Page 2


BOOKS AND THE CULTURE Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War By Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg, and William J. Broad Simon & Schuster 352 pages, $27. T he ink had barely dried on review copies of Germs when the Twin Towers came tumbling down. Since September 11, con cern over the threat posed by anthrax and other biological weapons has reached the point of hysteria, making Germs remarkably timely. Written by three New York Times reporters, it chronicles the development of biological weapons by the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War and, more recently, by Iraq. It also details the dicey dilemma of disassembling the Soviet biological weapons program and the policy debates that have stimulated new U.S. biological defense research. Along the way the authors shed light on the secretive world of biological warfare, specifically the charmingly named “Clear Vision” and “Bacchus” projects developed by the CIA and the Pentagon respectively. Even arms control experts privy to closely held government secrets are likely to be shocked by these projects, which were launched during the second half of the Clinton administration. According to the authors, the former president’s interest in biodefense was sparked less by military prodding than by his reading of Hot Zone author Richard Preston’s The Cobra Event, a fictional and not terribly plausible tale of bioterrorism that reads like a failed movie script. Also influencing Clinton were the biotechnology gurus, notably Craig Ventner, a wealthy genomesequencing pioneer intensely disliked by activists because of his early lobbying for the patenting of human genes. Fearing the United States had been left behind by research in other countries, Clear Vision scientists built and tested biological bombs modeled on those made by the Soviet Union in its final years. Following the footsteps of another Soviet project, they also planned to create extra-deadly genetically engineered anthrax \(in order, they said, to find out how to defend against provocatively built a real biological weapons production facility at an unused military base in Nevada. The stated purpose was to test intelligencegathering methods. While one CIA group imitated an enemy by secretively making a biological weapons plant, a separate team of espionage experts used satellite imagery and other methods to try to detect and monitor the activities of the first team.The CIA and Pentagon say the efforts were defensive; but in biological warfare, “defense” and “offense” depends on your perspective. For example, an enemy might interpret Bacchus not as an experiment in how to detect biological weapons; but as a sinister experiment in how to hide them. While there is no evidence to suggest that the CIA is planning more secret biological weapons plants, it surely did learn how to build them without being detected, knowledge that will set our enemiesand even allieson edge. The authors also reveal that the Pentagon flirted with the idea of using biological weapons several times in the 1950s and 1960s, most notably against Cuba as part of a backup U.S. invasion plan during the Missile Crisis. Several military strategists were of the view that non-lethal bugs might be a useful pre-invasion weapon, believing that if the Cubans suddenly became ill en masse, they wouldn’t be able to put up much of a fight when U.S. forces landed. Therefore, the bioweapons proponents reasoned, U.S. casualties would be lower and damage to Cuban resources and infrastructure \(much of which had recently been expropriated from U.S. involved spraying a hideous cocktail of “non-lethal” germs across the island; it was estimated that such a cocktail would kill “only”70,000 Cubans. Had it not been for cooler heads, this actually might have happened. While their revelations about Clear Vision, Bacchus and the biowarfare plans that were floated during the Cuban Missile crisis are invaluable to both arms control experts and the general reader, the authors frequently miss the larger picture. Germs is curiously silent about the fact that since the U.S. military’s disastrous mission in Somalia in 1993, non-lethal chemical and biological weapons have come back into vogue, leading to research on a huge variety of agents, ranging from synthetic heroin-like drugs and hallucinogens exploding chemical mortar rounds, to genetically engineered microbes that eat truck tires, jet fuel, plastics, and material. Moreover, while the authors’ account of the efforts of U.S. diplomats to outpace Iran and Iraq in finding jobs for former Soviet bioweapons experts is fascinating, it fails to mention that the United States has also found nefarious uses for foreign scientists with expertise in biological warfare, not unlike it did after World War II, when the United States rushed to employ Nazi scientists. Currently the U.S. government supports a program in the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to develop new biological weapons to use against the Taliban’s opium poppy. The same folks who formerly tried to wipe out American corn, wheat and soybeans have been enlisted in the Drug War and now the hot war in Afghanistandespite the fact that the prohibition on bioweapons Building the 010-Bombs BY EDWARD HAMMOND 26, Tlit TEXAS 0116E1111111.10/28101.