quinta-feira, 31 de agosto de 2017

Análise em Relações Internacionais: "Bioterrorism: Then and Now"

Artigo apresentado na disciplina "Global Security" da "University of Winnipeg" do Canadá, durante intercâmbio da aluna do curso de Relações Internacionais do Unicuritiba.


* Por: Gabriela Gasperin


The United Nations define biological weapons as “complex systems that disseminate disease-causing organisms or toxins to harm or kill humans, animals or plants. They generally consist of two parts – a weaponized agent and a delivery mechanism. In addition to strategic or tactical military applications, biological weapons can be used for political assassinations, the infection of livestock or agricultural produce to cause food shortages and economic loss, the creation of environmental catastrophes, and the introduction of widespread illness, fear and mistrust among the public”[1]. The “Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction”, that entered force in 1975 and is revised every five years, aims to control and eradicate biological military threats – but, even if not all the members of UN ratified it, is aimed mostly at states – when non-state agencies are most probable to make use of this kind of weapon.
The development and use of biological weapons in a terrorist setting can be split into three generations. The first one, the simplest in terms of technology, is the use of naturally infected with biological – harmful materials. South-American native tribes - especially the Waorani from Brazilian Amazonia – would infect the end of their arrows and darts with poison extracted from plants and some animals. In the 1960’s, during the Vietnam War, the Vietcong guerrillas used booby traps compost of sharp bamboo stakes covered with feces to promote infections in the generated wound. This set of traps were responsible for about 2 percent of the US personnel losses and injuries during the war.
The second generation is categorized by the ability to yield small portions of biological agents – although the dissemination methods still are non-complex, such as contamination of food and water or direct injection into the target. The most usual agent in this period was the ricin, even if it’s not suitable for large-scale attacks.
The third generation of biological terrorism possesses the technology to disseminate particles through an aerosol, in a range of 1-10 microns. Since this technology is recent – surging around the 1990’s – no group has perfect this kind of contamination – despite quite a few attempts around the world. The most famous case of the third generation was the anthrax attack after the 9/11 events – even if they did not use any sort of bomblets or sprays.
It is surging a fourth generation, where the attackers can modify existing agents through the advance of life sciences, such as genetic engineering. No group has declared intention on using this kind of technology, for it’s extremely complex and difficult. This possibility is used only as a fear-inducing discourse, to this moment.
In 1990’s, the city of Wasco County, Oregon, had some of its salad bars infect with the bacteria “Salmonella typhimurium”. The CDC research about the case determined that the spreading crisis was not fault of poor hygiene in the restaurants, but a deliberate attack by the group called “Rajneeshees”. The cult contaminated the water used in these restaurants with the intention of incapacitating Oregon voters – since they sought positions into the government. It was discovered after that the group – which had built a whole community – had contacts inside the Rajneesh Medical Corp., where it was being researched not only the salmonella agent but a deadlier strain of typhoid and even an HIV virus more easy to contaminate. More than 750 people were affected – in a city with around 10.000 habitants.
In 1994, the Japanese cult “Aum Shinrikyo” released then nerve gas sarin in the city of Matsumoto and, 1995, the gas was once again released on Tokyo’s subway system. In these occasions, they killed nineteen people and injured over a thousand. Despite these cases of success – and the technological and monetary resources the group had – the failed in creating an aerosolized weapon that could cause mass causalities. Despite being a religious-rooted group with apocalyptical beliefs, they indented to overthrow the Japanese government – which did not work, either.
After the 11/9 attacks, the most famous biological terrorist attack took place. In September and October of 2001, seven letters – addressed to Senators Thomas Daschle (D-SD) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), as well as five media outlets (American Media International (AMI) in Boca Raton, Florida, the editor of the New York Post, Tom Brokaw at NBC, Dan Rather at CBS, and ABC News) – were mailed, containing a dry powder of “B. anthracis”. The attack caused twenty-two cases of infection, five of them fatal. These letters also contaminated the postal system – due to the process the letters go through the facilities -, government buildings and media offices. The total cost for decontaminating was at least $250 million dollars, and the total cost of the attack was estimated in $6 billion. After a long investigation by the FBI, the researcher Bruce Ivins was found the main suspect in the attacks – but he was never held in court since he committed suicide before that. Also, radical-Islamist movements might be involved in the case.
Despite the limited number of examples in history of biological weapons being put in action, this issue is still a threat to the international system – especially when considering the possibility of bioterrorism. 
The terrorist agencies represent a “second force” against the power of the state, working in a different measure to compensate its complications against the national, well-stabilised power.  One of the main characteristics that differentiate the terrorist’ actions is the element of surprise, the core of this kind of process. The idea of striking abruptly is to, not only catch the targeted population or government without them having time to build a comeback strategy, but to generate attention. Usually the procedure is aimed to lead the sympathy of certain groups, at the same time where they instigate fear in communities considered “enemies”. 
Over the situation, the policymakers – usually the government, those in charge of starting the process of securitization – start building a discourse of aggressively towards the threat, which, if well-built, leads to exceptional measures being taken to regenerate peace and security.
The process of generating fear is key to most of terrorist acts, since it brings commotion and leads the population to pressure their governments into acting – whether declaring the group as an enemy, and therefore legitimizing their efforts as self-defence or generating allies, especially inside the western countries.
In a process like this, the use of biological weaponry is considered, by most people, as a “barbaric way”. The horror we, humankind, feel towards sickness and those using them as warfare tools create an opportunity to generate discomfort and panic over the targeted -  a goal most of the terrorist groups claim.
Unlike nuclear, chemical and other kinds of mass weaponry, the biological agents used in attacks can be found in the environment, most of the times in places targeted by the groups. The use of genetic engineering by terrorist cells is low, since they require a level of knowledge and physical capacity these units not often possesses.
Although, the advance of science and technology, allied with the widespread of high-level education brings opportunities to those desiring to acquire a biological weapon, since the opportunity of finding someone that possesses the abilities are greater than never.
Past experiences with biological weaponry indicate the preference of toxins and bacteria over viruses, for they are simpler to transport and maintain alive. The most common strains used by terrorist groups are ricin, plague, tularemia, botulinum and anthrax, where the FBI notes that ricin and botulinum toxin are two of the most toxic substances in the world.
The biggest reason of why biological mass weapons are so alluring for terrorist unities is that it is a relatively low-cost technology. Most of the major universities have labs equipped enough to this purpose and the core is found in the wild without much trouble. Again, the information available on internet is enough to create simpler weapons, and the training many individuals possesses is competent to develop more sophisticated ones. 
In an event of biological attack, time is precious. There’s a small window between the surging of the first infected and the calamity, especially generated by the fear a biological attack would generate. There’s already a strong setting dedicated to preventing and acting in case of health events – such as hospital dedicated to controlling pandemics, vaccinations and even simpler methods, such as face masks. Despite that, no system is perfect, especially if we consider a covert attack that can be misinterpreted as a regular spread of disease, such as the flu. Despite all the modernization in the world we live in, the pathogens still exist along and, as history already stated, they can – and sometimes will – be used as weapons, and we may not be ready for when this happens.

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* Gabriela Gasperin: estudante do curso de Relações Internacionais do Unicuritiba. 

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