D.he Corona virus has spread worldwide. It cannot be seen, felt, or tasted. And yet our entire life now revolves around Sars-CoV-2 and its consequences. Humanity has – largely – recognized the virus as a threat. That could mean the end of this story.
It’s not because of people like Andrew Weber. He belongs to a group of experts who believe that most people still have no clue about what is perhaps the most dangerous threat posed by deadly viruses: biological warfare agents.
Weber works for the “Council on Strategic Risks”, one of the many security think tanks in Washington. For almost his entire professional life he has dealt with the dangers of the military use of viruses and other natural pathogens. 17 years as a consultant in the Pentagon. Weber sounds the alarm. He says the danger of bio-warfare agents is definitely underestimated. The wrong virus, bred in the laboratory and used as a weapon, could spread much more aggressively than the coronavirus, which did not come from a laboratory. A man-made virus could kill up to 30 percent of the people it comes into contact with.
Natural toxins have been used as a weapon for centuries
There is a reason that the danger has been forgotten: Pathogens and natural toxins have become rather out of fashion for military purposes. For a long time they were part of the special repertoire. Scythian riding nomads are said to have brought their arrows into contact with body parts as early as the fourth century BC in order to infect their opponents with pathogens. Persians, Greeks and Romans threw animal carcasses into the water of their opponents to contaminate it. During the Middle Ages, the plague became the bio-warfare agent of choice. Tartars hurled infected corpses with the help of catapults into the besieged city of Caffa on the Crimean peninsula in order to force their surrender. Later, when the Europeans settled North America, smallpox became a horror for the natives. Yellow fever played this role in the American Civil War.
In the 20th century, an attempt was made to breed bacteria to develop bio-warfare agents into the weapons of mass destruction they are considered to be today. German troops experimented with anthrax during the First World War. During the Second World War, the Japanese dropped plague fleas over Chinese territory. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union maintained huge bioweapons programs – without, of course, achieving satisfactory results. In the end, they signed the international biological weapons convention, which has prohibited the development, manufacture and storage of biological weapons since 1975. 182 states have now signed the treaty.
That changes little in Weber’s concern. Because the contract is weak. There is no verification mechanism. Instead, there are indications of states that are undermining it. Weber is certain of North Korea. “We know the country has advanced biological weapons capacity.” His assessment is consistent with that of the US State Department. A report released in April 2020 said North Korea had an offensive biological weapons program. It should serve to counteract the military superiority of the United States and South Korea. However, details are not given. The State Department also expressed concern about China, Iran and Russia, but without showing any breach of contract.
Blind to the next catastrophe?
In addition to states that break the agreement, Weber’s concern is with non-state actors. “There are terrorist groups and even individuals who can carry out attacks with bio-warfare agents.” There have been a number of incidents. One of them happened in Germany. In June 2018, police officers found substances used to make ricin in an apartment in Cologne. The Tunisian who lives there, an Islamist, was sentenced to ten years in prison in March this year. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, an American microbiologist sent letters containing anthrax to American politicians, newspaper offices and news channels. In an explosive manner, he had worked at an infectious disease research facility of the American army. When he got wind of the investigation, he committed suicide. As early as 1984, members of the Bhagwan sect in the American state of Oregon had infected salad bars and vegetable counters with Salmonella bacteria in several restaurants. Over 750 people contracted food poisoning.