The concise and worried article by M. Nirmala from Singapore ponders on the issue of bioterrorism on a global scale. Nirmala is seriously alarmed by the prospective of the worlds best scientists joining terrorist groups in order to create artificial viruses and bacteria to be used during biological attacks. These attacks are undertaken so as to generate fear and shock among the population of the world rather than actually destroy the humanity. The fear factor that the terrorists aim to trigger is estimated to be larger than the disease itself and can lead to social disruptions and mass panic. Bioterrorism proved to be a real threat after 2001 anthrax attacks in the USA that are believed to be coordinated by Al-Qaedas science-trained professionals. Another threat that is becoming increasingly alarming is the fact that extremists freely post recipes to make deadly poisons on their forums encouraging people, for instance, to mix cyanide with skin conditioner. Prof. Coker, the head of the infectious diseases program at the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, National University of Singapore and a professor of public health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, regards these threats as substantial enough to develop an algorithm of actions in case the terrorists do achieve success in creating lethal synthetic bacteria or viruses aiming to kill thousands and scare millions of people. The three basic things that he recommends us doing are: singling out the agent of the pandemic, isolating and containing it. Among other important tasks he pinpoints the need for countries to take time to learn how to determine the epicenter of a pandemic and what the mechanisms of spreading diseases are. The agents that normally catch the eye of the terrorists are those that cause more fatalities like anthrax or generally incurable like smallpox. According to Dr Chua Teck Mean, president of the Asia-Pacific Biosafety Association, it is merely medical challenge that prevents the terrorist from making an attack immediately. The terrorists need the biological agent to be stable in the environment like an anthrax spore that is able to stay intact for up to 90 days inside human lungs (Nirmala).
The argument that M. Nirmala presents in this 2014 article published in an online issue of the Newspaper Strait Times in Singapore is impressive and intimidating. At first he gives the statistics of the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak that was not, though, a result of a terrorist attack. However, the reader can estimate the amount of damage that a pandemic can cause. M. Nirmala applies both vivid strong language like, for instance, terrorists use violence to create shock, awe and fear or pandemic sweeps the world and simple words with terrifying meaning like infected, died, killed etc. These two different linguistic means combined produce a highly persuasive effect on the reader forcing them to question the safety and stability of the society they are living in. Another means Nirmala uses to be even more eloquent in his discourse is giving specific examples, namely the poisoning of Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko by the deadly substance of polonium. Citing the words of Prof.Coker, an expert in infectious diseases and pandemic preparedness, and Rohan Gunaratna from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies is another means Nirmala applies to enhance the general atmosphere of anxiety and fear in the article. The reader gets the message that even the best minds are perplexed and scared of the prospect of possible attack.
In the next part of the article Nirmala adds fuel to the fire by informing the reader that the terrorists are not only malevolent and merciless, but also knowledgeable and well-prepared as they regularly succeed in recruiting the worlds best scientists to assist them in their inhumane business. Nirmala gets monstrously concrete briefing the reader that, for instance, Yazid Sufaat, a Malaysian former army captain with a science degree from the United States, is believed to be the head of Al-Qaedas anthrax project and Samir al-Baraq, a biology student born in Kuwait, is part of the Al-Qaedas chemical division.
Despite the fact that the medical challenges that Nirmala is speaking about are considerable and it is difficult to create an agent that would survive in the environment for the necessary amount of time, Nirmalas panicky assumptions do withstand the test of plausibility. The spore of anthrax is a very likely agent to be used if terrorists wanted to create a devastating effect on the economy and produce mass casualties (The Threat). It is relatively easy to mix the spores of anthrax with food or just spray them into the air in big cities. Such attacks may go undetected for weeks until doctors in emergency rooms notice the repeating pattern in newly diagnosed individuals. The danger of such covert attacks lies in the fact that terrorists could get away with them easily as by the time the attack is recognized as such they can already move to a different place to do the same thing. Moreover, the fact that the spores are invisible, tasteless and odorless raises even a larger panic among the population as people generally tend to fear the unknown and unseen most of all. Besides that, there is no way for any system of national security to become immune to the possibility of such attacks because the deadly spores can be simply added to skin creams or put into paper mail as it happened in the 2001 attack in the USA.
On a larger scale, articles like this seem to bring forth even more fear and paranoid atmosphere in the society. Paraphrasing Prof. Coker, you can generate mass panic even without attempting to commit a chemical or biological attack. A newspaper article like Nirmalas would be enough. There is certainly no possible way to prevent biological attacks altogether, so alarming the society with messages about their possible onset any moment can do nothing but generate unnecessary panic and social disruption which is exactly what the terrorists want to do. The information about the past failed attempts to commit an act of terror as well as the information about future possible acts should remain known only to government security services responsible for preventing and reacting to these attacks. To illustrate this idea, one can recollect, for instance, that the investigations following the 1995 sarin gas release by Aum Shinrikyo religious cult in the Tokyo subway system revealed that the cult had been planning 9 more attacks that would have killed tens of thousands of people (WuDunn, Sheryl, Judith Miller, and William Broad). This information only fueled already strong concern and fear among the population of Tokyo (Inglesby, OTool, Henderson).
Therefore, Nirmalas article is appropriate only within the framework of prevention strategies that raise bioterrorism awareness among researchers and engage them as well former bioterrorism practitioners in peaceful pursuits. Publishing it for the wider audience to read would only worsen the situation as it will only assist the terrorists purposes. The argument Nirmala uses is highly effective and it does achieve the goal of alarming the reader with realistic prospect of another anthrax attack. Nevertheless, it should only be the business of corresponding governmental structures to respond to the possibility of such a threat.
Inglesby, Thomas. V., Tara O'Tool, and Donald A. Henderson. "Preventing the Use of Biological Weapons: Improving Response Should Prevention Fail." Clinical Infectious Diseases. Oxford Journals, 30 June 2000. Web. 16 May 2016.
Nirmala, M. "A Pandemic May Be Future Weapon of Terrorism." Newspaper Straits Times. Singapore Press Holdings, 1 Mar. 2014. Web. 15 May 2016. http://ezproxy.shastacollege.edu:2081/cgi-bin/hst-article-display?id=SCA6428-0-526&artno=0000359763&type=ART"The Threat." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 01 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 May 2016. <http://www.cdc.gov/anthrax/bioterrorism/threat.html>.
WuDunn, Sheryl, Judith Miller, and William Broad. "How Japan germ terror alerted world." New York Times 26 (1998): A1. Print.
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