What are biological weapons?
warfare agent R400 aerial bombs destroyed
in Iraq by U.N. inspectors after the Gulf
Biological weapons are any infectious agent such
as a bacteria or virus when used intentionally
to inflict harm upon others. This definition is
often expanded to include biologically-derived
toxins and poisons.
Biological warfare agents include both living
microorganisms (bacteria, protozoa, rickettsia,
viruses, and fungi), and toxins (chemicals) produced
by microorganisms, plants, or animals. (Some authors
classify toxins as chemical rather than biological
agents, but most do not, and they were included
within the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention-as
reflected in its formal title, the Convention
on the Prohibition of the Development, Production
and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological)
and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction).
Writers on the subject have produced a long list
of BW agents that terrorists could potentially
use. Among those mentioned have been: anthrax,
cryptococcosis, escherichia coli, haemophilus
influenzae, brucellosis (undulant fever), coccidioidomycosis
(San Joaquin Valley or desert fever), psittacosis
(parrot fever), yersina pestis (the Black Death
of the 14th Century), tularemia (rabbit fever),
malaria, cholera, typhoid, bubonic plague, cobra
venom, shellfish toxin, botulinal toxin, saxitoxin,
ricin, smallpox, shigella flexneri, s. dysenteriae
(Shiga bacillus), salmonella, staphylococcus enterotoxin
B, hemorrhagic fever, Venezuelan equine encephalitis,
histoplasma capsulatum, pneumonic plague, Rocky
Mountain spotted fever, dengue fever, Rift Valley
fever, diphtheria, melioidosis, glanders, tuberculosis,
infectious hepatitis, encephalitides, blastomycosis,
nocardiosis, yellow fever, typhus, tricothecene
mycotoxin, aflatoxin, and Q fever.
Some of these agents are highly lethal; others
would serve mainly in an incapacitating role.
Some authors have also speculated about the possible
terrorist use of new, genetically-engineered agents
designed to defeat conventional methods of treatment
or to attack specific ethnic groups, for example.
How dangerous are biological weapons
The Honorable John D. Holcum, in his Remarks
to the Fourth Review Conference of the Biological
Weapons Convention, Geneva Switzerland said:
"Biological weapons are immensely destructive.
In the right environment they can multiply, and
so self-perpetuate. And they can naturally mutate,
frustrating protective measures. Chemical weapons,
for all their horrors, become less lethal as they
are dispersed and diluted. But even the tiniest
quantities of disease organisms can be lethal.
For example, botulinum toxin has been described
as 3 million times more potent than the chemical
nerve agent sarin.
And these are truly loathsome instruments of
war and terror. Anthrax, for instance, takes three
excruciating days to destroy the membranes of
the lungs and intestines.
Botulinum toxin annihilates by slow asphyxiation,
as the cells of the victim's breathing muscles
die from within.
Small wonder that the international community
has placed such organisms out of bounds, even
in combat. That was done in the 1972 Convention
not only because these are weapons of mass destruction,
but because they are infinitely cruel -- intrinsically
weapons of terror."