[Editor's Note: This article was first publised in Jinx magazine #6, 1999]
The word "pandemonium" fails to describe the scene at the West 4th Street NYC subway station after stark panic whips the thousands of rush hour riders into a hysterical frenzy. Upon learning that terrorist agents have released aerosol-form anthrax within the station, every man, woman and child rushes for the turnstile exits; a stampede fueled by the fear of infection. The mob overwhelms pharmacies, hospitals and police stations. Mass rioting erupts as similar outbursts from other subway stations flood the Manhattan streets.
Such a scenario seems more typical of a Hollywood blockbuster than real life, but if terrorists did initiate a biological or chemical warfare attack, rest assured that the shit would come down, and hard. Not only would thousands inhale and succumb to these toxic substances; the very idea of possible exposure to them would plunge the population into the throes of terror, resulting in the equally deadly aftermath of paranoia-induced chaos. Either way, people will suffer because they were not prepared and could only react with irrational fear.
We at the Jinx Project hold ourselves to a higher standard than the ordinary masses and it is our duty to prepare ourselves for such a lethal reality. The time to act is now, because survival of biological and chemical warfare attacks hinges on knowing what to do in the precious few seconds that follow them. With this primer of biological and chemical agents, the Jinx Agent can begin to plan for the worst, and plan to live through the pestilence and the poison gas.
Airborne anthrax spores are both odorless and invisible. Knowing this makes the reality of a sudden attack far more nefarious, though closed-off quarantined areas and workers in spacesuits would suffice as potent visual cues. Symptoms of inhalation anthrax can begin as early as 24 hours after breathing the spores. Initial symptoms include fever, cough, painful swelling in the chest cavity and weakness, and the disease usually progresses to breathing problems, shock, and death. Despite this horrible course, most people believe anthrax to be nothing more than an obscure cattle disease that affects Third World countries, or just the '80's heavy metal band that collaborated with Public Enemy. They remain ignorant, and for good reason. The widespread devastation and unprecedented death toll that would result from an anthrax attack are too much for most to consider - a dreadful situation best not discussed openly. But we at the Project must rise above the ignorance of common citizens and familiarize ourselves with the facts on anthrax.
As far as pharmaceutical defenses go, antibiotics are the best bet for after-the-fact treatment. Medical specialists suggest antibiotics before symptoms appear. Inhalation anthrax kills more than 85 percent of those it infects, often within one to three days after symptoms appear, so such hindsight measures necessitate a tight schedule for survival. An anthrax vaccine does exist, but it is not available to civilians. Furthermore, the full vaccination dose, for military personnel, takes 18 months, and requires annual booster shots. Act fast - supplies are limited and only one U.S. company manufactures the vaccine (Bioport Corp, Lansing, Mich).
Smallpox also looms large as bioterrorist threats go. And smallpox, unlike anthrax, is transmissible from person to person as well as airborne. About 12 days following infection, the virus causes severe fever, stomachaches, vomiting and rashes of red spots that grow into larger, painful pustules and cover the body. The 30 percent fatality rate for unvaccinated patients does little to soften the blow, since smallpox is untreatable. The U.S. only has enough vaccine for about 6 million people - less than the population of NYC - and it is believed that much of that limited supply has probably deteriorated. Worse, there are no production facilities anywhere in the world to make more vaccine, and experts estimate that it would take at least three years to establish such a facility. Here again, all Jinx agents must understand the consequences of a smallpox attack, and anticipate it, given the state of international affairs.
When medical advances all but eradicated smallpox in the late 1970's, both the U.S. and Russia maintained stocks of the virus, supposedly for medical research purposes. Neither country followed through with the provisions specified in World Health Organization treaties relating to the eventual destruction of their smallpox stocks. June 30, 1999, the latest deadline for this scheduled destruction, came and went with both countries retaining their stockpiles. A number of recent high-ranking Russian defectors to the West have claimed that Russia has stockpiled smallpox virus for use as a biological weapon and has also genetically engineered more virulent strains of smallpox for the same purpose. Other sources claim that other countries, including China, Iran, Iraq, Israel, North Korea, Libya, Syria and India, have secured smallpox from Russian biologists.
Along with anthrax, smallpox and other biological weapons of mass destruction, Jinx Operatives must also familiarize themselves with chemical warfare agents. Nerve agents constitute the most potent class of chemical weapons. German scientists developed tabun, the grandfather of all lethal nerve agents, during World War II. Tabun, and other nerve agents, act by blocking the neurotransmitter-controlling enzymes of the nervous system, resulting in the continuous transmission of nerve impulses to muscles and organs. Victims of a tabun attack first experience a runny nose, tightness in the chest and constriction of the pupils. The victim then encounters difficulties breathing, drooling from the mouth and nausea. Loss of control over bodily functions then occurs, resulting in vomiting, urination and defecation. Twitching and jerking follows this phase. Ultimately, the victim becomes comatose and suffocates as a consequence of convulsive spasms. Tabun is essentially absorbed through the skin, although inhaling it can also be hazardous. A lethal dose kills in 20 minutes or less. People exposed to a non-lethal dose may suffer permanent neurological damage if not treated immediately.
Sarin is another nerve agent, which, unlike tabun, is both odorless and colorless in its liquid and vapor forms. Sarin evaporates 36 times as quickly as tabun, and is far deadlier. The symptoms are similar to those of tabun, but due to its high volatility, vaporous sarin penetrates the skin immediately and direct ingestion of even low concentrations causes death in one minute. The Japanese Aum Shinrikyo religious sect released an impure form of sarin in Matsumoto in 1994 and in the Tokyo subway in 1995, killing 12 people. Investigators later discovered that the cult was also producing a variety of biological weapons agents and had allegedly launched botulinum toxin and anthrax, in ultimately unsuccessful attempts to kill large numbers of people. On a larger scale, Iraq used both tabun and sarin in the 1980-88 war with Iran, and had large stocks of sarin available in the 1990-91 Gulf War. But this is only part of the Iraqi story, and the properly informed Jinx Agent must know more about the big picture, one that shows all too clearly from where such an attack would originate.
After the Gulf War, the UN Security Council established the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) to monitor Iraq's destruction of its chemical and biological weapons, as specified in the cease-fire agreement. Iraq has refused to fully comply. To date, self-declared Iraqi biological weapons holdings include 8,400 liters of anthrax as well as Scud missile warheads, aerial bombs and aerial dispensers outfitted with various biological weapons agents. Self-declared Iraqi holdings of chemical weapons include 150 metric tons of sarin and tabun as well as aerial bombs and aerial spray dispensers. However, UNSCOM lists a troubling number of "unaccounted for" items, including mass quantities of biological warfare agent production supplies, chemical weapons precursors, and munitions designed for use with these weapons. Things took a turn for the worse in late 1997, when Saddam Hussein expelled seven American members of UNSCOM from Iraq and denied UNSCOM access to eight "presidential sites." In late 1998 Iraq's Parliament voted to end all cooperation with UNSCOM.
THOSE WHO DON'T STUDY HISTORY. . . ARE DOOMED
Looking back to how the U.S. military dealt with the post-WWII threat of chemical warfare sheds some hope on this bleak situation, if only in a Machiavellian sense. Knowing of the experiments Nazi scientists performed in studying nerve agents, both Russian and American forces sought to capture these scientists after the war and bring them back to their respective countries - to begin chemical warfare programs of their own. Smuggled past the clutches of Nuremberg, these scientists arrived at top secret army research facilities, such as the high-security Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland, to continue their experimentation with tabun and sarin. The military sought to learn how the gases affected humans, and to develop defenses against them. The use of human subjects - volunteers who weren't certain what they had volunteered for in the first place - allowed the scientists to assess the affects of different gas concentrations and then to develop such defenses.
These cruel experiments laid the foundation for the U.S. military's modern protocol for combating the effects of biological and chemical weapons on the battlefield. Using this as a model, we, as members of the Project, must put into action a self-defense plan to survive in the face of chemical and biological warfare. A sacrifice for the Project is the Supreme Sacrifice, or so we'll tell the gassed and near-suffocated "volunteers" of our own top-secret experiments.
Immediate access to operational gas masks is crucial - the difference between life and death. During the Gulf War, and all recent episodes of Iraqi offensive action, Israeli citizens carried gas masks with them, at all times. More than a symbol of our Organization, the gas mask, if applied quickly and without inhaling toxic agents, is our salvation. Furthermore, U.S. military protocol includes the use of protective clothing and nerve agent antidote kits. We must make every attempt to emulate such provisions ourselves.
THEIR PLAN . . . AND OURS
NYC has its own plan of bioterrorism response, as masterminded by Jerry Hauer, director of the mayor's office of emergency management for the city. While Hauer and his organization depend on "public health reporting" of the first indications of such an attack, the Jinx Project gleans its information from an underground network of operatives. Hauer stresses that a major part of the city's response plan involves handling the psychological trauma that any biological or chemical weapons incident, no matter how small, would cause.
"We have to be careful not to create hysteria," cautions Hauer. "We don't talk about it in the general media. There is very little citizens can do to prepare. You have to have a balance; you can never completely prepare." We at the Project beg to differ. We don't have the luxury of panic. We must ready ourselves for the imminent onslaught at all costs. Rising above the general populace, we must hone our survival instinct to guide us through the pandemonium to come.