October 22, 2007, - 10:57 am
By Debbie Schlussel
I have mixed feelings whenever the mainstream media report on this avenue of future terrorist attack or that one. On the one hand, it’s good for the general public to know just how vulnerable we really are and how inept our leaders are–yup, that’s right, even the “counterterrorism President” who has been anything but. We need to know that we are not safe and that our lives are really in our own hands. Any plots the media can expose are good for us to know about.
On the other hand, while none of these new ideas and plots are likely unknown to terrorists–as 9/11 showed, they’re far more imaginative than we are–they do get ideas from our media and our entertainment, as they themselves have acknowledged.
So why does a major newspaper, like the Boston Globe, feel it’s necessary to give those who want to destroy us the “how to”? Take the Globe’s latest on how terrorists can cheaply and easily attack us with insects. Of course, the terrorists already know about this, but why give them new details, as entomologist Dr. Jeffrey Lockwood does? (It’s a well-done five-page article all of which you should read, but I’ve posted the most important excerpts):
THE TERRORISTS’ LETTER arrived at the office of the mayor of Los Angeles on Nov. 30, 1989. A group calling itself The Breeders claimed to have secretly imported, bred, and released the Mediterranean fruit fly in Los Angeles and Orange counties. And they threatened to expand the attack into the San Joaquin Valley, a major center of California agriculture.
The “Medfly” had appeared that August in survey traps not far from Dodger Stadium, and officials were spraying in an effort to get rid of it. The pest attacks 300 different fruits, vegetables, and nuts, reducing plant tissue to a maggoty pulp that rots and falls to the ground. An established infestation would bring widespread destruction and mean that produce could no longer be shipped out of state, potentially costing 132,000 jobs and $13.4 billion in lost revenues. . . .
One of the cheapest and most destructive weapons available to terrorists today is also one of the most widely ignored: insects. These biological warfare agents are easy to sneak across borders, reproduce quickly, spread disease, and devastate crops in an indefatigable march. Our stores of grain could be ravaged by the khapra beetle, cotton and soybean fields decimated by the Egyptian cottonworm, citrus and cotton crops stripped by the false codling moth, and vegetable fields pummeled by the cabbage moth. The costs could easily escalate into the billions of dollars, and the resulting disruption of our food supply – and our sense of well-being – could be devastating. Yet the government focuses on shoe bombs and anthrax while virtually ignoring insect insurgents.
Indeed, a great strategic lesson of 9/11 has been overlooked. Terrorists need only a little ingenuity, not sophisticated weapons, to cause enormous damage. Armed only with box cutters, terrorists hijacked planes and brought down the towers of the World Trade Center. Insects are the box cutters of biological warfare – cheap, simple, and wickedly effective.
“I can write for you on a postcard a series of different ways to paralyze the agriculture industry of the United States, where we have no possibility of being able to respond,” said Geoff Letchworth, the former director of the US Department of Agriculture’s Arthropod-Borne Animal Diseases Research Laboratory. . . .
Nor would it be difficult to introduce Rift Valley fever, according to Charles Bailey, director of the National Center for Biodefense at George Mason University. A person with $100 worth of supplies, a set of simple instructions, and a plane ticket from an afflicted African nation to the United States could introduce the disease with virtually no chance of being caught, he said. . . .
An entomological attack would not deplete America’s pantries, but it could go a long way to emptying our wallets. In economic terms, the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, resulted in direct losses of $27.2 billion. The Asian long-horned beetle, which arrived in 1996, together with the emerald ash borer, which was found in 2002, have the potential to destroy more than $700 billion worth of forests, according to the USDA.
Consider the maize borer, a native of India, Thailand, and East Africa that produces seven generations per year. If this pest arrives, the USDA predicts that it would infest cornfields from the Eastern seaboard, across the Gulf Coast, into the Pacific Northwest. With crop losses of 88 percent in other countries, hundreds of millions of dollars of crops are at risk – along with our energy independence as the United States shifts to ethanol-based fuels.
Insect carriers of plant diseases keep orchardists awake at night. A bacterial ailment called citrus variegated chlorosis is carried by a leafhopper, and the disease wiped out 50 million trees in Brazil. The vector is already in Florida; the only missing ingredient is an infusion of the pathogen. What would be the cost of such insect-borne diseases? If an outbreak decimated enough orchards to reduce sales of orange juice by 50 percent for a period of five years, the US economy would lose $9.5 billion – the approximate cost of rebuilding the towers of the World Trade Center from scratch.
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Kadlec, staff director for the US Senate Subcommittee on Bioterrorism and Public Health, has developed scenarios in which saboteurs conscript local insects to inflict $1 billion in damage to the American wine industry and to infest Pakistan’s cotton crop, thereby crippling the country’s economy and destabilizing a vital US ally in its efforts to combat terrorism.
“We’ve thought about car bombs and nuclear materials,” Kadlec said. But “we haven’t thought about weapons that are in the terrorists’ domain and endemic to where they are living.” . . .
In 2003, well after 9/11, the NRC released Countering Agricultural Bioterrorism, a scathing report of America’s vulnerability that concluded that the federal effort was “insufficient for effectively deterring, preventing, detecting, responding to, and recovering from agricultural threats.”
Since then, the government has moved backward, cannibalizing the USDA in order to feed resources into the Department of Homeland Security. In 2003, the White House moved 2,000 inspectors from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service – the branch of the USDA responsible for detecting and suppressing invasive pests – to DHS Customs and Border Protection. A Government Accountability Office report released this fall revealed that a majority of the inspectors who were assigned to DHS say their ability to protect agriculture has been compromised by low morale, training deficiencies, equipment shortages, and manpower shortfalls. Nothing gets a lower priority than agriculture in the DHS hierarchy of concern. . . .
For a terrorist group with patience, a slow motion disaster in ecological time would be a perfect tactic against an enemy that thinks in terms of days or months but would, nonetheless, suffer across generations.
It’s a long article, in which Dr. Lockwood cites many examples of how enemies at war were defeated with bugs or other microorganisms infesting them.
Yet, he argues that we should take our resources away from the border and focus them on these instead. And then make it easier for terrorists to smuggle this stuff inside the border?!
Wrong. We need to focus our resources on both issues–borders and destructive organisms. That’s easily done, if only bureaucrats spent Homeland Security’s money wisely, without wasting it on parties in Kansas city for ICE officials or trips to Dearbornistan to party with terrorists and immigration defrauders.
We must focus on all methods available to terrorists, whether it’s sneaking tangible human bodies or invisible bacterial micro-organisms inside our borders. One must not come at the expense of the other.
Our national security is not–or, rather, shouldn’t be–a zero sum game.
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