A Study Focusing on the Formation of Opinion, and the Knowledge Associated with 

A Study Focusing on the Formation of Opinion, and the Knowledge Associated with


A Study Focusing on the Formation of Opinion, and the Knowledge Associated with its


(December 2002)

Curtis B. Maynard, B.A.A.S., Texas A&M University Kingsville

Chairman of Advisory Committee: Dr. Eric Reittinger

It has been posited in this study, that one variable in opinion formation is over reliance on televised media, and the belief that it can exclusively provide enough information for the development of an informed opinion. The major research hypothesis is interrelated with the above contention, in that it posited a correlation would manifest itself among a selected group of survey respondents deemed to be more “uninformed,” than their “informed” peers, in regards to whether or not biological terrorism represented a serious danger in the United States today. One hundred-three University students participated voluntarily in the survey revealing that some strong correlations did exist supporting the major research hypothesis, as well as an indication that the minor research hypothesis may have some relevance as well. ANOVA, Pearson’s Correlations, and Factor Analysis were all used in order to evaluate the data as effectively as possible.



Human beings tend to develop attitudes about a variety of issues, without a great deal of information, often leading to an uninformed opinion. These opinions are held dear, and frequently are embraced tenaciously regardless of whether or not additional information might suggest that they are incorrect, or skewed. Occasionally these uninformed opinions can have dire consequences, especially where they may spill over into government policy that effect the lives of many people
Uninformed opinions are opinions none-the-less, and Americans tend to believe strongly that everyone, no matter their knowledge level on an issue, has the right to their own opinion. This mindset is for all practical purposes accepted as an inherent right afforded all citizens of the United States of America. In fact, it is provided for in the U.S. Constitution under the Bill of Rights (First Amendment). Attitudes are an interesting aspect of our opinion formation and development. Passion plays a role in our ability to accept, organize, analyze and then either employ, or reject new ideas resulting from new information available to us. The social sciences have determined that attitudes can be measured. Two of the earliest tools used in the social sciences to measure attitude are the Thurstone, and Likert scales (Petty, Cacioppo, 1981). Both are considered to have a substantially high rate of reliability, and the Likert scale will in fact be employed in this particular survey.
The issue, or variable to be used in this particular study are bacterial agents, or biological weapons, that have recently obtained much attention in the mass media. Biological agents like anthrax should be a topic that will elicit all of the attitudes, opinions, and informational deficits, as measured by a fact and opinion based survey, necessary for supporting the hypotheses within this thesis. Innumerable other topics could be used, but biological agents causing disease have several advantages that the others don’t, most significantly the fact that it has been in the news of late, and has caused a tremendous amount of anxiety in the population. Biological terrorism also represents a feasible threat in the future, and therefore it is anticipated that this study may in fact be beneficial in that it will point out a very real shortcoming on the part of the American people, government, and the mass media.
The primary problem to be studied
The primary problem to be studied by conducting this survey, and extrapolating the associated data is to what extent are attitudes related to ignorance. Is there a measurable correlation between the intensity of an attitude, and an informational deficit? Why are people emotionally, or passionately occupied with a specific position on an issue when they in fact may lack fundamental acquaintance with the information necessary in the formation of an educated opinion? Another problem requiring insight is, to what extent is the south Texas college student acquiring further information on the topic of anthrax, if at all, and where is the majority of this information coming from? Once again, the fact of the matter is that anthrax could potentially be used as a terrorist weapon, and Congressional studies indicate that a very small amount could cause the deaths of millions of people, making this study that much more significant. A Congressional Office of Technology Assessment study, conducted in 1993 declared that 100 kilograms, or 220 lbs of anthrax could potentially kill upwards of 3 million people, more than a typical hydrogen bomb.
In this particular circumstance, an educated public is in a better position to influence the political process, and insist, if so desired on a more coherent, and tangible National Security policy in regards to events that may directly affect them.
Purposes for conducting this research
The purposes of conducting this research are many, but the primary purpose is to explore the connection between knowledge and attitude formation. Secondly, it is hoped that this survey will illuminate possible sources of an informational deficit in the formation of opinion. Thirdly, it is believed that this survey will support the contention that the typical south Texas college student is woefully uninformed of the danger anthrax actually represents, and therefore equally unprepared to propose, or support policy changes that could make a difference.
Lastly, it is hoped that this survey will support the contention that people tend to believe that the American mass media is the least biased, and most accurate source of news information available in the world today.
Major research question (Hypothesis)
The major research question, or hypothesis is “will respondents deemed to be uninformed intensely believe that biological agents are not as serious a threat as those deemed to be informed?” Additionally, does the uninformed student strongly, or furtively believe that the threat is not as significant as it is in actuality? In short, has the student developed an intense opinion without the information necessary on which to build that opinion? It is further hypothesized that the more informed the respondent, the more likely he or she will have a strong opinion reflecting the seriousness of a biological threat.
Minor research questions (Minor hypotheses)
Minor hypotheses include the accurate identification of a measurable correlation between a respondent considered to be uninformed, and their proclivity of identifying televised news sources as their primary source of information on the topic of anthrax, and other lethal bacteriological agents.
It is believed that there will be strong evidence supporting the contention that the typical south Texas college student lacks fundamental knowledge associated with the topic of biological agents like anthrax, and that there will be a correlation between this deficit and the respondent’s position on the significance anthrax represents as a threat.
Will the college student surveyed have even a fundamental understanding of biological agents like anthrax, what they are, where they come from, what they do, and how they could possibly represent a danger to themselves and others?
Significance of this study
The significance of performing this study is profoundly understood when one considers the possible consequences of being uninformed on the dangers that bacteria could possibly represent. The level of knowledge held by the population as a whole across this nation concerning the potential dangers associated with anthrax and other weapons of mass destruction is deplorable, and could constitute a real tangible danger to our National Security and the future of our republic. The extent of this ignorance will be explored in the literature review within this thesis. Certainly our government has responded in some way to protect the United States population from the dangers so inherent in this threat, but few know how it has done so, or if it has actually done so at all. This fact represents a level of uncertainty that may not be in our best interests as citizens of this country.



A wide variety of sources have been employed in this literature review in an effort to encompass as many pertinent facts related to biological agents as possible. An exhaustive study is not practicable, but a comprehensive review will suffice in providing the information necessary for one to develop an informed opinion on the issues broached in this work. In order to summarize what this literature review hopes to explore, an outline will best illustrate its purpose. It is believed that this review will provide enough information for the reader to be able to understand, and ultimately concur with the following concepts.
· Biological agents do represent a serious danger if released or used against human beings.
· The government has not reliably provided the American population with accurate information concerning biological agents, all of the time.
· The news media has proven fallible in it’s reporting of the history, research, development, and dissemination of biological agents.
· Experts generally agree that a large economic, scientific, and industrial infrastructure is not a prerequisite for the development of certain biological weapons, including anthrax.
· Experts, and the government itself believe that there is no “realistic” defense against the use of biological agents.
· The majority of Americans (subjectively) believe the media is influential, and in some cases too influential.
· The majority of Americans (subjectively) believe that the United States will experience a biological attack, but apparently do not necessarily feel that they them selves will be directly affected.
· Television news is the primary source of information concerning world events as they relate to bio-terrorism for the majority of Americans.
· Americans (subjectively) believe that their government, and government officials are not always honest, and often lack integrity.
These points should reinforce the major and minor hypotheses associated with this thesis. It should also help the reader identify other areas in which an “informational deficit” may in fact contribute to the formation of uninformed opinions. In order to identify disinformation, both intentional and unintentional, a relatively short historical summary of biological weapon research and development is necessary. The following literature review will also explore other topics concerning biological agents, including their lethality, availability, and future implications.
The dangers associated with biological agents
Dr D.A. Henderson, a man associated with the World Health Organization’s smallpox eradication program suggests that the implications behind the use of biological weapons are “every bit as grim and foreboding as that of a nuclear winter” (Osterholm & Schwartz, 2000).
Michael Osterholm is a recognized authority in the area of infectious disease, and has conducted a number of studies concerning infectious disease across the globe. He holds a PhD, has served as an Epidemiologist for the state of Minnesota, has received a number of awards from the National Institute of Health (NIH), Federal Drug Administration (FDA), and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and currently teaches as a professor at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health.
Osterholm and Schwartz (2000) describe the consequences of the use of biological weapons as a “potential hell” that Americans are in no way prepared for. Osterholm’s co-author, John Schwartz concurs with this sentiment by adding, “in my discussions with Mike Osterholm and the people we interviewed and dealt with in putting this book together, I realized that this was a topic (bioterrorism) worth getting scared about”(p. x). Schwartz’s opinion on this matter will be shown to have a great deal of validity within the next few pages, and will reveal that certain disease agents like smallpox constitute the “nightmare to end all nightmares” as the authors contend (Osterholm & Schwartz, 2000, 15).
Mathew Meselson a professor of molecular biology at Harvard, and American notable in the area of chemical and biological warfare, in a speech delivered before the American Academy of Arts and Sciences said,
“A world in which these technologies (biotechnology) are widely employed for hostile purposes would be a world in which the very nature of conflict had radically changed. Therein could lie unprecedented opportunities for violence, coercion, repression, or subjugation. Movement towards such a world would distort the accelerating revolution in biotechnology in ways that would vitiate its vast beneficial application and could have inimical consequences for the course of civilization” (Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1999).
In the same speech, Meselson reinforces the fact that the United States government has extensively researched and developed biological weapons in the past. Meselson described an American facility, north of Terre Haute, Indiana, built in 1944 that would have produced 500,000 four pound anthrax bombs monthly once in full operation. Professor Meselson’s notable achievements in the field of biological weapons research include being part of teams that proved the accidental release of anthrax at a Soviet facility in 1979, disproved charges of biological warfare in Laos and Cambodia in the late 1970s, and Meselson was a driving force behind popularizing the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1994 (Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1999).
Senator Bill Frist in testimony before a Senatorial Committee in 1999 asked, “If experts are correct in their belief that a major bioterrorist attack is a virtual certainty, that it is no longer a question of if, but rather when, this raises several crucial questions which we will discuss today” (Senate Health, Education, Labor, Pensions, and Bioterrorism Committee.1999). One could possibly conclude from Senator Frist’s statements, that the bioterrorism associated with the infamous anthrax letters sent out by an unknown terrorist in late 2001 was not entirely unexpected. Whether or not the anthrax letters constitute a “major bioterrorist attack” is conjecture.
The United States Government also concurs with the scientists, politicians and authors thus far noted, albeit in a more subdued, but equally certain stance. A Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) study conducted in 1993 ascertained that one hundred kilograms, or a mere two hundred and twenty pounds of anthrax could under optimal conditions, kill as many as three million residents of Washington D.C (Office of Technology Assessment, United States Congress. 1993)
In academic circles, the word “optimal” might stand out as a word reducing the true significance of the potential anthrax represents to Americans, but if one considers a reduction in the efficacy of said biological agent, and perhaps investigates a sub-optimal release with only a three or four percent total potential, then one must still grasp the fact that 90,000 to 120,000 people would still die.
In contrast to the killing capacity to weight ratio of anthrax, Peter Burgasov, former Chief Sanitary Physician of the Soviet Union, admitted to the Courier, a Russian newspaper in November 2001, that the Soviet Union had been testing smallpox as a weapon since at least the 1970’s and described one particularly disturbing test conducted on an island in the Aral Sea “A research ship of the Aral fleet came within 15 kilometers away from the island (it was forbidden to come any closer than 40 kilometers) The lab technician of this ship took samples of plankton twice a day from the top deck. The smallpox formulation-400 grams of which was exploded on the island -“got her”- and she became infected.” (House International Relations Committee, on Bioterrorism, 2001).
The aforementioned OTA study focuses on what is to be expected immediately after an attack, and does not take into account the fact that anthrax spores will continue to represent a viable threat for decades as it would thoroughly contaminate the soil, and leave the entire area under quarantine for generations. An example of anthrax’s longevity can be seen even today, from afar, on the Island of Gruinard off the coast of Scotland. The British conducted experiments with anthrax there during World War Two, and the entire area has been closed to the public since, and more than five decades later still represents a threat to human life despite the fact that the British government has attempted in every scientific way to make the area safe (Hersh, 1968; Alibek, 1999).
Tom Brokaw supported this inability to sanitize an area of anthrax when he quoted an expert speaking before a Congressional Committee on November 8th, 2001. “An expert in germ warfare told a congressional committee today that there is no guarantee that an area exposed to anthrax can ever be completely decontaminated” (NBC Nightly News, 2001).
A former top-level Soviet scientist involved at the highest echelons with research on biological agents named Ken Alibek discloses in detail an incident that occurred in Sverdlovsk Russia in the late 1970s. Much of the incident was known about already through an investigation conducted by U.S. analysts, but the full details were not known until Alibek defected to the United States and told the entire story. In March 1979, a Soviet technician accidentally forgot to replace a vital filter in the anthrax production facilities ventilation system resulting in a release of anthrax into the surrounding community. Dozens of people died, a local communist party chief immediately ordered a cleanup, which disturbed the already settled anthrax spores, and re-infected people through secondary aerosols (Alibek, 1999).
Predictably, the Soviet government initiated a cover-up, and all the facts weren’t known until 1993. The American Defense Intelligence Agency published a report in 1986 outlining what it knew about the accident at Sverdlovsk, and pointed out some significant facts about the attempts on the part of the Soviet government to decontaminate the area after the exposure. Incidentally, the Defense Intelligence Agency also emphasizes the fact that only twenty-two pounds, approximately ten kilograms was accidentally dispersed into the atmosphere. The following observations were noted in the report, demonstrating the fact that decontaminating an area contaminated by anthrax spores is difficult at best, and impossible overall (Defense Intelligence Agency report: 1986, Pp, 4-7).
· Initial disinfection and decontamination procedures were largely ineffective.
· The extraordinary efforts to clean up were inconsistent with the Soviet explanation.
· The reported aerial spraying activity and disinfection with steam and hypochlorite, a bleach solution around the military installation are clear attempts to decontaminate areas affected by infectious aerosol.
The governments unreliable reporting on biological weapons
Recently the U.S. government has claimed that the source of anthrax used in a letter mailed to Thomas Daschle, the Senate Majority Leader, was of a strain known as the Ames, indicating its origins in Ames, Iowa. The Ames Iowa strain was identified in the 1950s, thus safely putting its research in an era prior to the signing of the Biological Weapons Convention in 1975 (Brune & Povich, 2001). Unfortunately for the government, additional facts concerning the strain of anthrax in Daschle’s letter came out implicating the actual source as a ranch in Texas (Broad, 2002). A military scientist working at Fort Detrick Maryland, the former headquarters of the U.S. governments bio-warfare program, obtained this strain from said ranch in the early 1980s (Broad, 2002).
By the time February 2002 had arrived, the newspapers were commonly referring to the misidentified origin of the anthrax bacterium as the Ames strain anyway, completely disregarding the fact that its origins were no longer considered to be in Ames Iowa, nor its appearance in the 1950s
Bacterial strains are identified much in the same way cells are identified using modern DNA techniques. How a mistake of this magnitude could have been made given the advancement of this technology will probably never be known (Hathaway, 2001).
The Times questioned this as well in an article citing the fact that “subtleties in the genomic sequences are relatively easy to determine by DNA sequencing. So why is it taking so long to sub-type the Ames strains from all government and academic labs?” (Perlin, 2002). The possibility remains that the government’s efforts to explain the Daschle anthrax letter and its lethal potential were either intentionally vague, or perhaps erroneous simply out of ignorance. “But health specialists say that a complicating factor for the Bush administration is its diminished credibility due to the governments often conflicting or erroneous statements during the first three weeks of the crisis”(Mishra & Donnely, 2001). “Non-scientists such as the Health and Human Service Secretary Tommy Thompson spoke for the administration, relying on even less knowledge than the Federal governments already strapped researchers” (Mishra & Donnely, 2001).
Despite the fact that the U.S. signed the Biological Warfare Convention in the early 1970s, and agreed to abide by the rules concerning biological agents, research continued unabated. Lelve G. Gayle, director of the Texas Veterinary Medial Diagnostic Lab in College Station, presumably part of the Texas A&M system, admitted in January 2002, “we isolate a lot of anthrax here” (Broad, 2002).
Apparently, despite the fact that the true origins of the anthrax sent to Daschle was not Iowa State University, the school for whatever reason maintains a sizable library of anthrax specimens. This particular library shouldn’t be confused with one related to the storage of lexicon, but rather actual frozen samples of anthrax spores. According to the New York Times the history of the misnamed Ames strain actually started in 1980 when a biologist named Gregory B. Knudson, working for the biodefense laboratory at Fort Detrick Maryland, “was searching for new anthrax strains to use in tests of the military’s vaccine.” Fort Detrick Maryland was the headquarters of the U.S. Army’s biological warfare research and development program since the 1940s (Broad, 2002).
In addition to these events and locations, dozens of other Universities across the nation have at one time or another been employed in researching biological agents for a number of reasons, including the weaponization of the bacterium (Hersh, 1968). The University of Connecticut is mentioned in an article as a storage facility for anthrax, where apparently graduate students have in the past diverted samples in order that they not be destroyed (Hathaway, 2001). Such unfettered access to such a devastating agent should not be taken lightly.
Expert opinion on the need for a large infrastructure and bio-agent production
Osterholm and Schwartz (2000) argues that a fairly remedial background in biology is all that is necessary to produce significant quantities of anthrax in one’s basement, completely countering the Federal Bureau of Investigations contention, as emphasized by the media, that a massive infrastructure, knowledge, scientific, and economic resources are necessary. An example of this belief can be found in the following article, alongside a most erroneous statement suggestive of the fact that the authors hadn’t done their homework. “Militarized anthrax spores are so difficult to manufacture that only a handful of countries with large military-industrial establishments have ever developed the capacity”(Department of Health and Human Services, 2000). “There has never been a confirmed use of anthrax spores, anywhere, by anyone, in a military or terrorist attack” (Department of Health and Human Services, 2000).
This report was indeed written prior to the anthrax letters to Daschle and various media representatives, but it was written more than fifty-years after known Japanese military use of anthrax in Manchuria during World War Two (Eitzen & Takafuji, 1997). The Japanese use of biological agents in warfare was cited by Osterholm and Schwartz (2000, p. 70), Alibek (1999, p. 36-37), and Hersh (1968, p. 12-18). In short, it was a fairly well known fact, and should not have been missed by the Department of Health and Human Services.
The idea that bacterial growth and dissemination requires advanced technology and/or weapon systems is equally nonsensical, and is dismissed by Osterholm and Schwartz as well as other experts within the pages of their book on the topic (2000, p.112-117). “One government analyst some years ago determined that $1,500 of nuclear killing power would set an anthrax assailant back by only a penny” (Osterholm & Schwartz, 2000, p. 8). Leonard Cole (1988) supports this by citing expert information provided to the United Nations in 1969 stating that a square kilometer of ground costs approx $2000 to take with conventional weapons, $800 with nuclear, $600 with nerve agent, and a single dollar with Biological agents.
This would seem to cast some doubt on the governments position that a large economic base is essential, thus effectively ruling out a rogue individual, or loose knit terrorist organization. In fact, one encounters the experts differing from this line of thinking all together. Kenneth Alibek stated clearly on October 24th, 2001, in response to the question, “is anthrax really that hard to get your hands on,” “In my opinion, it’s not very hard” (The Money Gang, October 24th). In another televised interview Alibek detailed the fact that there is an island in the Aral Sea completely contaminated with anthrax spores, and that if anyone wanted to acquire them, there were no guards, and that “it wouldn’t be a big problem.” The former Soviet scientist added the fact that the anthrax spores that could be found on this island were also genetically engineered, making them antibiotic resistant (48 Hours, 2001,October 19th).
Living Terrors (Osterholm & Schwartz, 2000) provides a scenario within its pages, not describing what a rogue nation like Iraq might do with anthrax, but what a disgruntled American citizen with little conscience and a lot of determination might in fact do with it. The scenario provided in the book, written by Osterholm, a well-known expert, internationally known for his expertise in the area of infectious disease, illustrates the story of an individual that produces large amounts of anthrax in his basement, and then disseminates it over a football stadium in a rented crop-duster. The results are horrifying, and in Osterholm and Schwartz’s scenario fifty thousand are infected, and twenty thousand die within three weeks.
The mass media and its limitations
Despite the available opinions of experts, the mass media has not provided the public with all of the essential information on the subject of biological warfare, and when it has, the information has often been erroneous, like the following comment made on a popular television program, “anthrax must be ingested” presumably to be fatal (Hannity & Colmes, 1998).
The above only confirms that the media is not infallible, which should be taken seriously into consideration when one forms an opinion on such an issue of importance as biological weapons and their use.
Is defense against biological agents realistic
Where would one acquire anthrax if so inspired? Prior to the recent terrorist attack associated with the anthrax letters sent to Daschle and various media figures, one could actually order it from labs across the country. It was in this manner that a well-known racist named Larry Wayne Harris, associated with fringe elements in the political arena, acquired both plague samples and anthrax samples. He was dismissed as a threat by the government when this fact was exposed, because it was said that the strains he obtained weren’t exceedingly virulent (Osterholm & Schwartz, 2000). .
Perhaps the government wished to get the case out of the public’s mind as quickly as possible because Harris obtained the plague samples through the mail simply by writing to the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) and requesting it. Essentially, luck played a role in his capture, and law enforcement officials were able to confiscate the bubonic plague sample from his glove compartment. According to congressional testimony provided by Representative John R, Kasich “what he (Larry Harris) did was not a crime,” and at least in 1996, “the law currently treats the improper disposal of motor oil by a service station more severely than what Harris did” (Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 1996, March 6). Harris is not the only example of someone acquiring lethal biological agents through the ATCC. Iraq also acquired their anthrax by mailing requests to the ATCC, as did a religious cult in Oregon who used their easily acquired bacteria to infect the town of The Dalles, in Oregon with a strain of salmonella in the 1980s (Miller, Engelberg, & Broad, 2001).
When one considers these disturbing facts, one might conclude that perhaps the government, its analysts and experts have forgotten that bacteria’s primary mission is to grow, and in anthrax’s case encapsulate itself indefinitely when the environment proves too hostile to proliferate. Another unique quality, perhaps forgotten by the government, is bacteria’s ability to mutate, and in many cases this mutation can be easily manipulated by using animals as incubators. Progress on the phenomena associated with mutations and bacteria was well developed by 1968, allowing for an increase in virulence, longevity, resistance, and a variety of other adaptations (Hersh, 1968).
By the early 1980s, mutation and DNA recombinant techniques had reached a point where at least one (Harris, 1982) author felt that “ethnic germs” or ethnically selective bacteria might be a possibility. Additionally, genetically engineered viruses affecting the way an immune system responds to infection were thought to also be under research. The author also asserts that such a germ may already have been developed by 1982 (Harris, 1982). Joshua Lederberg, a Nobel Laureate, Professor, and pioneer in the fields of genetic exchanges in bacteria, and microbial genetics also acknowledges the theoretical likelihood that “ethnic germs” are on the horizon (Miller, et all, 2001).
Alibek (1999) details the fact that an accidental release of anthrax into a city sewer system in the Soviet Union exposed rats to anthrax, killing them. However, before they died some of the rats unwittingly participated in an incubation process that increased the virulence of the original strain. Soviet scientists proceeded to weaponize the new deadlier strain, calling it anthrax 836.
Other areas in which inclined individuals might obtain samples of anthrax are literally in the back yard. The United States isn’t thought to be a large reservoir for naturally occurring anthrax, but it is here, and could be located if one were to do some research, and be so inclined to look. The probable status of anthrax occurrence in the United States is said to be “sporadic” by the World Health Organization. Prior to 2001, there were only three cases of anthrax infection in humans, within the borders of the U.S. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies prevalence of naturally occurring anthrax into three categories, sporadic, enzootic, and hyperendemic/epizootic, each representing an increase in the prevalence of the bacterium in the natural environment.
The heaviest concentrations of natural anthrax, according to the WHO, occur in several countries once composing the Southern U.S.S.R. Three of these countries border on Afghanistan, which also has a fairly significant amount of naturally occurring anthrax. In 1997 Tajikistan reported 114 cases of anthrax infection among its population. Iran reported 370 cases in the same year. Iraq reported more than 200 cases between 1976 and 1980. Any one of these cases, or the far more numerous cases among animals, could be a source for the acquisition of anthrax spores. The interesting, and perhaps relevant point of mentioning this naturally occurring phenomena, is simply that individuals, or organizations living within these areas, aren’t likely to need biological weapon material samples from the stores of America, despite its apparent ease of access, or the former Soviet Union. The anthrax source literally lies at their feet.
If in fact a terrorist organization did want to acquire samples of anthrax, or knowledgeable individuals from the labs of the former Soviet Union, this too may in fact not be difficult. Alibek, (2001) mentions that several of his former colleagues employed at one time within the Soviet Biological Warfare apparatus are now working in nations like Iraq and Iran. In addition to this travesty, former Soviet warehouses, storage and scientific facilities are not well guarded, and offer another way in which biological agents could be acquired.
In a personal interview, Dr. Osterholm found out from an internationally known senior scientist at the army’s Medial Research Institute Of Infectious Diseases named Dr. Peter Jahrling that the Russian smallpox sample is not secure. Jahrling stated, “There is no doubt in my mind that the smallpox sample is not secure. I saw the site. The only apparent security was one pimply faced kid with a kalashnikov rifle” (Osterholm & Schwartz, 2000). This review will not go into the devastating potential of smallpox at this time, other than to say it represents a far worse threat than does anthrax, as smallpox is extremely contagious. In fact some estimates have placed the number of deaths caused by smallpox, prior to its alleged eradication in the twentieth century alone, at half a billion (New York Times, 1999, June 15).
In their book Living Terrors, Osterholm and Schwartz (2000) provide a scenario in which an individual releases a small amount of smallpox, being all that is necessary, in a crowded mall. Eventually this small amount begins a horrendous epidemic resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.
The Federal Government admitted in a study conducted in the 1960s, that biological warfare scientists concluded that an, “Attack with disease was possible, indeed terrifyingly simple”. They further concluded that the United States was, “Highly Vulnerable,” to a germ warfare attack (Harris, 1982).
Nearly forty years later, little has changed. The government is still unprepared to meet the challenges associated with a biological attack. In 1960 “the head of the Army Chemical Corp warned congress that a potential enemy could perhaps kill or perhaps seriously disable 30 percent of the American population by mounting a biological warfare attack with ten aircraft” (Hersh, 1968, Pp. 68).
The author Richard McCarthy also emphasized the fact that the American government had “no defense” against biological warfare in 1969 (McCarthy, 1967).
In a Center For Civilian Biodefense Strategies (CCBS) report, the center revealed, “there are currently no atmospheric warning systems to detect an aerosol cloud of anthrax spores. The first sign of a bioterrorist attack would most likely be patients presenting with symptoms of inhalation anthrax” (CCBS, 2000). According to the same CCBS report, those presenting with symptoms of inhalation anthrax are most likely to die, reinforcing the fact that those who have developed symptoms will in ninety percent of cases expire. Additionally, the report then acknowledges a little known fact, “U.S. vaccine supplies are limited and U.S. production capacity is modest. There is no vaccine available for civilian use” (CCBS, 2000).
As mentioned previously, a 1993 Congressional Office of Technology Assessment report indicated that a release of 220 pounds of anthrax could potentially kill three million Americans (Congressional OTA, 1993). In another report submitted by the World Health Organization in 1970, it was assessed that 50 kilograms of anthrax released “along a two kilometer line, upwind of a population center of 500,000 could lead to 95,000 deaths and 125,000 incapacitated (CCBS, 2000). These are “conservative estimates” according to Dr. Edward M. Eitzen, Jr., of Fort Detrick Maryland (Osterholm & Schwartz, 2000).
In a report submitted to a Congressional hearing on March 3rd 1999, a CIA official named John A. Lauder stated that at least a dozen terrorist organizations have expressed the desire to obtain biological weapons (House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, 1999, March 3). This is an increase from the ten nations former CIA director William Webster mentioned in an address before the World Affairs Council of Washington in 1988 (World Affairs Council of Washington, 1988).
According to John Deutch, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, “if the device that exploded in 1993 under the world trade center had been nuclear, or had effectively delivered a deadly pathogen, the resulting horror and chaos would have exceeded our ability to describe.” “The United States might respond with draconian measures.” “Belatedly Americans would judge their leaders negligent for not addressing terrorism more urgently (Osterholm & Schwartz, 2000).
These statements provided by a man that held the highest security position in the United States government should be carefully analyzed. He certainly seems to imply that the results of a dispersal of pathogens would be catastrophic. By insinuating that the U.S. government might respond to this kind of event with draconian measures, Deutch supports Osterholm and Schwartz’s thoughts that quarantining individuals at gunpoint might become a reality one day (2000).
“As few as 50-100 cases of smallpox would likely generate widespread concern or panic and a need to invoke large scale, perhaps national emergency control measures” (CCBS, 2000). The same report highlighted unpleasant details including the fact that less than nine million smallpox vaccinations are available in the U.S. currently, and that additional doses aren’t expected until 2004. From the medical standpoint, little else other than quarantining by force would in fact prevent the spread of a contagious virus like smallpox from city to city.
In fact, the United States Government should be exceedingly familiar with many scenarios involving biological agents, and possible consequences, perhaps more so than any other nation in the world. The U.S. government has sanctioned the exposure of its own population to various, allegedly benign, bacterial agents including serratia marcens, and bacillus subtilus. In the end these agents weren’t entirely benign, and caused the deaths of American citizens submitted involuntarily to experiments conducted without their consent or knowledge (Cole, 1988).
As recently as 1996 the integrity and honesty of the United States government was called into question concerning American soldiers that had developed symptoms during the Gulf War that could not be explained. Patrick Eddington, a one-time CIA analyst, allegedly was fired by the agency for claiming it was covering up the fact that the Iraqis had actually used chemical weapons on U.S. soldiers during the war. David Martin, a CBS reporter, interviewed Eddington asking him, “Would you call it a cover up?” Eddington responds by saying, “yes, I would describe that as a cover up.” Eddington then concludes the interview by stating, “the culture of the CIA is one that does not really welcome those who rock the boat, who question prevailing assessments, who question prevailing views” (CBS Evening News, 1996, October 30).
Two days later, the CIA came out with its official response to Eddington’s accusations, stating in effect that the agency “continued to conclude that Iraq did not use chemical or biological agents during the Gulf War” (Slatkin, 1996, November 1).
The U.S. Army did subject the New York City population to an experiment in the 1960s concerned with measuring “saturation rates,” or the amount of bacteria one would inhale at certain times, and in specific locations after the initial release. Light bulbs containing eighty-seven trillion bacilli each were dropped onto ventilation grates above the New York City subway system. It was deduced that within minutes exposed individuals were inhaling a million bacilli per minute, and were entirely unaware of it. Additionally, the subway trains created a vacuum of sorts that conveniently spread the bacilli throughout the system with little effort (Cole, 1988).
The implications of the New York subway system experiments are truly horrific. People breathing in a million bacilli per minute were not aware of it in any way. If government reports are accurate concerning the lethal dose of anthrax being in the neighborhood of eight thousand spores in total, which incidentally is in dispute in some scientific circles, then one might conclude that anthrax represents a serious threat today.
Bacillus subtilus is similar to anthrax in that it is a sporalating gram-positive rod bacterium, and aerosolizes, as would anthrax. If a light bulb can contain eighty-seven trillion bacilli, if filled with anthrax it would represent enough to kill the entire human population on terra firma more than twice over, with approximately 10,875,000,000 individual lethal doses, with eight thousand spores representing a lethal dose. This fact becomes especially frightening when one considers the Soviet Union always maintained a stockpile of hundreds of tons of anthrax at all times. In fact, according to Ken Alibek (1999) anthrax production at one facility alone could be as much as 500-600 kilograms daily.
One of the more frightening scenarios encountered in the research of this thesis was whether or not anthrax could be passed through currency. Certainly everyone is now familiar with the fact that it traveled rather nicely inside envelopes. On the issue of whether or not anthrax can be carried on currency, there is a great deal of contention among different sources. Ted Koppel admitted on Nightline, “the possibility is scaring me to death. Please tell me it’s not possible.” In response to Koppel’s concerns the Department of Health and Human Services replied, “highly unlikely,” “highly improbable,” “almost impossible.” The Treasury Department, in their apparent expertise, stated that, “there is no way to embed anthrax in the currency” (Nightline, 2001, October 17).
Oddly enough a study conducted in 1972 and reported in a Discover magazine article determined that staphylococci, micrococci, diptheroids, and propriobacteria, were present and viable on randomly tested bills of various denominations (Discover, 1998).
A second study conducted in 1997 found that 3% of coins, and 11% of all bills tested were positive for bacteria. In 1998, another study conducted by the University of California at San Francisco found in 113 examples of currency samples that most of the bills grew “harmless bacteria” but 18% of coins, and 7% of bills manifested pathogenic bacteria, including E-Coli, and Staphylococcus Aureus (Discover, 1998).
Shirley Lowe, a microbiologist credited with conducting the study on behalf of the University stated that “half the money,” she obtained from a doughnut shop grew Staphylococcus Aureus (Discover, 1998). I think the gist of this article, Filthy Lucre, is that money, especially currency with its 75% cotton, 25% linen composition is a more than suitable vector for bacteria.
Also mentioned in the same article was the fact that bacteria can’t live on the dry acidic surface of money forever, as it requires a moist warm environment to grow. This is very true with most bacteria, but untrue in respect to anthrax spores, as the spores themselves are nearly impervious to the environment, and when introduced into a receptive environment, will then proliferate.
Possibly the most significant aspect of this entire article devoted to money is not the revelation that bacteria can survive on currency, but that cocaine hydrochloride was known to cross-contaminate currency at the counting-sorting machines used in banks and at the Federal Reserve as early as 1997.
The article Filthy Lucre proceeds to mention that a study conducted at the Houston Advanced Research Center in Texas found that 70-80% of all currency had trace amounts of cocaine hydrochloride on them. In older bills that had been in circulation for some time, 90% had cocaine traces (p.82). The Journal of Forensic Sciences conducted a study in May 1998 that concluded that more than 93% of all bills tested had trace amounts of cocaine hydrochloride present. In 1997 Tom Jourdan, chief of the Materials and Devices unit at the FBI lab in Washington D.C. found that 90% of bills tested were positive for cocaine.
Tom Jourdan stated that it is his belief that “mechanical currency counters are homogenizing money.” According to Jourdan, “one contaminated bill brushed through the counting machine at the bank can contaminate the entire stack”(p.84). The last paragraph in the article Filthy Lucre states exactly, “So money isn’t exactly squeaky clean. But it isn’t exactly going to do us in either. If there’s a lesson here, it is that money reflects whatever activity, and mischief, that human hands get up to-and the activity and occasional mischief of all the microscopic organisms along for the ride on our skin”(pg 84). This last statement could prove to be more prophetic than the author ever intended, with the exception of the “isn’t exactly going to do us in” part, which may prove one day to be overly optimistic.
It would certainly seem feasible that if cocaine hydrochloride could “homogenize” money, then anthrax ought to be able to as well. Perhaps the greater concern here is not the possibility that anthrax can cross-contaminate money, but that the FBI was apparently unable to deduce the commonalities between currency, and envelopes.
American subjective opinion on the influence of the mass media
On February 11th, 1999 a Louis Harris Associates telephone poll surveying 1,007 individuals found that 81% of the respondents felt that the media had too much influence on Washington, when asked, “Do you think that the news media has too much or too little influence on Washington?” The respondents also were able to choose “about right” as an answer, however only 6% took advantage of this choice, while another 3% either refused to answer or didn’t know (Louis Harris and Associates, 1999).
Three years later, a national adult poll reflected that the sentiment had not changed a great deal, with 72% responding, “too much,” 14%, “too little, and 15% either not sure, refusing to participate, or believing that the amount of influence was in fact, “about right” (Harris Interactive, 2002). Harris Interactive conducted an earlier survey in 2000 with the same questions. At that time, 77% felt the media had “too much” influence (Harris Interactive, 2000). Again in April of 2000, Harris conducted the same survey with the same question, and the results were identical concerning “to much” influence with 77% of respondents reaffirming previous results (Harris Interactive, 2000).
Perhaps supportive of these last five polls, a survey sponsored by the Pew Research Center found that 87% of those surveyed felt that members of the media allow their own political preferences to influence the way they report the news, at least “sometimes” (Princeton Survey Research Associates, 2000). According to Bernard Goldberg, an Emmy Award winning, former CBS insider, and one time Nightline correspondent, bias is reflected in the media, and is done so by individuals that allow their own perspectives to contaminate their allegedly “balanced reporting.” Goldberg was so adamant about this fact, that he wrote a book about it entitled Bias (Goldberg, 2002). In it, he says concerning certain elements, “the sophisticated media elites don’t categorize their beliefs as liberal but as simply the correct way to look at things” (Goldberg, 2002, Pp. 24). Goldberg’s example would seem to support the subjective views of the above poll.
Perhaps this is a relatively benign matter, but if there is an actual “liberal bias” in the mass media as Goldberg insists, then perhaps various conservative views are unlikely to get any exposure. Pat Buchanan, a conservative, and one time presidential candidate would agree with Goldberg, and devoted a large part of his most recent book The Death Of The West to liberal bias, and its prevalence in the mass media (Buchanan, 2002).
A Roper Starch Worldwide survey polling 1,014 over the telephone concluded that 58% of those polled felt that the media had “a great deal” of influence on who becomes president. Less than 9% of those polled felt that the media had no influence at all, or only a little (Roper Starch Worldwide, 2000, A).
Asked whether or not, “the media had more, less or about the same amount of influence on presidential policy as they did forty or fifty years ago,” respondents identified, “more influence today,” by a vast majority (Roper Starch Worldwide, 2000, B).
In a very revealing study, Roper Starch Worldwide found that 73% of the respondents to the question, “who do you believe has more influence on what goes on in this country, the media or the president?” responded the “media” (Roper Starch Worldwide, 2000, C). Since it is the politicians and not the media that we elect, it seems clear that the media, at least as subjectively viewed by the population, has perhaps more influence than it should.
If the above surveys can be taken to be an accurate representation of public sentiment in the United States, then one could conclude that if the media does not in fact influence the viewing public, at least the viewing public believes the media in fact does.
As a possible example of the media’s ability to influence the public, a small chronological demonstration might be in order. On September 11th 2001 America experienced a terrorist act of great magnitude. The world’s attention was focused on the aftermath at the World Trade Centers, when the media first reported that a man in Florida had contracted inhalation anthrax. At first this event did not draw much attention, as the media reported that there was no evidence to suggest that it was anything else but naturally occurring. Of course other letters were later identified as harboring the anthrax spore, and the fact that a terrorist was mailing letters impregnated with anthrax became a reality. The point being that an inhalation anthrax case proceeding immediately after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center buildings was highly unusual, and suspect, yet was initially presented by the media as nothing out of the ordinary.
American subjective opinion on the personal risk associated to bio-weapons
It was not until October of 2001 that any attention was given to smallpox, a much more contagious disease, considering it can be spread through the air. This attention was the result of expert opinion given to the news media by such notables as Kenneth Alibek, Michael Osterholm, and Mathew Meselson. What in fact is interesting about this progression is that it can be seen in public opinion polls concerning smallpox, and the perceived effect it might have on individuals and society as a whole.
Firstly, if the following poll is any indicator, it seems safe to say that prior to September 11th, 2001 Americans did not have that much knowledge about smallpox. When one thousand people were asked, if “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is more contagious than smallpox,” 56% answered true, while 4% did not know (Louis Harris and Associates, 1987). Once again, smallpox unlike the Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a disease that can be spread through the air, and is therefore far more contagious.
On February 18th, 1999 1,203 Americans were surveyed and asked, “What are your main fears and worries about the countries future?” One percent responded “biological germ warfare” (Princeton Survey Research Associates, 1999). After September 11th, 2001 the sentiment had changed. One survey asked on October 18th, 2001 “In your opinion, how likely is it that large numbers of Americans will be killed in the near future as a result of a biological warfare attack with smallpox?” Twenty-two responded “very likely,” 33% responded “somewhat likely,” and 41% responded either “not likely,” or “not at all likely”(Princeton Survey Research Associates, 2001). Certainly, September 11th had an impact on the American population, and one would expect that a heightened sense of awareness would be the result, but as the following poll suggests, that sense of awareness does not always include personalization.
Americans seemed sure that a biological attack might cause “ a large number of Americans to die,” but not so sure that they would themselves be individually affected. This is a rather naïve and perhaps fantastic position to take, but it was revealed by the following poll. In October 2001, 1,015 respondents were asked, “how likely do you think it is that you, or someone in your immediate family will contract smallpox in the next twelve months?” 88% said, “not likely,” or “not at all likely”(International Research Studies, 2001).
Osterholm and Schwartz (2000) noted similar survey results in their book Living Terrors citing one survey indicating that a resounding two-thirds of those surveyed believed that a serious terrorist attack implementing biological agents would be conducted against the United States within the next fifty years. The other survey found that 81% of the respondents maintained feelings of general optimism about the future. Osterholm was astounded by the results and said, “they must assume that someone else will be hit with the killer bug” (Osterholm, Schwartz, 2000, Pp. xviii).
Hart and Teeter (2001) conducted another survey sponsored by NBC News, and the Wall Street Journal, in which those surveyed were asked, “In the next several months, how likely is it that smallpox may be used as a biological weapon?” 25% responded “very likely,” 36% responded, “fairly likely,” 21% “fairly unlikely,” and the remaining 18% were either unsure, or thought it “very unlikely.”
The Associated Press (2001) found that 11% of Americans were “very worried,” about the future concerning biological weapons, 42% were “somewhat worried,” 26% were “not too worried,” and 21% were, “not worried at all.”
It seems apparent that the media made the public more aware of biological weapons after anthrax was identified as an agent being sent to individuals in the mail. Smallpox seems to have been illuminated as a result too. If this is true, and the media was most responsible for enlightening the American population about biological agents, is it not therefore possible that it might become most responsible for widely disseminating erroneous information as well, and leaving us, the American population with a false sense of security?
Television as a primary source of information for Americans
Subjectively, Americans are basically in agreement that the media is influential, and occasionally too influential as represented by polls. Polls are essentially simple surveys, but can be extremely insightful in many respects, especially in areas that require simple answers to complex problems. A minor hypothesis in this study is that respondents will identify television as a primary news source, as opposed to other sources like books, newsmagazines, and the Internet.
According to a Pew Research Center study begun in April of 2000, a majority of Americans turn to the television for news. It has been shown already, that the media does not have all the answers to the issues presented to the American people, and this proclivity to run to the television may in fact be detrimental in a crisis. To cite an example, one television program suggested “Anthrax must be ingested,” presumably to prove fatal (Hannity & Colmes, 1998).
Another study, (Van Eijck. Koen, Van Rees, Kees, 2000) published in the journal Communication Research showed conclusive evidence that reading had declined overall, as a result of television viewing. The study conducted in Europe emphasized that people that once read for gratification purposes in 1975, had generally turned to the television by 1995 for the same purpose. However those that read for informational purposes in 1975 employ television for purposes other than acquiring serious information (Van Eijck et all, 2000). This study effectively indicates that television has become a more dominant source of entertainment among the majority of the Dutch population since 1975. However, according to the research, those that sought serious information in 1975 by reading still sought sources other than television in 1995.
In April 2000, respondents were asked whether they watched television news programming regularly, to which 75% responded affirmatively (question # 5). When asked how much time they had spent watching television yesterday, excluding news programming, 57% responded that they had spent more than an hour watching television. Sixteen percent admitted to watching between two and three hours, 11% watched three to four hours, and 8% watched more than four hours of television programming (question # P.2). In 1998 Pew found that 13% of Americans regularly watched daytime talk shows like Jerry Springer or Rikki Lake (question # 16U).
One 1997 poll conducted by Hart and Teeter (1997) revealed that 79% of those polled admitted watching more than seven hours of television weekly, 24% watched more than twenty-nine hours weekly. A Scripps Howard News Survey (1993) revealed that 77% of those responding said that their television was on at least 3 hours daily, with 26% admitting that their television was on for longer than six hours daily.
In contrast to the amount of time Americans spend before the television, and the frequency in which they watch television news programming, only 15% of Americans stated that they listened to public radio regularly. In the same year 35% admitted to watching news magazine programs like Dateline regularly. Eighteen percent watched television programming like “Cops.” Ten percent of respondents admitted to watching programming like Oprah Winfrey regularly, and 12% watched Judge Judy regularly as well.
Pew found that 12% of the respondents indicated that they read news magazines like Time, U.S. News and World Report, or Newsweek regularly. All three of these magazines are owned by huge media corporations. In the case of Time, AOL Time Warner also owns NBC and cable news networks as well. Newsweek is owned by The Washington Post Company, and U.S. News and World Report is owned by the media giant CMGI. The point is that it may be difficult to get different perspectives from different news sources if they are owned by the same corporations.
This is not an entirely new concept. Spiro Agnew, former vice president of the United States delivered a speech in Des Moines Iowa in November 1969, in which he stated, “No medium has a more profound influence [than television news] over public opinion- nowhere in our system are there fewer checks on vast power (Speech delivered in Des Moines Iowa, November 13th, 1969).
In a relatively recent interview, Nicholas Johnson, (1995) a former Federal Communication Commission (FCC) official, commented on the developing media monopoly in mass communication. “At the time of the Time-Warner merger, when company executives were asked why they were merging, Time-Warner said that according to their calculations, it would not be long before there would be five firms that control all the media on Planet Earth, and that they intended to be one of them.” Johnson later acknowledged that, “it is true that most people get most of their information from television. It is also true that fewer and fewer people, particularly young people, are reading the newspapers.” To summarize the article, the media is already monopolized by a few powerful companies, but if trends continue eventually Time-Warner’s calculations may in fact be correct.
If the above surveys are any indication of where Americans spend a good part of their time, and where they acquire the majority of their news from, one must conclude that television represents a large element.
American subjective views on the honesty and integrity of their government
Polls suggest that Americans also view the honesty and integrity of their government with some suspicion. Certainly polls indicate that Americans spend an inordinate amount of time before the television,
In 1976, not long after the Watergate affair, Americans seemed to be very concerned about the honesty of their government. In a poll conducted by CBS News and The New York Times, it was found that the majority of those surveyed chose the restoration of honesty to government as the number one reason they liked Jimmy Carter (CBS News, 1976). By 1978 inflation was taking its toll in America, and issues that might reflect a society experiencing high inflation, like unemployment, and crime had taken some precedence over honesty. Civic Service (1978) conducted a poll on February 23rd, 1978, asking “Which of these items do you think is the most important facing our nation today?” The possible answers provided included, high prices/economy, unemployment, world peace, crime, honesty in government, energy crisis, and air and water pollution. Thirty-eight percent responded that high prices and the economy were the number one issue, 12% unemployment, 14% crime, and 11% still claimed honesty in government
A Gallup survey (1986) found that the majority of Americans surveyed felt that the overall level of ethics and honesty had fallen over the last ten years. In 1988 according to a Gallup poll, 79% of Americans felt that “honesty” was likely to be a more important issue, than in previous presidential elections (Gallup Organization, 1988).
Unfortunately a follow-up survey was not conducted by Gallup to assess how Americans felt, after George Bush reneged on his, “read my lips” promise.
A particularly interesting and informative poll sponsored by Time, and the Cable News Network, in September of 1992 revealed that the vast majority, 75% believed that there was less honesty in government than ten years previously (Yankelovich, Clancy, Shulman, 1992). This particular poll was divided up into specific demographics, allowing for a closer look at public opinion. African-Americans by a wide margin, 81% felt that there was less honesty in government. The two groups representing the greatest proportion of those believing that there was actually more honesty in government than ten years previously were College graduates, and post graduates. However, it must be said, that only 22% of each identified more honesty in government, rather than less, or “not sure” (Yankelovich, et all, 1992).
When asked, “Would you rate the level of ethics and honesty in politicians, excellent, good, not so good, or poor?”, Americans responded by and large with “not so good, and poor.” Less than 3% felt excellent was an adequate description, and 16% identified with “good.” Despite the fact that there was a Democratic president in the White House, Republicans and Democrats nearly equally agreed that the level of honesty among politicians was “not so good,” with Republicans slightly edging out Democrats 51% to 44%. This is all that more interesting, when one takes into account the fact that in 1995, when this poll was conducted, the Republicans had a majority in the house (ABC News, 1995).
In another poll comparing the honesty of Democratic and Republican office holders, it was found that the majority of those Americans surveyed felt that their politicians were of “average” honesty (Gallup Organization, 1998a, 1998b). In a more recent poll, it was revealed that American opinion concerning the level of honesty of their public officials had not changed a great deal in that the results showed that 60% of the respondents felt that it was either low, or very low. Only 3% identified a “hi

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