Pandora's Box Remember the legend of Pandora's Box?



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Pandora's Box

  • Remember the legend of Pandora's Box?

  • In the original version, from Hesiod, it was actually a jar, containing all the evil’s of the world

  • Pandora, the first woman, was told not to open it under any circumstances, which of course, she did…

  • Bullfinch tells us:

  • “Forthwith there escaped a multitude of plagues for hapless man,- such as gout, rheumatism, and colic for his body, and envy, spite, and revenge for his mind,- and scattered themselves far and wide.”

  • The legend finds a curious echo in the Old Testament, where the Ark of the Covenant becomes a Pandora's Box for the Philistines

  • The Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant in the 12th Century BC, and took it to Ashdod

  • Plague soon struck the city, and the wretched survivors sent the Ark away

  • But wherever the Ark was taken, bubonic plague broke out in its wake

  • The First Book of Samuel, chapter 5 says:

  • But the hand of the Lord was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods, even Ashdod and the coasts thereof.

  • And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us: for his hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our god.

  • The Philistines finally gave it back to the Israelites, who were immediately hit by the plague - was it divine wrath?

  • Was there a flea-infested cloth inside the Ark - or did one or more of its bearers carry the plague?

  • The Philistines paid a steep price for opening Pandora's Box, a lesson we have yet to learn…

  • Rather than follow the Brahmin Laws of Manu, and foresake biological weapons as immoral, we’ve chosen to emulate its counterpart, the Arthashastra

  • This ancient Indian work was written between the 2d and 4th Century BC, and is the predecessor to Machiavelli’s The Prince

  • One chapter, “Means to Injure an Enemy”, includes a lengthy list of snake, insect, and plant poisons, including detailed instructions for their preparation and use

  • In 2002, the Indian Defence Ministry took another peek into Pandora's Box …

  • They sponsored a study to plumb the secrets of the Arthashastra for use in modern warfare

  • They insist that their current focus is on its more positive formulas, like those that claim to help night vision, and fight hunger and fatigue

  • But it’s only a matter of time before its ancient recipes for death are put to the test

  • We’ve always been intrigued by nature’s ability to kill, as we learned in our last lecture, when we traced the history of biological weapons, from antiquity through the second World War

  • In this lecture, we’ll look at the Cold War arms race, and learn how microbes have been used to sow fear and terror…

  • Following World War II, the US and the Soviet Union launched massive research programs in germ warfare

  • These programs were among the worst kept secrets of the Cold War

  • Both American and Russia, for example, developed an anthrax bomb…

  • The first US anthrax bomb was made in 1943, and consisted of a 500 pound bomb with 100 smaller anthrax-laden bomblets tucked inside

  • In March of 1944, at the height of the war effort, Winston Churchill approved an order for 500,000 US-made anthrax bombs

  • There is no evidence that any anthrax bombs were ever actually delivered, nor do we think that Churchill planned to use them

  • Churchill says that he: “…had most secret consultations with my Military Advisers. They consider, and I entirely agree, that if our enemies should indulge in this form of warfare, the only deterrent would be our power to retaliate”

  • After the War, the emphasis shifted from weapons production to research, especially field testing

  • In September of 1950, the US navy attacked San Francisco

  • Two navy minesweepers, cruising outside the Golden Gate Bridge, released clouds of supposedly harmless bacteria

  • They measured the progress of the bacteria through the city’s population

  • 117 square miles of San Francisco was contaminated in Operation Sea Spray, and everyone in the city was estimated to have inhaled up to 5,000 particles of the bacterium Serratia marcescens

  • This bacterium is very widely distributed – you might have seen it as a pink slimy coating in bathrooms and shower stalls

  • Until the 1950’s, it was thought to be entirely innocuous, a perfect choice for testing microbial dispersal in a mock attack

  • Unfortunately, we now know that it’s moderately harmful, causing a wide variety of low-level infections like conjunctivitis, and urinary tract infections

  • About 1.4% of all nosocomial infections are caused by this microbe, often picked up through the use of catheters

  • In a few cases, it can cause serious damage, leading to meningitis and pneumonia

  • Two days after the military exercise in San Francisco, hospitals in the Bay area reported 11 unusual cases of bacterial pneumonia due to Serratia

  • Edward J. Nevin died from his Serratia infection, the first official victim of US germ warfare

  • In 1980, Edward Nevin III sued the federal government for killing his grandfather, and leaving his grandmother to go broke paying the hospital bills

  • His lawsuit failed, but the resulting publicity, including a segment on TV’s 60 Minutes, put the secret project directly in the public eye

  • No one knows how many similar attacks were made, although in 1977 the US Army admitted to a Senate subcommittee investigation that the army had conducted 239 mock attacks

  • One of those attacks, in 1965, was made on our nation’s capitol…

  • The military released the bacterium Bacillus globiggii into the North Terminal at the DC National Airport

  • It would have made a good scene in a James Bond movie…

  • Secret agents wandered through the terminal, releasing the germs from aerosol sprays mounted in briefcases

  • As many as 130 passengers were exposed, carrying the bacterium to 39 cities in seven states

  • The Chemical Corps Special Operations Division staged a mock attack in New York City in 1966, using Bacillus subtilis

  • They dropped light bulbs filled with charcoal and bacteria through sidewalk gratings into the New York City subway system, to see how effectively commuters would spread the bacteria around the city

  • Each light bulb held an estimated 87 trillion bacteria

  • A 1968 report called A Study of the Vulnerability of Subway Passengers in New York City to Covert Attack with Biological Agents concluded that:

“Similar covert attacks with a pathogenic [disease-causing] agent during peak traffic periods could be expected to expose large numbers of people to infection and subsequent illness or death.”

  • Once again, the species used was supposed to be harmless, but even benign species can pose a threat to the very young, the very old, or anyone whose immune system is under stress

  • A similar test was performed in the London Underground in 1963

  • A railroad agent dropped a tin of bacteria onto the tracks between stations

  • Samples later collected by transit workers found that bacteria had spread as much as 10 miles from their release point

  • The US military also conducted open-air experiments using microbes, vectors, and toxins known to be genuinely dangerous

  • We attacked Florida and Georgia in 1956 and 1957

  • The once top-secret report of this attack (still highly censored) has a rather bland title “An evaluation of entomological warfare as a potential danger to the United States and European NATO Nations

  • It includes some cold-hearted calculations of the cost per death of delivering mosquito-borne diseases in combat

  • The Army was experimenting with dengue fever and yellow fever, and became curious about how effectively these diseases could be delivered through mosquito bombs

  • They released millions of uninfected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in several southern cities

  • Under names like “Operation Big Buzz”, “Operation Big Itch”, and “Operation May Day”, the military’s targets included Key West and Savanna, Georgia

  • “Operation Dropkick”, mentioned in the movie Dr. Strangelove, was conducted in Avon Park, Florida, where over 600,000 mosquitoes were released

  • A secret report from the Army’s Chemical Corp in 1960 describes these operations in detail

  • Despite the claims of internet conspiracy theorists, there seems to be no hard evidence that the mosquitoes were actually infected with dengue and yellow fever

  • But there’s no doubt that this dangerous tropical vector got a nice boost in its range and its population density

  • The incidence of natural mosquito borne diseases increased sharply after these mock attacks, including several deaths that went unnoticed at the time

  • For most of the Cold War, the Army strictly denied performing open air experiments, at least until the disaster at the Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah in March 1968

  • In 1968, a plane spraying VX nerve gas over the flats near Dugway released the nerve gas at too high an altitude

  • The gas was blown 35 miles off course, and killed over 6,000 sheep

  • When Congressional investigators finally opened Dugway’s library, they found an estimated 10,000 reports describing open-air testing of chemical and biological weapons!

  • Dugway, incidentally, also includes a black-ops area known only as … Area 51

  • By the late 1960’s, both the US and Russia had stockpiled several tons of biological weapons

  • In 1972, a new international treaty was written to replace the 1925 Geneva Protocol, the Biological Weapons Convention or BWC

  • 163 countries have ratified it, although Israel still refuses to sign

  • The BWC declared that that “bacteriological methods of warfare” must be stopped, because using such weapons “would be repugnant to the conscience of mankind”

  • Unfortunately, it’s a pretty wimpy treaty…

  • It makes no provisions for inspections, for example, preferring to rely on the honor system!

  • And it didn’t take the Soviets long to violate it…

  • Dr. Kanatjan Alibekov, the head of Biopreparat, the Russian biowarfare program, defected to the US in 1992, and revealed the frightening extent of Russia’s secret program

  • Biopreparat employed 30,000 scientists, engineers, and technicians at labs all across the USSR

  • Among other accomplishments, the Soviets had engineered a plague strain that was totally resistant to antibiotics

  • Alibekov himself had worked on creating a more virulent strain of anthrax

  • The Soviets had targeted missiles filled with plague, smallpox and anthrax at London, Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington DC!

  • In 1979, the Soviets accidentally released anthrax at Military Compound 19, officially known as the Microbiology and Virology Institute, located in the Ural Mountains near Sverdlovsk

  • Workers forgot to replace a filter in a production unit, and vented several pounds of anthrax powder directly into the air

  • 42 people died at a single hospital, and as many as 600 more may have joined them in the grave

  • Victims of this lethal strain were said to have choked to death within 4 hours!!

  • The Russians finally admitted to the disaster, but they blamed it on poor handling of spoiled meat

  • The US military concluded that if the Russians were violating the treaty, it was OK for us to do the same

  • And under Ronald Reagan, the military returned to germ warfare with a vengeance

  • The federal government spent $100 million a year on developing biological weapons

  • And that’s just what was on the books - we may never know the true extent of our military biowarfare programs

  • Prior to our signing the 1972 BWC, the US stockpiled anthrax, along with:

  • Tularemia, Francisella tularensis, a rabbit disease that can be incapacitating and sometimes fatal - it causes severe skin lesions, fever, and lethargy

  • Brucellosis, a disease of pigs and cattle, that causes fever, muscle pain, and profuse sweating

  • Q fever - Coxiella burnetii, which causes flu-like symptoms that can lead to pneumonia

  • And Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis - I don’t like the sound of that - an exotic mosquito-born microbe, a horse disease that often causes fatal encephalitis in humans

  • We also stockpiled several plant pathogens to use against crops, including:

  • Rice blast – a fungus that destroys 60% of crops

  • Black stem rot – a grain fungus that causes up to 90% crop loss

  • Sugar beet curly top – which, despite its cute name, attacks beans and tomatoes

  • And rice blight - a bacterium that causes 30% crop loss

  • We also weaponized several toxins:

  • Staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB) – an extremely potent bacterial toxin

  • Shellfish poison - saxitoxin, made by marine algae called dinoflagellates, the cause of red tides - two-tenths of a milligram would be a fatal dose

  • Ricin - made from castor beans

  • And botulinum - made by Clostridium botulinum

  • Botulinum is quite possibly the most toxic substance on Earth

  • It’s a neurotoxin - it interferes with the conduction of nervous signals, leading to muscular paralysis

  • One nanogram per kilogram of body weight is a fatal dose – a nanogram is 1/1,000th of one millionth of one gram

  • It’s 100,000 times as toxic as sarin nerve gas

  • It forms a white crystalline powder, that dissolves easily in water

  • You might have heard of it - it’s most commonly used, in extremely small quantities, in Botox treatments

  • Nor are we the only nation quietly creating weapons of mass destruction

  • The OTA reported in 1995 that 17 other nations were engaged in bioweapons research, including Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, North Korea, Taiwan, Israel, Egypt, Vietnam, Laos, Cuba, Bulgaria, India, South Korea, South Africa, China, and Russia!

  • Among modern nations, the US, Russia, and Iraq have had the most ambitious and well developed programs

  • Iraq stockpiled an enormous quantity of biological weapons during the Gulf War

  • Their arsenal included 33,000 pounds of biological agents packed into bombs, over 19,000 liters of botulinum, and anthrax bombs mounted in 25 missile warheads

  • The UN responded by setting up the UN Special Commission to find and destroy this arsenal (UNSCOM)

  • Their attempts went nowhere until August of 1995, when Saddam’s son-in-law, General Hussein Kamel al-Majid, defected to the US, and blew the whistle on Iraq’s ambitious bioweapons program

  • Much of this material was located and destroyed, but hidden arsenals may still remain

  • UN inspectors reported in July of 2002 that they thought Iraq was using mobile germ warfare labs to prevent monitoring

  • And in 2003 we went to war again, ostensibly to finally destroy Iraq’s capacity to produce similar weapons of mass destruction

  • But we didn’t find any…

  • Were they that well hidden? Did we get them all the first time?

  • For better or worse, microbes don’t make the best weapons…

  • They’re too unpredictable, too hard to control

  • And neither side wants to be the first to use them, for fear of reprisal

  • They’re only an effective weapon when they’re in the hands of someone who has nothing to lose

  • And if your only goal is to wreak havoc, then unpredictability is a positive bonus…

  • Biological weapons are custom made for terrorists – they spread chaos, fear, and death – and they provide the most bang for the buck…

  • It costs about $200 million to build a nuclear arsenal

  • It costs about $50 to 100 million for a chemical weapons program

  • It only costs about $10 million to become a bioweapons superpower

  • In terms of killing power, only atomic bombs rival biological weapons

  • One Hiroshima-sized nuclear bomb would kill 23,000 to 83,000 people

  • A single nerve gas bomb made with sarin - about 60-100 people

  • But an anthrax bomb of similar size could kill 30,000 to 100,000

  • Biological agents can be spread through aerosols, the most common method used, through contaminated food and water, and through the dispersal of infected vectors, the least reliable method

  • Not every microbe can be used in germ warfare – a candidate should have consistent effects, with a known incubation period

  • It has to be able to survive long enough in the open to reach its target

  • And its target population should have little or no immunity

  • And most important of all – especially if you’re a soldier - the side using bioweapons must also be able to protect its own troops from the microbe, by mass producing vaccine or antidote in a stable form and in large amounts

  • There are many ways to tamper with microbes in order to “weaponize” them

  • Even common harmless bacteria like E. coli can be turned into a deadly weapon

  • For example, you could create an MDR strain of the microbe (multiple drug resistant)

  • You could alter its surface structure, to keep the immune system from recognizing it

  • You could increase its growth rate, or its reproductive rate

  • Or you could increase its virulence, or the amount or the potency of the toxin it can produce

  • But there’s always going to be a great deal of uncertainty in how effective your attack is going to be

  • Because the dosage levels are going to depend on the weather, the wind speed, the humidity, whether the microbe is dispersed indoors or outdoors – too many random factors

  • And as we learned in our last lecture, there’s always the chance your biological weapons will turn on you, as General Ishii found out in World War II, when his own troops sickened and died from the cholera he had released

  • So bioweapons become the last resort of the desperate and foolish

  • That’s the good news…

  • The bad news is that there are a lot of desperate and foolish people out there

  • And bioterrorism has become a constant threat

  • One of the most successful terrorist attacks to date was the assault of the Aum Shinrikyo cult on the Tokyo subway system in March 1995

  • Five terrorists boarded trains converging on Kasumigaseki Station

  • The Tokyo Station is directly below a major governmental complex

  • Each terrorist carried a package wrapped in plain brown paper

  • Upon boarding, each punctured the package with an umbrella, releasing deadly sarin nerve gas

  • 12 people died, 5,500 were injured

  • Fortunately, the sarin turned out to be a bad batch, or the death toll would have been in the tens of thousands!

  • When police raided the cult’s headquarters they found a bioweapons cache of 160 barrels for growing Clostridium botulinum

  • They had previously tried spraying botulinum around, to no effect, and had even tried to obtain the Ebola virus!

  • Bioterrorism has also emerged in our own backyard

  • In 1972, an Aryan cult called the Order of the Rising Sun was caught with 80 pounds of typhoid bacteria culture

  • They planned to poison the water system of several Midwestern cities

  • In 1984, the Rajneesh cult spread Salmonella on a salad bar at 10 local restaurants in Dalles, Oregon, to influence a local election by incapacitating voters

  • 751 people fell ill, and 45 of them ended up in the hospital, but fortunately no one died

  • Rajneesh was arrested and later deported

  • In 1996, lab employees at the St. Paul Medical Center in Texas got an email inviting them to enjoy free pastries in the lunchroom

  • But the blueberry muffins and donuts they ate had been laced with Shigella by a disgruntled employee

  • 12 people were infected, and four of them had to be hospitalized

  • The microbes turned out to be from the laboratory’s own cultures

  • Technician Diane Thompson was found guilty, and sentenced in 1997 to 20 years in jail

  • Poison donuts – is nothing sacred?!

  • And while were on the subject of toxic deception, beware of Greeks bearing donuts…

  • King Cnopus of Athens, in the 11th Century BC, appointed Chrysame, a witch of Thessaly, to lead his armies against the Ionians at the city of Erythrae

  • With the enemy army camped before her, she made a big show of bringing out a sacrificial bull, with gilded horns, decked out in purple robes and garlands of flowers

  • She led the bull to a large altar, but the bull bellowed and bucked, and finally broke free, running into the enemy camp

  • The enemy soldiers rejoiced, taking it as a sign of favor from the gods, and proceeded to feast on the maddened bull

  • But the botched sacrifice was a ruse - Chrysame had poisoned the bull, probably with strychnine, and when the enemy ate it and fell ill, her army attacked and conquered the city

  • Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – the more things change, the more they remain the same

  • During the past century, there have been at least 52 cases where biological weapons were sought, obtained, or used by bioterrorists, with almost a thousand victims, and 9 deaths

  • The latest attack was the anthrax scare in September of 2001, dubbed “Amerithrax” by the FBI

  • Threatening letters were sent to Senators Tom Daschle (SD) and Patrick Leahy (Vt.), to NBC’s Tom Brokaw, and to “The editor, N.Y. Post”

  • ABC, CBS and America Media Inc. (publisher of the National Enquirer) were also targeted, although those letters were never recovered

  • The letters were filled with anthrax spores

  • The Hart Senate Office Building was badly contaminated when Daschle’s letter was opened

  • The first death was reported in Florida, the result of an infected letter sent to the wrong address for the National Enquirer

  • 22 people fell ill before the disease was stopped, 11 of them postal workers

  • 5 people died

  • Among the victims from the NBC Brokaw delivery was a little baby, coming to visit mom at work - the baby survived…

  • Who was the mysterious bioterrorist?

  • Initial suspicions focused on the Taliban

  • Or maybe it was an Iraqi plot?

  • Now it looks like it was the homegrown variety of lunacy

  • The anthrax strain matches what is called the AMES strain

  • AMES is only held by a short list of 20 US military or academic labs

  • The anthrax had been professionally weaponized, ground into a dangerously fine powder

  • It had also been treated to discharge static electricity, so the particles would float freely and not stick together

  • The investigation became focused on LSU’s Steven Hatfill

  • He was later proven innocent, but by that time his career and personal life had been destroyed by the federal investigation, resulting in a $5.8 million legal settlement!

  • Investigators next turned to Bruce Ivins

  • Ivins was perhaps a more logical choice for a suspect

  • He was an anthrax “insider” with a long history of paranoid delusions, revenge fantasies, and homicidal threats

  • Ivins committed suicide as the feds closed in...

  • What can we do to prepare for similar attacks in the future?

  • Surveillance and arrests are not enough

  • Mandatory vaccinations may be required - definitely not the American way…

  • The ultimate doomsday scenario for germ warfare, however, is a lab-created superbug

  • Thanks to genetic engineering, we no longer have to settle for the worst that Mother Nature can dish out

  • We can engineer highly virulent and infectious diseases from normal microbes

  • We can even combine microbes into a synthetic monster

  • The Soviets did exactly that, breeding a new killer virus by genetically combining smallpox and Ebola!

  • But once such a super-bug is unleashed, it’s no longer under military control

  • Now it is only subject to the laws of evolution

  • And even the most virulent superbug could rapidly evolve toward a more benign strain

  • Bioweapons pose a moral dilemma that this nation has still not fully faced

  • Whether we continue to develop these weapons or not, other nations will

  • Does this give us the right to arm ourselves?

  • When Pandora opened her box, not everything inside was evil - Bullfinch says

  • “Pandora hastened to replace the lid! but, alas! the whole contents of the jar had escaped, one thing only excepted, which lay at the bottom, and that was hope. So we see at this day, whatever evils are abroad, hope never entirely leaves us; and while we have that, no amount of other ills can make us completely wretched.”

  • In our next lecture, we’ll witness a different kind of germ warfare, as Columbus and his fellow explorers devastate the New World with a biological weapon so secret, they didn’t even know they possessed it…


Directory: ~bfleury -> darwinmed -> darwinmedlectures
darwinmedlectures -> Although our evolutionary heritage has saddled us with some significant health problems, in the long run it has served us well…
darwinmedlectures -> The 1918 Flu 1 – a conspiracy of Silence
darwinmedlectures -> Germ Theory
darwinmedlectures -> Although our evolutionary heritage has saddled us with some significant health problems, in the long run it has served us well…
darwinmedlectures -> In our last lecture, we looked at the ways that trade, travel, technology and agriculture can provide new habitats and new dispersal routes for microbes
darwinmedlectures -> The Evolutionary Arms Race Remember the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland?
darwinmedlectures -> The 1918 Flu 2 The Philadelphia Story
darwinmedlectures -> The 1918 Flu 1 – a conspiracy of Silence
darwinmedlectures -> So say the Laws of Manu, an ancient Brahmin text on moral conduct Man is a moral animal…


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