MI6 looks for anthrax honours
South News commentary March 24

London: In a creative James Bond like Oscar winning challenge to US defence secretary Cohen's 5lb bags of sugar, MI6 has come with the ultimate anthrax weapon- a disguised perfume atomiser

The British Government admitted Monday a warning was issued to all ports last week following disinformation that Iraq was to flood the country with the deadly germ warfare agent anthrax in bottles of perfume. The British warning advised port officials to be on alert for anything that could contain the anthrax virus saying a tiny drop of which could wipe out millions of people.

Iraq's Information Ministry in Baghdad said the suspicions were unfounded. ``It is a silly and baseless claim and evidence of the sick mind of the British government, which has continuously told lies about Iraq in order to satisfy their American masters,'' the ministry said in a statement.

Former UN weapons inspector Col. Terry Taylor said, "If it was really being sent like this, in bottles, it's quite difficult to keep alive and to get it out in a form that might actually kill somebody.''

He also stressed how unlikely it would be that many people would be affected even if anthrax was sent over in bottles. ``It would only affect the person opening the bottle and possibly people nearby. It's not something that would kill hundreds of thousands of people,'' he said.

According to The Sun, a British tabloid, Iraq planned to target "hostile countries" including the United States and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization members in revenge for any military strikes.

A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister's office said the threat was disclosed in an all-ports warning issued last Wednesday, and approved by Prime Minister Tony Blair. She said the agent was supposed to have been carried in bottles disguised as duty-free goods, including spirits, cosmetics, cigarette lighters and perfume sprays.

Home Office Minister Mike O'Brien said in a televised interview that intelligence about a possible terrorist chemical threat was a regular event. He appealed for calm, saying that authorities were ready to deal with it.

``I don't think we want to get people particularly scared on this occasion,'' he said. ``There are steps being taken, we are very good at dealing with these things and those steps will be taken in cooperation with other countries. I don't think it is a specific threat to Britain.''

The document calls for extra vigilance by customs and ministry of defense officers and warns that ``Iraq may launch a chemical and biological attack using material disguised as harmless fluids,'' the newspaper said.

"Iraq may launch chemical and biological attack using material disguised as harmless fluids. Could officers therefore be alert for any items which might contain harmful substances," the warning issued by Britain's Home Office (interior ministry) said. "Attention should be given to containers of any size containing liquids with specific characteristics."

Blair's office said there was no evidence the plot had been carried out The alert was prompted by a source who spoke to intelligence in Baghdad, The Sun reported.

The US military will create 10 new emergency teams to help domestic agencies quickly respond to terrorist attacks involving chemical or biological weapons, Defense Secretary Cohen said last Tuesday.
Cohen announced plans to form the 22-member teams in the part-time National Guard with a proposed $49.2 million budget rise for fiscal 1999 beginning next October, Cohen said.

Roughly 20,000 to 100,000 people get anthrax worldwide each year, mainly from exposure to spores in the hides of infected animals. These cases rarely are fatal. According to biochemist Matthew Meselson of Harvard University. "During World War II, Britain made a million cattle cakes with anthrax to feed to German cattle," he notes. "None of the workers got anthrax."

However the US Army's manual Medical Management of Biological Casualties says 110 pounds anthrax dispersed into an ideal wind "2 kilometers upwind of a population center of 500,000 ... would travel more than 20 miles downwind and kill up to 220,000 people, or nearly half of the people in the path of the biological cloud."

In 1942, the British government dropped prototype anthrax bombs on Gruinard Island, Scotland. In 1986, the entire island had to be decontaminated with formaldehyde because spores from the bomb were still alive.

Recently US defense secretary William Cohen said the United States would vaccinate all 36,000 U.S. troops in the Gulf against anthrax. British officials also said they would vaccinate their 3,500 military personnel there despite objections to the proposed vaccine.

But the question that really needs answering is whether the current MI6 beatup is for extra funding for the British military or whether they are going to launch an anthrax attack on Iraq as the US did with plague against N Korea in the 1950's.