A white paper written by Anthony H. Cordesman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Commissioned by the federal government shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, this report outlines the current state of the United States’ readiness to deal with a terrorist attack using biological weapons. While it manages to be both full of chilling scenarios and dry statistics, Cordesman manages to set his report apart by asking us to think of biological warfare in terms of the TV show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. He describes both the United States and Buffy as living “in a world of unpredictable threats where each series of crises only becomes predictable when it is over and is followed by a new and unfamiliar one.

Cordesman describes this uncertain existence as the “Buffy Paradigm.” Other similarities between the current world situation and Buffy include:

  • What expertise there is consists largely of bad or uncertain advice and old, flawed, and confusing technical data.
  • The importance of any given threat changes constantly, past threat behavior does not predict future behavior, and methods of delivery keep changing.
  • Arcane knowledge is always inadequate and fails to predict, detect, and properly characterize the threat.
  • The more certain and deterministic an expert is at the start, the more wrong they turn out to be in practice.
  • The scenarios are unpredictable and have very unclear motivation. Any effort to predict threat motivation and behavior in detail before the event does at least as much
  • Risk taking is not rational or subject to predictable constraints and the motivation behind escalation is erratic at best.
  • It is never clear whether the threat is internal, from an individual, or from an outside organization.
  • The attackers have no firm or predictable alliances, cooperate in nearly random ways, and can suddenly change method of attack and willingness to take risks.
  • All efforts at planning a coherent strategy collapse in the face of tactical necessity and the need to deal with unexpected facts on the ground.
  • The balance between external defense, homeland defense, and response changes constantly.
  • No success, not matter how important at the time, ever eliminates the risk of future problems

Cordesman also argues that the U.S. government is currently suffering from “The Buffy Syndrome,” that, like the characters in “Buffy,”

(They) constantly try to create unrealistic plans and models, and live in a world where they never really face the level of uncertainty they must deal with. They do not live in a world of total denial, but they do seek predictability and certainty to a degree that never corresponds to the problems they face. In short, they behave as if they could create and live with the kind of strategy and doctrine that is typically developed by the US joint chiefs, could develop and implement an NSC decision memorandum, or solve their problems with the equivalent of a Quadrennial Defense Review.

This piece, with its focus on how uncertain we are on how to deal with terrorist attacks, can be a little frightening. The author manages to present over 20 different scenarios where a small, well-trained terrorist group could cause widespread panic and destruction throughout the United States. Then talks about how easy it is for terrorists to gain access to dangerous materials since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. This is an excellent report for anyone looking to see what a dangerous place the world can truly be.

As scary as this whole thing is, you can‘t help but smile when you read sentences like:

One of Buffy’s constant problems is that demons are more lethal than vampires, and simple minded as this may be, it illustrates the point that some weapons of mass destruction are far more lethal than others.

The complete text of the report is available at http://www.csis.org/media/csis/pubs/buffy0129021.pdf

All grammar and spelling errors have been left "as is" from the original report. Your tax dollars at work, eh?

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