What is Bioterrorism?

In a world of complex social and political interests, there are those who resort to force in order to attain their goals; bioterrorism is far from new. However, our greater understanding of the unseen world in which the seeds for this brand of terrorism live renders it more possible than ever before. Understanding what it is, and how it is enacted can enable us to act intelligently—either proactively or in the event that we experience it.

Chance Favors Only the Prepared Mind

As we noted above, this form of forceful action is far from new. Even before Monsieur Pasteur introduced his revolutionary Germ Theory in the 1860s, instances of communicable disease spread were observed and capitalized upon, albeit without any understanding of the agents at work. Fouling drinking water sources with excrement was a time-honored siege-breaking tactic in several parts of the world, and often lead to widespread cholera outbreaks.

But leaving the world of medieval warfare behind, what can be said of this particularly effective and disturbing terrorist tactic? How can we prepare our minds and educate ourselves against something we cannot see? Perhaps first, we must accept that the aim of terrorism is to inspire fear and disorder. The United States government defines terrorism as the “unlawful use of force and violence…to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

Given this rather broad definition, and the fact that a terrorist may be either domestic or foreign, one might begin to observe instances of terrorist activity everywhere they look. But bioterrorism is a particular form, and requires access to rather sensitive elements, including both sufficiently infectious pathogens and a method of deployment reliable enough to further their goals. Such acts of terrorism almost never leave their efficacy to chance. Attacks are planned well in advance and often orchestrated with an entire network of human actors.

It’s Never Tularemia

There are a number of biological agents available to those who would use them for their own ends. Both bacteria and viruses are effective when spread person to person or via food and water supplies. However, while these actions often result in loss of human life, that is not their primary goal. Rather, the drive of any terrorist act is to dispirit a population and undermine faith in government power to control damage, protect human life, and route terrorist forces, according to MedicineNet.com.

This motive renders biological agents a particularly effective method, in part because most people lack even a rudimentary understanding of the microbial world. However, the American propensity to fear bacteria and other vectors, makes it even more impactful. The best defense against such terrorism is understanding and proactive care. Because many of the most favored bacteria are present in food spoilage, human excrement, or live quietly on most surfaces, ordinary precautions can often preclude their drastic proliferation in the event of an attack.

In the instance that vectors such as Typhoid, Cholera, Anthrax, Influenza, and the alpha viruses responsible for viral encephalitis are employed, agencies such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) conduct tireless research and production of countermeasures. They educate emergency services and hospitals in the containment and treatment of these illnesses to ensure that epidemic conditions never develop.

Related Resource: Security Management

While we live in the midst of billions of bacteria and viruses, not all of which are bad for us, education and mindfulness can pull the teeth of this particular fear. As a body politic, we are responsible for the support of programs and organizations that work to prevent the spread of infectious pathogens, whether they stem from nature or more violent and intentional means. The aim of bioterrorism is to undermine our faith in our social contract with the government, but it need not hold any power over us.