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REVIEW - Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War by Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg, William J. Broad.
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Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War by Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg, William J. Broad.

Book Description

Deadly germs sprayed in shopping malls, bomb-lets spewing anthrax spores over battlefields, tiny vials of plague scattered in Times Square -- these are the poor man's hydrogen bombs, hideous weapons of mass destruction that can be made in a simple laboratory.

In this groundbreaking work of investigative journalism, Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg, and William Broad of The New York Times uncover the truth about biological weapons and show why bio-warfare and bio-terrorism are fast becoming our worst national nightmare.

Among the startling revelations in Germs:

  • How the CIA secretly built and tested a model of a Soviet-designed germ bomb, alarming some officials who felt the work pushed to the limits of what is permitted by the global treaty banning germ arms.

  • How the Pentagon embarked on a secret effort to make a superbug. Details about the Soviet Union's massive hidden program to produce biological weapons, including new charges that germs were tested on humans.

  • How Moscow's scientists made an untraceable germ that instructs the body to destroy itself.

  • The Pentagon's chaotic efforts to improvise defenses against Iraq's biological weapons during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

  • How a religious cult in Oregon in the 1980s sickened hundreds of Americans in a bio-terrorism attack that the government played down to avoid panic and copycat strikes.

  • Plans by the U.S. military in the 1960s to attack Cuba with germ weapons.

Germs also shows how a small group of scientists and senior officials persuaded President Bill Clinton to launch a controversial multibillion-dollar program to detect a germ attack on U.S. soil and to aid its victims -- a program that, so far, is struggling to provide real protection.

Based on hundreds of interviews with scientists and senior officials, including President Clinton, as well as on recently declassified documents and on-site reporting from the former Soviet Union's sinister bio-weapons labs, Germs shows us bio-warriors past and present at work at their trade. There is the American scientist who devoted his professional life to perfecting biological weapons, and the Nobel laureate who helped pioneer the new biology of genetically modified germs and is now trying to stop its misuse. We meet former Soviet scientists who made enough plague, smallpox, and anthrax to kill everyone on Earth and whose expertise is now in great demand by terrorists, rogue states, and legitimate research labs alike.

A frightening and unforgettable narrative of cutting-edge science and spycraft, Germs shows us why advances in biology and the spread of germ weapons expertise to such countries as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea could make germs the weapon of the twenty-first century.

Reader Reviews

I'm no scientist, but this book infuriates me, October 5, 2001 Reviewer: A reader from N.E. USA
How can any government including our own experiment on our own citizens. If all the information in this book is true; why the hell don't we stop this insanity? The evolution of warfare/terrorism will result in the destruction of all mankind. The agruement that if they have it and we don't doesn't wash with me. We have other weapons and have demonstrated our will to use them when provoked. The world is evolving; this is true. However with the help of technology, freedom, a strong and shared world economy, we can prevent a worldwide disaster. Jerry Furland's book "Transfer: the end of the beginning" is a giant step in the right direction to solve the social, economic, and geo-political problems of the first decade of the 21st century. Read both of these books and you tell me which scenario you would prefer.

A MUST READ, October 4, 2001 Reviewer: JaMES R TAYLOR (see more about me) from SAN DIEGO, CA USA
BEFORE SEPTEMBER 11 I NEVER THOUGHT I WOULD WANT TO READ A BOOK OF THIS TYPE.... WELL LET ME TELL YOU THIS BOOK SHOULD BE READ BY EVERYONE THAT IS INTERESTED IN THE FUTURE OF THEIR LIVES AND THE LIVES OF THEIR COUNTRY...... IF I HAD THE MONEY I WOULD BUY THIS BOOK FOR EVERYONE I KNOW SO THEY COULD READ IT AND HELP ME IN DISCUSSIONS AS TO WHAT WE CAN DO TO MAKE THIS A BETTER WORLD OR IS IT TOO LATE?...... NOT TO SCARE YOU BUT ONLY TO LET YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT REALLY IS GOING ON SOMETHING OUR GOVERNMENT SEEMS TO NOT LET US KNOW....... GOD BLESS AMERICA AND MOST OF ALL GOD BLESS ALL OUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY IN NEW YORK....

important work, October 2, 2001 Reviewer: A reader from Brooklyn, NY USA
I bought this book in the days after the attacks on 9/11, thinking that it might help me feel better to be well informed and to not fall prey to rumors and gossip. Unfortunately, it has not been a comfort.

Well-researched (though I checked a lot of the information online, and found that it had been accessible all of the time had we only looked for it), this is an excellent overview of the history of biological warfare, from the US point of view.

I appreciated the writing style .. while accessible to just about anyone, it didn't feel "dumbed down" either.

in reading some of the customer reviews, I was a little dismayed, though. People should be doing more practical research in the area of preparedness, and realize that gas masks are not going to save you if your city is attacked (unless you have a really good one and plan on wearing it 24 hours a day), and that smallpox vaccine you received back in 1972, is unlikely to give you much resistance at this point. This book might prepare you for the fact that an attack could happen at any time, but does not outline any of the precautions you can and should take.

Excellent book, September 28, 2001 Reviewer: Reviews (see more about me) from USA
Germs is an excellent book. What REALLY annoys me is that I keep stumbling across one particular reviewer (who has somehow managed to read and review 300 books in five months) who starts EVERY review with "As a crime fiction writer with my debut novel in initial release..." or "I'm an author of a mystery novel in current release..." or "As an author with my debut novel in current release..." or some such similar advertisement for himself.

I thought reviews were meant to be for a book (preferably one you've had time to read).

If I see him do it again, I shall vote against his review on principle.

By the way, Germs really IS a good book - and I HAVE read it!

Man's Propensity to Monkey, September 27, 2001 Reviewer: Dianne C. Foster (see more about me) from Newton, MA USA
Full of stuff you haven' t been reading in your newspapers, unless you go for tabloids, where today's serious papers seem to have converged. I had no idea that the Oregon cult led by Rajneesh/Osho had been so involved in subverting an election with salmonella. I had no idea of the ease with which poor nations or rich fanatics could turn the tables on us, until 9/11. But for some time, probably due to Clinton's interest, as described in this book, some people in our government have expressed concern about the potential for spreading deadly disease. I am left with the feeling that we had better be cautious about what we sow (in the form of 'scenarios' or lab cultures), for so shall we reap. But I know that applies to the whole scientific world, not just the West. The authors do not indict any one nation, they simply caution. I was vaccinated for smallpox as a baby. My children were not. The U.S. and Russia vowed to be the guardians of the last of that virus. However, according to this book, there are bodies which have come from the Siberian permafrost which harbored the virus. I don't doubt that there are more of them. With this level of instability, we must be mad to imagine the threat had passed. I won't even go into the nightmare scenarios about recombinant DNA bugs, with multiple disease entities described. How can we fight these spectres? It won't be easy. Barbara Tuchman's book "A Distant Mirror" , about plague and crusades in the 14th Century is good supplementary reading to this. What did Faulkner say? Both that the past wasn't past, and that man will not just survive but prevail. Read well. There will be a test.

Germs is an important work for those who want information!, September 27, 2001 Reviewer: A reader from DC
A quote, "I have met the enemy, and he is us,'came to mind after reading 'Germs.' I was quite familiar with nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC - DoD term) weapons after serving 20 years in top secret black programs within the DoD. Einstein once said, 'had I known, what would become of my work, I would have become a clock maker.' Had the Russian and US military spent the money they budgeted for biological weapons on cures/prevention for biological weapons, we wouldn't be in this fix. I have been reading about these things on rense.com for years. In the early eighties, Reagan ordered forty million doses of Smallpox vaccine destroyed that was being stored in Switzerland. We have only a few thousand doses of vaccine left, yet we have enough biological weapons to destroy the earth's population ten times over. The US has been the leading exporter of weapons for decades (tanks, fighters, radar, etc.). We armed Ben Laden and Saddam both. So much for our political leadership. You will find out all of this and more after reading 'Germs.' Every time I get a little paranoid, I put run neurosync on my computer and it gives me peace of mind. Remember, if politicians had to fight in wars, there would be no wars. 'Germs' is an important work, I highly recommend it to those who want information and not fluff.

Urgently Needed Perspectives on Global Threats, September 25, 2001 Reviewer: Robert Morris (see more about me) from Dallas, Texas
More than 2,000 years ago in The Art of War, Sun Tsu suggests that every battle is won or lost before it is fought. Hence the importance of anticipation and (especially) preparation. As indicated in The Art of the Long View, Peter Schwartz is among those who advocate that anticipation and preparation are even more important now than ever before. Recent and tragic events offer neither the first nor the last evidence of that. But first there must be recognition of plausible possibilities and then an understanding of what the probable implications and consequences of what each possibility may be. Miller, Engelberg, and Broad explain how the CIA secretly built its own model of the Soviet-designed germ bomb and how the Pentagon attempted to create a 'superbug.' They provide details about the former U.S.S.R.'s efforts to produce biological weapons as well as an 'untraceable germ' that instructs the body to destroy itself. They even suggest that, in the 1960s, U.S. officials worked on plans to attack Cuba with germ weapons. They examine the Pentagon's ineffective efforts to defend against Iraq's biological weapons during the Gulf War (1991). That is why I admire this book so much. Please understand that I am unqualified to comment on the scientific information which the authors provide and discuss. But even non-scientists such as I can grasp the nature and extent of various dangers identified...and their potential consequences. In this context, consider situations such as these:

' 'British authorities discover that the separatist group Mau Mau, operating in what is now Kenya, used a toxic plant to poison 33 steers in an act of rebellion; no reported fatalities' (1952)

' 'Palestinian workers claim to have poisoned a shipment of Jaffa oranges to Israel with liquid mercury; no reported fatalities' (1978)

' 'At least 66 people die after anthrax spores are accidentally released at a Soviet military facility in Sverdlovsk, Russia' (1979)

' 'A terrorist group calling itself 'Dark Harvest' drops off a package of anthrax-contaminated soil at the Chemical Defense Establishment in Witshire, England; the type of anthrax used did not prove to be harmful' (1981)

' 'About 700 people become ill in Oregon after a member of a religious cult allegedly used salmonella to poison restaurant salad bars' (1984)

' 'Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese doomsday cult, releases the poisonous gas sarin into the city's subway system, killing 12 commuters and sickening about 5,000; the group also experimented with anthrax spores' (1995)

This information was provided in a feature article co-authored by staff members of the Wall Street Journal. Miller, Engelberg, and Broad (staff members of the New York Times) are well aware of all of these and other initiatives which indicate that the threat of biological warfare has existed for quite some time. They explain why secrecy is essential to the success of the 'bio-warriors' who use such weapons as well as to the success of those who defend against them.

During the 56 years since Hiroshima and then Nagasaki, no other nuclear weapons have been used against an enemy (at least that I am aware of) but that possibility has always existed. Few nations can afford the cost of designing and constructing nuclear weapons. Few organizations can afford the cost of planning and then implementing the use of jetliners to obliterate buildings as well as killing those inside or near them. In sharp and shocking contrast, almost any individual can use 'bio-weapons' for mass destruction in nature and extent once considered unthinkable.

This book seems to have been written for non-scientists such as I who are deeply concerned about all this. Presumably it was also written for public officials, especially policy-makers, who are responsible for protecting cities, states, and nations. Those who share my high regard for this book are encouraged to check out other sources such as Anthony Lane's Six Nightmares. If terrorism in any form is to be defeated, all citizens (not only public officials) must first recognize and then understand 'the unthinkable' inorder to anticipate and then prepare for its multiple potentialities.

Real, nuts and bolts information about potential dangers, September 24, 2001 Reviewer: jcorn59483 (see more about me) from Indianapolis, IN USA
After watching the World Trade Center attacks, trying frantically to reach friends in New York and then watching the day's events unfold (with an increasing feeling of horror and disbelief) while worrying about possible biological and chemical agents that might have been released (thank goodness, a false alarm in this case) I knew that I wanted more information about the potential dangers that face our country. This book provides that information, from accounts of experiments with various biological weapons and agents, interviews with workers in the field and more. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to be as informed as possible and who wants to make whatever decisions are possible to protect their families and friends. I won't kid you- the book doesn't purport to say that all dangers can be avoided or guarded against. But it does provide the type of information that you may be seeking about what has been done to provide national security against germ warfare - and what still needs to be done - in our country and in other countries. You may also want to consider taking some common-sense precautions as well, precautions which this book should guide you to make.

By the time you read this...., September 24, 2001 Reviewer: seriously (see more about me) from Portland ME USA
...it's quite possible that this book's worst fears will have been proven justified. The authors are extremely well-informed, and have mapped out the recent history of biological warfare developments in some depth, based on three years of careful research for the New York Times. The problem is, despite ample warning, the US government has not treated this topic with the seriousness it deserves, relegating it to the back seat in concerns over nuclear proliferation and conventional chemical warfare (which is a second-best alternative, as all experts have realized for some time). The bugs are out there: The Soviets made enough to kill everyone on earth several times over. The Iraqis have plenty, too, thanks to the inefficiency of the UNSCOM's work after the Gulf War. Some 'favorite' bugs like anthrax and the extracted botulinum toxin only kill those they hit. Others, like smallpox, Ebola or Marburg Fever, will make the predictive powers of Stephen King's "The Stand" seem uncanny. They're "the gift that keeps on giving." This book will give you a new respect for Bill Clinton, who was at least awake to the threat. And new contempt for the pork barrel politics of the USA, since much of the money (billions of dollars) allocated to counterterrorism -- and biological warfare in particular -- has been frittered away on technology that doesn't work, and the high-priced but fatuous work of 'beltway bandits.' There's not enough antibiotics, there aren't enough trained staff, and there are few (or no) doses of vaccines for the threats. Read it and weep, is all I can say. If you can get a copy, that is. It's sold out everywhere I went, and I finally got one by bribing someone at Borders to give up his own copy

Real, nuts and bolts information about potential dangers, September 24, 2001 Reviewer: jcorn59483 (see more about me) from Indianapolis, IN USA
After watching the World Trade Center attacks, trying frantically to reach friends in New York and then watching the day's events unfold (with an increasing feeling of horror and disbelief) while worrying about possible biological and chemical agents that might have been released (thank goodness, a false alarm in this case) I knew that I wanted more information about the potential dangers that face our country. This book provides that information, from accounts of experiments with various biological weapons and agents, interviews with workers in the field and more. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to be as informed as possible and who wants to make whatever decisions are possible to protect their families and friends. I won't kid you- the book doesn't purport to say that we are in control of the future or that all dangers can be avoided. But it does provide the type of information that you may be seeking about what has been done to provide national security against germ warfare - and what still needs to be done - in our country and in other countries.

POTENTIAL HORROR AND MASS DESTRUCTION!, September 17, 2001 Reviewer: petersmaclean (see more about me) from Prince Edward Island, Canada
With the terrorist attack on the United States of America in the forefront of everyone's mind, "Germs" is an especially frightening book to read. The potential mass destruction which could be caused as a result of biological weapons is an incomprehensible, henious terror which threatens all humanity. The destruction of a country by a mass plague of deadly germs is unthinkable. No country, no matter how powerful or prosperous, should ever be allowed the development or use of biological warfare; it could lead to the destruction of our entire world as we know it. This is not to say a country should sit back and do nothing when attacked - not by any means. However, the killing of other innocent people by biological weapons is not the answer either. The world is already filled with enough racial animosity and hatred. We must stamp out terrorism and find world peace, but the answer will not be found in biological warfare.

This book is not an easy one to read when one contemplates the enormous impact biochemical warfare could have world-wide. From Soviet scientists to American government, this book contains information based on hundreds of interviews. The overall picture will leave the reader feeling very uncomfortable about what comes next in our world!

Unputdownable; A Must-Read for All Americans, September 16, 2001 Reviewer: A reader from New York, NY
Like all New Yorkers, I have been shattered by the events of the last week and horrorified by the loss of life. But once I read this book, which had crossed my threshold on September 12, I became even more aware of the dangers we face as citizens of this city, country and indeed, planet. The book includes surprisingly candid interviews and tales from America's "germ warriors," and holds a staggering amount of information on just what happens when germs are let loose -- as well as the government's long crusade in this frightening arena. As terrifying as the events of this week have been (who would have ever dreamed it could have been worse?), it could have been. This book educated me to the very real dangers we face. A caveat: stock up on gas masks.

Contagion, September 13, 2001 Reviewer: A reader from Virginia
Miller, Engelberg and Broad have written an outstanding and very readable history of the US and foreign germ warfare programs and of national and international efforts to ban biological weapons. Many people spoke more frankly than I would have thought possible, so that the book is very revealing.

Biological weapons are more frightening than poison gas, and more deadly than 767s loaded with fuel. Bio-terrorism surely poses a much greater risk to the United States than any possible ballistic missile attack from a "rogue" state.

It is likely that an attack on the US with a communicable disease or a natural outbreak of one of the emerging influenza viruses that appear from time to time and have a mortality rate of 30%, comparable to smallpox, could devastate the country and place the Constitution and democracy at risk. The authors make this clear.

"Germs" is not perfect; the authors get the story on the failure of the proposed agreement to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention wrong, because they reported based on only one point of view, and that a tiny minority one.

Nevertheless, "Germs" tells a frightening story, and tells it well and accurately. Anybody interested in U.S. national security, the public health system, and the efforts of our country and our adversaries to develop these terrible weapons must read it.

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