December 2nd, 2008
04:10 PM ET

Imagine this: Ready for the WMD attack

Jeanne Meserve
CNN Homeland Security Correspondent

**See CNN Terrorism Analyst Peter Bergen's take on the WMD report tonight at 10pm on AC360

Imagination isn’t a good thing if you cover homeland security.  You mull over all kinds of threats, and spin out all kinds of scenarios.  But none has haunted me the way biological terror has.

The new report from the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction underscores the danger.  It tells us that terrorists are likely to hit in the next five years using a weapon of mass destruction…most likely a biological weapon.

For a sense of what that would mean take a look at The Great Influenza, a powerful book about the epidemic of 1918 which killed 20 to 40 million people worldwide.  In excruciating detail author John Barry writes about the disease and what it wrought.  Then imagine something like that in our world.

Yes.  Science is better.  We know much more about disease and how to stop it and treat it.

But our healthcare system is already overtaxed, and our society is much more demanding.  If illness keeps the utility workers and farmers and truckers and others away from work how will we cope?  Can we manage with intermittent electrical or water service?  Who will harvest the crops and get them to market?  If we can’t go to the store because the risk of contracting a communicable disease in a crowd is too great, will we have any food in the cupboard?

You see what I mean about imagination?

Much is likely to be made about the new report’s major recommendations…better security, improved international cooperation…but the very last chapter is titled “The Role of the Citizen.”  It doesn’t tell you to stockpile duct tape and plastic sheeting…but it does say we should all be better informed and better prepared.

You’ve heard it before…and probably ignored it.  Terrorism seems so far away, right?  Well this report says an attack with a WMD is more than a hypothetical threat.  It is something that could materialize in the next 5 years.  Maybe it is time to pay more attention?

Filed under: Jeanne Meserve • Terrorism
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Rockford

    After watching the news in India it's easy to see how a few can have an impact on so many...

    I have no doubt we will have an issue in the future...

    I think sooner than that we will see a test by the invasion on Georgia by the Russians... the Olypic invasion was a litmus test... we shall see what they learned from it.

    December 2, 2008 at 6:28 pm |
  2. Dulcie

    Here in Denver, I started seeing billboards promoting preparedness in the event of disaster or pandemic. WalMart distributed fliers. I found it rather disturbing, but I began to prepare myself, since I won't be part of anyone's disaster plans.

    I've stockpiled some water, beans, rice, staples like that. I started a vegetable garden. I even have 3 days of supplies in my truck in case I'm caught away from home.

    People might make fun of me, but I don't really care. I'm not sure anyone knows what the next disaster might look like, but I'd rather be ready than sorry.

    December 2, 2008 at 6:03 pm |
  3. Jen

    Oh, you're thinking in the wrong direction. It's not the harvesting or getting to market that's in danger. Those portions of the food chain are relatively isolated events. Everyone who owns a garden or cans their own produce will get along just fine for months on end. Cows will still be milked and wheat will still grow for months. Harvesting grains and produce can go forward.

    It's the other end of the supply chain that will break down. The end that depends on processed food and service positions. McDonalds can't work without people, nor can factories. The clustered city-centric way of life on the East and West coasts can't continue in the face of a thermo-nuclear pulse or a major biological attack.

    December 2, 2008 at 5:11 pm |
  4. Joanne, Solvay, NY

    Thanks for the thought-provoking commentary. We hear that we should not be "lead by" fear. This is something to fear!

    December 2, 2008 at 4:34 pm |
  5. Cindy

    I've read the book The Great Influenza and it is hard to imagine something that major occuring these days with all of our advances. But there is always a first time for everything!

    I don't think many people will take this report too seriously at all though. Because unless it's in our back yard why bother right? Or so most think.

    I am actually shocked that a terrorist hasn't gotten a hold of a bio-weapon before now really!


    December 2, 2008 at 4:31 pm |