George washington university biological warfare

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EMSE 318: Information Operations

Professor: Julie Ryan



Washington, DC

December 17th, 2002




1.Biological Warfare 4

2.Biological Weapons 4

3.Producing Biological Weapons 6

4.Terrorist Groups 7

5.The Communication among Members of a Terrorist Group 8

6.Biological Warfare Effects 15





After the terrorism attack of September 11 in 2001, with the spread of anthrax-laced letters, where five Americans were killed and thirteen were contaminated, “biological warfare” became a household word among the U.S. population.

President George W. Bush has invested hundreds of millions of dollars over the past year to strengthen the nation’s defenses against a biological attack but experts say that the country remains vulnerable to a biological warfare.

Therefore, a better understanding of this issue, its effects, what kind of terrorist groups is willing to cause a widespread destruction, how easy is to make a biological weapon and how well is the communication among a terrorist group, may help the authorities to organize and coordinate an appropriate response to a biological warfare and maybe find a solution to better be prepared for a bio attack.

Although biological warfare has never been absent from the set of threats facing American citizens, with the recent events, people are getting more concerned with how well the nation state, the local emergency response and health and medical personnel is prepared to respond effectively to the next incident, to correctly identify hazards as they occur, and to mitigate damage to persons and property1.


  1. Biological Warfare

Biological warfare — also known as bioterrorism — can be defined as the intentional use of biological agents to harm or kill people. Terrorists groups are most likely to use biological agents that are easily procured, easily produced and that cause infectious diseases, which are easily spread among people, in order to have a result of a high mortality rate and to cause public panic and social disruption.

Experts on biological warfare regard Bacillus anthracis (anthrax) and Variola Major (smallpox) as the biggest hazards. But many other disease-causing agents such as Yersinia pestis (bubonic plague), Francisella tularensis (tularemia, a plague like bacterial infection), Clostridium botulinum (botulism), viral hemorrhagic fevers such as filoviruses [e.g., Ebola, Marburg] and arenaviruses [e.g., Lassa, Machupo]), can pose a threat as well. However, experts believe these other agents are unlikely to cause widespread disease because they are difficult to manufacture and distribute. They are also less hardy than anthrax 2.

  1. Biological Weapons

The mechanisms used to spread the biological agents are what we call biological weapons and they are considered the stealthiest tools of mass destruction ever developed. They can be released silently, with no sign or even smell to announce the act. They can take days or even weeks for the infections they cause to show themselves3.

There are several ways of spreading these biological agents. They may be dispersed in the atmosphere, added to food or water, or injected by objects or by insects. Whatever the method, they must first be stabilized in liquid suspensions or alternatively freeze dried and kept in powdered form4.

Biological weapons are, pound for pound, far more lethal than either nuclear or chemical weapons. Their killing potential is only exceed by the most powerful nuclear weapons, the H-bombs.

An official American study compared the numbers of dead that would result from an attack with a nuclear weapon the size of the Hiroshima bomb (i.e. an explosive power equivalent to 12.5 kilotons of TNT), 300 kg of sarin nerve gas or 30 kg of anthrax spores. The study showed that the bomb would kill between 23,000 and 80,000 people; the nerve gas, 60 to 200; the anthrax 30,000 to 100,0005.

Biological weapons are very different if compared with other weapons. The response to their use is basically the detection and action by medical workers, with proper medication, vaccines and quarantine measures helping to mitigate the overwhelming damage caused by a bioterrorist attack.

  1. Producing Biological Weapons

Biological weapons are easy and inexpensive to build and difficult to detect and destroy. It can be produced anywhere, in college laboratories, hospitals, or even breweries.

There are some acquisition routes that terrorists can conceivably pursue in acquiring a biological warfare capability. They are6:

  • purchasing a biological agent from one of the world’s 1,500 germ banks;

  • theft from a research laboratory, hospital, or public health service laboratory, where agents are cultivated for diagnostic purposes;

  • isolation and culturing of a desired agent from natural sources; or

  • obtaining biological agents from a rogue state, a disgruntled government scientist, or a state sponsor.

Once with a biological agent in hand, anyone with a basic background in microbiology, some technical skill and some moderately priced equipment can easily prepare the quantities of agent needed to produce mass casualties. For the terrorists, their weapons do not need to be good, just good enough.

The United States and its allies have a big concern with the various rogue nations that possess biological weapons. They fear that these nations may give or sell biological weapons to terrorist groups. Besides Iraq, such nations include Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, and North Korea.

United States officials were not sure which terrorist groups possessed biological weapons or the systems to deliver them, though al-Qaeda, the Islamic network responsible for the September 11, 2001 attack, was suspected to be one such group7.

  1. Terrorist Groups

Terrorists groups are organized in many different ways, including the traditional pyramidal power chart with a leader on the top, and various other configurations such as circles, squares, and bullseye target designs. Hardcore leadership surrounded by an active cadre is what they all have in common8.

A biological warfare can be launched by any kind of terrorist groups. The reasons that justify their actions are defined by what is called ideology, which are their beliefs, values, principles and objectives.

The ideology provides the real motives for the terrorists to launch a bio attack and can be classified in separatism, religion, liberalism, anarchism, communism, conservatism, fascism, organized crime9, among others.

For example, the greatest terrorist threat to the United States today comes from the Al-Qaeda, an Islamic group, driven by religion beliefs, established by Osama Bin Laden in the late 1980s to bring together Arabs who fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. It has several thousand members and associates all around the world, serving as a focal point or umbrella organization for a worldwide network.

As we can see, terrorist groups tend to have a kind of decentralized structure. And they relay not only on conventional weapons such as bombs and guns but also in cataclysmic weapons such as biological and chemical agents.

Biological weapons are an important part of the armamentarium. Based on the idea that they are not difficult to be built and based on their capacity of mass destruction, the biological weapon became an attractive to any group attempting to sow the maximum amount of fear and chaos through a specific target.

  1. The Communication among Members of a Terrorist Group10

Considering what it was previously mentioned, that terrorist groups tend to be decentralized, with members all around the world, we can say that the communication is the key factor for them to plan a biological warfare and be able to accomplish well their tasks. However, it is a double-edge sword. It can be advantageous for the terrorist group if the communication is used well, or it can be a knife dug if they don’t take the necessary security measures. In the last one, intelligence agencies, FBI and policies would be very grateful since they would be able to arrest the terrorists easily.

The communication among members of a terrorist group can be done in different ways such as by telephone, by meeting in person, by messenger, by letters or by some other modern devices as facsimile, cellular phones and Internet. Following there is an explanation of each of these means with the different security measures and different technologies used by terrorists in order to plan a biological attack.

  1. Telephone

This means of communication is very common for terrorists to exchange information in general. Many security measures are used by the group, based on the fact that advanced technologies, to monitor telephones and broadcast equipment, are well being developed now a day. For example, monitoring a conversation by the telephone can be done easily just by installing a secondary line or wireless broadcasting device on the telephone to relay the call to a remote location.

Terrorist groups always take some precautions in order to communicate safely by the telephone. Bellow is some basic steps terrorists usually follow:

  • Communication is carried out from public places. The use of telephone in booths and on main streets is preferable, based on the idea that they are considered less suspicious and they are more difficult to be monitored.

  • The conversation among them is coded to do not alert any security agency that might be monitoring it.

  • Telephone wire and the receiver are examined periodically.

  • Telephone numbers are memorized and not recorded. But in case the number is needed to be written down, it is coded in order to do not appear to be a telephone number.

  • Some words or sentences are mentioned before they start the communication to make sure that the person the terrorist in calling is the correct one.

  • Sometimes change in the voice or distortion is needed.

  • Sometimes, when feasible, change in telephone lines is preferable in order to allow direct access to local or international call.

  • When terrorists find out that a telephone line is being monitored, the whole group which is using it is notified as soon as possible in order for them to take the appropriate measure necessary.

  • Sometimes, when a terrorist group is certain that a particular telephone line is being monitored, they exploit it by providing information that misleads the enemy and benefits the work plan.

  • Jamming devices are used immediately.

  1. Meeting in Person

This direct means of communication between terrorists is another common away for them to exchange information, give order and instructions regarding the accomplishment of their tasks in a biological warfare and the most important, to discuss about the financing aspects. As the telephone means, terrorists also take some precautions when meeting someone, and the basic steps they follow is showed below:

  • Before the meeting, some measures are taken. Designation of the location, specification of the data and time of the meeting, and the definition of special signs between those who are going to meet, are all important issues relevant to the terrorist groups.

For example, the meeting location needs to be far from the police stations and security centers, with easy transportation, and close to many roads that may provide easy escape in case it is raided by the security personnel. Usually the location is studied with details by the terrorists. They verify its security situation in order to design a security plan prior to the meeting.

The definition of the signs between the individuals who are going to meet are first for them to recognize each other, and second, for them to make sure that the place is safe. A safety signal is well recommended to let the terrorists know that they are not being monitored.

  • During the meeting, cautions are taken as well. Terrorists do not act unnaturally to do not raise suspicions. They do not talk with either too loud or very low voice and they do not write anything related to the meeting.

  • After the meeting, other measures are taken such as: not departing together from the location, not heading directly to the main road but through a secondary road, and not leaving anything in the meeting location that might indicate the identity.

This means of communication have some disadvantages. Terrorists can be captured, or can have their picture taken or their conversation recorded which are considered evidences to an intelligence agency investigation.

  1. Messenger

The messenger is an intermediary between the sender and the receiver. Some security measures are used just as the other means of communication. Terrorists usually follow the steps bellow:

  • As the meeting in person, a messenger always has the knowledge of the person to whom it will be delivered the message and always has the complete knowledge of the location to which he is going.

  • Special time, date and exactly location, is planned in advance.

  • Public streets or places that do not raise suspicions are selected.

  • Public transportation such as buses, train and metro are used.

  1. Letters

When letters are used among a terrorist group, the following security measures are taken by them:

  • Terrorists to do no write security information in the letters. In case it is really needed, the information is written in codes so no one besides the receiver is able to understand the message.

  • The letter is not mailed from a post office close to the sender’s residence, but from a distant one.

  • The sender’s name and address on the envelope is always fictitious.

  • The sender’s address is written clear so the letter can not be returned.

  • The envelope is not transparent to don’t reveal the content inside of it.

  1. Facsimiles and Wireless

Depending on the kind of the terrorist group, different wireless devices are obtained by them. And as all communication means, they address the following security measures:

  • The duration of the transmission do not exceed five minutes in order to prevent the enemy from pinpointing the device location.

  • The device, for example a cellular phone, is placed in a location with high wireless frequency, such as close to a TV station, embassies and consulates in order to prevent the enemy from identifying its location.

  • The voice is disguised when the wireless device is used outside the country.

  • The conversation is in general terms to do not raise suspicious.

  • The device is frequently moved from one location to another.

  • The terrorist’s location is never revealed to one another by the wireless device.

  1. Internet

For the terrorist groups, the Internet, like the mail system (the letter) and the telephone network, is an ideal place to exchange information, spread propaganda and plan a biological warfare.

Members of a terrorist group also use the Internet to communicate with one another. Security technologies are adopted by them and they are explained as follows:

  • Encryption programs are used by the terrorists to conceal their e-mail messages from police agencies. These programs, some of which are freely available on the Internet, scramble communications so that they are unreadable by anyone except the intended recipient. To read the message, the recipient’s computer unscrambles it using a special formula called a key, a customized piece of software created with an encryption program11.

  • Steganography, a special encryption technique is also used by the terrorists. This technique secretly embeds messages or images within electronics files in a way that makes it virtually impossible for anyone, other than the intended recipient of the communication, to know that the message or image even exists. Steganography software can hide an electronic message inside a digital photograph. It conceals data so effectively that it is difficult to know how often the technique is used12.

All these different ways of communication means are used by members of terrorist groups. Information in general needs to be exchanged and when they are related to the planning of a biological warfare, a perfect communication becomes essential for terrorists to obtain success.

Based on their characteristics of being intelligent, disciplined, and obedient and based on their ideologies, their beliefs and values, terrorists tend to follow correctly the security measures and technologies of the communication means, which makes it even more difficult for policy agencies to act in order to arrest them.

  1. Biological Warfare Effects

The effects of a biological warfare vary from the potential number of casualties caused by biological weapons, their contamination, the panic among the population, to the economic, social-psychological damage and political change.

Biological weapons in the hands of a well organized, trained and determined terrorist group organization can be the worst case scenario that one could ever imagine. Experts say that one gram of anthrax, dispersed properly, can be enough to kill one third of the population of the United States13.

With a biological warfare, hospitals are likely to be overwhelmed with people claiming infection and ill effects. It is likely to lead to the migration of people away from the infected areas. A big concern of the government is related to the biological warfare response capabilities where the personnel trained to deal with the emergency may themselves become casualties or be prevented from responding to an emergency in other ways.

Depending of the biological weapon used and where it is used, it can cause death of many workers in many different organizations, leading to a commerce disruption and collaborating for an economic damage.

The biological warfare can also cause a social-psychological damage and a political change. After a successful incident occurs, it can have a profound effect on the target population and on the nation’s politics and law.


According to the literature, people in the United States have been terrorized on US soil with targeted violence, on various scales and with varying success, for decades14. Yet, the September 11 2001 attacks demonstrated something disturbing: terrorist groups are likely to achieve a truly massive destruction and this includes biological warfare.

Based on the definitions described before, biological warfare has become one of the major threats against the United States. It has a profound effect on the population itself, killing people, threatening democratic institutions, undermining the economy and destabilizing regions.

According to the literature, the United States fears that terrorists groups get biological weapons from other nations with the intent to use them against the U.S. Because of that, the government is spending hundred of million dollars in biological security measures but according to the experts, the United States remains vulnerable to such attacks.

In a biological warfare, terrorist groups do not respect limits, geographic or moral. Driven by their values and beliefs, their objective is to cause the most chaos as possible and sow the maximum amount of fear throughout the population.

Terrorist groups are so well trained, that they are able to communicate well, through many ways of communication means, following the security measures and technologies they need, in order to accomplish their tasks.

In my point of view, everything the literature says can be analyzed as potential and useful information for the United States to improve their preparedness and response for any emergency situation regarding a biological warfare.

The anthrax attacks on the United States in the autumm of 2001, and the confusion that followed, made clear that the country lacked a comprehensive strategy for biological security. Therefore, after that, biological defenses started to be improved, both in domestic and international public health, but the United States still can not be considered secure.

Regarding the communication means used by members of terrorist groups, as they are driven by their ideologies, and are the kind of obedient people, they tend to follow step by step of the security measures and the security technologies their organization adopt. But I believe that many other security technologies must be in place, in order for them to have success with their biological warfare plans. I believe that their intelligence in creating codes to communicate through the media, by TV and radio, are part of their strategy in order to achieve their goals.

Of course that, taking a look at the cyberspace, terrorist groups would never generally use viruses and worms to compromise an enemy’s computer systems and clog its networks. Biological attack is not directed and regards a biological weapon.

The effects of a biological warfare scare the population. They are not immediate and analyzing what the literature says, that terrorists do not have control of a specific target in a biological attack, primarily cascading effects are hard to be detected. Depending of where the biological weapon is used, it can cause death of many workers within an organization, leading to a commerce disruption and collaborating for an economic damage. However, it can not destroy information infrastructure, a power grid or either a physical building. Biological weapons target people and from there, the cascading affects are basically related to the damages caused by them, their absence in their work, or in their house life.

Biological warfare poses a high risk and fear to military forces and operations as well. Due to the period that takes for the disease to be identified, usually between 15 to 45 minutes after exposure, people and militaries are looking for protection, such as the vaccines.

Vaccines are considered more effective with fewer adverse effects than antibiotics or other treatments. They enable force projection by providing continuous, long-lasting protection15.

The idea of the Department of Defense (DoD) policy is to develop a capability to acquire and stockpile adequate quantities of vaccines to protect the programmed force against all validated biological warfare threats16. Militaries should not be sick or have any infection, since their role is to protect our nation.


Biological Warfare is one of the biggest fears suffered by the American population. Terrorist groups can easily create biological weapons and even though some security measures exist, having the biological agents stored in secure places, terrorists still having the ability to get them.

The techniques to manipulate the biological agent, to make them more dangerous, make them resistant to antibiotics, for instance, are harder but not impossible to obtain. Terrorists do anything in order to achieve their goals.

Terrorists are driven by their ideologies and their beliefs are what make them so powerful. Their will to be successful with their biological attack is what makes them to follow all the rules adopted by their organization, working correctly.

Until today, not much can be done in order to stop terrorists groups. Security measures will never be a hundred percent in place and it will always be some flaws in our environment which will lead to such attacks.



  1. Barnaby, Wendy. The Plague Makers: The Secret World of Biological Warfare, new revised ed. New York: Continuum, 2000.

  1. Bolz Jr., Frank, Kenneth J. Dudonis, and David P. Schulz. The Counterterrorism Handbook: Tactics, Procedures, and Techniques, 2nd ed. New York: CRC Press, 2002.

  1. Drake, C. J. M. Terrorists’ Target Selection. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

  1. Geissler, Erhard, and John Ellis van Courtland Moon. Biological and Toxin Weapons: Research, Development and Use from the Middle Ages to 1945. SIPRI Chemical and Biological Warfare Studies, no 18. Oxford: Oxford University Press,1999.

  1. Gurr, Nadine, and Benjamin Cole. The New Face of Terrorism: Threats from Weapons of Mass Destruction. New York: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 2000.

  1. Heymann, Philip B. Terrorism and America. London: The MIT Press, 1998.

  1. Osterholm, Michael T., and John Schwartz. Living Terrors. New York: Delacorte Press, 2000.

  1. Patterns of Global Terrorism 2001. Department of United States Publication 10940, 2002.

  1. Rattray, Gregory J. Strategic Warfare in Cyberspace. London: The MIT Press, 2001.

  1. Siegrist, David W., and Janice M. Graham. Countering Biological Terrorism in the U.S.: An Understanding of Issues and Status. New York: Oceana Publications, Inc., 1999.


  1. Ali, Javed. “Chemical and Biological Weapons”, World Book Online Americas Edition, , 2002.

  1. Appleby, R. Scott. “Terrorism: America’s New Enemy”, World Book Online Americas Edition, , 2002.

  1. Bassiouni, M. Cherif. “Terrorism”, World Book Online Americas Edition,, 14 October, 2002.

  1. Boris, Jay. “The Threat of Chemical and Biological Terrorism: Preparing a Response”, US Naval Research Laboratory, IEEE, 2002.

  1. Bowman, Steve and Helit Barel. “Weapons of Mass Destruction – The Terrorist Threat”, CRS Report for Congress,, 8 December, 1999.

  1. Brodsky, Arthur R. “Cellular telephone”, World Book Online Americas Edition,, 14 October, 2002.

  1. Chyba, Christopher. “Toward Biological Security”, Council of Foreign Affairs Inc., May 2002, essays, p. 122.

  1. Croddy, Eric. “Chemical and Biological Terror”, World Book Online Americas Edition, , 2002.

  1. Cubbage, Sarah. “At Lehigh, role-playing students plan terrorist strikes against U.S.”, The Morning Call (Allentown), May 2002, national, p. A1.

  1. Ferrel, Keith. “Internet”, World Book Online Americas Edition,, 14 October, 2002.

  1. Frauenfelder, Mark. “Hackers, Criminals and Terrorists”, World Book Online Americas Edition, , 2002.

  1. Frauenfelder, Mark. “Today’s Global Village”, World Book Online Americas Edition, , 2002.

  1. Fricker, Ronald D., Jr., Jerry O. Jacobson, and Lois M. Davis. “Measuring and Evaluating Local Preparedness for a Chemical or Biological Terrorist Attack,” RAND (2002)

  1. Katz, Rebecca. “Public health preparedness: the best defense against biological weapons”, The Washington Quarterly, Summer 2002, vol. 25, no. 3, p. 69.

  1. Keith, Michael C., and Patrick D. Griffis, “Radio”, World Book Online Americas Edition,, 14 October, 2002.

  1. Krizner, Ken. “The enemy within: bioterror forces new contingency plans to better coordinate resources and information to contain and minimize an outbreak”, Gale Group Inc., May 2002, vol. 12, no. 5, p. 28(4)

  1. Matolak, David W. “Wireless Communication”, World Book Online Americas Edition,, 14 October, 2002.

  1. Perry, William J. “In war of terror, U.S. must lead but also not go it alone”, San Jose Mercury News, 10 September 2002.

  1. Pollard, Neal A. “Terrorism and Transnational Organized Crime: Implications of Convergence”, The Terrorism Research Center,, 2000.

  1. Quillen, Chris. “Chemical and Biological Terrorism: Can you trust your umbrella?”, The Terrorism Research Center,, 2000.

  1. Stolberg, Sheryl Gay, and Judith Miller. “Threats and responses: bioterrorism”, The New York Times, 9 September 2002, sec. A, p. 16.

  1. Teitelbaum, Jeremy. “Codes and ciphers”, World Book Online Americas Edition,, 14 October, 2002.

  1. West, Thomas G. “When the world plague was stopped by a digital artist”, ACM SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics,, November 2000, Vol 34 Issue 4.

  1. Winegar, Anna Johnson. “Biological Weapons and Bioterrorism Threats: The role of vaccines in protecting the military and civilian sectors”, Department of Defense,, 2 April 2002.

  1. “Annual Defense Report”, The US Department of Defense’s 1997,, chapter 9.

  1. “First Annual Report to the President and the Congress to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction”, The Advisory Panel,, 15 December, 1999.

  1. “The Al-Qaeda Manual”, Manchester Metropolitan Police,, 07 November, 2002.

  1. “A Renewed Challenge for the Security Educator”, reprinted from the Interagency OPSEC Support Staff, Intelligence Threat Handbook,, May 1996, Section 4.

  1. “Medline Plus – Health Information”, U.S. National Library of Medicine,, 18 October 2002.

1 Fricker, Ronald D., Jr., Jerry O. Jacobson, and Lois M. Davis. “Measuring and Evaluating Local Preparedness for a Chemical or Biological Terrorist Attack,” RAND (2002)

2 “Medline Plus – Health Information”, U.S. National Library of Medicine,, 18 October 2002.

3 Osterholm, Michael T., and John Schwartz. Living Terrors. New York: Delacorte Press, 2000, pg xix.

4 Barnaby, Wendy. The Plague Makers: The Secret World of Biological Warfare, new revised ed. New York: Continuum, 2000, pg 38.

5 Ibid.

6 “First Annual Report to the President and the Congress to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction”, The Advisory Panel,, 15 December, 1999.

7 Ibid.

8 Bolz Jr., Frank, Kenneth J. Dudonis, and David P. Schulz. The Counterterrorism Handbook: Tactics, Procedures, and Techniques, 2nd ed. New York: CRC Press, 2002, pg 8.

9 Drake, C. J. M. Terrorists’ Target Selection. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998, pg. 16.

10 This whole section was developed based on “The Al-Qaeda Manual”, Manchester Metropolitan Police,, 07 November, 2002.

11 Frauenfelder, Mark. “Hackers, Criminals and Terrorists”, World Book Online Americas Edition, , 2002.

12 Ibid.

13 Bolz Jr., Frank, Kenneth J. Dudonis, and David P. Schulz. The Counterterrorism Handbook: Tactics, Procedures, and Techniques, 2nd ed. New York: CRC Press, 2002.

14 Fricker, Ronald D., Jr., Jerry O. Jacobson, and Lois M. Davis. “Measuring and Evaluating Local Preparedness for a Chemical or Biological Terrorist Attack,” RAND (2002)

15 Winegar, Anna Johnson, “Biological Weapons and Bioterrorism Threats: The role of vaccines in protecting the military and civilian sectors”, Department of Defense,, 2 April 2002.

16 Ibid.

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