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Bioterrorism and Biocrimes: The Illicit Use of Biological Agents Since 1900

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Working paper

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During the past five years, the threat of bioterrorism has become a subject of widespread concern. Journalists, academics, and policy analysts have considered the subject, and in most cases found much to alarm them. Most significantly, it has captured the attention of policy makers at all levels of government in the United States. Unfortunately, bioterrorism remains a poorly understood subject. Many policymakers and policy analysts present apocalyptic visions of the threat, contending that it is only a matter of time before some terrorist uses biological agents to cause mass casualties. In contrast, other analysts argue that the empirical record provides no basis for concern, and thus largely dismiss the potential threat. Neither approach is helpful. Imagining catastrophic threats inevitably leads to a requirement for impossibly large response capabilities. In contrast, denying the potential danger altogether leads to the kind of tunnel vision that led U.S. intelligence officials to totally ignore the emergence of Aum Shinrikyo in Japan, despite its overtly hostile attitude towards the United States. This study takes an intermediate course. It provides empirical evidence to support the views of those who argue that biological agents are difficult to use. It also provides abundant evidence that some people have desired to inflict mass casualties on innocent populations through employment of biological agents. Fortunately, these accounts also suggest that such people lacked the capability to follow through with their plans. The research also casts considerable doubt on our ability to predict which biological agents a perpetrator might employ. While some analysts assume that terrorists will use those agents that proved of most interest to state weapons programs, bioterrorists and biocriminals have acquired and used agents of little or no value as weapons of war.

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  • Chemical, Biological and Radiological Warfare
  • Unconventional Warfare

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