Friday, July 10, 2009

Germs


Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War
by Judith Miller, William Broad, Stephen Engelberg
Simon & Schuster, September 2001
hardcover, 384 pages (including notes, bibliography, index)
ISBN-13: 9780684871585
nonfiction
very highly recommended

Synopsis
In this groundbreaking work of investigative journalism, Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg, and William Broad of The New York Times uncover the truth about biological weapons and show why bio-warfare and bio-terrorism are fast becoming our worst national nightmare.
Among the startling revelations in Germs:
* How the CIA secretly built and tested a model of a Soviet-designed germ bomb, alarming some officials who felt the work pushed to the limits of what is permitted by the global treaty banning germ arms.
* How the Pentagon embarked on a secret effort to make a superbug.
* Details about the Soviet Union's massive hidden program to produce biological weapons, including new charges that germs were tested on humans.
* How Moscow's scientists made an untraceable germ that instructs the body to destroy itself.
* The Pentagon's chaotic efforts to improvise defenses against Iraq's biological weapons during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
* How a religious cult in Oregon in the 1980s sickened hundreds of Americans in a bio-terrorism attack that the government played down to avoid panic and copycat strikes.
* Plans by the U.S. military in the 1960s to attack Cuba with germ weapons.
My Thoughts:

Germs relates frightening information about biological weapons not only today but in recent historical context and clearly shows why this threat continues to justify attention today. Since this book was released in Sept. 2001, we know we are, or were, taking terrorist attacks seriously, but perhaps we are failing to continue to stress the mass chaos biological weapons would cause. Much of the information found in this book is available in other books too so it's easily documented. There has been some discrediting of author Miller since the publication, but none of that deals with the biological weapons programs the Soviets were working on which are covered extensively here. The bottom line is really that we need to be vigilant in seriously considering the threat of biological weapons today. very highly recommended

Quotes:

In December 1997, six years after the Persian Gulf War, the Pentagon announced that it had decided to vaccinate its 2.4 million soldiers and reservists against anthrax. opening

We quickly learned that the anthrax decision was part of a much larger government effort to combat what officials believed was a growing danger from germ weapons. pg. 13

By the end of the outbreak, almost a thousand people had reported symptoms to their doctors or the hospital; 751 were confirmed to have salmonella, making it the largest outbreak in Oregon's history. pg. 19-20

More than a year would pass after the outbreak before Oregonians learned that Rajneeshees had poisoned the town. pg. 23

Such progress had a price, of course. Painstakingly, the germ-development program at Fort Detrick had tested prospective germ weapons on nearly a thousand American soldiers, in sealed chambers and the wilds of the Utah desert. Reaching beyond the military, it had exposed prisoners at the Ohio State Penitentiary, where volunteers were carefully monitored. Clandestinely, it also sprayed American cities with mild germs to investigate the likely impact of deadly pathogens. pg. 35

Germs and warfare are old allies. More than two millennia ago, Scythian archers dipped arrowheads in manure and rotting corpses to increase the deadliness of their weapons. Tatars in the fourteenth century hurled dead bodies foul with plague over the walls of enemy cities. British soldiers during the French and Indian War gave unfriendly tribes blankets sown with smallpox. The Germans in World War I spread glanders, a disease of horses, among the mounts of rival cavalries. The Japanese in World War II dropped fleas infected with plague on Chinese cities, killing hundreds and perhaps thousands of people.
Despite occasional grim successes, germ weapons have never played decisive roles in warfare or terrorism. Unintended infection is another matter. pg. 37-38

"We used to think about the Chinese and the Russians. And if we had known what they were really doing, we would have worked harder." pg. 65

Douglas J. Feith, a senior Pentagon official, told the House Intelligence Committee in August 1986 that Soviet scientists had begun rearranging germs to develop "new means of biological warfare." pg. 82

1 comment:

farmlanebooks said...

I love reading this sort of thing, and then getting myself scared about real life dangers. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. I'll try to get a copy soon.