CUBA’s READINESS FOR ANIMAL AND AGRICULTURE BIOTERRORISM
by Manuel Cereijo
Anti-agricultural and animal biowarfare differ from thesame activities directed against humans. Also, attacks are substantially easierto do ; the agents aren’t necessarily hazardous to humans; delivery systems arereadily available and unsophisticated ; maximum effect may only require a fewcases; delivery from outside the target country is possible; and an effective attack can be constructed to appearnatural.Cuba has done extensive research and development in this field ofbioterrorism.
A widespread-epidemic, or any outbreak that triggered the imposition or relaxation of trade restrictions, could result in significant changes of supply of the affected plant or animal materials on domestic and international markets. In general, what goals might Cuba’s have in its readiness on this field?
Countries might consider agricultural attack for military, political, ideological, or economic reasons.Since there could be quite severe consequences of being recognized asresponsible for a biological attack, such efforts would likely be covert. Thiswould entail an effort to make the outbreak appear natural (CANKER?)-most probably a point-source outbreak, or multiple outbreaks with an apparently natural common source. Intelligence sources suspect, for example, that Cubahas developed wheat cover smut as a weapon.
Direct financial loss due to mortality or morbidity of domestic animals or crop plants can vary from insignificant to catastrophic. In many cases the direct losses would be modestand would fall on a small number of farms. One of the major determinants of the magnitude of the direct losses will be the the rapidity with which the diseaseis noticed and diagnosed.
Destruction of exposed hosts is often the only option when the agent is bacterial or viral. With plants, thousands of acres of crop plants may have to be destroyed to containthe outbreak. Thus, the losses attendant on outbreak control can exceed, oftenby several orders of magnitude, the direct losses due to the disease itself.
With the exception of a few agents of zoonotic disease, most of the diseases that are likely to be considered for an attack on the agricultural sector are completely harmless to humans. They are much less challenging to produce, stockpile, and disseminate than lethal human pathogens. Cuba hastwo main centers dedicated to this kind of research.
A military style attack by airplane on large acreage of crops would require crop dusters and large stockpiles of agent. Less ambitious attacks would require much less in the way of equipment or agent stockpiles. If the goal is to cause only a few cases in order to disrupt society, then no special equipment and only a few amount of agent are needed. And, as mentioned before, it is possible to introduce biological agents without even entering the target country. (West Nile virus).
If the goal is to disrupt the dynamics of the United States by introducing a highly contagious disease into territory from which it is absent, then the attack does not have to be constructed to cause a large number of cases-a handful of cases may be sufficient.
The emerging sciences of genomics and proteomics, which Cuba has researched and developed extensively, are already beginning to transform biology. Agriculture has several properties that make it vulnerable to attack with genotype-specific weapons.
This constellation of characteristics presented here makes biological attacks on the agricultural and animal sectors of the United States a real threat, perhaps more so than attack on the civilian population. That is why Cuba has dedicated large efforts and funds on the development of these agents.
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