics. For instance, an advanced hemorrhagic fever can be designed to be: airborne (capable of being transmitted via sneezing), with a very small amount of viral material required to infect a human host, with a incubation period of 14 days or longer, with most of the incubation period that is both highly contagious and at best looks like a mild version of the common cold, with the resulting hemorrhagic fever having a mortality of 90% or more.

The same technology can be used to create a large number of different viruses which can all be released on a target population, vastly complicating detection and containment and treatment programs.

There is no nation on Earth that is truly prepared for biowar. The Israelis, while in general well prepared for most military threats, are not ready for biowar. In Europe, many nations (having suffered through two world wars in the 20th Century) have a higher level of preparedness than Canadians or Americans but even the Swiss (the most prepared nation in Europe for war) lack anything that can be called "ready" to meet the biowar danger. Americans have not faced massive military deaths in their homeland since the end of the American Civil War in 1865. However, the US Department of Defense (DOD) has been spending truly vast sums of money on biowar defense counter-measures. There are rumors of drugs that will defeat any biowar threat, and while there are no doubt many advances, the almost unlimited number of new designer viruses and other biowar agents that can be created just about guarantee that counter-measures cannot succeed in all cases. It only takes one successfully deployed super mutant killer virus to effectively destroy a culture/civilization/economy/national population.

The threat of human-to-human transmission of Bird Flu (H5N1) has resulted in an increased awareness of natural biological disease dangers and has increased governmental planning and preparations. However, we are far far from ready for advanced biowar. It is expected that unless governmental bodies are very fast at sounding the alarm and are very effective in posting and enforcing medical precautions, that among the early victims of a biowar attack will be the medical community itself, leaving the remaining population even more lost and at risk. The simple task of notifying and requiring family doctors and their nurses and office staff to wear gowns, gloves and masks, and enforcing such a warning (when no local cases of biowar infections yet exist), as well as hospital staff, is a basic step that is unlikely, under the present conditions and rules, to happen (or happen in time to be effective, which is what counts).

In the event of a biowar outbreak the entire civilian medical community would need to be militarized and detailed arrangements and training have to be in place for this well ahead of time. This simply has not happened and America, Canada and Europe are wildly exposed to massive deaths from biowar based weapons of mass destruction.

One would think that no sane nation or national leaders, even the Islamic extremists leading Iran, would ever use biowar agents in a war. Any use would likely result in the immediate nuking of all of Iran. However, the nightmare that has happened to Iraq has raised the stakes in the Middle East. Iran has seen that in any war with America they are likely to see their national economy, culture, civilization and even the Iranian nation-state itself destroyed. When the "gloves come off" in a regional Middle Eastern war the probability of such a war involving biological weapons-of-mass destruction is very significant, and that is damn dangerous for us all.

Even though I have a number of British (Scottish) titles and several old honorific Canadian offices-of-state, I am an American living in Indiana. I have tried, with the last three Governors of Indiana to encourage the formation of a sizable medical force in the state defense force (in Indiana this is known as the Indiana Guard Reserve), to be ready for biological emergencies without success. Just over half of the states in America have a state defense force that is not a part of the federal military (like the joint state/federal Army and Air National Guard). Some of these states in addition to Army forces, have Air Force elements and in a handful of states even Naval forces. These state defense forces cannot be called up by the President for federal service but can be activated by the state's governor for serious emergencies. Texas has the Texas Medical Rangers (a group of doctors and other medical volunteers from around the state) as a part of its Texas Guard to respond to emergences, but even this excellent force is unprepared for the outbreak of biowar.

America, Canada, Europe, Israel, and the rest of the world had better get ready for the unthinkable nightmare of advanced biowar. Being prepared can make the difference between successfully containing biowar agents before they destroy one's nation, culture, society, economy. Not being prepared ensures a return of the Dark Ages.


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1 comment:

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