Bioviolence: Preventing Biological Terror and Crime

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Bioviolence is the ultimate act of terror. The dangers are speedily accelerating, and too little is being done to prevent it. This book describes how diseases such as smallpox, anthrax, or ebola might be used for hostile purposes. It portrays developers of disease weapons and who may have them now, including rogue States and groups such as Al-Qaeda. It formulates a strategy for law enforcers, scientists, and public health officials to prevent intentional disease. Nations and international organizations, especially the United Nations, must coordinate their efforts to improve humanity’s security. Altogether the threat of bioviolence is an acute challenge for law and governance. This book explains how to meet that challenge.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Professor Kellman’s book is a clarion call, serving both as an accessible text for understanding this complicated subject and as a strategy for policies and actions that governments can take today. By raising awareness of the spectre of bioterrorism, this book should encourage policy action on the part of world leaders."
Ronald K. Noble, Secretary General, Interpol

"Professor Kellman has written a book that is both frightening and hopeful. Frightening in that he presents a compelling case for why bioviolence is a threat for the entire global community. Hopeful because he lays out a strategic response to this threat and the implications of that strategy for the larger questions of how we govern ourselves. This book rises above the usual pedestrian prescriptions of meaningless color-coded warnings, and it deserves to be read far beyond the usual circle of security experts. It deserves to be argued and taken up by scientists, public health experts, lawyers, ethicists, and, most of all, politicians who are willing to raise their eyes above the next election."
David Kay, Former chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq; Senior Research Fellow, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies

"Professor Kellman's well researched Bioviolence is a highly persuasive analysis by a real expert of the threat of biological weapons and how the world community must respond. This book, thoroughly grounded in international law and cooperation, should be read by anyone interested in national security issues."
Ambassador Tom Graham, Former Special Representative of the President for Arms Control and Nonproliferation; Chairman of Thorium Power Ltd and the Cypress Fund for Peace & Security

"In Bioviolence, Barry Kellman has thrown down a gauntlet to those who are concerned about the possible deliberate misuse of the life sciences by those who would harm humanity. He has done so by forcefully reminding us of basic truths that we have too often forgotten, challenging assumptions that have become too comfortable, and offering provocative proposals that, while controversial, require us to address tough questions. His call for a new strategy that matches the revolutionary nature of the problem we confront demands that we acknowledge confounding dilemmas in our search for an effective, multifaceted response to a multidimensional challenge."
Michael Moodie, Independent Bio-security expert; Former Assistant Director, U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency

"This is an elegantly written, prescient, comprehensive, and timely book on one of the most vital topics of our time. Professor Kellman has done a masterful job of explaining the challenges of addressing the crime of ‘bioviolence,’ and proposes dozens of important and practical steps, many controversial, to deal with this threat to civilization. He creatively argues that the present international piecemeal response is impotent in the face of this threat. A new international legal order and paradigm is required. This is a ‘must read’ for public officials and private citizens."
Guy B. Roberts, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Weapons of Mass Destruction Policy, NATO

"Barry Kellman’s impassioned plea for better safeguards against bioviolence deserves a wide audience. His abhorrence of bio-weapons is shared by the civilized world, and he rightly condemns their use as a crime against humanity. Still, the danger posed by bio-weapons continues to grow as advances in biological sciences reveal new pathways that can cause as well as cure disease. Kellman argues convincingly that a key to fostering the norm against bioviolence lies in international law. His proposed system of global governance might well help to minimize this threat, and in any case will draw attention to a critical subject. We should all be grateful for Kellman’s enlightened presentation of the challenges and possible solutions to controlling bioviolence."
Leonard A. Cole, Rutgers University, author of Terror: How Israel Has Coped and What America Can Learn

"Modern biological threats pose some of the most severe and urgent dangers to humanity – dangers that arise in many different forms, from many different sources. Barry Kellman, one of America’s leading experts in the field, has provided an exceptional exposition of the problems, guiding us to policy prescriptions that are novel, sensible, far-reaching, and effective. This is an ambitious book, one that should be read by all concerned citizens – and even more by our leadership (in the U.S. and globally) – to help avoid a contagious cycle of vulnerability, catastrophe, and panic."
David A. Koplow, Georgetown University Law Center

"Leveraging his extensive, real-world experience with the control of weapons of mass destruction, Barry Kellman’s latest work bravely confronts the daunting security challenges posed by the advance of biotechnology. The solutions he proposes show an in-depth understanding that biotechnology will undoubtedly be primarily used for the betterment of mankind, but, at the same time, the lowering of technical barriers required to manipulate life will place the ability to cause massive harm in the hands of individuals throughout the world. To prevent the misuse of biotechnology without stifling progress, Kellman calls for an aggressive, global bio-security paradigm. Additionally, Kellman provides the reader with an engaging primmer on the history of the use of biological weapons and how new technologies may transform their use, enabling even the newcomer to the field to appreciate the scope of the problem."
Rocco Casagrande, Ph.D., Managing Director, Gryphon Scientific

"This book is written by a law professor who begins by positing the thesis that humanity is vulnerable to bioterrorism because current international legal regimes are inadequate to support preventive policies....This book may be particularly helpful to persons who want to learn more about basic concepts regarding the methods of bioterrorism."
Richard A. Goodman, Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control

"This is an important book. It provides a comprehensive view of the bioviolence threat and proposes a diverse, integrated, and provocative set of approaches for dealing with it. It challenges out thinking and forces us to revisit assumptions regarding individual liberty and community responsibility. We can disagree about this book, but we cannot ignore it."
Gerald L. Epstein, BioScience

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521883252
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 9/30/2007
  • Pages: 390
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

Barry Kellman teaches international law and is Director of the International Weapons Control Center at DePaul University College of Law. He is also Special Advisor to the Interpol Program on Prevention of Bio-Crimes and senior chair of the American Bar Association Committee on International Law and Security. Professor Kellman's work focuses on biological terrorism. He served on the National Academies of Sciences Committee on Research Standards and Practices To Prevent the Destructive Application of Biotechnology (2003). He was Legal Adviser to the National Commission on Terrorism and was later commissioned by the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT) to draft Managing Terrorism's Consequences that reviews legal authorities responding to terror activity in the United States.

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Read an Excerpt

Cambridge University Press
978-0-521-88325-2 - Bioviolence - Preventing Biological Terror and Crime - by Barry Kellman


This book is about species treason – giving aid to the enemy in the perpetual war between humanity and microbes. Using disease, traitors to humanity could inflict death tolls beyond the great historical scourges and unleash panic of biblical proportions. These traitors crucially impart the one quality that microbes lack: they think. The microbes, operating through remarkable processes of trial and error, have never designed a strategic battle plan to resist the onslaught of modern medicine. But their new ally can strategize and find people’s most sensitive vulnerabilities. This ally of disease is as dastardly as can be imagined for this ally is human.

   Bioviolence is the infliction of harm by the intentional manipulation of living micro-organisms or their natural products for hostile purposes. It is the ultimate act of terror, making everyone potentially vulnerable. It’s a crime that must be prevented. It should be a crime whether the inflictor is a State or a person, a terrorist or a criminal, or just a lunatic. Broad prophylactic measures to heighten security against biothreats should be implemented in every nation. Law enforcers worldwide should be prepared to interdict this crime. These are complex challenges with many intricate details requiring elaborate twists and turns through policiesthat implicate science, diplomacy, health care, and law enforcement. Yet, nothing here is so abstruse or beyond human intellect as to impair policy progress.

   This book is a brief – an argument – that: 1) bioviolence is a threat that merits serious attention; 2) there are wise strategies that can reduce bioviolence threats; and 3) those strategies have serious ramifications that demand important changes in global governance. This argument is provoked by the realization that no other problem facing humanity is so potentially cataclysmic and has been so inadequately addressed.


In recent years, vast monetary and scientific resources have been devoted to developing vaccines and antidotes against the most feared bioagents. Efforts to combat disease have dramatically improved, motivated in part by escalating concerns for natural pandemics. Some threats have been mitigated, and we are gaining a better understanding of lethal microbes and how to stop them. Many developed nations have prepared rapid response capabilities for a bioviolence event; in some regions, sophisticated exercises have been conducted to improve coordination and identify unanticipated difficulties.1 Various international and regional organizations have taken modest steps to become more vigilant in addressing bioviolence threats. Interpol has initiated an entire program for bioterrorism prevention to train police and coordinate relevant information. Most important, national and multilateral intelligence communities that are broadly attentive to terror and criminal threats are certainly alert to risks associated with intentionally inflicted disease.

   Nevertheless, it is striking how little has been done to make it hard to be a bioweaponeer and shocking that all these resources have been expended without anything like a global approach that might actually make us safer. Across a broad panoply of policy arenas, readily adaptable initiatives to prevent bioviolence are stalled. Throughout the vast majority of the world, outside of perhaps two dozen developed States, bioviolence preparations could proceed without substantial chance of detection and could inflict unimaginable damage against unprotected populations. A handful of threats receive substantial attention, but many easily accomplishable attack modes are virtually ignored.

   In short, advancing policies to prevent bioviolence is what the international community does worst. It must be asked why bioviolence has not already been addressed, why international and national leaders have done such a remarkably poor job in diminishing bioviolence risks leaving us all virtually naked to a bio-attack from a powerful military, group, or single person. No other threat presents such a stark contrast between, on one hand, severity of harm along with global denunciation but, on the other hand, a failure of leadership to reduce risks.

   Although many disciplines – science, history, politics etc. – have relevant responsibilities, this is fundamentally a book about international law. The thesis here is that humanity is vulnerable to bioviolence because, at this time, international law is unable to devise, implement, and enforce preventive policies. Such policies are potentially available and effective, but they demand progressive changes in prevailing legal concepts.

   It is only because bioviolence has not yet taken a truly catastrophic toll that humanity tolerates international law’s infirmity. That bioviolence perpetrators have not yet capitalized upon this failure is grounds for solace but not confidence. How long our luck will continue will be decided by the wrong people for entirely the wrong reasons. We can take preventive measures now, or we can hope that bioviolence continues forever to be only a hypothetical threat. The former option is complicated and has costs; the latter option is irresponsible.


Three Crossroads

Bioviolence stands at the intersection of three transformative phenomena. First is the changing condition of strife. State-to-State warfare with explicit battlefield confrontations is, for the most part, a thing of the past. In place of warfare, however, are three types of strife: slaughter of defenseless groups (Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, etc.); terrorism; and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Significantly, bioviolence is ideal for today’s forms of strife and could magnify their already horrific implications. Using bioviolence, a handful of culprits can ever more easily cause profound harm to enormous numbers of people.

   Second is the globalization of pandemic disease. For decades, infectious calamities have only peripherally affected geopolitics. There have been stunning successes against smallpox and polio; measles, rubella, diphtheria, and other maladies persist in sharply confined domains. But initially HIV/AIDS, then SARS, and more recently the Avian Flu have undermined the perception that modern medicine can altogether abate infectious disease. Today, disease threatens international peace and security and has the potential to unhinge global order.2 Bioviolence can initiate, propel, or ride upon disease’s potential for devastation. Disease and strife are the Achilles’ heels of our age; bioviolence is where they intersect.

   The third phenomenon here is the radical pace of change in the biological sciences. Bioscience is a dynamic phenomenon that stretches from inquiries about humanity’s most existential search – what is the architecture of life? – to the development of medicines for improving health. If eras can be labeled according to the technology that is most transformative of humanity (Stone Age, Industrial Age, Nuclear Age), then ours is indisputably the Genomic Age. The cracking of the human genome symbolized a seismic shift not only of technology and pharmaceuticals but, more fundamentally, of how we perceive “humanness.” Our commonality as a species has never been so tangible, and never before have we so had to face possibilities of altering the essence of what we are. Capabilities that might emerge in a decade are almost beyond estimation. Indeed, the advance of bioscience is a major theme of this book. And, unfortunately, these advances can endow perpetrators of bioviolence with previously unimagined abilities.

Law for Humanity

Bioviolence is a threat without borders to the human species. Like other challenges facing humanity – for example, global warming – it simply makes no sense to try to insulate any particular country or region from the threat. To prevent bioviolence requires policies that focus on humanity as a biological species entity.3 These policies must be implemented everywhere with centralized governance.

   A sizeable bioattack will have transnational implications, exposing our human commonality and demanding new modes of cooperation. The opportunities for bioviolence are everywhere, and perpetrators might emerge from virtually anywhere. They can prepare their attack through easy networks of communication and transport lethal devices in defiance of traditional notions of sovereign jurisdiction. Moreover, the effects of igniting a severe bioviolence pandemic will not respect borders or distinguish among victims according to their race, religion, or nationality; the effects will quickly bind humanity into a suffering collectivity. Said Gro Harlem Brundtland, “Today, in an interconnected world, bacteria and viruses travel almost as fast as e-mail and financial flows. Globalization has connected Bujumbura to Bombay and Bangkok to Boston. There are no health sanctuaries.”4

    The challenge is how to confront these threats in a flattening world where accelerating circulation abets the ready movement of science and technology and makes each of us targets of unnamed perpetrators of catastrophe. A prevention strategy must be global. Every State and many international institutions must make a serious commitment in concert.

   Looking forward, it is striking how little attention has been devoted to the changes in governance that will be necessary in a world of rapidly mutating bioscience and associated technologies. Yet, discussion of such policies makes it instantly apparent that the world is very awkwardly organized. Today, efforts to initiate global policies rapidly crash on the shoals of an anarchic division of the world into almost two hundred sovereign fortresses with separate claims to independent and unfettered decisional power. This is not the place to call for a radical restructuring of the Westphalian system and centuries-old concepts of national sovereignty, but it is imperative to see that this global threat inherently shrinks the planet into an interdependent neighborhood. Nations must realize that adamant proclamations about the inviolability of State sovereignty are, in this context, a recipe for disaster.

   There is another sense in which bioviolence prevention must be expansive: policies must be sustainably effective for a species-community that is prospectively multigenerational. Prevention is not something that will be done once, then humanity can move on. Prevention must be a process of decisions that reconfigure our approaches to science, law enforcement, and public health; these reconfigured approaches will carry forward in perpetuity. Whatever decisions are made now, whatever actions are taken now, must withstand the test of time. Action is needed now because the threat is on our doorstep, yet what we do to thwart bioviolence will entail changes that our successors will inherit. Their interests must be considered as we make our decisions.

   To consider how to prevent bioviolence is to open peepholes into the near-term future of international law and to ask what institutions and rules our grandchildren will want us to have created. Ultimately therefore, this book is something more than a policy manifesto about current threats of biological weapons in an era of non-State terrorism; it is an exploration of how global governance should evolve to address challenges of advancing science and technology.


Bioviolence is used here instead of the far more common term bioterrorism because of the many disputes and ambiguities about the meaning of terrorism. There is no globally accepted definition of terrorism despite years of United Nations negotiations, yet the term suggests conduct of: 1) a non-State actor that is 2) motivated by a political or religious agenda. A State can support terrorists, but terrorism is not a term that typically applies to deployment of military capabilities. Nor does the term apply to criminals motivated exclusively by financial gain or lunatics motivated by idiosyncratic alienation or revenge. Another ambiguity attends how to distinguish a terrorist from someone seeking to overthrow a repressive regime.

   Where to draw precise lines that separate terrorism from other categories of wrongdoing or use of armed force is, from this book’s perspective, an irrelevant exercise. The objective here is more generic. There are real differences among the many potential perpetrators of intentionally inflicted disease, but those differences are secondary to the challenge of preventing any and all hostile plots to make people ill. The term violence captures the phenomenon without regard to the actor or the motivation so long as it is deliberately malevolent.

   Notably, there are other risks associated with advancing bioscience, such as use of genetically modified organisms with unpredicted consequences, but this book advocates policies against violence – that is, wrongful activity that is intended to cause injury. Also important to note is that the focus of this book is mass catastrophe, not biohomicide or biovandalism. Although there is no specific demarcation between murder and mass murder, the reality is that little in this book will prevent someone from lacing salmonella on his or her spouse’s pasta. The term bioviolence here implies an act that has far more extensive consequences.

   Used to similarly generic effect here is the term bioweapon and the verb to weaponize. Among some diplomats, a weapon is something possessed or procured by a State military; by definition, a non-State actor cannot make a bioweapon, only a biodevice. Besides being semantically clumsy, this distinction is artificial. What is a State’s bioweapon that has been handed to a non-State actor; is it suddenly no longer a weapon? It is nonsensical to use different terms to describe the same thing on the basis of who has it. In this book, a bioweapon is simply what someone uses to commit bioviolence, and weaponization is any process that is designed to make a pathogen into a bioweapon. Correspondingly, bio-offender refers to someone who would commit bioviolence whether a State actor, terrorist, lunatic, criminal, or anyone else.

   The word pathogen here refers to any live agent or poison created by a live agent (a toxin) that causes disease, whether in humans or other living beings. The scientifically sophisticated reader knows that the outer boundaries of what might be referred to as a pathogen – distinct from a pollutant or even a mechanism (nanotechnology) – are increasingly fuzzy. Once again, this term is used broadly and flexibly to refer to any disease agent that has a living source.

   Critically, the term prevention deserves clarification. It does not refer to eliminating risk. The policies recommended here will not confer an ironclad shield from bioviolence. Prevention is used here in the same way that “seatbelts prevent car accident fatalities” or “a low-calorie diet prevents diabetes” – of course, some seatbelt wearers will die in accidents, and some careful dieters will get diabetes. Prevention is not an absolute term. Yet, compared to the prevailing situation that in many respects is heedless of palpable risks, adoption of proposed policies can make us safer even if not totally safe. Absent a prevention strategy, the threats will grow larger and more unmanageable.


This book is comprised of two parts. Part I’s three chapters describe the problem of bioviolence and explain how it evolved to its current intractable condition. Chapter 1 is a brief essay about why bioviolence should be a matter of pressing concern. There are easily understood plots that could have debilitating consequences. Chapter 2 explains bioviolence: what is it, how is it done, and how technological advance is changing the phenomenon. There are many bioviolence options; science is opening new opportunities and making existing methods easier. Chapter 3 addresses the question of who has perpetrated bioviolence and who might perpetrate it today. Whether viewed from historical experience or from today’s news, it is clear that many people are not inhibited about inflicting disease.

   Part II recommends the global strategy for preventing bioviolence. Chapter 4 explains the foundations of that strategy based on criminalization of wrongful conduct. Chapter 5 focuses on complicating bioviolence by making it difficult to get needed pathogens and capabilities and by strengthening law enforcement’s authority to detect and interdict bioviolence preparations. We need to know far more about the capabilities for committing bioviolence, and we need to raise hurdles to their wrongful applications. Chapter 6 considers how the potential for harm inherent in bioscience research should be understood and how science can develop resistance against bioviolence by creating vaccines and medicines. Globalizing policies to promote bioscience presents critical financial challenges as well as potential conflicts with intellectual property protections.

   Chapter 7 discusses public health preparedness to deal with bio-attacks by hardening targets, planning response interventions, and establishing quarantines if necessary. Although preparedness measures can be useful in mitigating the consequences of a bioattack, excessive reliance on public health is false security. Chapter 8 considers the unique problems of State bioweapons programs and today’s challenges for the Biological Weapons Convention, including nonlethal bioagents and national biodefense programs. Also relevant here are measures to ensure dismantlement of the former Soviet Union’s bioweapons stockpiles. Chapter 9 discusses how relevant policies should be progressively governed under the rule of law and supervised by three United Nations entities. In all, the book is intended to provide a multidimensional blueprint for today’s decision makers and concerned citizens to improve humanity’s security.


The Bioviolence Condition and How It Came to Be

© Cambridge University Press
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Table of Contents

Prologue; Foreword Ronald K. Noble; Introduction; Part I. The Bioviolence Condition and How it Came to Be: 1. Why worry?; 2. Methods of bioviolence; 3. Who did bioviolence? Who wants to do it?; Part II. The Bioviolence Prevention Strategy: 4. Strategic foundations; 5. Complication: what law enforcers should stop; 6. Improving resistance through bioscience; 7. Public health preparedness; 8. International nonproliferation; 9. The challenge of global governance; Conclusion.

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