Are ecoterrorists coming next???
Or is this just fear-mongering???
The terrorists' letter arrived at the Mayor of Los Angeles's office on November 30, 1989. A group calling itself “the Breeders” claimed to have released the Mediterranean fruit fly in Los Angeles and Orange counties, and threatened to expand their attack to the San Joaquin Valley, an important centre of Californian agriculture.
With perverse logic, they said that unless the Government stopped using pesticides they would assure a cataclysmic infestation that would lead to the quarantining of California produce, costing 132,000 jobs and $13.4 billion in lost trade.
The infestation was real enough. It was ended by heavy spraying. It is still not known if ecoterrorists were behind it, but the panic it engendered shows that “the Breeders” were flirting with a powerful weapon.
The history and future of insects as weapons are explored in my new book, Six-Legged Soldiers. As an entomologist, I was initially interested in how human beings have conscripted insects and twisted science for use in war, terrorism and torture. It soon became apparent that the weaponisation of insects was not some quirky military footnote but a recurring theme in human strife, and quite possibly the next chapter in modern conflicts.
Insects are one of the cheapest and most destructive weapons available to terrorists today, and one of the most widely ignored: they are easy to sneak across borders, reproduce quickly and can spread disease and destroy crops with devastating speed.
A great strategic lesson of 9/11 has been overlooked. Terrorists need only a little ingenuity, not sophisticated weapons, to cause enormous damage. Armed only with box-cutters, terrorists hijacked aircraft and brought down the World Trade Centre. Insects are the box-cutters of biological warfare - cheap, simple and wickedly effective.
Am I being an alarmist? I wish I knew. But I do know that few people have an inkling of how insects can - and have - been used to inflict human suffering and economic destruction. And I know that government officials admit that entomological attacks are, “not something that is yet on our radar”. So my goal in Six-Legged Soldiers is to find a measured concern that lies between complacency and panic.