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Alastair Hay Discusses Biological Weaponry

Aired September 20, 2001 - 05:44   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, if America's New War is to actually be a real war it could produce some of anything. War is - in war anything is possible. And right now we want to talk about biological weapons. We want to know who's got them? What do they have? How many things are there out there that we should be worried about and who has to worry the most?

Well, joining us now is Alastair Hay. He is professor of Environmental Toxicology at Leeds University in Britain. And professor we thank you very much for your time this morning. Let me ask you first of all . . .

ALASTAIR HAY, PROFESSOR OF ENVIRONMENTAL TOXICOLOGY, LEEDS UNIVERSITY: Good morning.

HARRIS: Is it really fully known right now of the countries that have been in the news of late - we're talking about - we're talking about Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden, we're talking about Iraq, we've talking about Syria, we've been talking about Sudan. And do we know exactly what they have biologically speaking and what they may be likely to use?

HAY: Well, I certainly don't and I think most of the talk about what some countries may have is simply based on intelligence estimates of what countries have. There's certainly no information circulating within academic circles or in the general media about what these countries have.

So we really have no firm information at all.

HARRIS: Now does that trouble you? I would assume it would since if any public is going to prepare itself for something they should know what to prepare for?

HAY: Well, in one sense it might do but I think generally most countries have been concerned about chemical or biological warfare between states. And it's not really something that we've been concerned about as far as terrorists are concerned. I think the Tokyo underground incident in which the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) sect used the Sarin nerve agent to kill 12 people and injure many thousands was an indication that terrorists might use chemical weapons.

But we haven't really had any incidents over the years when people have had access to all sorts of biological agents for terrorist incidents. None of those have actually really happened. So I think it's something that we also need to get into perspective as well.

HARRIS: All right, well, give us some perspective. How serious do you think that threat is this time a round? We're talking now or we've been hearing talk of - from various capitols now about just how wide or how broad any war against terrorism should be. Are you not concerned at all that perhaps if there is a war that actually does get close to someone who actually has access to these things these terrorists may feel as though, "Well, the jig is up I might as well go ahead and use it." You're not concerned about that at all?

HAY: Oh, I'm not saying I'm not concerned about it. I think that it just may be a threshold that we might consider now that people would be prepared to cross.

I think in the past the general view has been that if anybody used chemical and biological weapons that they wouldn't get any sympathy because most people felt that this was really just going one step too far. But that may not be the view now. It's difficult for me to tell. I can't really assess that.

But I think that we need to consider chemical and biological warfare as one other possibility but recognize that it hasn't or they haven't been used in terrorist incidents in a major way for many years.

HARRIS: OK, let me - here's an e-mail that we've gotten in this morning. This is coming in from Chris. What are the most common threats that Americans will now face from biological weapons and what can we do to protect ourselves? An interesting question considering that America still remains an open society even in the wake of these attacks.

HAY: Yes, I think that's an extreme difficulty. It's trying to balance controls against some sort of normal way of activity. I think what most of us feel for control on biological weapons is that some international regime is needed. Of course, the United States is not happy about the controls that were proposed recently and has walked away from a very (UNINTELLIGIBLE) regime - a sort of policing regime that would have operated internationally.

The United States felt that it could control it's own country and protect itself against biological agents. Most of us feel that you need international controls.

HARRIS: Yeah.

HAY: But I think what you need to look at is the export of agents and perhaps some of the media that's needed. Biological agents need to be cultured up - they're grown in fermentation chambers and the like and you need growth media for these. There need to be controls on who can buy some of these organisms and the United States does have those controls in place now.

But you need to balance that, too, with the fact that many countries have these organisms present as natural diseases and hospitals need to be able to have these materials in their laboratories so that they can compare diseases that individuals have and types of bacteria. And it's those sorts of issues that make the thing extremely complicated.

HARRIS: That's a very . . .

HAY: I think it's difficult just for one country to do it on its own.

HARRIS: That's a very interesting angle. I hadn't heard that one discussed very much. Professor - hey, on the way out let me ask you one final question if you can answer this one quickly for us. If you think that there's a chance that biological or chemical weapons could be used in the next few months, years, weeks or whatever - any idea who would be the first to use them?

HAY: No, I don't really have any firm idea at all. I think we know which countries have chemical weapons and we have rumors about which countries may have biological weapons. It's very difficult. I think it's unlikely that a terrorist group would have significant stocks of these but that's just a personal view.

HARRIS: Professor Alastair Hay of Leeds University - thank you very much. We sure do appreciate the insight - very interesting ideas. Thank you. We'll talk with you so some other time I hope.

HAY: Thank you. Bye, bye.

LIN: Very scary times for some people. Sorrow is turning to resentment and even hate right now.

HARRIS: That's right unfortunately and we'll soon be singling out these haters. Arab Americans - singling them out for revenge. We'll take a closer look at this emerging problem in just a moment.

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