Friday, October 14

Apocalypse Now Soon

Charles Krauthammer has an excellent article in the WashPost today. Seems the wonders of science never cease, and neither does depth of sheer moral callousness on the part of scientists. Seems a bright research team got the Idea that it'd be just Skippy to bring back an extinct bug. Yessiree, Bob, they wanted to bring back something from extinction (because extinction is never, as Martha Stewart says, a good thing), and by golly, they did it.

They brought back, well, tell them what they've won, Johnny......

[Drum roll]

The Spanish flu!


Yes, Guys and Dolls, our scientific establishment, in their great wisdom, have managed to bring back a disease more deadly than the Black Death. How very special. Oh, with the best of intentions. As Atlas pointed out yesterday, the new bird flu is something to be concerned about.

If outbreaks are not contained, says Lamb, the results could be disastrous. "Spanish flu killed one in 100 people; H5N1 is killing 90-something per cent of those infected," he says. "We have no vaccine and limited antiviral drugs. The 1918 virus doesn't worry me particularly — we have a vaccine. But H5N1 scares the hell out of me."

Nature (Article requires subscription)

On the other hand, just because something even deadlier may be in the works doesn't necessarily mean it's a good Idea to try something a bit less deadly. Russian Roulette with a revolver is less risky than Russian Roulette with a belt-fed machinegun, but I don't exactly recommend the former.

And it gets better.

Now that I have your attention, consider, with appropriate trepidation, the third element of this story: What to do with this knowledge? Not only has the virus been physically re-created, but its entire genome has also now been published for the whole world, good people and very bad, to see.

Krauthammer, again. Think about that for a minute. Building a basement nuclear weapon is really a thing for science fiction. Frankly, if they gave Osama bin Laden's crew the raw materials (i.e. unrefined uranium, schematics of Fat Man and Little Boy, etc.) I doubt seriously he could pull off manufacturing one functional weapon. It is unlikely that any non-State actor could actually produce a nuclear weapon.

This is different.

Genetic Engineering is still an inexact science, but it is growing exponentially. Like many other scientific areas, what was once reserved to only the top scientists using hugely expensive equipment is now available to the consumer. The computer I'm blogging this from has more computational horsepower than the computers that sent man to the moon. Private, non-State actors have achieved Spaceflight. Sure it cost millions, but money is the biggest club al Qaeda swings.

The Nature article even gives the specific gene that makes Spanish Flu so deadly, and discusses the reasons why. I am not a Geneticist so the information is above my head, at least as far as practical use goes. That doesn't mean that somewhere out there there is not an Islamofascist with a PhD in Genetics who hasn't read the same article I just did, and connected the dots.

The barrier to entry for bio-terror is orders of magnitude lower than joining the Nuclear Club™. A few million dollars for a research facility, some fairly easily obtainable equipment, and a decent cover ("I am a respected Doctor, and I am a Muslim. I am researching a flu vaccine with funds, in part, donated by various Islamic charities. How dare you question my motivation or intent." Christ, the MSM would have a field day), and you are set. There's still work to do, of course and you might fail, but you aren't the only person working on producing the pieces for your weapon. As anyone who's ever field-stripped a weapon knows, as long as all the pieces are there, putting them together is the easy part.

Or, as Krauthammer points out, they could steal it.

When you are dealing with an enemy willing to die in order to kill, the only security is keeping them away. Krauthammer says that stealing the virus would be hard, but it really isn't, if you are willing to die and you have access to the virus.

Simply infect yourself, go home from work, and let the games begin.

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