Saturday, July 23, 2011

Biological Weapons

As a PHS officer assigned to the National Disaster Medical System, my primary concern was the immense of number of casualties that could suddenly appear following a natural calamitous event like an earthquake or an attack with a Weapon of Mass Destruction be it nuclear, chemical, or biological. Since my background was in microbiology with a specialization in infectious disease, I focused on the details of biological weapons (BW).

I learned that a BW attack could be quite different. An attack with a biological weapon can easily be covert.  A car or truck on a highway or a low-flying aircraft could surreptiously release a fine mist or aerosol of the germs. Such a germ aerosol would form an invisible, odorless cloud that could remain in the target area for many minutes—long enough for the germs to be inhaled by people. The unsuspecting population would not even realize that they had been hit until a day or two later when a large number of cases of the same illness suddenly appeared. A biological attack becomes more serious if the germ is one that causes a disease transmissible person-to-person so that the target population goes on to transmit the disease to others, leading to a wide-spread epidemic.

I decided to use such an event as one of a number that I wrote about in my novel And Evil Shall Come. This scenario was actually the basis of a table- top biohazard exercise, Dark Winter, staged by our defense establishment. It showed that 20 initial cases of smallpox would grow to 2,000 cases 7 days later and to 16, 000 cases in another 7 days.

Another unique feature of germ weapons is that they can be made more deadly by genetic manipulation. Thus, a microbe can be made resistant to the antibiotics usually employed to treat that disease. Finally, two species could be “crossed” to form a more virulent hybrid for which current protective vaccines are no longer effective.

These nefarious variations in germ warfare are not simply from my writer’s imagination – they have happened. The anthrax spores that were sent in 2001 following 9/11 in letters to senators and TV personalities had actually been genetically modified.  You can read the terrifying story of biological weapons in terrorist hands in my book And Evil Shall Come.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Mini Nukes

As if a germ attack on New York City wasn’t enough, I decided to add to the excitement and tension of my book, And Evil Shall Come, by having a miniature nuclear bomb smuggled into Grand Central Station.

The first two atomic bombs, Little Boy and Fat Man, dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 were huge.  Ten feet long and weighing more than 10,000 pounds, each had an explosive force equivalent to 15 – 21 kilotons of TNT. Since then, the Soviets, now Russians, established a highly secret program to miniaturize a bomb small enough to be carried in a suitcase or backpack while still retaining the explosive force of its grandparents.  If such a bomb existed, it could readily be concealed and transported into the U.S.

I didn’t have to wait or wonder if the Russians succeeded.  In 1992, Vasili Mitrokhin, First Chief Directorate, defected to the U.S. and claimed that the KGB already had 250 mini nukes.  Five years later, General Alexander Lebed, Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation confirmed to Congress and subsequently on 60 Minutes that the Russians had indeed produced 250 mini nukes and given them to the KGB. He said that these bombs weighed about sixty pounds, were small enough for a suitcase, and had a yield of 0.1 – 1 KT.  He mentioned, almost casually, something like “Oh, by the way, 84 of these weapons are missing.”

That’s great!  At least I could use one of these bombs in my story. The rebellious Muslim Chechens could have stolen one or more of the 84 missing bombs from poorly guarded KGB arsenals or even purchased one for the Al Qaeda.

Handling such mini nukes is not easy. Without the many pounds of lead shielding, the user is exposed to harmful radiation that can cause illness or death. In my story an Al Qaeda operative purchases a mini nuke from a Chechen Muslim and smuggles it into New York City.