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Terrorism and Aviation Intelligence Gathering Chemical/Biological Warfare Weapons of Mass Destruction

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Biological weapon, also called germ weapon, any of a number of disease-producing agents—such as bacteria, viruses, rickettsiae, fungi, toxins, or other biological agents—that may be utilized as weapons against humans, animals, or plants. The direct use of infectious agents and poisons against enemy personnel is an ancient practice in warfare. Indeed, in many conflicts, diseases have been responsible for more deaths than all the employed combat arms combined, even when they have not consciously been used as weapons.

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The National Strategy for Countering WMD Terrorism describes the United States Government’s approach to countering non-state WMD threats, emphasizing the need for continuous pressure against WMD-capable terrorist groups, enhanced security for dangerous materials throughout the world, and increased burden sharing among our foreign partners. The United States will draw on the full range of our nation’s and partner nations’ capabilities to place WMD and associated materials and expertise beyond the reach of terrorists. We will also strengthen our defenses at home to ensure the peace and security to which ever y American is entitled. Although not ever y class of weapon that falls under the rubric of “WMD” is capable of producing truly large-scale casualties, chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons each have characteristics that set them apart from conventional arms. Rudimentary chemical weapons, for instance, may be difficult to disseminate widely and may thus be inefficient killing agents, yet their gruesome effects make the psychological impact of these weapons especially potent. Radiological weapons leverage the longstanding fear of radiation, potentially generating reactions to an attack that are disproportionate to its scale.

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The father of the Japanese biological weapons programme, the radical nationalist Shiro Ishii, thought that such weapons would constitute formidable tools to further Japan's imperialistic plans. He started his research in 1930 at the Tokyo Army Medical School and later became head of Japan's bioweapon programme during the Second World War (Harris, 1992, 1999, 2002). At its height, the programme employed more than 5,000 people, and killed as many as 600 prisoners a year in human experiments in just one of its 26 centres. The Japanese tested at least 25 different disease-causing agents on prisoners and unsuspecting civilians. During the war, the Japanese army poisoned more than 1,000 water wells in Chinese villages to study cholera and typhus outbreaks. Japanese planes dropped plague-infested fleas over Chinese cities or distributed them by means of saboteurs in rice fields and along roads. Some of the epidemics they caused persisted for years and continued to kill more than 30,000 people in 1947, long after the Japanese had surrendered (Harris, 1992, 2002). Ishii's troops also used some of their agents against the Soviet army, but it is unclear as to whether the casualties on both sides were caused by this deliberate spread of disease or by natural infections (Harris, 1999). After the war, the Soviets convicted some of the Japanese biowarfare researchers for war crimes, but the USA granted freedom to all researchers in exchange for information on their human experiments. In this way, war criminals once more became respected citizens, and some went on to found pharmaceutical companies. Ishii's successor, Masaji Kitano, even published postwar research articles on human experiments, replacing 'human' with 'monkey' when referring to the experiments in wartime China (Harris, 1992, 2002).

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Overall, this full range of terrorist activity can have major impacts on the conduct of missions by U.S. military forces. Weapon of mass destruction threats are normally grouped in categories of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN). High yield explosives are included sometimes in a description of WMD within an acronym of CBRNE.

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Harris S.H. (2002) Factories of Death. Japanese Biological Warfare, 1932-1945, and the American Cover-up, revised edn. Routledge, New York, USA.

Leitenberg M. (2001) Biological weapons in the twentieth century: a review and analysis. Crit. Rev. Microbiol., 27, 267–320.

Malakoff D. (2003) Researchers urged to self-censor sensitive data. Science 299, 321.

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Terrorism and Aviation Intelligence Gathering Chemical/Biological Warfare Weapons of Mass Destruction
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