On December 3, 2008 the Commission on Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction reported that decisive action was necessary to prevent a terrorist attack by the end of 2013. The most likely weapon, they reported, would be biological. Although it’s difficult to accept anything coming out of the Iraq war administration, this warning has some merit.
In today’s world bioterrorism goes well beyond the release or dissemination of biological agents (bacteria, viruses, or toxins) that may be naturally-occurring or in human-modified forms. Currently bioterrorism must include the misuse of the recombinant DNA process to create biological weapons of mass destruction. Recombinant viruses, for example, are in some cases, well beyond the ability of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention to immediately identify and, worse, beyond the ability of the international community to prevent from proliferation.
Commendably, The Commission put a great deal of emphasis on “prevention,” through collaboration. Unfortunately, they avoided the real possibility that an attack, especially using a recombinant DNA virus, may be inevitable and unpreventable for a variety of reasons.
First, recombinant DNA strategies have been known since at least 1974 when Stanley Norman Cohen and Herbert Boyer published their findings entitled “Construction of Biologically Functional Bacterial Plasmids in vitro”. Further recombinant DNA technology was made possible by the discovery of restriction endonucleases by Werner Arber, Daniel Nathans, and Hamilton Smith, for which they received the 1978 Nobel Prize in Medicine. Therefore, while recombinant DNA science is invaluable in human research and disease prevention it can also be used for evil purposes.
In addition, the World is a large place with significant populations of individuals with ill will towards the western world and often towards their own kind. And while the techniques to produce a recombinant virus are not exactly easy, they are within the capabilities of terrorists with scientific knowledge.
Further, spreading such a deadly agent is one of the easier forms of mass destruction since public transportation systems (air, ground, rail, etc.) can facilitate agent dispersion into populations in ever widening areas covering thousands of cubic meters along the ground and through the air. All of this can be put in place before the CDC knows what is happening or can identify the virus.
Most frightening is that some bio-agents are beyond cure and mass inoculations, even if determined, would be difficult to administer to mass populations in chaos.
Given that an immediately incurable bioterrorist attack is possible, it becomes absolutely necessary for Governments, at all levels, to go beyond both collaboration and prevention and jump into the development of processes and rules of engagement for both military and first responders to follow during what will be a chaotic event with massive causalities over large areas.
Obviously many of the causalities will come from the weapon itself, but a great number of casualties will be self-imposed because of faulty, disjointed federal policies, an incomplete and inadequate Continuity of Government (CoG) policy and most importantly from a desire to suspend the Constitution and replace it with autocratic leadership that is more likely to increase resistance and causalities. The failure of Bush-Cheney processes are obvious in examining events such as 9-11 and Katrina. Both of these events should be viewed as practice for a more disastrous bio-disaster and the lessons learned taken to heart.
The current CoG was developed to ensure continued governance in the event of a nuclear disaster. However, according to James Bamford, in the 1980s Richard Bruce Cheney, then a Wyoming Congressman, and Donald Rumsfeld, CEO of G.D. Searle, planned to suspend the Constitution for any “national security emergency.” Overall responsibility for the program had been assigned to then Vice President George H.W. Bush, with Lt. Col. Oliver North as the National Security Council action officer.”
The CoG plan called for massive surveillance, bi-passing Congress and the detention of large numbers of American citizens. During the Iran-Contra hearings, North was asked about his work on “a contingency plan in the event of an emergency, that would suspend the American constitution.” The chairman, Democratic Senator Inouye, ruled that this was a “highly sensitive and classified” matter, not to be dealt with in an open hearing.
Fundamentally, those who support the suspension of the Constitution and therefore a repeal of fundamental civil rights argue that autocracy is superior to law in time of crisis. This nonsensical argument has been rejected time and time again and for three fundamental reasons; 1) Man is too often evil, 2). autocracy inevitably results in evil, and 2) unintended consequences reign in social systems.
Seldom have Americans suffered from attempts at autocratic governance like that practiced by George W. Bush-Cheney and Rumsfeld and seldom have the results of unintended consequences been so clear. Even if one believes that their administration acted appropriately after 9/11 in launching a war against Iraq the results were not as the administration and neoconservatives had planned.Thus the law of unintended consequences at work.
Unintended consequences will out pace autocratic governance during a biological incident like nothing seen before. As Jay Forrester points out “the human mind is not adapted to interpreting how social systems behave. He points out that social systems are nonlinear and lack human understanding. “Evolutionary processes,” he notes “have not given us the mental skill needed to properly interpret the dynamic behavior of the systems of which we have become a part.” In other words, humans are not smart enough, autocratic or not, to anticipate every twist and turn of a social system in normal times, let alone during a major crisis.
Historically Military planners characterized such non-linear events as “the fog of war.” However, more contemporary military thinkers, such as Susan Durham, have begun to write about the patterns inherent in chaos that when applied to strategy may lead to more efficient and effective mission accomplishment. In a military sense, efficiency and effectiveness refers to the accomplishment of missions with the least possible causalities and property damage. However, this is seldom, if ever accomplished primarily because of the equipment used but more importantly because of the “killer” instinct of the well trained soldier, sailor or airman.
However, and this must be stressed, when military forces are committed to battle there is little to any thoughts of civil or human rights. Indeed, the very nature of warfare requires death and destruction and this is the primary reason that military planners abhor nation-building since it implies the application of civil principles that are inherently inconsistent with power projection.
Fundamentally, we can expect government, centralized and autocratic or not, to cope poorly with crisis events. We can expect them to resort to military action to overcome their fears and lack of abilities. We can expect them to ignore civil rights and human dignity. Such actions unfolded during 9/11 as Cheney and Rumsfeldt implemented the CoG approach from the underground Pentagon bunker at “Site R,” Congressional leaders and representatives from intelligence agencies were also briefly installed at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Command Center at Mount Weather in Virginia
From Site R, Cheney began the use of military resources to combat the crisis. He immediately implemented a Joint Chief of Staff instruction on “Aircraft Piracy (Hijacking) and Destruction of Derelict Airborne Objects.” In short, he ordered that presumed hijacked airliners be shot down. It was only through confusion on how the air force would follow the order that airliners were not shot down. However, later in the day, military aircraft were circling northern Virginia with shoot-down orders clarified.
Later, as the so-called war on terrorism accelerated, the Bush administration would engage in warrantless eavesdropping, including of domestic dissidents, warrantless surveillance, warrantless detention, plans for martial law and overriding the posse comitatus act and increasing deportations. Congress sanctioned many of these activities in the Patriot Act.
Essentially such action removes the rule of law and law enforcement processes from society during a real, invented or imagined crisis thus making the contaminated area a killing field for military absolutism. In other words those residing in the U.S. will become civilian causalities and in great numbers
The 9/11 crisis presents us with ample proof that the first choice of government during a crisis will be autocracy and the use of military force in a mistaken belief that they can then “control” what essentially are uncontrollable events.
The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld pattern of behavior during a crisis needs to be reversed through a better understanding of the use of command, and control of resources when chaos unfolds in a nation governed by a Constitution and rule of law. At it’s very essence this means rejecting the military strategy of killing and destruction and replacing it with a structure and processes more akin to protection of life and property, i.e. Law Enforcement.
While the Commission on the Prevention of WMD,s has recommended that the President create a more efficient and effective policy coordination structure it remains unclear if they fully recognized what this means in terms of civil liberties or if they hoped to continue the use of unconstitutional mass military forces as advocated by both Bush’s, Cheney and Rumsfeld.
The Commission recommended that a policy coordinator be assigned to the White House as a principal advisor for WMD proliferation and terrorism. Further they recommended that the individual work to restructure the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council. Essentially, this should mean the “rethinking” and denouncing the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeldt approach to crisis management. If restructuring means blessing the autocratic-military approach, then the report is nothing more than an intellectually void, and highly disastrous political ploy to appease the masses.
Several actions are immediately necessary. At the top of the list should be the restructuring and re-training the National Guard as a quasi-law enforcement activity under the control of state governors. Next it is necessary to restructure the U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) and place it under civilian control. This restructuring would form the core of a new first responder corps.
Restructuring USNORTHCOM would remove that organization as a Unified Combatant Command of the Pentagon with all their military outlook and approaches. In theory NORTHCOM, created after 9/11, was to provide homeland and support to local, state, and federal authorities in addition to civil authorities. By it’s very nature, the application of a military structure to homeland support shows the intent of the Administration to replace civil rule with military force, ideology, training and the use of mass force rules of engagement under Pentagon command.
Although NORTHCOM claims to be limited by the Posse Comitatus Act in fact that Act has been so diluted by the Bush administration and Congress, that nothing, in law, stands between the civil liberties of citizens and the use of military force. In essence NORTHCOM is a loaded gun pointed directly at U.S. Citizens unconstrained by civil rights or liberties.
Certainly reversing the the trend towards militarism and establishing a civilian based Corps of First responders must be done with caution. Yet it is possible. Once established, all the participants would be trained in various criminal justice practices and procedures. Training should include, at a minimum, criminal law, criminal procedures, riot control, and terrorist countermeasures. In addition they should be trained in civil not military rules of engagement, special weapons and tactics. Further they need to learn about WMD evacuation, medical care procedures, and rapid response of both tactical and logistical resources. All of these activities should be formulated around the rule of law and the precedents set in the Constitution and with human dignity in mind.
There are other actions that need to be undertaken, including provisioning citizens, the new Corps of first responders with biohazard essentials such as overalls, gloves, goggles etc. Low cost Bio-hazard suits should also be made available, like life jackets, on airplanes, ships at sea, in schools, etc. In addition,first responders should learn how to triage citizens and develop makeshift crematoriums, from large capacity burners, and equip them with particle separators for crematoriums.
Yet one of the more intriguing scientific efforts that may lead to an early-warning system for bioterrorist attacks involves a pilot project launched, in 2005, by the J. Craig Venter Institute to sniff the air for microbes in mid-town New York City.. The project catalogs the diversity of microbes in the air primarily to characterize the microbes we breathe every day. However, researchers anticipate that the results will also provide information vital to designing systems that detect potentially dangerous biological substances in the air. The air samples will be analyzed at the Venter Institutes Joint Technology Center, one of the world’s leading DNA sequencing facilities, using advanced genome technologies that include high- throughput DNA sequencing and bioinformatics.
The data will be made available to the global scientific community, and the results of the genomic analysis will be released into the public domain through the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the home of Genbank, at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Training, provisioning, sniffing the air for harmful agents and providing a civil command and control structure for a new corps of first responders will be difficult. Nonetheless, these efforts and more are essential to minimizing casualties during a civil and human response to the use of WMD.
The current trend to obliterate civil rights, establish autocratic governance and use military force and destruction is not only inane but psychopathic in its approach and administration. It’s important to realize that the military is a valuable resource when used with caution, and overseas. I should always be remember that when military force is used, it is always deadly and will always bring untold grief and destruction where it is employed.
Indeed, once the government uses military power for the sole purpose of killing civilians, for whatever reason, is by definition, an atrocity, and is, generally, prosecutable as a war crime.
The lesson learned from Bush-Cheney and Rumsfeld should be that they applied the wrong strategies at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons. Their strategies are criminal and both as a matter of justice and a lesson to future leaders should be prosecuted.
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Center for Disease Control and Prevention, at: http://www.cdc.gov/
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Ronald Regan, as President, defined a national security emergency in Executive Order 12656 of 1988 as: “Any occurrence, including natural disaster, military attack, technological or other emergency, that seriously degrades or seriously threatens the national security of the United States.”