"Globalization and the increasing availability of knowledge required to develop biothreats, coupled with declining computing costs, work together to dramatically increase the likelihood of biological weapon proliferation over the next 25 years. Given a future proliferation of biological weapons to terrorist groups, facilitated by globalization and rapidly increasing technological advancements, can a bureaucracy develop an effective network of countermeasures to bioterrorism?"
- Lt. Col. Stephen G. Hoffman
Papers from the United States Air Force – Air War College gives us a peek behind the curtains obscuring current and future events.
Case in point – an October 2012 paper by Lieutenant Colonel Stephen G. Hoffman – Bureaucracy versus Bioterrorism, Countering a Globalized Threat.
Hoffman discusses how rapid advancements in technology will make it easier and easier for malcontents to become powerful bioterrorists:
Three key developing technologies underlying the biothreat environment are genome sequencing, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology….
One consequence of increasingly cost-efficient computing power coupled with advances in genomics, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology is that do-it-yourself (DIY) genetic engineering is entering the realm of the possible. Barry Pallotta and Michael Finnin at the Institute for Defense Analyses detailed how DIY biologists can use everyday items [such as jewelry cleaners, coffee grinders pressure cookers and household chemicals] to attain rudimentary biological engineering capabilities….
Failure of bureaucracy to develop a novel network of countermeasures against DIY scientists and would-be bioterrorists, who can wage warfare from Wal-Mart, is foolhardy….
Hoffman relies on the work of one defense policy analyst to describe “What Failure Looks Like:”
If the bureaucracy can ever hope to develop an effective network of countermeasures to bioterrorism, then certainly the first step in that development is an accurate assessment of the consequences of what failing to do so would have on the United States. Andrew Krepinevich, in the “Pandemic” chapter of his 2009 book, 7 Deadly Scenarios, provides a glimpse of how that failure might look.
Meanwhile, as the United States increasingly resembles a vast collection of semi-ghost towns, to the south literally millions of peoples are on the move. . . . This mass of Mexicans, now estimated at nearly eight million, has no organizing force directing it, yet all its participants are unified toward one goal: crossing the border into the United States, in hope of gaining access to this country’s medical system—which ironically in many ways has simply ceased functioning in any meaningful way. This mass migration is . . . driving Mexico’s population north—a human tidal wave about to crash across America’s borders.10
A bioterrorist attack on the United States could take the form of an introduction of a mutated avian flu virus, capable of being passed human-to-human into unsanitary villages in Mexico. Poor surveillance by the World Health Organization, coupled with typical American disbelief of vulnerability to a pandemic, would likely permit early reports of 10, 20, or 50 deaths scattered across Mexican villages to go largely unnoticed in the United States. One characteristic of viral growth is its exponential increase, so these seemingly small and scattered deaths could, within weeks, ramp into millions of cases of avian flu. Even though the Spanish influenza of 1918 killed 675,000 Americans and estimates of an avian flu pandemic are that 2,000,000 could die, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has failed to develop sufficient antivirus stockpiles.
“The combination of the pandemic, the lack of government preparedness, and sensationalist media [would diminish American’s] confidence and trust in their government.”11
Furthermore, the second and third order effects of a pandemic, coupled with global mobility, may be increased gang activity, looting, and violent crime worldwide such that implementation of martial law may be required. Overwhelmed governments may attempt to clamp down on individual rights to free speech and assembly if mob violence were to spontaneously erupt anywhere social networks indicated medical supplies existed. In the United States, the president could nationalize all antiviral treatments under the direction of the CDC, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Defense.
Since “95 percent of the world’s vaccine is produced by countries comprising only about 10 percent of the world’s population,”12 minority groups may characterize the president’s nationalization of medical supplies as nothing more than opportunistic ethnic cleansing. In light of these global implications to bioterrorism, it is imperative that the United States show leadership in propagating ethical norms of responsible conduct.
10. Andrew F. Krepinevich, Seven Deadly Scenarios: A Military Futurist Explores War in the 21st Century (New York, NY: Bantam Dell, 2009), 92.
11. Ibid., 99.
12. Ibid., 113.
In his conclusion, Hoffman considers possible countermeasures to such a scenario:
Even in a future where biological weapons are proliferated to terrorists through globalization and technological advancements, a bureaucracy can develop an effective network of countermeasures to bioterrorism.
The first aspect of this network is professional policing among life science professionals through development of an oath of ethical actions. A life science oath would “reinforce norms of safe and responsible conduct” while creating ethical standards within the profession.
The second aspect in this network is a nanotechnology detection capability to permit unambiguous attribution of bioterrorist activity. For example, this attribution capability may strip anonymity from bioterrorists and coerce them toward civil behavior through the use of fluorescing nanotaggants….
The third aspect of this network is mitigation of the consequences of terrorists’ desires though development of quick response teams capable of rapidly identifying pathogens, treating the infected, and inoculating the masses through nanovector delivery techniques.
Through the use of nanotechnology and improved implementation of international life science laws and treaties, an increased likelihood of punishment to bioterrorists may be realized. Neither the reduction of reward nor increase of risk must be perfect; merely disincentivizing the economics of biological weapon use may discourage would-be terrorists from investing effort in this area….
Effective Air Force participation in this proposed bureaucratic network of countermeasures requires a few foundational questions be answered. To reduce risks of a 2035 biothreat and better support the 2010 National Security Strategy, the Air Force must (1) determine the proper level of scientific personnel required; (2) institutionalize cross-functional communication across the intelligence, scientific, acquisition, and medical functional communities; and (3) develop an industry accepted certification program for life science officers. Amid a rapidly changing technological environment, accomplishing these actions now will decrease future risk in the president’s overall biothreat strategy by systematically increasing American credibility, capability, and communication.