MORE STUFF TO BE WORRIED ABOUT: The collapse of Saddam Hussein’s biological-weapons threat has caused a lot of people to relax on the question of biological weapons generally. But in fact there’s plenty to worry about. I’ve already linked to Paul Boutin’s “Biowar for Dummies” piece, but I just got off the phone with Jason Pontin, editor of Technology Review, regarding new discoveries about the old Soviet bioweapons program. They have a big article coming out tomorrow on this topic — I’ve seen an advance copy, and it’s quite scary — but there’s a larger lesson. Not only do we have to worry about the hangover from old Soviet programs, but they also serve as a warning.
“That’s the essence of our story,” said Pontin. “That whatever the Soviet Union did at enormous difficulty and expense, in principle can be done cheaply and easily with modern technology.” What’s more, it’s technolgy that is “unregulated and not easy to regulate — these are the common tools of biotechnology” today.
I’ll have more on this in my TCS Daily column, and I’ll post links to the Technology Review story when it’s up. But this certainly seems like a reason to think harder about the sort of “Manhattan Project” for biodefense against threats both natural and artificial that Ray Kurzweil and Senator Bill Frist have been backing.
And to belabor a point, yes, this is a downside to the Army of Davids, and yes, I do talk about that in the book.