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The insidious idea of killing enemies with germs and chemicals has been around for a long time. Even though most nations possess at least some capability to field biological weapons, fear of retaliation in kind has thus far prevented most nations from deploying them. Considering today's homicidal terrorist mindset, don't expect this honeymoon to continue.

"Biological" weapons are distinguished from "bacteriological" weapons, because the latter rely only upon bacteria or "germs" to slowly infect their victims. Nerve gas, a chemical weapon, can kill within minutes after exposure to even a miniscule quantity of nerve agent.

With introduction of nuclear weapons, insidious radiation became another biological warfare agent. A "dirty bomb" is inexpensive and uncomplicated. It consists merely of radioactive particles dispersed by a blast of conventional explosive. Like the Soviet's Chernobyl disaster, once this material is distributed, it is virtually impossible to clean up, and such elements as Plutonium remain lethal in the environment for longer than man has inhabited the earth. Permanent environmental contamination is a serious threat to world economics and mankind's survival, but to a single-minded Islamic terrorist bent on martyrdom, it's just another weapon at his disposal.

World War I witnessed the first large-scale introduction of "war gasses" by the German Kaiser's army. Employing such agents as Phosgene, Mustard and Chlorine, it killed or disabled thousands of Allied troops on the battlefields of France. Even though many survived exposure, they were often left with permanent respiratory disorders that plagued them for the remainder of their lives. In the years following WWI, the victorious Allies attempted to ban further use of biological warfare. While the 1925 Geneva Protocol banned use of bacteriological and chemical weapons in war, it permitted development of such weapons to continue.

Biological weapons are the poor nation's nuclear bomb. They are easy to produce and cost only a fraction as much. In contrast to a nuclear blast, they kill without destroying valuable physical infrastructure, a decided advantage. Some common chemicals found in laundry detergent are just two processing steps away from becoming a deadly gas. By the Soviet Union's dissolution, it had stockpiled 50,000 tons of chemical weapons. Reportedly, the U.S produced just as much.

Since WWII, the U.S. government has continued refinement and production of biological weapons. Now it's crossing a dangerous threshold. Late in the past century, deadly smallpox was finally declared eradicated worldwide through generations of immunization and improved sanitation. Now our government has decided to employ smallpox as a bacteriological weapon. It's reasoning is that some other country might do it, so America should do it also. To convert smallpox into a weapon, it will be "designer-engineered" into a new strain more resistant and deadly. Ostensibly, no vaccine yet exists for this new strain, but you can bet that when and if it is developed, we common citizens won't be told about it.

Right here in Hamilton is a U.S. government laboratory known as the Rocky Mountain Labs. Operating under the National Institutes of Health, it was established in 1927 to develop vaccines and antigens to fight tick-borne Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other infectious diseases. Now, in spite of public opposition, our government decided to expand this lab to develop antigens and vaccines to combat bacteriological warfare agents. This means that our Bitterroot Valley will become home to some of the deadliest bacterial strains known to man.

While the feds assure us that every safety precaution is being taken, they had an underlying reason to pick this location. First, but not foremost, it's a nice place to live, and competent scientists can be persuaded to relocate here. Then there's access. Hamilton sits in a narrow valley between two virtually roadless mountain ranges. There are only two access routes in and out, one to the north and one south. In the event that a pathogen escaped, the entire Bitterroot valley could be quickly sealed off and its inhabitants left to die without infecting the general population.

Prior to commencing construction of the expanded lab facility, our government went through all the motions of a democratic decision-making process. Actually, construction contracts had already been signed. The lab was expanded whether Bitterroot residents approved or not. In view of our government's record of carelessness, I am very apprehensive.

Glenn Kimball is a current affairs writer and principal of a clean-energy heating products company chartered in Montana. He writes from Corvallis.

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