Before 9/11/01, that fact would be filed away under "So what...just left over Cold War paranoia."

Now, though, that fact is cause for considerable concern to Americans, and a panel of experts on bioterrorism and radical environmental groups speaking at the recent California Plant Health Association and CropLife America joint annual convention in Palm Desert, Calif., only served to heighten that concern when they addressed biological warfare issues facing America today.

According to veterinarian Jerry Jaax who was director of the biological arms control treaty office at Ft. Detrick, Md., before retiring from the Army in 1998, biological weapons will dominate military weaponry development in this century.

Jaax, now associate vice president for research compliance and university veterinarian at Kansas State University, said the single most significant modern day challenge to "U.S. sovereignty" is defense against bioterrorism.

Jaax said those 7,000 people were part of a 60,000-person Communist workforce who developed and stockpiled tons of offensive biological weapons during the cold war to spew such things as anthrax, smallpox, foot and mouth disease, plant diseases, plague and other scourges of human, plant and animal health at Russia’s enemies. During that same period, the U.S. had no more than 500 people working on offensive biological weapons.

Scientists easy prey

Some of those "lost" scientists were making just $100 per month when the Soviet Union collapsed, making them easy prey for the likes of Iran, Iraq and other terrorist nations trying to develop biological weapons.

The former Soviet Union stockpiled tons of deadly biological agents. He said it would take only one gram of high-grade anthrax delivered as a weapon to kill millions.

"In my opinion, everyone should be vaccinated against smallpox," said Jaax, who is not convinced that the current West Nile virus spreading across the U.S. was not started as an act of bioterrorism. However, he admitted he has no evidence to prove that.

"We might not know when an act of bioterrorism occurs. It is important to find out when it happened because there are a lot of things that can be done before people begin getting sick," he said.

Jaax quoted Dr. Ken Alibek, former first deputy chief of bioppreparat, the civilian arm of the Soviet Union’s biological weapons program, as saying 10,000 of those 60,000 scientists were working on biological destruction of agriculture.

"The Soviet Union had two manufacturing lines producing tons of foot and mouth disease for use in biological weapons," said Jaax.

An attack on American agriculture would hit at the heart of one of America’s biggest assets, an inexpensive, safe food supply.

It would create economic chaos.

Disease cost

Jaax cited a study from the University of California, Davis that said a foot and mouth attack on the nation’s No. 1 dairy county, Tulare County, Calif., would cost the economy of the state $13 billion.

"It may be difficult to recruit people to fly airplanes into buildings, but it would be easy to recruit someone to carry foot and mouth disease in their pocket knowing that that disease posed no danger to them or their families," he said.

Jaax and Steve Longoria, a certified counter-terrorism planner, admitted the facts they presented would "scare the heck out of anybody," but that their aim was not to frighten, but to get people to be aware of the threat and plan for what they believe is inevitable.

"You cannot ignore the threat any longer. We have to move forward to protect ourselves," Jaax said. "We must have a mitigation strategy for every one of these biological threats."

Longoria said there have been 375 known biowarfare incidents since 1975.

"Terrorists are being picked up all over the country today. They’re everywhere," he said.

"People must believe it can happen here, and we have to be prepared against the insidious spectrum of bioterrorism," said Longoria, who is founder and chief executive office of Aanko Technologies. He is a retired Air Force officer and a world recognized expert in anti-terrorism. His company works with cities in protecting water and sewer systems against terrorism.

"Be aware of the people who come onto your farm or to you business. Make sure that fertilizer truck belongs on your property," he warned. Spend money to train and protect yourself and your business.

e-mail: hcline@primediabusiness.com