Monday, December 10, 2007


"Over the next two days, we will deal with a worst-case scenario of global proportion: terrorists that produce large amounts of a deadly bacteria — plague — and disseminate it using hundreds of simple horns, the kind that children use at sporting events," claimed Interpol's Ron K. Noble, at a tabletop exercise designed to show capabilities in Bioterrorism. Held over fine food and canapes at the Hilton in Lyon, France, see here.

"The attack itself is not particularly sophisticated," Noble continues. "It does not rely on advanced scientific expertise, large amounts of money, or elaborate laboratories. This is the truly frightening aspect of bioterrorism – it is the perfect storm of opportunity and motivation. Using disease, terrorists can substantially multiply the devastation and societal disruption that they cause, and they can do it without sophisticated infrastructure or state support.

For this very reason, we would be mistaken to treat a worst-case scenario as a remote possibility. Instead, we must deal with this as an eventuality for which we need to be prepared. In a movie that I recently saw there was the line: 'Let’s hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.' That expression fits our work in the area of Bioterrorism Prevention."

Thus goes the variation on the recurrent meme of "It's easy for terrorists to [fill in the blank.] For a host of variations and repetitions see here.

Tabletop bioterror exercises have a history of being cooked-up frauds, at least in the United States.

Two US bioterror exercises known as Top Off 2 and Top Off 3, massaged facts to achieve catastrophic results in tabletop gaming with plague, or the Black Death, as a terrorist agent of choice.

"[The] US and UK BW programs prior to 1969 both failed in attempts to weaponize and aerosolize the agent that produces plague, (although the USSR did succeed in that during the 1980s)," wrote bioweapons expert Milton Leitenberg in 2004.

"In the two Top Off exercises, how was a 'terrorist' non-state actor group able to achieve the aerosolization of an agent that US and UK [biowarfare] programs staffed by competent researchers with a decade of effort were not able to achieve?" continued Leitenberg. "And, according to experienced US researchers, prior to reaching the stage of aerosolization P. pestis is a 'difficult' agent to work with in the laboratory, 'finicky' and 'fastidious.' "

The same year, your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow, also wrote, alongside Leitenberg, on the assumption that the Black Death was easy to make into a bioweapon.

"Further perspective may be discerned from the recent trial of plague expert Dr. Thomas Butler," it was written. "Butler's substantial professional career and life were ruined as a by-product of the U.S. government's obsession with bioterrorism. A colleague of Butler's, Dr. Thomas Lehman, writes on the Federation of American Scientists' website:
"During Dr. Butler's sentencing hearing I learned some other little known facts about 'the plague.' Did you know that our own government worked for twenty years or more on methods to 'weaponize' plague bacteria? What did they find? They couldn't do it! It turns out the plague bacteria are remarkably fragile organisms, and no ready means could be found to disperse and infect people with it easily ..."

See the comments from Leitenberg and myself here and here at the Federation of American Scientists.

So when Ronald K. Noble of Interpol says that engineering a recurrence of the Black Death "does not rely on advanced scientific expertise," he's either fibbing or speaking without knowing the facts for the sake of some scary publicity.

In any case, fabricating doom scenarios, telling people they're likely to happen and massaging facts to posit a man-made resurgence of the Black Death is a tradition started by the American government. It now appears to be one also practiced by British and miscellaneous Euro-security men.

The Register was the first to comment on this event here.


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