Biological agents, the almost forgotten but enduring threat to national security


With the media, social commentators and the Australian Government in constant overt discussions over the cyber threat to Australia, a long and persistent threat appears to have been largely forgotten. Thus the biological threat in Australia of the early to mid 2000s has largely faded into political and public obscurity but for a handful of security services that monitor and attend incidents. Certainly, whilst a cyber attack would have severe consequences, a biological incident real or hoax will have many crippling consequences. This threat is ever-present and still occurs with the latest incident on 25 August 2017 against the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) that caused the Canberra mail sorting centre to cease work and evacuate; but it was scarcely reported (Sibthorpe & Pianegonda 2017).

As a method of battle, biological warfare has been a tool of war for hundreds of years and has involved complicated state research and simple testing programs to ensure effective use against an adversary. This method of warfare was reportedly first used in the 14th century at Caffa; an act credited as the start of the ‘Black Death’ that devastated Europe, the Near East, and North Africa. The ‘Black Death’ is considered the greatest health disaster in recorded history (Wheelis 2002:971). Centuries later, World War I saw Germany attempting to destroy adversary capability by contaminating animal feed using biological agents. World War II saw more die as the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) released biological agents in China (Frischknecht 2003). Since those historical events, biological threats continue in all parts of the world and shows that state and non state actors have long understood the deadly effectiveness of biological weapons well before and now into the 21st century (Riedel 2004).

Biological weapons, when correctly deployed, create significant problems for public health systems by challenging their ability to limit casualties and control damage to cities (Kortepeter and Parker 1999). The danger of biological weapons arises from the agents’ ability to rapidly spread to produce disease with a high mortality and morbidity. It has been argued that health is linked to state security and national economics (Feldbaum and Michaud 2010). Therefore, biological weapons can significantly contribute to weaker state capacity and state destabilisation, thus constituting a threat to national security. To ensure global survivability, the international community has invested significant effort in preventing biological weapon use. Although a lethal and complicated method of warfare, known agent biological attacks can be easily contained and limited in nature as some biological agents are self-terminating (Block 2001)…Click HERE to read full article.