Did you know that airports didn’t have any security before 1972?
It’s hard to imagine that there was a time when commercial airplanes were viewed solely as an aviation issue and not as potential weapons.
Now, in hindsight, we see that the many deaths that occurred because of airplane hijacking and bombings in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s were avoidable. They were unnecessary losses of life that came about only because of our ignorance and lack of ability to think and imagine like a villain.
The deaths might yet serve a purpose, though, if we can learn from history and not repeat the mistake of overlooking weapons in disguise. Airplanes can be used as missiles in the wrong hands.
Ebola is not just a frightening virus. Ebola is a bioweapon.
For decades, this bioweapon was only available in military weapons labs (and occasional small and contained outbreaks in the wild). Ebola is now freely available to be obtained by the world’s most devious groups and individuals.
This extremely virulent virus has the potential to be more devastating than a nuclear bomb, and it is absolutely certain that Osama bin Laden’s disciples have already made extensive plans to infect and utilize suicide Ebola bombers (who may already be within our borders waiting to become symptomatic so they can “detonate.”)
And that’s just one kind of attack that the United States should be urgently bracing for. There are many others that are even more devastating. Some of the very real Ebola threats are potentially so catastrophic that they could end human civilization.
Ebola is not a medical issue, it is a national security issue.
Before I calmly explain that we can control this matter if it is dealt with right now, let me elaborate on some of the threats we are facing.
First, there is the most obvious threat – terrorism. I am not saying anything here that has not already been widely discussed in some of the darker corners of the Internet. Every terror organization (whether they are bent on hitting the USA or Israel or Russia or India…) has dreamt of the day when they could figure out how to get a bomb onto a plane without setting off the detectors. Their dream was answered a few months ago when Ebola became a widespread epidemic.
With full-time teams dedicated to finding ways to attack the United States, there is simply no chance that Al Qaeda, Isis and dozens of splinter groups hoping to make a name for themselves, have not made plans to send suicide jihadists to West Africa to contract Ebola. Once infected, these terror groups have a source of virus that they can sit on (simply by storing a few pints of their returning comrade’s blood), or that they can deploy by sending the infected “human bio-bomb” to their target.
Imagine an infected but not-yet--symptomatic Ebola bomber who arrives in Las Vegas with nothing more than a spray bottle. He and his fellow jihadists wait in their hotel room until the bomber becomes symptomatic and then they give him a bath. Filling the tub with warm water, he sweats and spits, urinates and vomits. They then fill their spray bottles with this highly infectious concoction and walk up and down the famous Strip spraying a cool, refreshing and lethal mist on everyone who passes by on a hot summer day.
Ebola would be spread to thousands of tourists each day, all of whom would spend the next few weeks flying home and incubating until they got a little sick… This one attack would reach every person in the United States of America and spread Ebola around the world.
But it’s even easier than that. A home grown Muslim convert who sees an Isis propaganda video and becomes a jihadist could get an all-expense paid trip to West Africa simply by posing as a humanitarian aid worker. This “nurse” just has to make sure that a few days before he gets flown back home to New York City, he touches an infected patient’s waste. With no mandatory quarantine, this homegrown terrorist can fly home, and then visit some strip clubs, hookers, dance clubs and bars – making sure to drink a bit too much to induce vomiting. New York would be infected with a plague and it would be vacated. The economy of the world would be destroyed overnight, and in a few weeks, New Yorkers would have spread Ebola to every corner of the globe.
Sadly and frighteningly, terror isn’t the only threat that produces this same outcome. Even with no malicious intent, Ebola has a probability of spreading this same kind of mass destruction. My biggest fear isn’t even terror – it’s Mexico.
It’s one thing to monitor one or two Ebola cases in the United States, but it is entirely different if an Ebola case were to go undetected across our Southern Border. Imagine a child becoming infected in a Mexico City slum. Children often have fever and they vomit frequently. Before it is even known to be Ebola, the plague could be out-of-control. Millions of Mexicans would flee, and they would take Ebola all over Mexico and South America – and thousands of disease-refugees would flood into the USA across the border every day.
These refugees would not be contact-traceable in the best of circumstances, much less during a totally overwhelming medical emergency.
How likely is Ebola to get into Mexico? Not very likely today; but Ebola cases in Africa are growing exponentially. That means that they are doubling every three weeks. At the current rate of infection, the CDC predicts that before the end of January, there will be more than 1.4 million infected Africans. (That’s less than three months from now). When millions of people are infected, the chance that someone – a criminal, a pirate, a kidnapped sex-slave – will be transported to a population center in South America is a virtual certainty.
I will present one last scenario before I tell you that this can all be avoided if we act now. That frightening scenario is the Extraordinary Event. Sometimes, disaster strikes because two things happen at once. People who are shot when they have the flu almost always die, even from wounds that would be very survivable if they were healthy. The same may be true for an Ebola outbreak.
It may be “medically reasonable” to allow returning health-care workers to move about freely without a quarantine under normal circumstances. If they monitor their temperature, and report to a hospital at the first sign of symptoms, the public would generally be safe (if they are indeed a real health-care worker and are not disgruntled or suicidal or angry, but I digress). It is entirely different if hundreds or thousands of these workers are returning to the USA each week. It is also entirely different if an Extraordinary Event occurs.
Imagine several dozen voluntarily and home-quarantined cases when a major hurricane hits the coast and evacuations are ordered. Suddenly, emergency services are disrupted. The patients may be forced to move and cram into close quarters with other members of the general public. They may no longer be able to monitor themselves for symptoms, and in the chaos, Ebola could spread in a way that renders contact tracing totally ineffective.
Other extraordinary events could include a person who is mugged or raped, they may be burned in a fire or in a car crash and require help from the public and the medical system, involving and exposing dozens of people to their blood and fluids – and infecting a criminal who will not turn himself in to authorities for contact tracing. The criminal would freely consort with his gang, his drug-friends, their prostitutes – and their children – all of whom will contract Ebola and spread the disease outside of the reach of the medical establishment or other authorities.
These kinds of events might seem unlikely when there are only one or two people in the equation, but when there are thousands of people, they will be a daily occurrence, and in each one, responders may not have any idea that the victim they are treating is now infectious with Ebola. (Even something as small as a jogger who runs three miles after having felt fatigued, as we now know from Ebola, who passes out or even has a heart-attack and is given treatment by EMTs).
The public is scared, but the discourse has been confusing. Perhaps the government and the press are intentionally misleading the public by saying that Ebola is hard to catch and that it won’t spread in a developed country; but the truth is that whether by design or out of ignorance, that message is false. Ebola can and will spread easily in the United States – just imagine if it gets to the public, who come into contact with bodily fluids all day long. I gave some examples before (strippers and hookers, children and anyone who goes out on a Friday or Saturday night for drinks or to a club where there is ALWAYS vomit…); other obvious ones are swimming pools and beaches in the summer or gyms all year round. If we allow Ebola to get out of very tight containment, we will find that it will spread far and wide in developed countries – people won’t admit to authorities that they were at a strip club, so contact tracing won’t work. What year do they think this is, 1950?
Moreover, some people, the same kind who murder-suicide or shoot up schools, will look at Ebola as a new way to gain fame in death. Many people distrust the government and they won’t report out of fear or out of anger. Ebola will spread quickly and easily if it is given a chance.
We can snuff it out right now, though, before this catastrophe comes to pass.
To stop Ebola, we need to have an honest conversation about it, and it is urgent that we deal with this crisis as the threat that it is. If a dictator came to power who had the ability to and threatened to kill 70% of the world’s population, a World-War-level effort would be ramped up in nations all around the world. Even if the chance was only 10% that he would succeed, no person would argue the fact that the madman must be stopped at all costs. Ebola is that threat. It must be stopped at all costs.
The first course of action should be a mandatory quarantine for anyone who has been to an infected region. Don’t take this to mean that most, perhaps all, of these people aren’t heroes. They are brave and they are doing an amazing service. These quarantines should be like 5-star hotels for heroes who have risked their lives in the service of humanity. Those who are quarantined should be paid for their time away from work and away from their lives. They should be made as comfortable as possible, fed well and entertained, but all with the understanding that if a single one of them was an imposter who was able to escape, it might bring down civilization as we know it. That is not a medical risk, it is an existential one, and it must be dealt with with 100% certainty. No one who might have Ebola should be allowed to get close to the public.
The second step should be an immediate closure of the borders of all infected countries, with travel in permitted, but travel out requiring a 21 day quarantine. Since these borders are not airtight, they must be made so – by force and by blockade. This will hurt the people and countries involved, and a relief fund must be set up to offset the economic damage. Food and water must be provided, but more than that, the people of these countries should also be cared for above and beyond. They will suffer two-fold: from the virus and from the world’s response. They will be forced to live within the borders of a hot-zone, and that will be terrifying to most. Comforts and benefits as well as medical care must be supplied. This kind of war is a war of love. The victims (both those who are infected and those who will be confined in the borders with them) must be treated with the utmost compassion. Instead of tanks and bombs, the world’s effort must be on comfort, care and a message of a bright future once this storm has passed.
If these measures are successful, they will eventually need to be repeated, as Ebola and other deadly pathogens will still exist. It will be imperative that the effected governments, people and countries are left in better condition than they were before the outbreak. If the world helps them to build infrastructure, schools and hospitals as well as free markets and investment capital, then in the future, when another crisis like this comes about, the people and governments will know that they can trust the world not to abandon them, and we will have an easier time with containment.
We must be humane, but we must be firm and forceful. The fate of the human race may well depend on our actions, today, right now.
It is always tempting to ignore or scoff at something so scary. The siren call to escape from this message and back to the distraction of your phone may be irresistible. But if there was ever a need to snap out of our mind-numbing slumber and call-to-arms, that time is right now. Two weeks from now may be too late.
If only the airports had had better security installed on September 10…
If you agree with the opinions expressed in this paper, please send it to the everyone who is important to you and ask them to do the same. Together we can get the truth out.
Brian Shuster is a futurist with more than 35 issued and pending patents, he is the CEO of the Virtual World Web, and the author of The Minerva Virus