A LITTLE LIGHT READING
Using biological agents as weapons isn't new, but as with war in general, it's changed. First of all, who are these bugs? A Field Guide to Germs, by Wayne Biddle, is a slim engaging volume that will put you on a first-name basis with anthrax, smallpox, and a host of hemorrhagic fevers.
Betrayal of Trust, by Laurie Garrett, focuses on larger issues of global public health, but she takes time to trace the development of bioweapons policy out of the Cold War and through the Persian Gulf War.
In Destroying the World to Save It, Robert Jay Lifton examines Aum Shinrikyo, the cult that released sarin gas into the Japanese subway system in 1995. Although sarin is not an infectious agent, Aum's apocalyptic motivation, global reach, and terrorist intent electrified the world.
Remember the Salmonella outbreak engineered by followers of the Bhagwahn Shree Rajneesh in Oregon? In Germs, a team of writers from the New York Times details the history of biological agents and their shift from being weapons of large governments to weapons of radical groups.
It was sudden and shocking. Robert Stevens died of a disease that people don't really get anymore -- a disease that governments have been trying to weaponize for decades.
Does it make sense to assume that the anthrax exposures at American Media were the result of criminal activity? Mr. Stevens's death by inhalation anthrax, the rarer, more severe form, says yes, that this exposure was no accident.
The choice of anthrax seems ominous on many levels. Hard to weaponize, anthrax's appeal has been limited essentially to the United States, Soviet Union, and Iraq. The targeting of media outlets is calculated to create terror. Is this the next phase of a campaign begun on September 11?
Our bioweapons fears have concentrated on a Twelve Monkeys (1995)-style threat, a communicable disease that spreads like wildfire and kills like crazy. We were spared that painful outcome on this round, but we still don't know exactly who made this happen, just that they brought it home.