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Pandemic series: will a terrorist group reportedly obtain viable bioweapon sample?

Like nuclear terrorism, bioterror presents possibility of an attack orders of magnitude larger than those using conventional means (or even unconventional but direct physical attacks such as the 9/11 attacks.)

We've rather luckily avoided bioterror attacks in the past, which have primarily been attempted using anthrax, a deadly but non-communicable pathogen. Attacks in the US in 2001 were successful but small-scale. (It has been asserted but not proved by the US government that these were carried out by a microbiologist and biodefense researcher.) A large-scale attempt in Tokyo by the Aum Shinrikyo cult in 1993 might have been disastrous, but it appears that the cult accidentally used an attenuated vaccinating strain and inadvertently but fortunately immunized rather than killed a large number of Tokyo's citizens with anthrax.

A terror group combining the resources of the Aum Shinrikyo cult with professional-level expertise and viable samples of bioterror agents could lead to truly terrifying results. A number of pathogens and biologically-created toxins have been evaluated for use as bioweapons (see this publications for a list and some background.) Some of these agents, as well as some others, have been more highly weaponized in previous bio-warfare programs of which the Soviet Union's was a prime example.

By 2019 will a credible journalist or government source report that a designated terror group has acquired a viable sample of any of the viral or bacterial agents listed in Table 1 of this publication or this list or obtained any of the weaponized agents from this listing, or created/obtained a usable supply of any of the toxins listed in the former table.

A viable sample would be one that could be used to generate more of the pathogen in the lab (e.g. with Anthrax) or could provide human-to-human transmission (e.g. for Smallpox). For positive resolution, the report must take place after question opening time, and the acquisition must take place at a time reasonable inferred to be not earlier than one year prior to opening time.

Update 6/27: added an additional list of potential agents.


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