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Science and Technology to Counter Terrorism: Proceedings of an Indo-U.S. Workshop
of certain ethnicities or religions. It could even be state sponsored against another state, to hurt another state’s economy or agriculture. Apart from decreasing food production, there is also the enormous economic cost of the recovery process, recycling food, and cleaning up the contamination. In bioterrorism against humans, one of the most feared events would be the return of smallpox. Though the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the world free of smallpox, there are still lingering suspicions that strains of smallpox are being held for experiments. As long as something exists, there is always the chance of it showing up in the population.
Of course, there has been a lot of publicity about the danger of anthrax. Anthrax does not spread from individual to individual, and in fact, in India, anthrax exists. We have been dealing with it and there has been no panic. There are many areas where farmers know exactly where the cattle should not graze, because of anthrax-infested areas.
Acquiring or producing a very virulent pathogen is also much more difficult. This would involve access to biological scientists by terrorist groups. Aum Shinrikyo tried but failed to get the Ebola virus. It may be easier, however, to introduce anticrop fungal diseases and so forth. Assuming that these are all being done, what is the time frame in which the effect is seen? Is the terrorist willing to wait for the time frame, especially in the agricultural field? With a good monitoring mechanism, is it not possible to detect it early and take countermeasures?
These pests and strains do not recognize international borders. We have had a case of a virus affecting chicken coming from Israel, noticed in Pakistan, eventually ending up in southern India. In such cases, Gopal noted, he did not believe that any right-thinking state would intentionally indulge in this kind of activity because it can boomerang. With basic monitoring mechanisms and a well-established public health policy, this is a controllable problem. What has however been a dangerous trend in the past has been that commercial damage is tried by both state and nonstate terrorists. In 1979 Palestinian terrorists introduced mercury into Israeli oranges, which caused a tremendous problem, and in 1981 the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) threatened to contaminate Sri Lankan tea with cyanide.
Gopal felt that bioterrorism and agricultural terrorism should be considered more from the perspective of economic damage than from that of individual damage or harm. The economic damage will be great regardless of the source of the attack, and it will be difficult to trace the source of the attack.
In agricultural terrorism we should be able to use even existing technologies such as satellite imagery and aerial imagery, and even proper monitoring by the concerned agricultural departments, to notice early enough that there is a problem in a particular area and react quickly.
Another form of bioterrorism, apart from using pathogens, could be to introduce noxious weeds; this has been a problem in India. Specifically, there was a parthenium problem in India, and it is still a problem in many places where the parthenium was not indigenous to the country. It was suspected to have come from imported food grains, and now it occupies acres and acres of land and is dangerous, and it is creating a lot of problems for humans. It is possible to weed it out, but at a high price.
This is not a kind of terrorism that is impossible to control if technologies are in place. For example, a good public health administration system throughout the country