Why some biologists and ecologists think social media is a risk to humanity
THERE WERE 16 pathogens on the terrorist’s list, written in tall, spiky scribbles that slanted across the page. Next to each one was the incubation period, route of transmission, and expected mortality. Pneumonic plague, contracted when the bacterium responsible for bubonic plague gets into the lungs, was at the top of the list. Left untreated, the disease kills everyone it infects. Farther down were some names from pandemics past—cholera, anthrax. But what struck General Richard B. Myers was something else: Most of the pathogens didn’t affect humans at all. Stem rust, rice blast, foot-and-mouth disease, avian flu, hog cholera. These were biological weapons intended to attack the global food system.
Myers was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2002, when Navy SEALS found the list in an underground complex in eastern Afghanistan. US intelligence services already suspected that al Qaeda was interested in biological weapons, but this added weight to the idea that, as Myers put it, “they were indeed going about it.” Later that year, he said, another intelligence source reported that a group of al Qaeda members had ended up in the mountains of northeastern Iraq, where they were testing various pathogens on dogs and goats.