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Football horns could spread Black Death, says Interpol chief

Crackers? No, he hasn't thought of them yet...

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Bioterrorists stand poised to unleash plague bacteria, killing "thousands, even millions" with the aid of "hundreds of simple horns, the kind that children use at sporting events", Interpol secretary general Ron Noble appeared to claim last week. Speaking in Lyon, sane and rational Ron was kicking off a measured and realistic Interpol "table top exercise", a two day wargame for law enforcement officials, entitled "Black Death."

Setting the scene, Noble tells us that "we would be mistaken to treat a worst-case scenario as a remote possibility" - it is "an eventuality for which we need to be prepared."

It is nevertheless, as eventualities go, something of a stretch. Terrorist bioterror programmes so far haven't got much beyond fanciful plans and primitive poison recipes, so even if the discovery of massed honkers of death as a delivery mechanism really is a breakthrough (should you be telling them this, Ron?), there remains the minor detail of producing and bottling credible quantities of the plague itself.

Noble is however entirely undeterred by this. "The attack itself is not particularly sophisticated. It does not rely on advanced scientific expertise, large amounts of money, or elaborate laboratories." So what does it rely on then? He doesn't say, but skips right on: "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."

And yes, if you look at it like that it's an entire mystery that they haven't done it already. Or perhaps you might consider Ron Noble as being one of the truly frightening aspects of bioterrorism. Puzzlingly, in among a collection of fairly desperate clippings involving botulinum toxin, anthrax, crop-dusting aircraft and hot air balloons (but no horns), Interpol's own bioterrorism documentation quotes Jane's Intelligence Review as follows:

"Online CBW manuals have progressed little in recent years. They are assembled from widely available open source information and contain little instruction on weaponisation or delivery; Jihadist forum members seem to recognise their technological limitations and are more focused on acquiring commercially available chemicals for low-tech attacks than producing more sophisticated weapons..."

Which strikes us as being pretty much the size of it. ®

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