Excerpt from Cuba by Stephen Coonts, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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    Aug 1999, 390 pages
    May 2000, 480 pages

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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 aircraft.

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 stockpiles.

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 slaughter Americans.

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.

Copyright (c) 1999 Stephen Coonts. All Rights Reserved

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