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The amazing, endless, bioterror pork conveyor

The war on terror as corporate welfare...

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Comment As the final days count down to the US election one can look at the past few years and be deeply disappointed at the country's approach to national security.

Rather than count off every single well-publicized major gaffe and fiasco, it's possible to list more minor things which, when taken together, indicate the country essentially as leaderless and adrift at sea as it is in everything else.

The first example is in the use of the war on terror as a continuous conveyor belt delivering corporate welfare.

As part of this stream, the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency recently tossed $158 million dollars at a management and engineering consulting company usually involved in water and power management, Black & Veatch, allegedly for defense against the threat of bioterrorism in the Ukraine. The company has been on the government teat through the DTRA since at least 1993, but none of its current board of directors advertises any experience in the field of biodefense - international or domestic.

Tossing money away mucking about in counter-bioterrorism in, hmmm, the Ukraine, is presented in local US newspapers as something fine. To view this appropriately, imagine its potential inverse - the Russian government starting up counter-bioterror offices in, perhaps, the state of Texas. That would be popular.

The alert reader has already noticed that the US has been the only country in the world in the last decade to have a minted bioterrorist roaming the street. Now, the travesty is not in the single award to one company for this type of work against an alleged external threat, but in the realization that the giveaway occurs monthly, sometimes even on a weekly, schedule.

Moving right along, since 9/11, every (and that's every) public government and paid-for-by-the-government threat assessment on al Qaeda or jihadi bioterror capability has been spectacularly wrong. To this writer's knowledge, none has ever been corrected. And none of the many assorted experts, analysts and technicians responsible for this empty work has been shown the door. There's no penalty for being wrong all the time.

WMDs - made in America

Conversely, only Americans have used bacteria and toxins regarded as WMDs to cause illness and death. The case of Bruce Ivins has already been well-publicized. But fading into the rear view mirror is the embarrassment of illegal use of botox, unapproved for drug use and long said to be a favorite bioweapon of terrorists. In the real world it's misused by (pregnant pause) US doctors in the cosmetic industry interested solely in money-making schemes through dewrinkling clinics. And the only time* the production of ricin has amounted to anything has been when a lone indigent nut, Roger Bergendorff, poisoned himself, non-fatally, with castor seed powder.

However, through the mythology which has sprouted from the body of threat assessment - that bioweapons are easy to make - various parts of the country now endure a platoon of men in hazmat suits whenever the irate unbalanced choose to vent their spleen. "I'm mad as Hell!" rail anonymous Joe the Nuisances, shaking fists at the TV after they've spooned some flour into envelopes addressed to banks.

In terms of providing a vaccine as defense against anthrax, it's been about cornering hundreds of millions of dollars in guaranteed buys, a big slice from the Bush administration's $6 billion dollar Bioshield legislation.

* Editor's note: George is here talking in the context of the current 'war on terror', and is aware of the case of Georgi Markov referred to by several commenters. Markov was assassinated in 1978 by the injection of ricin weaponised for the Bulgarian secret service. In several previous articles George has covered the sheer impracticality of ricin of this purity being produced by terrorists, or indeed of it being any use to them.

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Next page: The terror gene

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