The coronavirus: Blueprint for bioterrorism
Regardless of the source of the coronavirus, it is now a roadmap for future bioterrorism. The damage has been quick and enormous — much greater than 9/11 — and worldwide. The responses have been predictable and ineffective. And the cost of a potential weapon such as this is close to zero. It represents the perfect asymmetric warfare strategy, and there should be little doubt these lessons are being studied carefully by military planners in North Korea, Tehran, Moscow, Beijing and desert caves throughout the Middle East.
The conventional, and most likely, view of the COVID-19 outbreak is that it originated in Wuhan, China, near the most sophisticated Chinese bioweapons lab and then proceeded into the world from there, leaving people to guess whether it originated in the lab and leaked, came from wild bats or snakes, or came from an exotic meat market.
But now, or in the future, there is another possibility: an intentional bioweapons attack from a non-state (or, perhaps, hidden, state) actor, and that represents a serious threat that America must take seriously.
ISIS and other terrorist groups long have sought effective bioweapons as the “poor man’s nuclear weapon.” The most extreme terrorists have developed a military doctrine that a deadly global pandemic could kill a large portion of the world’s population but, most importantly, destroy the economies, governments and technical infrastructures of the world’s most advanced economies, and create a huge advantage for surviving cultures with large populations capable of living, or even thriving, at a primitive economic and cultural level.
These non-state (and many rogue-state) groups have access to bioweapon technology; could, relatively easily and cheaply obtain MERS or SARS or other virulent strains; and figure out human subject-based experiment/refine/distribute systems to launch an attack.
A clever terrorist strategy — and our enemies are extremely clever — to launch the current crisis would have been to send an infected radical Chinese citizen to carry the virus to Wuhan and launch it secretly. Predictably, the People’s Republic of China bureaucracy would move slowly to deal with it and then cover it up. It could reach critical mass in Wuhan and spread across China and internationally before there was any serious response.
Terrorists could, and would, go on to plant the virus randomly across the world with additional infected agents. These would be done in small, random patches (i.e., Italy, Iran, the U.S. West Coast, and so forth). It would leave everyone confused and guessing. “Experts” and media speculation would add to the confusion and panic.
All of this could be done with limited funding (less than $100,000 and fewer than 50 people — the fewer, the better for secrecy). The results would be predictable:
Economic mayhem: A little effort leading to immediate, multitrillion-dollar losses for the American market, far exceeding the entire economic impact of 9/11 in one week, as well as economic crises in China and elsewhere.
Political mayhem: President Trump would try to maintain order and reduce panic while the media and his opposition would diminish administration efforts and stoke uncertainty. The Chinese especially would be off-balance because of the huge hit to their economy and the potential political instability, not to mention quiet worldwide suspicion that an accidental leak from the Chinese lab might be responsible, and they would respond with more secrecy and suppression.
Social mayhem: Distrust of “foreigners,” hoarding, etc.
Even if the “threat” did little real public health damage, the economic and political impact would be substantial.
It also could be a huge money-maker for terrorists or other bad actors to pay for future attacks. Anyone controlling the pace, location and impact of the virus could short the markets in advance, and, literally, could have made trillions of dollars over the past few weeks. It raises an interesting question: Did any experienced, large-scale, short-sellers (e.g., China, Russia, North Korea) take a huge position over these past few weeks, probably clandestinely? Has the NCTC looked into it?
A coronavirus attack also could be a strategic distraction for a larger military or political play. For example, no terror group would take credit for an initial attack if, for example, they planned to release a similar, more deadly strain to create real panic and social collapse. “Experts” and the mainstream media would be lost and might suggest the original virus had “mutated,” again slowing effective response.
The above outline has been discussed for a couple of decades; intelligence and security services are well aware of this scenario. Today’s coronavirus provides a blueprint for how effective a planned attack might be. Our enemies are studying it. America needs to learn from it. Of course, it’s hard for normal Americans to even believe this could happen, which just shows how hard it may be to identify a real attack and react quickly if and when it actually happens.
Far-fetched? Perhaps. But consider this: If the coronavirus were a terrorist attack, it already would be, by far, the most effective act of non-state terrorism in the history of the world.
Grady Means is a writer (GradyMeans.com) and former corporate strategy consultant. He served in the White House as a policy assistant to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Follow him on Twitter @gradymeans1.