Ban: World not prepared for biological attacks, new technology threats

United Nations, Aug 24 (IANS) UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has sounded an alarm that the world is not prepared to face the threats from biological attacks while the Interpol and experts warned about the dangers of terrorists using 21st century technologies to wreak unprecedented levels of mass destruction.

“In the wake of the very serious outbreaks of Ebola, MERS and Yellow Fever, I am extremely concerned that the international community is not adequately prepared to prevent or respond to a biological attack,” Ban told the UN Security Council on Tuesday.

Although “the impact and consequences of a biological attack on a civilian target could far exceed those of a chemical or radiological attack”, he said the international community was not taking adequate steps to prevent it.

He pointed out that while there were international organisations to prevent the spread of nuclear and chemical weapons, there was no such agency to deal with biological weapons.

Speaking at the Council debate on weapons of mass destruction (WMD), he sought to expand its definition beyond nuclear, chemical and biological to embrace the threats arising from 21st century science, technology and globalisation.

Information and communication technologies, artificial intelligence, 3-D printing and synthetic biology have the potential massive destruction, he said. “The nexus between these emerging technologies and WMD needs close examination and action.”

As a first step to face these challenges, the global community must lay the framework for “the peaceful use of cyberspace and, particularly, the intersection between cyberspace and critical infrastructure,” he said.

“People now live a significant portion of their lives online,” he added. “They must be protected from online attacks, just as effectively as they are protected from physical attacks.”

“We should not be just one click of the mouse away from a cyber Chernobyl,” warned an expert, Gregory Koblentz, drawing attention to the dangers of cyber terrorism.

There was growing risk that terrorists could use computer viruses to attack chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear facilities, said Koblentz, who is the director of the Biodefense Graduate Programme at the George Mason University in Virginia.

Underlining cyber threats, he said that the Nuclear Threat Initiative had found that in 20 countries that have weapon-grade nuclear material or nuclear power plants failed to meet the most basic cyber security requirements.

Drones could be deployed by terrorists to attack nuclear facilities or chemical storage sites, or to deliver weapons of mass destruction, he warned. ISIS, Hamas and Hezbollah were already using drones, he added.

Another area of serious concern, he said, was the availability of 3D printers. He said that some people had already demonstrated with 3-D printers how to make plastic guns that can evade security scanners. If terrorists were unable to get a controlled item, they may be able to manufacture them with 3-D printers, he said.

He called for early action, saying, “It would be far preferable to predict how these emerging technologies could be misused and take steps to minimise that risk.”

Interpol’s special representative Emmanuel Roux warned that the capacity to develop biological weapons could be within the reach terrorists organisations like the Islamic State (ISIS), al-Qaeda and Aum Shinrikyo.

He cited creation of SARS-like virus in a laboratory by scientists and said there was danger that terrorists could use the techniques to synthetically produce viruses.

A laptop connected to ISIS that was seized in 2014 from a Tunisian chemistry and physics student in Syria contained a 19-page manual on how to develop biological weapons with diseases like the bubonic plague and instructions for testing them on mice.

(Arul Louis can be reached at arul.l@ians.in)

–IANS

al/rn

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