Terror buzz: Insects could be next WMD
3 Feb 2009, 0003 hrs IST, AGENCIES
After nuclear weapons and nerve gas, the next big weapon could actually be insects, says a report in Times Online. Experts fear ecoterrorists could unleash bugs of war, which could spread disease and destroy crops with devastating speed.
An incident in the US in 1989 illustrates this threat. A letter to the mayor of Los Angeles by group calling itself “the Breeders” claimed to have released the Mediterranean fruit fly in Los Angeles and Orange counties, and threatened to expand their attack. They said that unless the government stopped using pesticides they would assure a cataclysmic infestation that would lead to the quarantining of California produce, costing 132,000 jobs and $13.4 billion in lost trade.
The infestation was real enough. It was ended by heavy spraying. It is still not known if ecoterrorists were behind it, but the panic it engendered shows “the Breeders” were flirting with using insects as a weapon.
Insects are one of the cheapest and most destructive weapons available to terrorists today, and one of the most widely ignored: they are easy to sneak across borders, reproduce quickly and can spread disease and destroy crops with devastating speed. A great strategic lesson of 9/11 has been overlooked. Terrorists need only a little ingenuity, not sophisticated weapons, to cause enormous damage. Armed only with box-cutters, terrorists hijacked aircraft and brought down the WTC. Insects are the box-cutters of biological warfare — cheap, simple and effective.
US government officials admit that entomological attacks are, “not something that is yet on our radar”.
Yet insects have shaped human history. In the 14th century, 75million people succumbed to flea-borne bubonic plague. But few people realise that the Black Death arrived in Europe after the Mongols catapulted flea-ridden corpses into the port of Kaffa. People fled, carrying bacteria, rats and fleas throughout the Mediterranean. The Japanese military also killed more than 400,000 Chinese by dropping plague-infected fleas and cholera-coated flies.
In economic terms, the 9/11 attacks resulted in direct losses of $27.2 billion. The Asian longhorned beetle, which arrived in 1996, with the emerald ash borer, found in 2002, together have the potential to destroy more than $700 billion worth of forests, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
For a terrorist group with patience, a slow-motion disaster in ecological time would be a perfect tactic against an enemy that thinks in terms of days or months, but would suffer across the generations, according to Jeffrey Lockwood, the author of ‘Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War’.