Speculation about origin of COVID19 has engendered questions about weapons of mass destruction. A retroviral antidote to COVID19 may yet take about a year. Germany and United States have tested some vaccines. A drug Tamiflu, effective against Respiratory Syndrome and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, and Remdesivir (Gilead Sciences Inc), originally tested on Ebola, is being experimented on COVID19, besides HIV medicine Kaletra / Aluvia (lopinavir / ritonavir (AbbVie) as Covid-19 treatment.
COVID19 origin: COVID origin is shrouded in mystery, natural transmutation from Pangolin, bats, snakes, and what not. Or, genetic engineering, prophecy, and alien nemesis as reflected in a host of novels/books/films. American author Dean Koontz predicted the coronavirus outbreak in 1981. His novel The Eyes of Darkness made reference to a killer virus called “Wuhan-400” – eerily predicting the Chinese city where Covid-19 would emerge. Film Contagion 2011 predicts a global pandemic that jumps from animals to humans and spreads arbitrarily around the globe.
In Homer’s Iliad, the Greeks disrespect one of Apollo’s priests. The god manifests his displeasure by firing his arrows of contagion into their camp. The plague lasts nine days, brief by modern epidemiological standards. When the Greeks make amends and sacrifice sheep and goats to Apollo, the plague is cured. Thucydides, the Athenian historian, has a simple explanation for the epidemic: wrath of Apollo. The Spartans had cannily supplicated the god and he in return had promised victory. Soon afterwards, Sparta’s enemies started dying of the plague. But, probably it was not divine wrath but unhygienic conditions that caused contagious diseases. Athens was under siege, its population swollen with refugees, everyone living in unsanitary conditions – was at risk of contagion in a way the Spartan army, free to roam the countryside outside, clearly wasn’t. But this thought doesn’t occur to Thucydides.
Book of Chronicles, a Hebrew prose of text featured in the Old Testament, hints about COVID19. It contains a story from Adam, some teachings from Jesus and a narrative of the history of ancient Judah and Israel until the proclamation of King Cyrus the Great.
The passage being shared online reads: “Whenever I hold back the rain or send locusts to eat up the crops or send an epidemic on my people, if they pray to me and repent and turn away from the evil they have been doing, then I will hear them in heaven, forgive their sins, and make their land prosperous again.
“I will watch over this temple and be ready to hear all the prayers that are offered here.” This extract is interpreted to refer to the coronavirus, the current locust plague and the Australian wildfires which are still being contained in some areas. Nostradamus 2020 predicted three prophecies of plague that surprisingly sound like coronavirus. Novelist Dean Koontz eerily predicted the outbreak in his 1981 book The Eyes of Darkness.
Several films touched contagion: IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017), RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION (2007), TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016), CARRIERS (2009), OUTBREAK (1995). BLOOD MUSIC (1985),WAR OF THE WORLDS (1898), THE FEMALE MAN (1975), “WHILEAWAY”, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (1970), THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE (1927), THE WHITE PLAGUE (1982), and INDEPENDENCE.
Nuclear terrorism: What lends credence to threat of nuclear terrorism is International Atomic Energy Investigation. It recorded over 1,000 possible cases of nuclear theft and trafficking between 1993 and 2008. Among these incidents was reported seizure in Tbilisi, Georgia, in February2006 of 79.5 grams of bomb-grade 89 per cent HEU. These incidents actuated then CIA director to hint at possibility of `terrorist or subnational groups’ constructed a nuclear device stolen or purchased enriched nuclear material.
Is a `dirty bomb’ a possibility: According to international media reports (February 25, 2004), India reported 25 cases of “missing” or “stolen” radio-active material from its labs to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Fifty-two per cent of the cases were attributed to “theft” and 48% to “missing mystery”. India claimed to have recovered lost material in twelve of total 25 cases. She however admitted that 13 remaining cases remained mysterious.
Critics surmised that India’s report to the International Atomic Energy Agency was apparently intended to portray India as a “responsible state”.
It is hard to believe that radio-active material could be stolen from nuclear labs without government’s connivance. A few months earlier, Taiwanese authorities had intercepted a ship, carrying dual-use aluminum oxide from India to North Korea. The oxide is an essential ingredient of rocket casings and is, as such, prohibited for export to “rogue” countries.
A New-Jersey-based Indian engineer, Sitaraman Ravi Mahedevan was indicted in the USA for illegally exporting contraband , including blue-prints of solenoid operated valves for use in consturction of North Korean nuclear facilities.
India’s “bonafide disclosure” prompted several think-tanks and Ph.D students in foreign universities to analyse implications of radio-active material falling into hands of so-called “terrorists”.
Hyper-sensitive analysts postulated that the stolen radio-active material could be used in making “dirty bombs”. A new report by Henry Stimson Center, Washington lamented “…Nuclear and radiological terrorism remains a frightening possibility in India and Pakistan, and the source material for nuclear terrorism could come from illicit transactions of poorly protected materials originating outside the region, as well as material from within the region used for military or civilian purposes”.
The report even provided an “analysis of the effects of a nuclear accident and/or nuclear terrorism from a ‘dirty bomb’ attack on Indian and Pakistani cities. The Stimson Center warned that depending on location and yield, a small nuclear explosion in either of the countries could cause more casualties than Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The report, titled ‘Nuclear terrorism and nuclear accidents in South Asia’, also, cautioned that radioactive fallout from a dirty bomb in a major commercial center in either of the neighbors could have potentially disastrous economic, psychological and political ramifications”.
This report was provided to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee whose chairman Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) made it part of his campaign to extend the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program on nuclear proliferation to South Asia.
The report concluded that “although India and Pakistan ‘have established regulatory bodies to deal with the safety and security of their nuclear materials,’ these may not be sufficient to protect against every potential threat”.
Another report, authored by Kishore Kuchibhotla, a PhD student in biophysics at Harvard, and Matthew McKinzie, a nuclear physicist serving as a staff scientist with USA’s Nuclear Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, argued that “…three other types of events could prompt unintended escalation in South Asia: a terrorist use of RDDs (radiological dispersal devices); a terrorist detonation of a nuclear weapon; and the accidental explosion of nuclear arms — for example at military bases in either India or Pakistan… The report pointed out that while nuclear weapons themselves are closely guarded, all sorts of radioactive material could be found in research laboratories and hospitals that could provide the basic materials for the making of a dirty bomb…. Nearly 10,000 radioactive sources are used throughout India of which about 400 are particularly worrisome…” The report predicts that “…dirty bomb detonation in Karachi, New Delhi, Mumbai and Islamabad” could result in “casualties that at the very minimum would number in the tens of thousands”.
A hoax: It appears that the concern about the “dirty bombs” is overblown. History of terrorism reflects that “terrorists” are interested in symbolic targets (which could yield widespread publicity), not in mass killing (Verinde Grover’s Encyclopaedia of International Terrorism).
A “dirty bomb” is not known to have been tested by any country or detonated by any “terrorist” anywhere in the world. So, scope of its destructive power is shrouded in mystery. However, fall-out of the tested A-bombs is well recorded.
The major powers declared moratoriums on nuclear-bombs testing only in 1992. The pre-1992-period test scoreboard of the USA, former Soviet Union, France, and Britain is an explosion every 18 days, 21 days, 61 days, and 331 days (R. Venkataraman Nuclear Explosion and its Aftermath).
Cost aspect: It is much easier and cheaper to make a chemical or biological bomb than a “dirty bomb”. Though a “dirty bomb” has never been used by any “terrorist”, a bio/chemical bomb was actually used by Japan’s former doomsday-cult Guru Shoko Asahara. The Guru was sentenced to death “for masterminding the deadly 1995 nerve/chemical gas (sarin) attack on the Tokyo subway and a string of other crimes that killed 27 people”.
The cult’s quest for biological weapons was overshadowed by its chemical attack capability. The cult members were trying to develop botulinium toxin by utilising toxin on green mamba snake and poisonous mushroom spores,
Regarding use of chemical/biological weapons by “terrorists”, Professor Ramesh Chandra points out in his Global Terrorism (volume 1, page 27), “The US government indicates that these weapons are well within the reach of terrorists. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, ‘Terrorist interest in chemical and biological weapons is not surprising, given the relative ease with which some of these weapons can be produced in simple laboratories… Although popular fiction and national attention have focused on terrorist use of nuclear weapons, chemical and biological weapons are more likely choices for such groups’”.
Not only sarin, but also several other chemical agents like mustard, tabun, soman and VX are capable of dual use as pesticides and as a chemical weapon. Chandra (op. cit., page 30) points out, “chemical warfare agents ‘can quite literally be manufactured in a kitchen or basemennt in quantities for sufficient for mass-casualty attacks’. Therefore, the costs for a small-scale terrorist operation could be significantly less than $ 5 million”. Experts agree that it is moredifficult to manufacture Sarin gas, used by the “terrorists” in Japan, than mustard, tabun, soman, et al. To some experts, an effective bio-terrorism facility could be built for $ 200,000 to 2 million.
Cost profile of chemical-biological weapons vis-a-vis nuclear weapons shows that CBW will be the preferred option for both states and terrorists. An effective bio-terrorism facility in a basement or a kitchen could be built for US$ 200,000 to 2 million. A crude nuclear bomb would cost $5,433,000.
Researchers Peter Zimmerman and Jeffrey Lewis (wrote in Foreign Policy, terrorists can construct a nuclear device within the United States, which could be a highly-enriched uranium bullet that they could fire through a gun. As for the physics and computation of the device, a senior physicist with two assistants could be hired at a cost of $200,000. Metallurgy and casting would cost $270,000, precision machining and construction $230,000, gun design, assembly and training $230,000, electronics, arming, fusing and firing $150,000, other facilities $200,000, fissile material between $300,000 and $500,000 and transportation $153,000. The total cost would be $5,433,000.
Biological weapons, too, are easier to manufacture than “dirty bombs”. Viruses could cause smallpox, Venezuelan equine encephalitis and hemorrhagic fevers like Ebola.
It appears that disproportionate emphasis on mythical “dirty bombs” vis-à-vis chemical-bio bombs is meant to press and exploit non-major or threshold nuclear states. There being no universally-acceptable definition of “terrorism”, any state, individual or group could be dubbed a “terrorist”.
The problem of divergent perceptions about “terrorism” could best be understood by analogy with problems with negative numbers in mathematics. Example: Antoine Arnauld argued in mid-1600 that the proposition –1: 1 = 1: -1 must be non-sense: ‘How can a smaller be to a greater as a greater is to a smaller’. In year 1712, Leibnitz agreed that Arnauld had a point.
To control “terrorism”, it is necessary that no strong state should try to exploit a weak state, using “aiding abetting terrorism” as a subterfuge. In historical context, efforts to distinguish “terrorism” from civil disobedience, revolutions, crime, banditry, freedom movement, etc. have foundered.
The best approach: The best approach to control “terrorism”, nuclear or CBW, appears to be the one presented by Dr Ihekwoaba D. Onwudiwe (University of Maryland) in his The Globalisation of Terrorism. He used World Systems Theory (dividing countries into dominant/core and dependent/peripheral groups) to identify the “terrorism” problem.
Onwudiwe does not classify “terrorists” as crimainals or freedom fighters. But looks at terrorism as “consequence of ho the world is ordered”. He postulates, “There are dominant nations that control world resources and manufacturing practices, and which possess the ability to translate their economic resources into politcal and military strength used to maintain a world order that continues to benefit their best interests…They have the military might to enforce their will when challenged…Patterns of terrorism are strongly influenced by nature of the capitalist world economic system. …Terrorism is a response to the structure of the world system, a response to the global inequality that exists between nations, the only solution that will have any significant impact on the reduction and control of terrorism are those that restructure the world; that is policies that eliminate cross-national inequality and existing patterns of exploitation that extend from the core to the peripheral nations of the world. Military interventions, attempts at ‘target hardening’, or other forms of social control such as economic sanctions, may work in the short run to contain terrorism, but only temporarily. In the long run, however, these policies have been and will continue to be ineffective since they do nothing to remedy the conditions that set the state for terrorism: namely global inequality”.
It appears that “dirty bomb” is a hoax to exploit nouveau-nuclear or nuclear-threshold nations. Real threat emanates from chemical or bio-weapons. Solution to terrorism lies in a less exploitative world order.