1) I think that my city, Washington, DC, is susceptible to a terrorist attack using biological weapons. In fact, I really think that Washington, DC is even more in danger of being biologically attacked by terrorists than other places in the United States since it is the country’s capital. The best proof of this is the September 11 attacks where terrorists tried to redirect Flight 93 to the United States Capitol in Washington DC, where the Congress meets to make the laws of the country. The plane didn’t make it to the Capitol however, because the people on the plane heroically resisted control by the terrorists.
Since many terrorists have political ends, they tend to attack places of significance to send out political messages. Washington, DC, as the capital of the US, where all the policies of the government are made, and where all issues are debated by the people who control the country, is the perfect, if not ideal, target for all terrorists who hate the US. Diplomats, representatives, and senators from all over the world all live or stay in the capital, and the President of the United States also works in the city (Elish, 2006, p. 9). I would think that a terrorist’s dream is to bring down Washington, DC to send the perfect message that, “We hurt the United States.”
Aside from the political significance of the place, Washington, DC is also regularly packed with people, especially tourists who want to learn and feel the history of the country. Since a terrorist act is always meant to be as destructive as possible, terrorists would likely target the capital because of the number of people there. Washington, DC is also brimming with parks, 150 of them (Elish, 2006, p. 15). These parks are always filled with people, making them likely targets for terrorists.
Another reason why I think Washington, DC is susceptible to a terrorist attack using biological weapons is its climate. The city is mostly hot or humid from May to September (Elish, 2006, p. 15). Since it’s almost always hot in the city, the weather is not as unpredictable as in other states. This is a critical factor in deploying biological weapons since these weapons may act differently when subject to changing temperatures. The relatively stable climate in the city, plus the tourists, and the political significance of the place all support my belief that Washington, DC is indeed susceptible to a biological attack by terrorists.
2) In my opinion, one of the most important things to do in order to reduce the risk of biological attack by terrorists in Washington, DC is to improve the detection and surveillance system of the city. It’s always people who will carry out terrorist acts, so authorities must improve their surveillance of suspected people in the city. Research is ongoing across the US to improve the epidemiological surveillance of the country (Linden, 2003, p.140). Washington, DC must put even more effort in improving these aspects of security since it is the country’s capital.
Government agencies must be more active in gathering intelligence on suspected terrorist groups. Anyone who is suspected of keeping biological weapons or ingredients of biological weapons must be confronted by authorities. Washington, DC must also implement a strict registration system for facilities and researchers who make use of ingredients of biological weapons (Linden, 2003, p.140). No one should avail of these ingredients if they are not scrutinized by authorities.
I also think that communication with other states must be upgraded to reduce the risk of biological attack in Washington, DC. Terrorists who plan to attack the city many not want to stay in the city while planning is ongoing to avoid detection by authorities. They might prepare their operation somewhere and only execute it on the day of the biological attack. For this reason, Washington, DC has got to improve its communication with other states to gather information on people suspected of terrorism. It is much better if they can intercept these people even before they set foot in the capital.
In case of a biological attack, casualties can also be reduced or eliminated by putting more emergency systems in place. Schools in Washington, DC, for example, should implement programs about emergency response to biological attack, which may involve using gas masks or shelters to protect everyone from pathogens (Linden, 2003, p.145). I think hospitals should also receive more funds to improve their emergency capabilities in case a large-scale biological attack takes place in the city.
3) Bio-weapons are a good choice for terrorists because they can obtain the ingredients to make the weapons in many ways. They can obtain seed cultures of anthrax, botulism, and other agents from laboratories or buy them from the black market. They can find a way to get these ingredients through false pretenses and even acquire them by mail order (Griset & Mahan, 2002, p.249).
Experts have found out that civilian laboratories that may have ingredients to biological weapons are not well guarded, even military installations. Seed cultures may also be obtained from commercial firms which offer specimens for a small amount of money. Finally, terrorists could also get seed cultures from states that support terrorism (Griset & Mahan, 2002, p.249). For instance, there are many nations in the Middle East who are against the US foreign policy. These nations may help terrorists to get the biological weapons they need in order to attack the US.
I believe that terrorists may also choose to use biological weapons because of the great fear that they strike in the hearts of people. Unlike terrorist weapons such as bombs, biological weapons can be more unpredictable. People may panic so much that they won’t use their water supply, for example, or they may try to get out of the city in large numbers because of the fear of infection by air. Thus, terrorists may be tempted to use biological weapons because of this unique fear that they inspire in people.
Despite the reasons above, terrorists rarely use biological weapons due to a number of reasons. Unlike explosives which are bound to affect a definite space, biological weapons are more unpredictable, so unpredictable in fact, that they might not have any effect at all. Biological agents can easily be affected by changes in temperature and the direction of the wind. Releasing the agents through the water supply may also be ineffective because the biological agents may not survive the purification systems. The terrorists themselves may be affected by the biological weapons they carry since they require expert handling. Finally, some experts argue that terrorists prefer explosive terrorist acts because these are more in keeping with their apocalyptic visions (Griset ; Mahan, 2002, p.250).
Elish, D. (2006). Washington, D.C. Times Centre: Marshall Cavendish.
Griset, P.L. ; Mahan, S. (2002). Terrorism in Perspective. New York: SAGE.
Linden, E.V. (2003). Focus on Terrorism. Hauppauge. Nova Publishers.