The Threat

Terrorism can be defined as an attack or threat of an attack on the innocent to create fear, intimidate, inflict harm, and/or affect economic well-being. These acts have often been politically motivated, but may not always be so. To create terror, perpetrators of bioterrorism use pathogens or toxins as weapons. A number of bacteria, viruses, and fungi pose serious health risks to humans, animals, and plants, and the use of them as bioweapons can have serious consequences on human health, economic development, social stability, and political activities of nations worldwide. Moreover, technology has developed to such a point that there is a greater potential and increased likelihood that biological weapons will be accessible to individuals or small groups of individuals instead of just state organized institutions. Sophisticated high technology, such as that used for nuclear weapon development, is not needed to produce large quantities of weaponizable pathogens, and large quantities of bioweapons can be easily produced. Dissemination of pathogenic agents has been considered difficult in the past and put a limitation on their use, but some approaches can be relatively simple, such as may be needed to infect large herds of livestock. To add to the motivation of use is the low cost of producing and using pathogenic agents in criminal acts. It has been estimated that the cost to inflict civilian casualties is about $2000 per km2 for conventional weapons and about $800 per km2 for nuclear weapons; for biological weapons the cost is only about $1 per km2.1,2 Thus, bioterrorism will be one of the major threat challenges of the 21st century. Indeed, the anthrax letter bioterrorism attack of 2001 brought to the forefront the need to consider strengthening homeland security and enhance our forensic capabilities for attribution and deterrence.

In addition to bioterrorism, pathogens and/or toxins may be used in biocrimes. These acts may be considered the same as traditional crimes which usually are directed towards harming individuals except that the weapon is biological in nature, instead of guns, knives, and traditional chemical poisons such as cyanide. However, the use of a bioweapon in a criminal case should be taken as seriously as that of a bioterrorist attack.

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