Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2001
Back Issues
Board: Rework ailing budget
Faculty to design new Campbell Hall spaces
Anthrax is now a weapon

Economics adjusts to a global influx

New center helps international students polish their English skills
Correction -- CVC and TJ Area Chapter of United Way
In Memoriam
Notable -- awards and achievements of faculty and staff
Negotiating, naturally
Hot Links -- CardioVillage Web site
Artisans’s Bazaar Nov. 30-Dec. 2
After Hours -- Cersley nurses a desire to serve public as Miss Virginia
Holiday cards, letters to aid CVC
Judith Miller and Philip Zelikow
Margaret Edwards
New York Times reporter Judith Miller (left) and Miller Center director Philip Zelikow.

Anthrax is now a weapon

By Margaret Edwards

The anthrax scare is a significant problem that will not simply go away, bioterrorism expert and senior New York Times writer Judith Miller said Nov. 18 at a forum sponsored by the Miller Center of Public Affairs.

Relatively cheap to produce and difficult to detect until people have been exposed, biological weapons pose a grave threat to national security, Miller told an audience of more than 200 in the Chemistry Auditorium.

“Germs are not — as we feared when we wrote this book — weapons of the future, but are instead the weapons of the present,” said Miller, who, with Stephen Engelberg and William Broad, authored Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War, currently at the top of the Times’ best-seller list.

The bioterrorism threat, Miller said, comes not just from foreign terrorists interested in harming the U.S., but also from domestic hate groups. Asked if she thought the recent anthrax cases came from home or abroad, Miller said, “I change my mind about this every week, but today, I think the person or persons who sent this (are) domestic.” She cited as evidence both the nature of the targets — Democratic senators and the news media — and the fact that the strain used in the recent inhalation anthrax cases was American in origin.

In the book, Miller and her co-authors argue that the worldwide bioterrorism threat is growing. Biological weapons are relatively cheap to produce in comparison to other weapons of mass destruction, although they are difficult to make in their most dangerous forms. Also, there is, as Miller noted in her talk, “no shortage of people out there who hate us.”

In addition, the know-how and technology are readily available. The Soviet Union operated the largest biological warfare program in history, with over 70,000 scientists working to create weapons such as vaccine-resistant smallpox and potent forms of anthrax. This program continued for almost 20 years after the U.S.S.R. signed the Biological Weapons Convention in 1972.

The Soviet Union’s dissolution and subseque nt economic turmoil have provided a ready supply of unemployed scientists who know how to create such weapons. These conditions also have endangered the Russian government’s control over materials and technologies in its laboratories. Miller suggested that North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Syria may also have biological weapons programs.

The good news is that much can be done to thwart would-be bioterrorism. Steps such as stockpiling medicines and vaccines, training healthcare professionals at all levels of the system to identify the most likely illnesses, and development of better biodetectors — used to detect the presence of biological contaminants in an environment — are all effective ways to fight bioterrorism, she said.

Additionally, programs such as the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, a series of projects that aid former East Bloc countries in the destruction of weapons of mass destruction, have been important, if underfunded, tools in the fight against the spread of biological weapons technology, Miller said.

To achieve measurable prevention and readiness against biological attack, federal and state governments must have the political will to invest in programs with long-range, low-visibility payoffs — even in times when other short-term needs are pressing, Miller concluded.

The forum can be viewed online at http://millercenter.


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