Almost any nation, indeed, almost anyone with a credit card and two
thousand square feet of laboratory space, could construct a biological
weapon in a matter of weeks from inexpensive, off-the-shelf technology.
Years ago Saddam Hussein got into the biological warfare business with
anthrax cultures purchased from an American mail-order supply house and
delivered via overnight mail. Ten grams of anthrax properly dispersed can
kill as many people as a ton of the nerve gas Sarin. What was that
estimate Jake saw recently?--one hundred kilograms of anthrax delivered by
an efficient aerosol generator on a large urban target would kill from two
to six times as many people as a one-megaton nuclear device.
Of course, Jake Grafton reflected, anthrax was merely one of over one
hundred and sixty known biological warfare agents. There were others far
deadlier but equally cheap to manufacture and disperse. Still, obtaining a
culture was merely a first step; the journey from culture dishes to a
reliable weapon that could be safely stored and accurately
employed--anything other than a spray tank--was long, expensive, and
fraught with engineering challenges.
Jake Grafton had had a few classified briefings about CBW--which stood
for chemical and biological warfare--but he knew little more than was
available in the public press. These weren't the kinds of secrets that
rank-and-file naval officers had a need to know. Since the Kennedy
administration insisted on developing other military response capabilities
besides nuclear warfare, the United States had researched, developed, and
manufactured large stores of nerve gas, mustard gas, incapacitants, and
defoliants. Research on biological agents went forward in tandem at Fort
Detrick, Maryland, and ultimately led to the manufacture of weapons at
Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas. These highly classified programs were
undertaken with little debate and almost no publicity. Of course the
Soviets had their own classified programs. Only when accidents
occurred--like the accidental slaughter of 6,000 sheep thirty miles from
the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah during the late 1960s, or the deaths of
sixty-six people at Sverdlovsk in 1979--did the public get a glimpse into
this secret world.
Nerve gases were loaded into missile and rocket warheads, bombs, land
mines, and artillery shells. Biological agents were loaded into missile
warheads, cluster bombs, and spray tanks and dispensers mounted on
Historically nations used chemical or biological weapons against an
enemy only when the enemy lacked the means to retaliate in kind. The
threat of massive American retaliation had deterred Saddam Hussein from
the use of chemical and biological weapons in the 1991 Gulf War, yet these
days deterrence was politically incorrect.
In 1993 the United States signed the Chemical Weapons Convention,
thereby agreeing to remove chemical and biological weapons from its
The U.S. military had been in no hurry to comply with the treaty, of
course, because without the threat of retaliation there was no way to
prevent these weapons being used against American troops and civilians.
The waiting was over, apparently. The politicians in Washington were
getting their way: the United States would not retaliate against an enemy
with chemical or biological weapons even if similar weapons were used to
When Jake Grafton finished his push-ups and stood, the staff operations
officer, Commander Toad Tarkington, was there with a towel. Toad was
slightly above medium height, deeply tanned, and had a mouthful of perfect
white teeth that were visible when he smiled or laughed, which he often
did. The admiral wiped his face on the towel, then picked up the
binoculars and once again focused them on the cargo ships.
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