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Life Science


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Biotechnology Research in an Age of Terrorism: Confronting the "Fual Use" Dilemma (National Academy Press) The fact that the anthrax used in the October 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States was genetically identical to that developed by the U.S. government is evidence that almost all biotechnology can be subverted for hostile use. This report by the National Research Council considers ways to balance national security and scientific openness in the development of biotechnologies. The report reviews current rules and regulations related to oversight of dangerous pathogens and potentially dangerous research in the U.S., assesses their efficacy, and recommends changes. The authors propose a system for research oversight based on the earlier National Institutes of Health Guidelines for Research Involving rDNA Molecules. More

Encyclopedia of Bioterrorism Defense edited by Richard F. Pilch, Raymond A. Zilinskas (Wiley) This groundbreaking reference marks the first time a publication has attempted to provide complete coverage in the field of bioterrorism.  Articles review current knowledge across various disciplines within the context of bioterrorism, covering the most recent developments in areas including bioterrorism agents, biodefense infrastructure, biotechnology, preparedness, threats, threat analysis, and legislation.  Relevant biological warfare events are included with a through analysis.

This one-of-a-kind volume:

  • Includes detailed coverage of such topics as: Biotechnology and Bioterrorism, Bioterrorist Attack--Stages & Aftermath, Detection of Agents, and Psychological & Social Sequelae

  • Offers a user friendly style, with biological agents covered consistently across entries

  • Contains over 125 articles

  • Provides case studies, with discussion of lessons learned

  • Comprehensively covers the field of bioterrorism, including related science, technology, medicine, politics, law and history

  • Written by an international panel of experts in the field, this landmark reference supplies essential information to a wide audience of scientists, researchers, physicians, health care professionals, policymakers, historians, journalists, and students.


Despite the extreme danger [of chemical and biological weapons], we only became aware of them when the enemy drew our attention to them by repeatedly expressing concern that they can be produced simply. Aynian al-Zawahiri, al-Qa`ida chief strategist under Usama Bin Ladin (Cullison and Higgins, 2001)

Since we first began assembling and editing the Encyclo­pedia of Bioterrorism Defense over a year ago, the above statement has been affixed on our office wall. It highlights what is perhaps the primary concern of those who publish in the national and international security sphere today: how is sensitive information to be published so that it optimally benefits policy makers and the public without generating added risks to our society? In the context of this volume, "sensitive" information is that which either is relevant to the development, production, formulation, or delivery of biological weapons, or reveals vulnerabilities of our society that ill-intending governments, groups, or individuals might exploit.

Certainly, the issue of how to manage sensitive but unclassified information is hotly debated both in the United States and other nations, particularly regarding openly published scientific information that contributes to the advancement of knowledge and often the betterment of mankind, but that also might be misdirected toward military, criminal, or terrorist purposes (Zilinskas and Tucker, 2002). The outcome of this debate cannot yet be discerned, though it appears increasingly likely that scientific publications containing sensitive information will face some restrictions in the near future, whether applied by publishers, professional societies, or, in the last instance, by executive or legislative government organs. But if the restriction of scientific publications poses such a challenge, what of reference books such as this, and other forms of media containing information that might be misused in the same way (an issue that is in fact addressed within, in an entry entitled "Media and Bioterrorism" by Joby Warrick of the Washington Post)? While we have made every effort to exclude information that might in some way serve illicit ends, most notably by referring materials to multiple experts in the field and deferring to their opinions on content, no doubt some will criticize the wisdom of a compilation detailing a topic as critical as the threat and defense of bioterrorism.

On the basis of nothing more than the opening statement above, the argument can be made that the disclosure of anything other than misinformation regarding the advantages of and vulnerabilities to biological weapons is inherently dangerous. But adopting such a stance outright overlooks what is a significant and deeply interdependent issue, and that is the need for the public and its repre­sentatives to have an accurate understanding not only of biological weapons themselves and what they can and cannot do but also of the host response to these weapons on both physical and psychological levels. Only by having this understanding is it possible for our society to plan and develop appropriate defenses against them and, should defense fail, to implement effective consequence management measures. As Dr. Paul Fildes, eminent bacteriologist and scientific leader of England's offensive biological warfare (BW) program during World War II, noted in the early stages of his work:

It is perhaps not generally understood that the basic problems of BW are basic problems of medicine. The applications only are different. Applied medicine is primarily concerned with defense, but defense cannot be arranged intelligently without study of offence. Similarly BW is concerned with the exploitation of offence. Thus both the BW workers and medical workers must know how the microbe carries out its offensive activities before the former can exploit them and the latter protect against them (Fildes, 1944).

Fildes's profound conviction serves to remind us that in these difficult times, when enemies armed with weapons of their choosing can come from any direction or within, the prevention of infectious diseases of whatever origin, be it nature or the laboratory, as well as the treatment of illnesses caused by pathogens or toxins depend to a large extent on the effective application of science. And scientific research is conducted most efficiently in an environment where ideas and information can flow freely. Thus, while information pertaining to, for example, the aerosol dispersal of a pathogen may be utilized by a terrorist group to develop and deploy a biological weapon, this information is also vital to those who develop personal and collective protective equipment, vaccines, detectors, and other defensive biologicals and materials. Further, on the policy level, such information is required to develop effective prevention and countermeasure strategies against the deployment of biological weapons against human, animal, or plant populations. Importantly, such advancement can be further directed as suggested toward the management of natural diseases, a factor of particular relevance in that natural outbreaks may well pose a greater health and economic risk at present than deliberate events, as has been demonstrated for example by the emergence of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) as a global epidemic and the steadily increasing incidence of West Nile fever cases in the United States.

Apart from the physical threat, we should not under-estimate the damages that the psychological response to biological weapons may cause, especially when weighing the disclosure of information against the need for edu­cation in the context of terrorism. After all, since it is generally recognized that one of the goals of terrorism is to generate fear, then the first step toward reducing the appeal and potential effects of bioterrorism is to inform people who might be targeted for attack about the pos­sibilities and limitations of biological weapons. Since the limitations are truly severe, as proved by past incidents, an informed U.S. population protected by knowledgeable, well-trained first responders and medical professionals will be less likely to panic. Hospitals and emergency rooms will be less likely to be flooded by the so-called worried well population of unexposed individuals, allowing resources to be channeled toward those most in need.

It was with these thoughts in mind that we began this project in the fall of 2002 (only one year after the September 11, 2001, attacks and the subsequent "anthrax letters" delivered through the U.S. postal system), and these thoughts still remain in mind today. While we have long recognized the potential harm that an unscrupulous publication of the same scope might cause, we have also appreciated the vast benefits that would come as a result of work done right. Preparedness efforts aimed at reducing the threat of bioterrorism, and response efforts aimed at mitigating its consequences, rely upon a baseline under-standing not only of the potential weapons and the poten­tial terrorist motivations and capabilities for using them but also of the global web of bodies in place to address these considerations, from the local and state to national and even international level. This is what is meant by "bioter­rorism defense," and this what we have sought to provide.

When we set out on this journey, we cast our net wide. The encyclopedia's initial statement of work read, "To provide complete A to Z coverage of the subject in order to offer a single authoritative resource for students, analysts, scientists, journalists, and policy makers worldwide." A year later, we have not strayed far from this initial objective, but perhaps like every academician we have allowed ourselves to wander, and linger on topics of interest and importance to us. What has thus evolved is a work in progress, a snapshot of the state of bioterrorism defense at the beginning of 2004, compiled by experts in the varying fields of policy and government; virology, bacteriology, and toxins; terrorism and threat reduction ... the list goes on and on. And while we have aimed to be as comprehensive as possible, possibly the greatest lesson of our work is that, particularly in the (scientific) age of biotechnology and the (sociological) age of terrorism (at least as far as public perception is concerned), the realm of bioterrorism defense is without bounds. It would be entirely justifiable for John Wiley & Sons, Inc. to publish this volume in a loose leaf binder, so that readers may with some frequency update information as science evolves, new defenses are crafted, and terrorist motives and capabilities change. Of course, were there to be a bioterrorist event, it might spring surprises on us all, perhaps substantially altering the way we now think about how terrorists would use biological weapons and the best way to respond.

Conceding that changes pertaining to biodefense will surely come to pass, likely even between the time of this writing and the time of its publication, is not so difficult to deal with them on a personal level. What is more challenging, however, is to identify gaps and shortcomings in our own product as it stands today. This was an ambitious undertaking from the start, and admittedly in the back of our minds we were uncertain if all aspects of the subject matter could in fact be covered adequately in one volume. Simply put, and to our own dismay, we were right. In the end, we therefore have been forced to make certain difficult decisions regarding the content within. Some entries are not as well constructed as we would wish but are nevertheless included for the sake of completeness. Others were excluded for any of a variety of reasons, including unmet contributor obligations and unmet entry objectives.

Gaps include, for example, reviews of the U.S. and former Soviet biological weapons programs and lessons they might have for biodefense; discussions of the SARS and West Nile fever outbreaks; detailed studies of Cen­ters for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Category B agents Burkholderia pseudomallei, Coxiella burnetii, and Chlamydia psittaci; analysis of plant and animal pathogens of importance with respect to agricultural ter­rorism; and overviews of the possibilities that macropara­sites and fungi offer as biological weapons. In addition, it should be noted that from the outset this work was meant for an international audience, and while the preparedness efforts of a number of states and intergovernmental agen­cies are included, the encyclopedia is by no means compre­hensive in this respect. We hope to improve on these defi­ciencies in a revised edition in the not-so-distant future.

Last, a word on technical accuracy. We have strived to be as accurate as possible when selecting terminology and information for inclusion in this work. However, since this volume is intended for a general audience, we cannot disregard certain popular parlance. For example, the terms "anthrax letters" and "anthrax mail attacks" are technically (and grammatically) inaccurate but are nevertheless commonly used to describe the delivery of envelopes containing Bacillus anthracia spores by the U.S. postal system in September and October 2001. Thus, these and other popular terms will be used throughout this volume for the sake of simplicity.

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