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Thread: The Changing Face Of Terrorism: Agro. Terrorism - The Low Cost And A ‘safe’ Terrorist

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    Military Professional Ray's Avatar
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    20 Aug 03

    The Changing Face Of Terrorism: Agro. Terrorism - The Low Cost And A ‘safe’ Terrorist


    By Brig SK Raychaudhuri, VSM (Retd)

    Terrorists are a highly motivated people, idealists and mostly societal psychopaths with a large majority of megalomaniacs. This psychological clutter extrudes a craving for instant international recognition of their self perceived ‘acts of valour’ or even ‘supreme sacrifice’. Consequent to media exposure, their acts achieve the grudging acknowledgement of the international comity of their ‘cause’, as desired. Thus, the terror cycle of acts of violence, recognition of the acts, ‘registration’ of their ‘cause’ is engineered. Sometimes, their demands are also met, making the terror cycle complete.

    During the Cold War era, terrorism raged unchecked owing to partisan international viewpoints. This added a dubious legitimacy to acts of violence and ‘freedom struggles’, resulting in the increasing number of Low Intensity Conflicts (LIC) surfacing the world over as a low option form of warfare. This also served the interests of the governments with military industry generated economies as also those that espoused proletariat revolutions. Regrettably, none cared for the sufferings these ‘popular’ acts of violence havocked on the common man or of the fact that they are making the world a very volatile and unstable place.

    Chechnya and the carnage on the World Trade Centre (WTC) brought home the ground realties to the otherwise terror and strife insulated nations of the First World. These sad profiles in violence are sterling examples of the horrendous effects that terrorism can perpetuate. It not only paralysed the First World with an unbridled fear psychosis, but in addition, the carnage at the WTC most amazingly brought their economies to the knees! It proved that the First World, as a community, were indeed soft states, unlike the Second and the Third World who have been weathering worst carnages at the hands of the terrorists. What has indeed been established is the fact that the US has become a prime terrorist target since the World Economy is hyper USA sensitive.

    Bush’s ‘War on Terrorism’ is apparently not driven by any newfound moral input. It is but a self-realisation that if terrorism is allowed to flourish unchecked, the US itself maybe at the wrong end of the stick with its economy collapsing like a pack of cards, resulting in unmanageable chaos in the mainland US. Likewise, Blair’s instant allegiance and the EU’s cautious endorsement are possibly causative of the awareness that their economies are interlinked with the economic health of the US. Thus, 11 September has opened a new international equation in world polity.

    The WTC carnage changed the world. It sounded the death knell to the attitude of moribund tolerance extended to ‘ideological warriors’, ‘freedom fighters’ and ‘religious crusaders’ by the First World who had existed in a terror-free matrix. Hopefully, it has debunked the theory that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, when in societal reality, all individuals and organisations who resort to violence instead of democratic modes to address grievances, are in actuality, social malcontents and terrorists. Opportunely, 11 September also brought home rather brutally to all concerned, especially the terrorists, that retribution will be hard and swift. Afghanistan and Palestine bear witness that insane or armed carnage has no place in the societal order. Even the success of the Philippines government in the recent military actions against the Muslim rebellious elements, after a prolonged stalemate, surely underlines the hidden hand of US involvement or at least a tacit support.

    It is an accepted truism that so long as there are peoples and governments, there will be strife. That’s historically axiomatic. Therefore, terrorism as a tool for signalling dissent and aspired change will remain no matter what the retribution is. Notwithstanding, it is proved empirically that terrorism cannot flourish without heavy funding for weapons and organisational needs. Nor can terrorism flourish successfully without safe havens and training space. Likewise, banking and money laundering are necessities to sustain terrorism. Therefore, governmental support of nations inimical to the terrorist target nation is but self-evident and. quod erat demonstrandum (QED).

    However, governmental support for terrorism will now have to be covert and labyrinthine to avoid direct linkage. Already, Pakistan, the mother of terrorism, is distancing itself from the fundamentalist religious organisations that it spawned in the form of the Taliban and the outfits that they have released in J&K, but there is no guarantee that there will be no further Pakistani involvement. This is more so since the Pakistani government has mastered the art of the running with the hares and hunting with the hounds as was testified by Pakistan joining with the ‘Coalition’, and yet at the same time, fielding Pakistani Army personnel in the defence of Konduz alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance.

    In view of the changed circumstances, bio-terronsm emerges as the ideal weapon for terrorism.

    Bio-terrorism has great potential as a format for terrorism since the payoffs are greater weight on weight, when compared to chemical, nuclear or conventional arm based terrorism. Biological weapons are a ‘terrorist’s delight’ because of its low cost production profile, near weightlessness and easy transportability. More importantly, it is practically detection-free since effects of a bio-attack would resemble a ‘natural’ health epidemic or an ecological disaster, there being no reliable and cognisable means for detecting biological agents released in the environment.

    Biological terrorism is further alluring, as it does not require high technology. Access to techniques and technology is readily available since it is a by-product of the academic and scientific world’s quest in making the world safer health-wise wherein medical, pharmaceutical and genome research information is freely available in the electronic media as also in research papers. The only disadvantage of biological weapons, however, is the factor of deterioration of the agents prior to and during dissemination. This makes it ‘chancy’

    With technological advancement, the survivability and potency of the agents and toxins is getting longer and stronger. This is making the sceptre of biological weapons real in the contemporary environment. To complicate the issue, there is a serious danger of research producing exotic strains that are highly antibiotic-resistant. The Human Genomic Projects have even greater potential to harm and cause immense devastation to mankind. While research in this field is attempting to minimise and eliminate susceptibility of different peoples, culture and ethnic groups to diseases,, yet the same could be employed to target specific groups of people by producing biological weapons, which are ethnic or people specific. Fanatics could, using such weapons, wipe out or maim a race inimical to such a fanatic group. Simultaneously, such groups could proselytize and increase members of their faith and, thereafter, take over the target nation democratically. It is no secret that to avoid detection, ‘missionaries are operating in the Second and Third World countries as ‘aid workers The Taliban had arrested some ‘aid workers’ on the, premise that they were proselytizing. The scenario is diabolical and apparently far-fetched and is not confined to any specific religious ‘groups. But then, till 11 September, flying aircrafts into skyscrapers was also far-fetched!

    Equally concern-causing is the growing accent on genetically modifying crops or . crops and seeds. Genetic engineering can open up a can of worms in so ‘far as the production of antibiotic resistant micro-organisms. These micro-organisms can infect crops and create a national disaster, especially in countries that have an agro-based economy. One cannot preclude the possibility of production of highly resistant super diseases or non-native organisms and weeds with GM crops. Therefore, GM seeds and crops are an area, which governments, especially of the Second and Third World, must view with calculated concern and not rejoice about it as merely a weapon to rid the world of hunger. It is believed that the First World has no qualms of ‘experimenting’ in the Third World countries to gather empirical data on their researches. In this context, could it be that the sudden appearance of ‘Congress Grass’ in India along with the PL 480 food aid in the 70s or the confirmation by WHO of the deadly Ebola virus in Gabon after the reported deaths caused by a mysterious disease often persons, be a part of a jigsaw in a ‘bio-terrorist’-Iike scheme of things? Even the plague scare in Gujarat of recent times does not convince, nor does the AIDS epidemic.

    Bio-terrorism can take three forms: -

    • Bio-terrorism against human beings.

    • Bio-terrorism targetting crops, or agro-terrorism.
    • Bio-terrorism targetting livestock.

    Within the ambit of bio-terrorism, agro-terrorism to include targetting of livestock, is a better and safer option. Agriculture, pisciculture, sea industry and livestock are important for, any national economy . Thus, it can be a potential terrorist area of interest. Bio-terrorism against humans, on the one hand, will invite immediate attention as was with the anthrax scare in the US after 11 September. Suspicion will vector on terrorist groups and they can be targetted. Whereas, bio-terrorism on livestock or agriculture will not have such a reaction, and may even be dismissed as an epidemic if it is not inflicted onan unmanageably large scale. There being various plausible scenarios for biological and chemical contamination of livestock and agricultural products, it will be immensely difficult to pinpoint the cause. At the same time, the economical loss and the social unrest caused through layoffs in the crippled sector of livestock and agriculture will be serious and of immense disadvantage’ to the governments while providing an out-of-proportion advantage to the terrorists. Some cases of agricultural disasters, the causes of which continue to remain doubtful, with the resultant economic loss and other problems caused to agro-related industries are indicated below:

    • In mid 70s, the white fly, Bemisia Tabaci, caused a major viral outbreak. This resulted in a $50 million per annum loss to the Dominican Republic.

    • In March 1999, a new strain of Hendra Encephalitis virus affected the state of Negri Sebilan in Malaysia. The health authorities had to cull over 800,000 pigs and vaccinate another 500,000 to contain the epidemic. It cost $12 million and caused the plummetting of pork prices, threatened social stability, led to over a hundred human deaths and undermined the confidence in the Government.

    • Crop losses estimated at $50 million was caused following an attack by Maconnellicocus Hirsutus, the Hibiscus Mealy Bug, in the Caribbean.

    • The Taiwan pig industry was hit with a ‘foot and mouth’ epidemic in 1997. More than 4 million pigs either died or had to be slaughtered. Taiwan lost its $1.5 billion annual export market for four to five years and about 50,000 people were unemployed. The total loss estimated was $6.9 billion

    • The British ‘mad cow’ disease caused a loss of market to the tune of $ 2.4 billion, adding to the trade deficit of$ 16.5 billion.

    Chemical and Biological attacks or alleged attacks are not a new phenomenon. These had been recorded as early as in 1346 when the Mongols catapulted plague-ridden corpses over the walls of Kaffa (Crimea) and forced the Genoans to flee. Some instances of confirmed or alleged Chemical and Biological attacks in the recent past are enumerated below: -
    • 1950, East Germany
    > In a Ministry of Forestry report dated 15 June 1950, the East German
    government accused the US of scattering Colorado Potato beetles over potato crops in May and June 1950.

    • 1952, Korea
    US Forces used anti-plant chemical on a limited scale during the last year of
    the Korean War

    • 1952, Kenya
    > The Mau Mau poisoned 33 steers at a British mission station using, what is believed to be, a local toxic plant known as “African Milk Bush”

    • 1962 —1970, Vietnam
    US Forces used four types of air-sprayed herbicides, including Agent Orange for the purpose of defoliation and crop destruction to deprive the Vietcong
    of food and places to hide

    • 1962 —1997, Cuba
    > Cuba has accused the US of attacking Cuban crops or livestock on as many
    as 21 different occasions. According to Raymond Zilinskas, the few incidents
    for which information is available, were:
    - New Castle Disease (1962).
    - New Castle Disease (1962).
    - African Swine Fever (1971, 1979 —80).
    - Tobaccd Blue Mould Disease (1979-80);
    - Sugarcane Rust Disease (1978).
    - Thrips Insect Infestation (1997).

    • 1970, Angola
    > On 21 July 1970, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola accused Portugal of conducting anti-crop operations in Eastern Angola. The UN passed a resolution on 14 December 1970, ôalling upon Portugal to stop CBW against Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau

    • 1983—87, Sri Lanka
    Sometimes between 1983 — 87, a Tamil militant group threatened to use foreign diseases in the Sri Lankan tea crop and Leaf Curl to infect rubber.

    • 22 October 1997, Bethlehem, Israel
    > Palestinian news sources reported that Israeli settle?s from Gosh Etzion sprayed a chemical on Arab grape farms in Ertas and Khader villages South.
    of Bethlehem, and ruined hundreds of grapevine trees and 17,000 metric
    tons of grapes.

    • 01 Jun 2000 West Bank, Israel
    > Palestine news sources reported that Israeli settlers from the Efrat settlement on the West Bank had deliberately released sewer water into agricultural fields maintained by Palestinian settlers in the village of Khadder, near Bethlehem. According to local farmers, the release of the wastewater was part of an annual tradition designed to force the Palestinian farmers off their land”.

    Biological weapon development, confined to just four nations in the mid-70s, is now estimated to be available with 17 nations’ and not all of these have ratified any protocol on Chemical and Biological Warfare (CBW). Therefore, the potential of CBW weapons fir its way to unauthorised elements covertly or overtly from the CBW facilities of these nations is alive and real. This apart, the tremendous material available as published research papers and on the electronic medm adds to the scare factor. That they have not already found their way to bio-terrorist and agro-terrorist organisations, one cannot definitely say. In fact, one is still in wonderment as to what actually caused bio- and agro-based catastrophes likethe British ‘mad cow’ disease or the Malaysian and the Taiwanese swine disasters. While there is no substantive proof to believe these were man-made terrorist-driven disasters, yet there is no substantive proof to disbelieve the same too. Indeed, if a nation like the UK, with stringent food regulations, can be saddled with a livestock disaster of the magnitude of the ‘mad cow’ disease, then it makes the Second and the Third World countries, with their lackadaisical public health organisations, immensely vulnerable.

    Like in humans, over-medication and over-protective vaccinations have reduced the immunity in animals. In fact, the immunity in animals has reduced substantially. Over the years, owing to intensive antibiotic and steroid programmes and husbandry changes, it has made farm animals more disease-prone. These biological changes and the intensive way the animals are bred and reared, have also added to the stress factor amongst exposed stoëk and have reduced their tolerance to bacterial- and viral-infections. Therefore, it is easy to infect’ livestock through the introduction of pathogenic organisms via airborne or entenc means. As outbreak of diseases amongst animals tend to spread faster than humans, devastation of economies can be achieved by a terrorist organisation in a cognisably satisfying timeframe.

    While targetting of livestock will attract attention since they are live creatures, attacks on crops will not elicit the same psychological reaction. In a biological catastrophe, food will be made available by other nations ‘of the world but at a premium — the quid quo pro be either political or economic. Thereby, the government of the nation attacked would suffer humiliation for poor agriculture management since the cause of the disaster ip facto would be attributed to natural reasons. This, in turn, would reduce the confidence in the government and lead to political instability and chaos, apart from economic ruination.

    Extraordinary as it may seem, agro-terrorism is optimally simple and technically suspicion free. Crops require a particular soil condition and specific climatic conditions. They are also susceptible to diseases and have varying sensitivity to plant pathogens or attacks by pests. The plant pathogens, in turn, have different strains each having varying degrees of contagion to individual crops. This, a terrorist or a terrorist organisation could isolate and disseminate suitable disease strains to infect and destroy a particular crop.

    There can be various methods to infect crops. Aerial crop-dusting is perhaps the mode wherein the maximum payoffs can be obtained in minimum time. A legitimate crop- dusting operation can selectively spread plant pathogens to destroy crops. This would ensure that there is no suspicion and yet achieve the disastrous effect desired. Another scenario could be that, along with crop-dusting, anti-human bio-agents can also be released to the atmosphere. The resultant ecological and medical disaster would create panic, cause economic damage, generate a public health disaster as also induce a lack of confidence in the government. The terrorists’ aim would thereby be fulfilled without attracting suspicion. The panic and manhunt, in the US and Europe, for Muslims training to fly aeroplanes, especially crop- dusting aircrafts, is a case in point wherein this form of terrorism was already manifested on the agenda of Osama bin Laden.

    Even simpler, with the least possibility of attracting attention, is the poisoning of the soil with root and lower stem diseases. This is not implausible since the agricultural working hands come from the lower end of society and are miserably paid. The correct ‘inducement’ could ensure that this becomes a reality.

    The most elementary in agro-terrorism is the mode wherein one could merely walk through fields with fungal-infected clothing and cause an agricultural catastrophe. It is the simplest because fungal spores do not require life-support cultures for their transportation, unlike bacteria and viruses.
    GM crops is another medium through which agro-terrorism can be perpetuated. These crops can carry genetically modified pathogens, which while not affecting the GM crops, are released into the environment to cross-pollinate and destroy other non-GM crops. Even better would be such cross-pollination of non-GM crops as to impact sterilisation of seeds that are required for further crops. The last stated option would be the most diabolically cunning since no one would be able to attribute accountability when the seeds do not germinate. Such a calamity would be attributed to a poor variety of seed. In Second and Third World countries, poor seed variety is normal owing to rampant corruption in their distribution.

    Thus, it will be observed that bio-terrorism, with agro-terrorism in particular, is practically non-detectable or non-attributable to any individual or an organisation since accurate detection procedures are still to be developed. It is also attractive since bio-terrorist attacks have a gestation time wherein the perpetuator can escape the scene, and once detected it can be attributed to a natural or an ecological calamity. Therefore, as a terrorist’s weapon, bio-terrorism is a possibility that is not so remote and requires serious thought and preparation to counter it.

    Detection of a bio-terrorist attack is immensely difficult. However, bio-robots are being developed. These micro-gadgets are being designed to carry out tasks in a single operation, such as DNA processing, screening of blood samples, scans for the presence and identification of disease genes and monitoring of genetic cell activity that would require a host of laboratory technicians to do. Likewise, experiments are under way on bio-sensors using fibre optics and electrochemical devices that will detect organisms in clinical, food technology and military applications. They are expected to not only identify bio-agents but also give real-time information about the presence of toxins and other similar threat. Tissue based bio-sensors are already available to provide, to some extent, reliable alerts and assessments of human health risks in countering bio-terrorism.

    It may be argued that the terrorists and their organisations desire instant recognition and attributability so that their cause gets the correct publicity, thereby pressurising the world comity in accepting their demands It may also be argued that bio-terrorism being non traceable to the source of the attack, would defeat the purpose of the attack. .While that maybe a truism, terrorist organisations could selectively ‘leak’ attributability to their organisation and thereafter vehemently deny the same Hence, they could ensure recognition of their cause and yet not invite any retribution since it would be morally incorrect without definitive proof to target such organisations. They would have achieved more than through visible acts of the classical form of terrorism since psychologically, the unknown is more feared than the known
    The payoffs of a bio-attack are spectacular. Any bio-attack will create a fear psychosis of an immense magnitude, as was experienced in the US apropos the anthrax attack and in the UK after the “mad cow” crisis. No government has a cognizable response mechanism currently to take on a biological crisis. However, plans and technological developments to counter bio-terrorism are afoot. The US is already developing a response strategy and developing monitoring technologies for the control of such weapons.

    It is essential in the interim to ensure a tolerably foolproof control, monitoring and reporting system. Some remedies and actions that should be introduced are as below:

    • . There has to be a greater social awareness to this type of a threat. This could be propagated through the print and electronic media, with due mechanism incorporated so as not to create a fear psychosis.
    • It must be made mandatory through law to report outbreak of diseases not only of humans, but also of animals and plant. This is more essential for countries like India where the complacency towards community health is starkly visible.
    • Public health organisations should be made an All India Service and stringent selection procedures adopted to ensure higher standards of the staff.
    • There must be governmental apex body at the State and the Centre, which synergizes all departments to act in consonance to contain and eradicate any bio-threat. Ideally, to cut the bureaucratic maze, the District Magistrate (DM) should be the apex personality, with all assisting agencies put under his control. The DM should be empowered to report only to the apex body of his state, and to the apex body at the centre. The state and the centre apex bodies should be composed of the Chief Minister at the State and the Prime Minister at the Centre levels respectively along with the heads of the ministries involved in combating the threat.
    • RNA-based signatures and structural templates through which all pathogens can be identified should be available at the national level, including a database of virtual pathogenic molecules responding to the bacterial signature templates.
    • .Education and training on the action to be undertaken on detection of a bio threat, should be imparted to the public health workers, the Armed Forces, Police, Home Guards and the NCC.
    • Development of protective clothing against CBW.

    11 September has forewarned the world of the diabolical and insane levels that terrorists can achieve. Therefore, it is time that the world attention is focussed to this threat and means to avoid, detect, monitor and report internationally must be put in place at the earliest. Narrow nationalism has no place since the environment has no fixed boundaries. To be India specific, we are an emerging power in South Asia and South East Asia, and our secular identification is a potent weapon in a world of narrow ethnic and religious divide. Therefore, we are a threat economically, politically and socially to many a religiously bigoted as also hegemony-aspiring country. In a scenario where acts of violence as a terrorist’s weapon being strangulated, bio-terrorism is but axiomatic. India has to shed her fatalist slumber that was experienced during the Bombay Blast. Pakistan, in spite of her pious protestations and frequent changes of government, will continue with her Machiavellian policies that are Indo-centric. Therefore, we must gear ourselves to counter new modes of terrorism including bio-terrorism and agro-terrorism.

    We must prepare or we will perish.

    1. Hmdu,Nov23, 2001.
    2. Deccan Chronicle, “West Send More Missionaries to East”. 4 December 2001.
    3. Times of India, “WHO Confirms One Ebola Case in Gabon” 10 Dec01.
    4. The Industrial Colleg of Armed Forces, Industrial Studies 2000 Agribusiness.
    5. Stockholm InternationaU Research Institute, The Problem of Chemical and Biological
    Warfare, Vol.1 (NY: Humanities Press, 1971), p
    6. Ibid, p163 (Footnote 27).
    7. PW Thorold, “Suspected Malicious Poisoning”. Journal of the South African Veterinary
    Medical Association, 24 December 1953, pp —217.
    8. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, “The Problem of Chemical and
    Biological warfare, VolI” (NY: Humanities Press, 1971), pp
    9. Ibid,p211.
    10. Shabatai Zvi (translator) “Israelis Settlers Destroys 17,000 Tons of Grapes”. Al Ayyam, 23
    Octotber 1997.
    11. Palestine Information Network, “Settlers Pump Sewerage Water into Palestine Groves”. 21
    June 2000.
    12. Cole CA [ “The Spectre of Biological Weapons Scientific American 275:pp 60-65;
    and “The Eleventh Plague — the Politics of Bbiological and Chemical Warfare”, ed. Cole LA, WH
    Freeman and Company, New York, p289.
    13. New York Academy of Sciences(1998), “Technology and Arms Control for Weapons of
    Mass Destruction”, ed. Raymond SU, publ. New York Academy of Sciences, New York, USA, p45.
    14. Ecker D and Griffey R {1998} Drugs to Protect Against Engineered Biological Warfare.

    March 2002
    Last edited by Ray; 22 Jan 07, at 15:54.

    "Some have learnt many Tricks of sly Evasion, Instead of Truth they use Equivocation, And eke it out with mental Reservation, Which is to good Men an Abomination."

    I don't have to attend every argument I'm invited to.


  2. #2
    Military Professional Ray's Avatar
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    20 Aug 03
    Please note the above article was published early 2002.

    "Some have learnt many Tricks of sly Evasion, Instead of Truth they use Equivocation, And eke it out with mental Reservation, Which is to good Men an Abomination."

    I don't have to attend every argument I'm invited to.


  3. #3
    Dirty Kiwi Senior Contributor
    Join Date
    10 Nov 04
    Te Whanganui a-Tara, Te Ika a Maui, Aotearoa
    There's a reason why we fine anyone found with as much as an apple core or honey sandwich in their possession when they enter New Zealand.
    Even so we've recently 'acquired' a moth which eats our pine tree crops, a bee mite which destroys our bees, and all sorts of grape vine bacteria......
    It's only a matter of time before somebody successfully gets foot and mouth into the country.

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