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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Threat of (Use of) Weapons of Mass Destruction Still Lingers

    With the United States on the brink of war with Iraq there are students and faculty members that are trying to educate others about the situation in the Middle East and the existing alternatives to war.

    Distinguished Service Professor Lester Paldy from the department of Technology and Society is an expert on weapons of mass destruction. Last year, in the wake of Sept. 11 he presented a talk entitled, ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction: Tools of Terrorist?’

    The Social Justice Alliance originally sponsored the presentation, but given the recent turmoil in the Middle East, many on campus feel that this issue needs future discussion.

    His presentation was similar to the one he gave last week in the Student Activities Center. Paldy examined the probability that a terrorist organization might use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons to inflict mass casualties to achieve their objective. He methodically explained Iraq’#146;s capabilities within each category, offered his feelings as to what might take place, and presented peaceful solutions to the crisis.

    He explained that it is still relatively easy to obtain the raw materials and facilities needed to construct a crude biological weapon.

    ‘Bioterrorism is here to stay,’ Paldy said. ‘It is likely that the threat will continue’#133;because every person with a modest biology background could develop a program.’

    Although it has grown harder to obtain such materials in the wake of Sept. 11, Paldy believes that Iraq continues to develop a program and has done so since the end of the Gulf War. Paldy cited migrating Soviet stocks of biological weapons left over from a huge Cold War program as evidence of his assertion.

    Paldy pointed out that the great problem with curbing a biological weapons program is that much of the required materials can be obtained for legitimate work because of the dual-use nature of the equipment. According to Paldy, the establishment of front companies in Europe that are not only hard to regulate, but also succeed in providing a ready supply of materials to Iraq, has exacerbated this problem.

    He did, however, hint at a silver lining; it is difficult to distribute certain biological weapons on a large scale.

    ‘It is not easy to distribute anthrax in a way that the public health system can’#146;t handle,’ Paldy said.

    Citing the reality of a smallpox outbreak, he stated that it is still essential to strengthen the public health systems in the United States. His suggestions included having a public health specialist on duty seven days a week, 24 hours a day in every major city, and equipping the public health system with information and educating doctors.

    Although he then shifted gears to chemical weapons, he pointed out similar difficulties of distributing the toxins on a large enough scale to cause massive casualties.

    ‘It is difficult to envision a chemical attack that would kill tens of thousands of people by a terrorist organization,’ he said.

    This is because one would need to use one ton of a chemical agent per square mile to heavily contaminate a region. Paldy noted that it is unlikely that a terrorist organization will have access to such quantities along with a means of distributing a lethal toxin.

    Paldy finished his discussion on weapons of mass destruction by focusing on the most unlikely and yet, most potent threat, nuclear weapons.

    According to Paldy, it is impossible for a terrorist group to make a nuclear bomb from raw fissile materials because it is a massive investment that can only be incurred by a nation-state. He did point out, however, that it would be much easier for a terrorist to steal a nuclear weapon or the fissile material. He stated that there were six cases in which there was an attempt to smuggle known pieces of highly enriched uranium or plutonium.

    He pointed to the possibility of a radiological attack, in which an aircraft or suicide bomber would crash into the reactor dome, as the most likely event. He suggested even higher levels of security on airplanes and distributing iodine pills as the best means of combating this threat.

    ‘There is no way to prevent a [biological or chemical attack], but most are manageable,’ Paldy said. ‘The only way to deal with terrorist is trough knowledge and understanding.

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