The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and subsequent anthrax attacks in Florida, New York and Washington have focused renewed attention on the threat of biological weapons use by terrorists or other sub-national groups. In a statement on November 1, President Bush declared: "... the threat is growing. Since September 11, America and others have been confronted by the evils these weapons can inflict. This threat is real and extremely dangerous. Rogue states and terrorists possess these weapons and are willing to use them."
It is certainly the case that, over the past two months, America has had a glimpse of what it can mean to use disease for hostile purposes. Before October, no American ever died as a consequence of a terrorist attack with biological agents, although some 750 people were poisoned with salmonella by the Rajneeshee cult in Oregon in 1984. Today, five people are dead from inhalation anthrax. Six others have been treated for the inhalation form of the disease and another seven are recovering from the cutaneous or skin form. In addition, tens of thousands of media, postal and government employees have been prescribed powerful antibiotics prophylactically because of possible anthrax exposure.
Elisa D. Harris is a Senior Research Scholar at the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland.