LONDON — "Poisons and pathogenic microorganisms are among the natural health hazards with which human beings are obliged to co-exist; difficult to perceive and therefore to avoid, they present a threat that is insidious as well as damaging or deadly." This statement, at the beginning of a recent draft report by the World Health Organisation on the threat of biological warfare, sums up the fear and defencelessness many people feel about potential weapons of terrorism that cannot be seen or heard, yet have the capacity to wreak widespread destruction.

The report, released in the wake of the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11, was accompanied by a dire warning from the WHO that governments needed to prepare responses to biological or chemical attacks by terrorist extremists. That warning has already prompted the UK Health Secretary Alan Milburn to order National Health Service chiefs to...

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