In the wake of the anthrax letters following the attacks on the World Trade Center, Americans have begun to grapple with two difficult truths: that there is no terrorist threat more horrifying -- and less understood -- than germ warfare, and that it would take very little to mount a devastating attack on American soil. In Germs, three veteran reporters draw on top sources inside and outside the U.S. government to lay bare Washington's secret strategies for combating this deadly threat.
Featuring an inside look at how germ warfare has been waged throughout history and what form its future might take (and in whose hands), Germs reads like a gripping detective story told by fascinating key figures: American and Soviet medical specialists who once made germ weapons but now fight their spread, FBI agents who track Islamic radicals, the Iraqis who built Saddam Hussein's secret arsenal, spies who travel the world collecting lethal microbes, and scientists who see ominous developments on the horizon. With clear scientific explanations and harrowing insights, Germs is a masterfully written -- and timely -- work of investigative journalism.
Three reporters from The New York Times survey the recent history of biological weapons and sound an alarm about the coming threat of the "poor man's hydrogen bomb." Germs begins ominously enough, recounting the chilling attack by the followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in 1984 on the Dalles, Oregon--no one died, but nearly 1,000 were infected with a strain of salmonella that the cult had legally obtained, then cultured and distributed.
While the U.S. maintained an active "bugs and gas" program in the '50s and early '60s, bio-weapons were effectively pulled off this country's agenda in 1972 when countries around the world, led by the United States, forswore development of such weapons at the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. The issue reemerged in the early '90s thanks to Saddam Hussein and revelations of the clandestine and massive buildup of bio-weapons in remote corners of the Soviet Union. The book's description of the Soviet program is horrific. At its peak the program employed thousands of scientists, developing bioengineered pathogens as well as producing hundreds of tons of plague, anthrax, and smallpox annually. The authors conclude that while a biological attack against the United States is not necessarily inevitable, the danger of bio-weapons is too real to be ignored. Well-researched and documented, this book will not disappoint readers looking for a reliable and sober resource on the topic. --Harry C. Edwards