Fighting Terrorists & Unintended Consequences

By Erik Goepner

A retired Army general recently suggested that if U.S. military advisers can’t successfully train up nine Iraqi brigades within the next year, then either more U.S. forces must be deployed to Iraq or Americans will have to accept the Islamic State’s caliphate. The implicit assumption –that American effort is critical to stopping the Islamic State (or al Qaeda, or whatever similarly inspired group may follow) – is common. Yet, attempts to quantify the return on America’s investment of “effort” are rare. Typically, the debate seems influenced by either those who view any loss of life as unacceptable or those who say no 9/11 type of event has occurred since, so whatever the cost, keep it up. On the one side: We should never have invaded Iraq, on the other: If we had not left when we did, things there would be better.

A Rudimentary Assessment

One way to look at America’s effort is to tally the amount of money spent fighting terrorism and the number of military members who have been deployed to the fight. That effort could be compared to the number of terrorist events which have occurred. Recognizing efforts typically take time to have an impact, the money and manpower effort for this basic assessment lagged a year, so the impact of the 2001 effort was compared to the number of terrorist attacks in 2002. In 2001, the U.S. deployed approximately 17,500 military members to fight the global war on terror and the Department of Defense spent approximately $16.6 billion[1] to support those efforts. In the intervening 12 years, the number of service members deployed to fight the war on terror peaked above 200,000[2] before settling at nearly 67,000 in 2012. During the same time, spending peaked at $184.8 billion in 2008/9 before decreasing to $125.6 billion in 2012.[3]

Across those 11 years, America’s efforts to fight terror increased dramatically. Funding rose more than 600% and military personnel support rose by nearly 300%.[4] During that time, however, the number of terrorist attacks jumped 345%. Call it unintended consequences. Call it complex and nuanced. Either way, significant research is needed, as America’s efforts, albeit noble, do not appear to be delivering the desired results. Pouring forth money is one thing, but putting America’s sons and daughters in harm’s way is quite another. We need to ensure the efforts achieve the goal.

 

Image Credit: NBC News


[1] See “The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11” by Amy Belasco (Congressional Research Service), March 29, 2011

[2] See chart on p. 25 in “Troop Levels in the Afghan and Iraq Wars, FY2001-FY2012: Cost and Other Potential Issues” by Amy Belasco (Congressional Research Service), July 2, 2009

[3] See p. 4, “U.S. Costs of Wars Through 2014” by Neta Crawford, 25 June 2014

[4] See Crawford and Belasco’s reports listed above.

Terrorism in 2013

By Erik Goepner

An estimated 61% more people perished from terrorist attacks in 2013[1] than did in 2012. As the Global Terrorism Index Report authors note, those 18,000 deaths far surpassed the 3,361 deaths from terrorist attacks in 2000. Drawing on data from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism’s Global Terrorism Database, the report and the data it contains have much to offer.

Interested in how terrorist group ideology has morphed over the past decade and a half? Check out the following graphic and observe how the religious-based groups have come to dominate terrorist activity.

Terrorism 2013(Source: Global Terrorism Index 2014, p. 31)

Who conducted the attacks? Two-thirds of the fatalities were caused by four groups: the Islamic State, Boko Haram, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda and its affiliates. As the report noted, “extreme interpretations of Wahhabi Islam” were the key commonality among the groups.

Unsurprisingly, more than 50% of the fatalities occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria accounted for another 30% of the fatalities.  In total, those five countries bore the brunt for 82% of terrorist-caused fatalities last year.

Looking at the details of the attacks, half of them resulted in no fatalities. Approximately 40% killed between one and five people, while 10% took the lives of six or more human beings. The most lethal form of attack was suicide bomber. While suicide attacks had the highest failure rate (56%), they caused an average of 11 fatalities per attack as compared to two fatalities for all other forms of terrorist attack.

Last year, suicide attacks only accounted for five percent of all terrorist attacks. Of concern, though, the Islamic State conducted 58 of the suicide attacks. By comparison, the two most prolific suicide attack groups over the past decade—al-Qaeda in Iraq and Tehrik-I-Taliban in Pakistan—have averaged 13 and 14 suicide attacks per year, respectively.

As a final note—perhaps for balance, perhaps to recognize the role of fear in terrorism—how might we understand the tragic loss of 18,000 lives to terrorism last year as compared to the 430,000[2] who were killed in homicides?

 

Image Credit: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and Terrorism Prevention


[1] The authors of the report note that the manner of data collection for the Global Terrorism Database became more automated in 2011. As a result, some events that may have been missed in prior years would now be collected, possibly inflating numbers for 2011 and following years. In response, they modeled three approaches. For example, their conservative model indicated the number of terrorist events rose by 475% since 2000, as compared to a 689% increase for the upper bounded model.

[2] See the Global Study on Homicide 2013 available at http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/publications-by-date.html

Pandora Report 11.16.14

Its getting pretty cold outside, right? So what better way to spend your Sunday than catching up on all the best stories of the week! This week we’ve got Wikipedia as a predictive took for the spread of disease, a catchy new name for Chikungunya, MERS CoV in Saudi Arabia, some stories you may have missed, and, of course, an Ebola update.

How Wikipedia Reading Habits Can Successfully Predict the Spread of Disease

In my absolute favorite story of the week, researchers have identified a link between the spread of disease and the corresponding page hits of those diseases on Wikipedia. No, the Internet isn’t giving people E-bola, but page views seem to have a predictive effect on infectious disease spread. During the three-year study, looking at readers’ habits, the researchers could predict the spread of flu in the U.S., Poland, Thailand, and Japan, and dengue in Brazil and Thailand at least 28 days before those countries’ health ministries.

The Washington Post—“Official government data—usually released with a one- or two-week lag time—lagged four weeks behind Wikipedia reading habits, according to Del Valle; people, she said, are probably reading about the illnesses they have before heading to the doctor.”

The ‘Vacation Virus’

As Chikungunya makes it way through the Americas, awareness of the disease becomes more important—including the creation of a catchy nickname! The vector, transmissibility, and symptoms are similar to Dengue and with Chikungunya being relatively new to the western hemisphere, a story like this one may be helpful in putting a human face on a growing problem.

The Atlantic—“It might be parochial to call Chikungunya a “vacation virus”; however, as Americans prepare to hit the Caribbean beaches in the coming winter months, awareness campaigns are ramping up. Last week, the travel section of the New York Times ran a feature on Chikungunya highlighting how tourism agencies and organizations are both downplaying the scope of the outbreak and advising simple measures to deal with the virus. (Avoid mosquitos.)”

MERS Cases on the Rise in Saudi Arabia

Since September 5, there have been 38 new cases of MERS-CoV in Saudi Arabia, bringing the total number of cases in Saudi Arabia to 798. The WHO said that due to the non-specific symptoms of MERS, it is critical that health care facilities consistently apply standard precautions with all patients regardless of their initial diagnosis. Furthermore, until more is understood about MERS, immunocompromised individuals should practice general hygiene measures, like hand washing, and avoid close contact with sick animals. Nearly one third of the new cases were reported by patients who had recently had close contact with camels.

Outbreak News Today—“The continued increase in cases prompted Anees Sindi, deputy commander of the Command and Control Center (CCC) to say, “MERS-CoV is active and we need to be on full alert.” In addition, the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Health launched a new public information campaign in Taif in response to the recent spike in new cases of MERS-CoV in the region. Medical professionals will be made available at public locations with the aim of educating citizens on the need to avoid unprotected contact with camels because of the risk of infection with MERS-CoV, underlining the crucial role of the community in preventing the spread of the disease in the Kingdom.”

This Week in Ebola

Ebola is on the rise again in Sierra Leone bringing the number of deaths to 5,147 and cases to 14,068. It appears that the virus is finding new pockets to inhabit including villages outside the Liberian capital and in Bamako, the capital of Mali (eclipsing earlier success in that country at containment.) Despite these new infections outside of Monrovia, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has ended the state of emergency in that country. Unsurprisingly, the epidemic has imposed a financial burden on the affected countries including losses in agricultural trade and the service industries. Elsewhere in Africa, Ugandan health officials have declared the country free of an Ebola-like Marburg virus. Stateside, a new report from the CDC outlines steps taken in Dallas to prevent further virus spread and a third Ebola patient headed to the bio containment unit at the Nebraska Medical Center for treatment. Finally, 80 U.S. Military personnel helping to fight Ebola in Liberia returned home this week, and though none are displaying symptoms, they will be monitored for 21 days at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Libyan Town in the Hands of IS?

By Erik Goepner

In early October, the Islamic Youth Shura Council announced that Darnah, Libya, had joined the Islamic State’s caliphate.  Alternatively referred to as Derna or Darna, 80,000 call the city home.  Sitting along the Mediterranean, Darnah has a “notorious” reputation as a center for the recruitment of fighters for the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.  Two hundred miles to its east lies the Libyan border with Egypt, while Benghazi sits 180 miles to Darnah’s west.

Darnah, Libya

Relatively unknown, the Islamic Youth Shura Council (aka MSSI) is thought to have begun operations in March of this year under the banner of al-Qaeda.  The current rift between al-Qaeda and IS notwithstanding, the Islamic Youth Shura Council is now one of 20+ jihadi groups which have pledged their allegiance to IS.  With things moving so quickly and on-the-ground access for journalists often too risky, the affiliation between the two groups remains uncertain.

At the same time, Tripoli and Benghazi are purportedly under the control of Islamist groups as well, though those groups have no known affiliation with the Islamic Youth Shura Council.  In Tripoli, a federation of dubious unity, known as Fajr Libya, appears to be nominally in control, while in Benghazi multiple groups have also loosely aligned themselves, the largest of which is Ansar al-Shariah.  Against this backdrop of insecurity, Khalifa Haftara, an ex-Libyan general, now leads an interesting array of forces attempting to reassert government control.  He oversees Libyan military units, ostensibly under government control, along with assorted militiamen; loyal, it would seem, only to him.

 

Map Credit

Pandora Report 11.9.14

We’ve got some timely stories this week: just in time for Veteran’s Day, we look at military exposure to chemical agents in Iraq, and at the beginning of flu season we look at the newest suspension of Yoshihiro Kawaoka’s H5N1 research. We’ve also got an Ebola update.

Have a great week!

More Than 600 Reported Chemical Exposure in Iraq, Pentagon Acknowledges

With Veteran’s Day on Tuesday, The New York Times uncovered an unfortunate military oversight that could affect over 600 service members. Originally, NYT found 17 soldiers who had been exposed to abandoned, damaged, or degraded chemical weapons in Iraq. Later 25 more came forward, and after a review of Pentagon records, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said that hundreds of troops told the military they were exposed. The Pentagon says it will now expand outreach to veterans who believe they may have been exposed.

The New York Times—“Phillip Carter, who leads veterans programs at the Center for a New American Security, called the Pentagon’s failure to organize and follow up on the information “a stunning oversight.” Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said the military must restore trust by sharing information.”

Kawaoka’s Controversial Flu Research at UW-Madison On Hold Again

Once again, Yoshihiro Kawaoka has halted his research of H5N1 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Kawaoka created an altered version of the H5N1 flu virus to look at transmissibility between mammals. On October 17, the Obama administration said they would postpone federal funding for gain-of-function studies, including those involving flu, SARS and MERS. Roughly 50% of Kawaoka’s work involves gain of function, and he paused all experiments that “might enhance pathogenicity or transmissibility.”

Wisconsin State Journal—“The White House announcement comes in response to incidents this year involving anthrax, flu and smallpox at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. “The incidents occurring at federal facilities this summer have underscored the importance of laboratory safety, and they also prompted calls for a reassessment of the risks and benefits that are associated with research involving dangerous pathogens,” Samuel Stanley, chairman of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, said during a meeting of the group Oct. 22.”

This Week in Ebola

The Ebola ‘outbreak’ in Texas is over and MSF has confirmed the decline of cases in Liberia, however, Ebola cases have risen ‘sharply’ in Sierra Leone. While Kari Hickox remained in the news explaining the reasons she fought against quarantine, it appears, as feared, that mandatory quarantine for volunteers returning from West Africa is causing some to re-consider their commitments. Meanwhile the U.S. Army has identified five possible bases for returning troop quarantine and the Pentagon has awarded a $9.5 million contract Profectus BioSciences, Inc. for development of an Ebola vaccine. President Obama asked Congress for $6 billion to fight Ebola in the U.S. and West Africa. NBC News reported that “The U.S. is keen to be seen as leading the international response to Ebola” but there is another country in the Americas contributing to the fight—Cuba. Also in the Americas, Canada’s policy of denying visas for people coming from West Africa is called into question, and five American airports are learning a lot about infection control. Back in West Africa, Nigeria’s success in fighting Ebola has been attributed to their fight against polio. Lastly, on the heels of Mark Zuckerberg’s $25 million donation to fight Ebola, he launched a button at the top the newsfeed that links users to places where they can donate, too.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: NBC News

Islamic State Goes Old School

By Erik Goepner

Recent reports suggest that IS has employed chlorine as a weapon.  Though currently unconfirmed, these reports suggest that IS is looking to bolster its inventory of tactics, techniques and procedures. In so doing, they’ve gone old school.

IS’ first use of chlorine as a weapon may have been in September against Iraqi security forces and Shiite militias north of Baghdad.  Reports indicate the chlorine was delivered via bombs.  No one died, but approximately 40 reported difficulty breathing and heavy coughing.  One source said IS had taken the chlorine from purification plants overtaken during their advance.

Additional reports suggest that IS employed toxic gas in Kobani on October 21. Patients reportedly sought medical care for trouble breathing, burning eyes, and blisters.  A doctor on-scene ruled out chlorine as the cause, while assessing the injuries as consistent with exposure to an as-of-yet unidentified chemical.  The Guardian noted, however, there was no consensus or confidence from experts regarding potential causes of these injuries.

Five days later, an Iraqi military commander said seven chlorine filled projectiles were fired into a residential area of Anbar province, though no casualties were reported.

According to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), though, this is not new.  The implementing body of the Chemical Weapons Convention reported chlorine was already used “systematically and repeatedly” in northern Syrian villages earlier this year.  Western government officials assert Assad’s forces had employed the chlorine, though it is unclear if other groups may also have been responsible.

Historically, perhaps the most heinous and deadly precedent for chlorine-as-weapon comes from World War I, when the Germans dispersed 168 tons of chlorine during the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium.   Approximately half of the 10,000 allied soldiers in the affected area died.  Two days later, chlorine was again used, killing an additional 1,000 Allied service members.

What might the future hold?  The Nuclear Threat Initiative, writing in 2007 about chemical weapon fears in Iraq, noted that the worst industrial accident in history was the release of 40 metric tons of methyl isocyanate at a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India.  3,000 were killed and more than 100,000 were injured.  The author concluded that a “sufficiently large release of elemental chlorine may be capable of exacting a comparable toll, particularly if discharged in a highly populated civilian area.”  However, the author also noted chlorine is typically ineffective against a “prepared adversary” because its visible color and potent odor announce its arrival and the effects of chlorine can be mitigated with “simple countermeasures,” such as gas masks or wet cloths placed across the nose and mouth.

Image Credit: Stripes

ISIS and Chemical Weapons

The Washington Post has reported that ISIS used an improvised chemical weapon containing chlorine to attack an Iraqi police patrol in Balad, north of Baghdad, in September, injuring 11 officers. Chlorine is readily available in Iraq given its widespread use for water treatment.

The good news is that ISIS’s use of chlorine indicates that it has not gained access to more toxic agents located at Muthanna, Iraq’s former chemical weapon production complex, which the group seized in June. That complex contains two bunkers with abandoned and degraded chemical agents and munitions that were sealed shut with concrete by UNSCOM almost twenty years ago. Breaching the bunkers to obtain the material inside would be extremely hazardous and would not likely yield readily usable agent or munitions given their age and storage conditions.

The bad news is that this attack is probably only the beginning. ISIS is the latest incarnation of the group Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) which has had a long-standing interest in chemical weapons. AQI conducted a string of attacks in 2006 and 2007 that combined chlorine gas tanks and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Due to the poor design of these improvised chemical weapons, most of the casualties were caused by the explosive component of the bomb, not the chlorine. AQI stopped using chlorine-laced IEDs due to their perceived ineffectiveness and a concerted effort by US intelligence and military forces to break up the network that had been constructing the weapons. ISIS, like AQI, has demonstrated a willingness to engage in extreme levels of violence, such as beheading captured fighters and civilians and conducting mass casualty attacks. The use of chlorine or other chemicals by ISIS fits this pattern of escalating violence and violation of norms to maximize the shock value of their actions.

Given the large swath of Syrian and Iraqi territory that ISIS now controls, the inability of local forces to launch offensive operations against ISIS, and the unwillingness of the Obama Administration to deploy even small numbers of U.S. soldiers in a combat role in Iraq, ISIS will likely be able to continue carrying out such attacks if they desire. Hopefully they will not learn any lessons from AQI’s previous experiments with this form of chemical terrorism.

The Islamic State: Past is Prologue

By Erik Goepner

Current estimates of IS’ fighting strength range from 20,000-31,500—up significantly from previous estimates of 10,000. They control a swath of Syria and Iraq that roughly equates to the size of Great Britain.   And now, they are putting together a governance structure to facilitate the running of their nascent “caliphate.” Potentially, their goals may be as grand(iose) as enveloping the world within their so-called caliphate.

The United States’ strategy to counter the Islamic State, as well as the strategies of other nations and international organizations (e.g., the United Nations), continues to evolve. For America’s part, President Obama recently stated that America’s goal is to “degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.” The strategy to achieve this goal will include a “comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism” component, ostensibly led by America and involving a broad coalition.

This goal, and the strategy to achieve it, sounds eerily familiar. In 2009, President Obama’s goal in Afghanistan and Pakistan was to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda. In 2003, President Bush’s goal was to succeed in Iraq—“the central front” in the war on terror—by “destroying the terrorists” (as the first of three objectives he had in Iraq). And, shortly after the attacks of 9/11, President Bush’s stated objective was to destroy and defeat the global terror network.

As for strategy, is it possible that the recently announced “comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy” is not that new? For the past thirteen years, America has been executing what seemed to be a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy, at least in terms of where it was employed (e.g., Iraq, the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Pakistan), how it was employed (i.e., all elements of national power, such as diplomatic, economic & military), and with whom it was employed (40+ nations in the “coalition of the willing”). And after thirteen years, the strategy is nothing if not “sustained.”

While the strength of the individual terrorist groups ebb and flow, a primitive measurement of IS’ current power suggests the aggregate Islamist terror potential may be higher now than at any time since 9/11. Al Qaeda’s 500-1,000 “A-list operatives” around the time of 9/11 seem to pale in comparison to IS’ 20,000+ fighters.

The post-9/11 “coalition of the willing” has evolved into today’s broad coalition. Speeches from America’s political leaders suggest this cannot be, primarily, a U.S. effort. Yet for the past thirteen years it has been just that: America’s young men and women going into harm’s way and bearing the costs. It is difficult to see how that will change now.

The past thirteen years suggest we may have set our sights on the wrong goal. On the one hand, chances are high we will fall short in achieving this objective, just as we have in defeating the “global terror network.” On the other hand, we might achieve the tactical victory at a particular space and time (i.e., defeat IS in Iraq and Syria in the near-term), but at the expense of unwittingly creating the conditions that usher forth a more severe future threat. Then, again, now could be different, and the past is simply the past.

Image Credit: NBC News

Pandora Report 9.20.14

We are introducing a new feature for the news round up—“Stories You May Have Missed.” This final section consists of fascinating articles I’ve found throughout the week that couldn’t fit in the report. This week the round up includes the UN Security Council’s resolution about Ebola, ISIS using chemical weapons in Iraq, a surprising source to combat antibiotic resistance, and of course, an Ebola update.

Lastly, you know what time of year it is, flu season is starting…don’t forget to get your flu shot!

Have a great weekend!

With Spread of Ebola Outpacing Response, Security Council Adopts Resolution 2177

On Thursday, the United Nations Security Council met to discuss the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and unanimously adopted resolution 2177 (2014). 2177 established the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) and calls on Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea to speed up establishment of national mechanisms to deal with this outbreak and to coordinate efficient utilization of international assistance, including health workers and relief supplies. The resolution also calls on other countries to lift their border and travel restrictions saying that isolation of the affected countries could undermine efforts to respond to the outbreak.

The United Nations—“United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that the Ebola crisis had evolved into a complex emergency, with significant political, social, economic, humanitarian and security dimensions.  The number of cases was doubling every three weeks, and the suffering and spillover effects in the region and beyond demanded the attention of the entire world.  “Ebola matters to us all,” he said.”

ISIS Uses Chemical Weapons Against Army in Iraq

There were reports this week that the IS terrorist group has used chemical weapons in an attack on the Iraqi army in Saladin province. The reported attack took place Wednesday and Thursday in Dhuluiya, which has been under control of the group for more than two months. The attack affected approximately a dozen people.

One India—“Iraq’s Ambassador to the UN, Mohamed Ali Alhakim said in a letter that remnants of 2,500 chemical rockets filled with the deadly nerve agent sarin were kept along with other chemical warfare agents in a facility 55 km northwest of Baghdad. He added that the site’s surveillance system showed that some equipment had been looted after “armed terrorist groups” penetrated the site June 11.”

Vaginas May be the Answer to the Fight Against Drug-Resistant Bacteria

A naturally occurring bacterium found by scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, School of Pharmacy might be the key to addressing the threat of a post antibiotic future. Found in the female vagina, Lactobacillus gasseri is the basis for Lactocilin, a possible antibiotic alternative. This discovery comes at a time where the WHO has declared antimicrobial resistance as “an increasingly serious threat to global public health.”

Medical Daily—“This isn’t the only implication for the L. gasseri bacteria. Researchers are also hopeful to find similar-acting bacteria in different parts of the human body. “We think they still have bacteria producing the same drug, but it’s just a different bacterial species that lives in the mouth and has not yet been isolated,” lead researcher Micheal Fischbach told HuffPost. Even though the bacteria were harvested in females, researchers are confident it will have equal results when used in men.”

This Week in Ebola

It was a terrible week for Ebola, absolutely terrible. Above, we already learned that the UN Security Council declared the virus a threat to international peace and security, but that wasn’t all that happened. President Obama pledged 3,000 troops to fight Ebola in West Africa. The WHO said that the number of Ebola cases could begin doubling every three weeks and expressed concern about the black market trade of Ebola survivors’ blood. Eight aid workers and journalists were murdered in Guinea leaving many to fear that violence could stymy relief efforts and in Sierra Leone, the government instituted a three-day lockdown in order to help health care workers find and isolate patients.

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Wikimedia

Pandora Report 7.11.14

Highlights from this week include, vaccines, plague, ISIS, and smallpox. Oh my!

The Price of Prevention: Vaccine Costs are Soaring

For all the talk around here about anti-vaxxers, there might be a larger threat to vaccine preventable diseases in the United States…lack of vaccines or vaccines that are no longer affordable. In this insightful piece, the complicated story of vaccine necessity, vaccine scarcity, and vaccine cost is told through the doctors at the front lines. States require students to be vaccinated to attend school but the vaccines are hard to find. For doctors, keeping vaccines that may not be used or may not be reimbursed has become a grave financial burden.

The New York Times—“Old vaccines have been reformulated with higher costs. New ones have entered the market at once-unthinkable prices. Together, since 1986, they have pushed up the average cost to fully vaccinate a child with private insurance to the age of 18 to $2,192 from $100, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

 

Deadliest, Rarest Form of Plague Contracted Near Denver

It’s baaaaack. In the state’s first reported case since 2004, a Colorado man has been diagnosed with pneumonic plague. Pneumonic plague is the airborne version of the disease that can be transmitted through droplets from coughing or sneezing. In this case, the man has been treated with antibiotics while investigation of the source of the outbreak continues. Authorities think the man may have contracted it from his dog that had suddenly died and had been found to carry the disease. Many cases of plague in the U.S. come from contact with mammals and small rodents such as prairie dogs.

Bloomberg—“Plague in all of its forms infects only about seven people yearly in the U.S. The disease occurs when a bacteria named Yersinia pestis infects the body, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The difference between the pneumonic and bubonic varieties is that the bacteria takes hold in the lungs in the first case, rather than underneath the skin through insect bites. Both types are treated with antibiotics.”

 

ISIS Seizes Former Chemical Weapons Plant in Iraq

As the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) tears through Iraq taking over cities, they have taken over some other things, too. These include a science lab at Mosul University, where they took 88 pounds of uranium components, and a former chemical weapons facility north-west of Baghdad. According to Iraq, in a letter circulated at the United Nations, the Muthanna facility held 2,500 degraded chemical rockets that were filled with sarin nerve agent or their remnants. The U.S. government has not expressed fear that these materials could be used to create a viable chemical or dirty bomb.

The Guardian—“A U.S. State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, expressed concern on 20 June about Isis seizing the complex, but played down the importance of the two bunkers with “degraded chemical remnants”, saying the material dates back to the 1980s and was stored after being dismantled by UN inspectors in the 1990s.

She said the remnants “don’t include intact chemical weapons … and would be very difficult, if not impossible, to safely use this for military purposes or, frankly, to move it”.”

 

Smallpox Virus Found in Unsecured Government Lab

On the heels of accidental anthrax exposure at the CDC, reports this week highlight a concerning trend of lack of lab precautions when it comes to dangerous biological agents. Vials of smallpox, one of the most deadly viruses known to man, were discovered in an unused storage portion of a lab in Bethesda, MD.

Time—“The vials, which date from the 1950s, were discovered by National Institutes of Health workers on July 1, CDC said in a statement. The lab […] had been neither equipped nor authorized to store the pathogen, which was eradicated in 1978. Upon discovery, the vials were secured in a containment laboratory before being transported to another lab in Atlanta on July 7, where workers confirmed they contained DNA for the smallpox virus. There is no evidence the vials were breached, CDC said, and experts have not identified any danger to the public.”

 

Image Credit: U.S. Navy