Historically, epidemics have often been difficult to distinguish from biological weapons and bioterrorism (Barras 497). Disease’s natural spread, however, can have its origins in human agency. Use of disease as a weapon of terror has unique implications for the evolution of border control. Instead of inciting fear solely of a natural, non-human actor, the threat of bioterrorism prompts states to identify an individual or national enemy. Unlike the impact of epidemics on land and flight travel, bioterrorism focuses on the threat of disease in the context of terrorism and political struggle.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, bioterrorism has risen as a threat in the eyes of scholars and political actors, especially as the world has become more globalized. The increased efficiency of travel and movement across borders has correlated with an increase in the threat of bioterrorists distributing bioweapons more easily through food, water, people and air. Scholar Stephan Riedel states,
The progress made in biotechnology and biochemistry has simplified the development and production of such weapons…Ease of production and the broad availability of biological agents and technical know-how have led to a further spread of biological weapons and an increased desire among developing countries to have them. (400)
This rise in technology, scientific research and demand for bioweapons in developing countries has caused first world countries such as the U.S. and Japan, with a global political code, to monitor their national borders even more closely. This attention has been aggravated by recent terrorists and bioterrorist attacks inside national boundaries.
Because of the U.S.’s engagement in the “War on Terror,” the events of 9/11 and the anthrax scare are two major examples of attacks that mobilized the American nation against the possible threat of bioterrorism and impacted the evolution of importation and border regulation policies. Not only did the U.S. spend more government money preparing major cities in the U.S. for potential bioterrorist attacks, but they also conducted legislation to tighten the regulation of food, plant and animal importation. The government paid special attention to national borders as well, monitoring the influx of people for disease.
For example, fear of bioterrorist attacks crossing the Mexican border into the U.S. arose soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Tuesday, May 21st, 2002 issue of the San Diego Union-Tribune began, “With new threats of terrorism looming over the United States, public health experts from both sides of the border yesterday raised the possibility that the region could be vulnerable to a biological attack” (Sanchez 1). The article referred directly to the events of 9/11 as prompting this fear and action: “Eight months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks shook the nation, health officials are still working on a game plan in the event of a bioterrorist attack” (1). This “game plan” included specific attention paid to the Mexican-U.S. border, and the article also reports that “President Bush is proposing to spend $5.9 billion for defense against biological terrorism in 2003, $4.5 billion more than in 2002” (Sanchez 1). This attention to the border would increase the tightness of immigration from Mexico to the U.S., do additional screening and keep an eye out for suspicious activity. The following link contains the entire article:
The anthrax scare of 2001 also prompted the U.S. government to guard its borders against bioterrorism. Julie Rovner notes, “Following the anthrax attacks in 2001, Congress focused new attention on bioterrorism” (4). This scare, along with 9/11, impacted border legislation such as the “bioterrorism bill” of 2002. The drafter of the bill, Billy Tauzin, stated, “We’ve tried to think as evilly as we could” (Carter 1). This anticipation of such an “evil” threat in border regulation and “bio shield” development developed from the moments of crises at 9/11 and the mailed anthrax. “Since Sept. 11, the agency [U.S. Customs Service] has shifted its primary mission from catching drug smugglers to thwarting terrorists, especially stopping deadly biological, chemical or nuclear weapons from being smuggled into the country” (1). $4.6 billion dollars was allotted for buying “special equipment to fight terrorism at the borders” (1).
This increase in U.S. investment in border protection only arose in response to terrorism, whether biological or nuclear. Thus, unlike pandemics, bioterrorism lies in the realm of a nation’s reaction terrorism in general. It is a political reaction rather than a reaction something natural such as a hurricane or earthquake. The U.S. provides an interesting case study because of its “War on Terror” and the specific efforts and money spent investing in border protection against bioterrorists attacks. In the same way as epidemics affect flight and land travel, however, bioterrorism causes similar changes in legislation in response to current threatening events.
The following maps highlight the “calculated risk” of each state to become a victim of bioterrorism, reflecting the U.S.’s growing concern: