Ticks carry the Heartwater pathogen

A new doctoral dissertation is raising a warning flag about the possibility that a rogue terrorist or “lone wolf” radical could travel across the United States depositing traces of a new species of plant or bacterial life at key locations and be back in his home country before the indigenous plants, animals and even humans started to collapse and die.

The warning takes the idea of a biological weapon, which most would think to be anthrax, to a whole new level.

“[A biological weapon] infects damage silently; as opposed to the blast of a nuclear bomb. BW does not need a bomb to disperse the agent. Rather, an aerosol mist of BW agent can be released by airplane crop duster, spray tank on a jet, liquid culture poured into a water source, or even sprayed as a cloud from an offshore ship,” writes Lawrence F. Robert, a 2005 Connecticut Professor of the Year while he was at Goodwin College.

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His dissertation, “Introduced Species as a Form of Biological Weapon,” was written for his doctoral degree, and he provided a copy to WND. The author, now an associate professor of anatomy and physiology at Laboure College in Boston, completed his dissertation (Ph.D. in Biology) at Atlantic International University, which has campuses in Honolulu and Miami, Fla.

He explained the concept to WND in an interview: That non-indigenous species, whether bugs, plants or other life, can be turned into biological weapons, distributed very simply and anonymously, and can do vast damage to a nation or region, collapsing its economy and/or killing off plants, animals and even humans.

“The application of such a weapon could be used by a hostile nation as a strategic weapon or on a smaller scale as a form of bioterrorism by rogue nations or non-state actors … criminal organizations, terrorists or ‘lone wolf’ individuals,” he explained.

Powers around the globe have researched and developed biological weapons for generations, although most never have been used. But there are several factors that raise the level of danger now, he noted, including the easy shipment of items around the world, the easy transfer of information for refining “weapons,” and the remarkably low cost that could result in a significant terrorization.

For example, the Mediterranean fruit fly caused difficulties in California in the 1980s. What would happen, he said, if someone would cultivate thousands, or tens of thousands, and simply take lids off jars in hundreds or thousands of locations.

The report notes that in 1997 when there was an outbreak of Food and Mouth Disease in Taiwan, “the vaccination costs were $10 million, but the surveillance, cleaning, disinfection and related viral eradication costs were $4 billion.”

And in 1989 when extremists laced fruit bound for the U.S. with sodium cyanide, “while only a small handful of grapes were contaminated, the resulting import suspensions … cost Chile over U.S. $220 million.”

Or worse, a “lone wolf” could leave behind something that causes death.

“North Korea could put this together. Could Iran? Yes. Do I want that? No,” he told WND.

The attraction to terrorists is the impact.

“In the world of bioterrorism, asymmetrical warfare tactics … would favor use of [non-indigenous species biological warfare] to attack American (or any nation’s) vulnerabilities to leverage the bioterrorists’ weaknesses in number … to achieve a disproportionate effect on the targeted society,” he wrote.

“The resultant disproportionate effects from an NIS BW attack would create social chaos, psychological fear, ecological destruction, and economic damage that would undermine the will of a populace.”

While most people recognize smallpox, anthrax, plague and others as biological weapons, he notes that “introduced species” or “non-indigenous species” also can create significant havoc.

For example, he said, one plan could use feral pigs to carry the Nipah virus to spread the disease to humans, cattle and wildlife.

Another situation that could be dangerous, he said, is introducing the plant parasite Striga into corn fields to create chaos in the corn commodity markets and biofuel production.

Another would involve the introduction to the U.S. of the Heartwater pathogen via the Tropical Bont Tick. The result would be the destruction of wildlife as well has a major blow to the cattle industry. People also could be infected.

Want to hit the wheat crop? Use the common Barberry plant to help spread Wheat Stem Rust, he explained.

The impact would be on multiple levels, from the actual supply of food to the economic cost of trying to stem or contain the outbreak to the loss of crops for sale.

“If a NIS BW attack of the Striga species were used in a hand dispersed or even aerial dispersal methods … the impact on U.S .corn production due to large outbreaks of Striga would crush the corn market in the U.S. and seriously impact corn-based biofuel product. … Further, the Striga attack would create a crisis in the international trade of corn and the U.S. balance of trade which is heavily dependent on agricultural exports (including corn).”

Terrorists going for the big blow also could layer multiple NIS factors in the same area.

The result could “lead to the collapse of the native ecosystem and the extinction of the ecosystems native species.”

He said the international Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention should ban development of such attack methods, but he said discussions need to be held regarding how to monitor for them.

Roberge also has taught various courses for Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., Holyoke Community College in Holyoke, Mass., Elms College in Chicopee, Mass., Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., and Anna Maria College in Paxton, Mass.

He told WND the understanding is just starting to develop how “introduced species” can wreak havoc on an ecosystem. Sometimes there are no natural deterrents to stunning growth rates for various organisms.

“A lot of these organisms advance their colonization by unleashing novel weapons, poisoning the soil, changing the chemistry,” he said. “Some of these organisms can lead to disease in flora, fauna, humans, animals.”

“You could destabilize developing nations, or developed nations, commodities, wheat, corn, grain lumber.”

He said such organisms could even be brought into a nation by embedding them in the lumber of a shipping container, so that virtually no level of inspection would be able to stop the invasion.

Because they explode over time, and not in an instant, any attacker would have more than enough opportunity to set off the chain of events that would lead to disaster, and escape without detection.

Local activity, anything from a vehicle driving from one area to another, or the natural migration of spores attached to leaves, birds and the wind, would widely expand the target area without any work on the part of the attacker, he explained.

Those criminals who want to develop ricin or put poison in a salad bar are relatively easy to detect, he noted.

But he said those attacking through eco-weapons could “decimate” a region.

“I think a lot of people from Homeland Security, the CIA and others need to review this and start seriously thinking about this,” he said.

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