02 October 2005

Bioweapons III

I swear, I had no idea I would be blogging so much about biological warfare, but it's become impossible to avoid. First was stockpiling of anthrax at Dugway Proving Grounds, followed by nuclear "agent defeat" warheads. Now, via Sadly, No!, it looks like someone decided to release a BW agent at the Washington, D.C., protests. Hope you have your tinfoil hats ready.

The bacterium detected by the CDC, francisella tularensis, though naturally occurring in rodents (hence the disease name "rabbit fever"), is an extremely well-known bioweapons agent. For instance, the US Air Force handbook on operations in a CB warfare environment lists it right between plague and smallpox, and states that it has a 30% fatality rate when untreated. SAB-TR-97-01 (warning: 358 page PDF) list it as "[p]rime for agent of mass destruction or mass illness when employed under suitable conditions." Even Pravda on the Potomac notes in their article that the US tested it as a BW agent in the 1960s. Now, if you were developing biological weapons and wanted to test infection rates without arousing suspicion in the form of a local epidemic, what better way than infecting a few people at a large event from which they will be leaving to the far corners of the country, using an agent that is not usually transmittable from human-to-human? Also, protesters are certainly considered expendable at best to the current administration, and as I noted in my first BW post, it's not like there isn't a history of clandestine tests of bioweapons on US civilian populations.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying this was a bioweapons attack by the government. But it certainly is suspicious enough to look like it might have been a test. Why would the CDC let this become publicly known, then? Well, since they're a non-military part of the government, they would be out of the loop. Besides, the long delay in announcing it - coincidentally just longer than the incubation period - suggests that maybe someone up high wanted them to keep it quiet long enough for them to be able to say that there were no identified cases of infection (if doctors don't know to look for it, how will they identify it?). And since tularensis responds to a broad range of common antibiotics, specific identification of the bacterium isn't necessary for treatment. It would be easy enough for someone to hush it up without arousing suspicion; they could just claim they don't want to start a panic.

Anyway, I'll take my tinfoil hat off now. The problem is there are a lot of reasons not to simply dismiss this as a coincidence, including detection at so many locations all on the same day, the precedent of tests on American civilian populations, not many people would actually need to know to carry out such a test, and the fact that tularensis is not typically found in the D.C. area. I think it was Molly Ivins who said "the thing I hate most about the Bushies is that they make me feel like a paranoid conspiracy theorist."

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