HS 270. Issues in Bioterrorism

This assignment is worth 30% of the overall grade for the course so it should be taken seriously and a substantial amount of your work should be devoted towards it. Utilize external resources such as online searches, journals, texts, and archived newspapers in answering these question sets. Be sure to give proper attribution by referencing and citing any borrowed work that you utilize in answering these question sets and follow the MLA or APA style for your works cited page and in-text citations. Utilize 12 point font, preferably Times New Roman or Arial. Your work should be single spaced and your ideas broken up into appropriate paragraphs. You may use 1 inch margins all around. There are 5 broad question sets that need to be answered. Utilize approximately 1 to 1 1/2 pages worth of material for each question set; therefore your assignment should be about 5 to 7 1/2 pages in length.

The 2001 Anthrax Attacks on the United States shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, also known as \”Amerithrax\” shook the nation while it was in a state of panic. The attacks took place over several weeks and started on September 18, 2001. Anthrax is a highly secured item so it was not known how a terrorist could have acquired such a sophisticated biological weapon.

The attacks came in the form of 7 letters and were directed at two democratic US Senators, Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, as well as 5 news outlets, AMI, NBC, ABC, CBS and the NY Post. The attacks resulted in 5 deaths and 17 injuries.

Initially the FBI suspected bio-weapons expert Steven Hatfill. Later their suspicions fell upon Bruce Edwards Ivins, senior biodefense researcher at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. They issued a search warrant on his office, vehicle and home. They later placed him under surveillance. The case against him was always circumstantial. The letters were believed to have been mailed from a street mail box at 10 Nassau Street in close proximity to Princeton University. There has never been any direct evidence to place Mr. Ivin\’s near this scene. The only possible link the FBI found was that the mailbox was close to a storage facility for the sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma. Mr. Ivin\’s was reportedly obsessed with this sorority ever since his days in college at the University of Cincinnati. This still could have been a coincidence.

The other evidence against him was that some of the letters of the words in the attack letters were bolded and may be hidden messages. Mr Ivin\’s was seen throwing away two texts, Gdel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid and a 1992 issue of American Scientist Journal, which both discussed codons and hidden messages. This theory that there were hidden messages in the letters was highly controversial and never definitely proven.

The last piece of evidence against Mr. Ivin\’s came in a dubious genetic link to the anthrax from his office. The FBI basically created a never before used method of tracing back anthrax to the parent source it was grown and cultured from. They concluded that the anthrax had initially been grown from the anthrax spores that Mr. Ivin\’s had control over. This account has been disputed though. The National Academy of Sciences\’ created a panel to investigate the findings of the FBI and \”concluded that the bureau overstated the strength of genetic analysis linking the mailed anthrax to a supply kept by Bruce E. Ivins.\”

Shortly before Mr. Ivin\’s was to be indicted by a grand jury for the attacks he committed suicide. It will never be known if he would have been found guilty of the attacks or acquitted by a jury of his peers. It will always remain a mystery as to whether he was the real culprit or whether the true attacker was never found.

1) Given that the United States can be attacked with a bio-weapon and the identity of the attacker remain a mystery, how seriously should we as a nation take this threat? Since no one was ever convicted for these crimes, could this embolden others to try and carry out similar attacks due to the apparent ease of escaping prosecution?

2) Given the danger and complexity of handling anthrax spores, what is the likelihood that a novice could pull off such an attack without having access to a research laboratory? Was the FBI correct in focusing mainly on bio-weapons researchers early on in the investigation? Could this have given them \”tunnel vision\” and prevented them from looking at other less likely suspects?

3) Since many of those killed were post office employees, how could we set up screening processes at mail distribution centers to stop similar attacks in their earliest stages? Is the current BioDetection Systems set up by the United States Postal Service (USPS) a good first start? Since anthrax is basically a living spore and can be killed by gamma irradiation, should all letters be subjected to this type of radiation in order to kill any possible anthrax spores hidden inside? How much could this hinder the efficient delivery of mail within the United States?

4) Many of the first victims were wrongly diagnosed with other ailments, or their illness remained a mystery. Is this indicative of a weakness in our nation\’s first response to such an attack? Could we be under attack for weeks by a similar biological agent and never even realize it until it was far too late?

5) Prophylactic medications are available that can mitigate the damage caused by anthrax if provided to victims early on. How widespread should this program be? Should all first responders have easy access to these prophylactic medications? American military soldiers are immunized against certain strains of weapons grade anthrax. The immunization process is dangerous though and some soldiers have died. That is why the CDC has not approved this vaccination program for civilian use. Should we look into creating a safer immunization/vaccination process against anthrax for all Americans or would this be far too costly and largely unnecessary?
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