Terrorism: October 27, 1999

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The World's most elusive terrorist group is the Greek "November 17" group. While it has conducted 100+ attacks (killing 22 people) since 1975, not one single member of this group has ever been captured, nor is any member known to any US or European intelligence agency.--Stephen V Cole

October 19; The US government is spending billions preparing for bioterrorism attacks, while critics charge that most of the effort is wasted. The FBI and CIA are divided (even internally) on how serious the threat is. In the last year, there have been 140 anthrax scares and 80 other threats of nuclear, chemical, and biological attacks, all of which proved to be false threats. Agencies point to the Japanese cult Aum Shinri Kyo as proof that expensive crash programs are needed, but skeptics note that the cult launched 20 attacks and only one (the 1995 gas attack on the subway system which killed only 12 people) was successful. The 10 bioweapons attacks by Aum Shinri Kyo failed completely, as did most of the 10 chemical attacks. In contrast, attacks with commercial explosives killed 200 people at two embassies that were bombed by terrorists, and one dozen dead doesn't even amount to a unique incident by a lone crazed gunman with a semi-automatic pistol. 
The problem is that terrorism is becoming the latest ticket to cash for a wide variety of agencies, companies, and interests. Most government departments are trying to launch bioterrorism defense, prevention, and training programs, many of which simply duplicate programs by other departments. Health and Human Services spent $7 million on bioterrorism in 1996 and wants $230 million next year. The Federal Emergency Management Administration wants a chunk of the money for training, and the Justice Department wants to create its own special units to investigate bioterrorist cases. The Department of Veterans Affairs wants to be in charge of medical stockpiles. The National Guard is using its powerful lobby on Capital Hill to get money to create response teams, even though there are 600 civilian hazardous material response units plus a hundred more in the active military. The Energy Department wants millions to test off-the-shelf chemical detectors. Other agencies (Holocaust Museum, Office of Personnel Management, and the Smithsonian) each want a million or two for security. There is no overall strategy or coordination.
There are also companies which stand to profit handsomely from the programs. HHS is spending millions to stockpile vaccines and antibiotics for smallpox, pneumonic plague, and tularemia (rabbit fever, said to be Iraq's bioweapon of choice). Critics charge that these diseases are not even on the FBI's list of top threats, but HHS says that these weapons are the easiest for small groups to create and employ. Critics charge that these diseases are in fact the ones most profitable for drug companies to create vaccines and anti-biotics for.--Stephen V Cole

 

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