Showing posts with label MOSSAD. Show all posts
Showing posts with label MOSSAD. Show all posts

Monday, April 6


Oil markets are facing a perfect storm. The scissors of supply and demand are moving against one another, generating increasing pain on the oil industry and the political and financial stability of oil-producing countries.

Global oil demand is dropping due to the recession induced by the COVID-19 shut down of economic activity and transport in the most industrialized countries. Goldman Sachs predicts that global demand could drop from 100 million barrels per day (mdb) in 2019 to nearly 80 mdb in 2020.[1] If confirmed, this would be single biggest demand shock since petroleum started its race to become the most important energy source in the world.

Meanwhile, global supply is increasing due to the “oil price war” triggered by the Saudi decision on 7 March to offer discounts and maximize production, increasing output to a record high of 12.3 mbd. The Saudi government had reacted to the refusal by Russia to contribute to a coordinated OPEC production cut of 1.5 mbd, thus shelving, for the moment, the OPEC Plus alliance than had been forged in 2016 precisely to prevent a continuous drop in oil prices

Figure 1 OPEC oil production and supply adjustments

Most analysts explain the ongoing Saudi-Russian oil war with their willingness to increase their respective market share to the detriment of US shale producers. A different, but authoritative interpretation of the Saudi strategy, comes from Bernard Haykel, a professor at Princeton University who is personally acquainted with Saudi crown-prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Professor Haykel maintains that the Saudi decision might actually be motivated by the long-term goal of maximizing oil rents while there still is a market for Saudi oil “because climate change has fueled a global push toward de-carbonization and renewable energy”.[2]

In the short-term, the Saudi leadership is probably seeking to bring Russia back in line with OPEC while at the same time punishing US shale producers which rely on higher oil prices for commercial viability. Yet, Riyadh is also pursuing a longer-term goal, which entails producing as much oil as possible for a world that will be less reliant on petroleum in the medium term.

There is an inherent contradiction between the two goals stated above and the need for Saudi Arabia to preserve a relatively high oil price in order to guarantee fiscal income for the state, thus providing adequate welfare to its citizens.

As a result of the twin supply and demand shocks, the price of US oil (West Texas Intermediate – WTI) has dropped below 20 dollars a barrel followed by wild oscillations. At this price, most US shale companies will not be profitable, (only 3 US shale companies have an average breakeven cost at 30 dollars), while certain qualities of US crude have been sold at negative prices.

The world’s most important crude benchmark (Brent), is below 30 dollars per barrel. With these prices, the political, social and economic turmoil already experienced by OPEC countries such as Venezuela, Libya, Algeria, Nigeria and Iran before the present crisis will become unbearable; while both Saudi Arabia (with a fiscal breakeven at 84 US dollars per barrel) and Russia (with its lower fiscal breakeven price at 48 US dollars) will face tremendous pressures.[3]

The present crisis holds numerous similarities with the oil “counter-shock” of 1985/86 (Figure 2).[4] At the time, global oil demand was declining due to the economic recession of the early 1980s, as well as to the introduction of efficiency measures and the shift to “alternative” energy sources (nuclear and natural gas) put in place by most OECD governments. Similarly to today, there was a problem of over-supply, due to the advent of new oil production, particularly from the British and Norwegian North Sea. Today, a large portion of new supply instead comes from the US shale industry, especially in the Permian Basin, that has increased US production from 5 mbd in 2008 to more than 12 mbd in 2019, giving rise to the so-called “shale revolution”.

Like today, Saudi Arabia was fed up of being forced to continuously cut production to defend the OPEC price and, in the Autumn of 1985, decided to discipline non-OPEC producers by offering discounts and maximizing production. Oil prices fell to nearly 10 dollars a barrel as a result, having a terrible impact on oil producers. US “independent” producers faced bankruptcy, and the cycle of oil industry “mega-mergers” began. OPEC countries entered a phase of political and economic turmoil: Saddam Hussein’s ill-conceived gamble to revive a bankrupted Iraq by invading neighbouring Kuwait in 1990 was only the most evident consequence of the “counter-shock”.

The first novelty is that we might now have reached “peak oil demand” due to a combination of cultural, financial and political shifts in the largest industrialized countries, combined with the ever-increasing pressures for “deglobalization”, heightened by the recent shock from the global pandemic.[5] While the price “counter-shock” of 1985/86 led to a massive expansion of global oil consumption that fuelled the neoliberal globalization of the 1990 and 2000s (global oil consumption increased from 60 mbd in 1985 to 100 mbd in 2019), it is unlikely that the price shock of 2020 will bring global oil demand back beyond the peak of 100 mbd. This will be especially true if state investment plans to counteract the COVID-19 induced recession will be also oriented toward boosting “green” technologies and infrastructures.

The other novelty is that most OPEC countries, and crucially the two countries that played a key role for the creation of OPEC, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, are for different reasons shifting from a “political approach” to oil production, to a prevailingly “commercial approach”. The Venezuelan government has essentially lost control over its oil industry – which has been effectively privatized and controlled by foreign, mostly Russian, companies. Saudi Arabia has taken the unprecedented step to market 1.5 per cent of its national oil company Saudi Aramco, and as a result now needs to consistently produce dividends for its shareholders, even if at the expense of Saudi state finances.

The spread of this “commercial approach” by OPEC national oil companies will not allow for significant structural production cuts in a competitive environment. Nor will it allow for strong international cooperation with a focus on preserving oil rents for OPEC governments and protecting the availability of the natural resources for future generations. National companies will be struggling to defend their market share, and will thus offer discounts to their customers and demand fiscal incentives from their governments.

The combined pressures from the new “peak demand” scenario, together with the weakening of OPEC due to the commercial orientation of national oil companies, will basically wipe out whatever was left of a “structure” of the oil market that has become increasingly unstable since the 1970s. The race to the bottom of oil prices will wreak economic havoc on most oil-producing countries and regions of the world, including on US states such as Texas (where the oil industry represents 10 per cent of the GDP and directly employs 360,000 workers), and on high-cost OECD oil producers such as Canada.

Since the 1970s, OPEC has been the only international organization that, with moderate success, has attempted to control production and stabilize prices. It cannot, and will not, continue doing so any longer. It will not accept to rein in production while the rest of the world simply strives to pump out as much oil and gas as possible, be this from shale formations, from tar sands or from below the Arctic, with utter lack of environmental concerns. Oil production cuts will either be shared and coordinated with other world producers, or they will simply not happen.

John Maynard Keynes had repeatedly warned about the need for global management to stabilize the price of commodities.[6] The only precedent for global negotiations on energy prices has been the Conference for International Economic Cooperation (CIEC) held in Paris from 1975 to 1977. At the time, a select group of 27 participants from the OECD, OPEC and the “less developed countries” tried to discuss energy prices and development issues in parallel. The danger stemmed from soaring oil prices and the widespread fear of “running out of oil”. The exercise ended in failure because of the unwillingness of OPEC, then at the peak of its power, to discuss prices without relevant concessions by industrialized countries.

This time is different. The risk and instability derive from peak oil demand, low prices and the need for stable prices in order to plan a speedy transition away from fossil fuels, while avoiding the political and economic collapse of oil-producing countries. A new “pro-rationing” effort must be undertaken at a global level, involving the US and other OECD members, OPEC and non-OPEC states such as Russia, Mexico and Brazil. Significantly, the “pro-rationing” conducted by the Texas Railroad Commission in the 1930s already served as the model for the founders of OPEC.

Whatever its format and however difficult it may be to change a “neoliberal” ideology that rules out state-led regulation of production, the time for a global dialogue on production levels and oil prices (and possibly on environments standards) has come. Deregulation of the energy market has to give way to a new era of regulation of the oil industry at both national and international levels.

The alternative will leave commercially-oriented oil companies, both national and international, free to engage in a destructive price war that will maximize environmental degradation and the squandering of natural resources. A destructive price-war will ultimately endanger decarbonization efforts (car-markers are already pressing governments to relax emissions standards), and will increase political and economic instability in OPEC countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, that are key regional actors.

Giuliano Garavini teaches International History at Roma Tre University. He is the author of “The Rise and Fall of OPEC in the Twentieth Century” (Oxford University Press, 2019).

[1] Tsvetana Paraskova, “Goldman Sachs: Prepare for a Massive Oil Demand Shock”, in, 26 March 2020,

[2] Bernard Haykel, “Saudi Arabia’s Radical New Oil Strategy”, in Project Syndicate, 23 March 2020,

[3] Jack Farchy and Paul Wallace, “Petrostates Hammered by Oil Price Plunge and Pandemic’s Spread”, in Bloomberg, 28 March 2020,

[4] Duccio Basosi, Giuliano Garavini and Massimiliano Trentin (eds), Counter-Shock. The Oil Counter-Revolution of the 1980s, London/New York, IB Tauris, 2018.

[5] The debate on “peak demand” has been raging since 2018. See Spencer Dale and Bassam Fattouh, “Peak Oil Demand and Long-Run Oil Prices”, in OIES Energy Insights, No. 25 (January 2018),

[6] See Robert W. Dimand and Mary Ann Dimand, “J.M. Keynes on Buffer Stocks and Commodity Price Stabilization”, in John Cunningham Wood (ed.), John Maynard Keynes. Critical Assessments, Second Series, Vol. VIII, London/New York, Routledge, 1994, p. 87.

Friday, March 27


Influenza aviaria e pandemia: arriverà mai un'altra "spagnola"? Se lo domandavano i "cervelloni dell'ISS" nel 2006: leggi a pag 03

Wednesday, March 11


L’Organizzazione mondiale della sanità (OMS), in modo specifico per l’influenza, ha individuato una serie di requisiti necessari perché si verifichi una pandemia. In primo luogo deve emergere un virus geneticamente diverso in modo significativo dai virus che circolano nella popolazione umana e per il quale, quindi, la maggior parte della popolazione non ha immunità. 

Da sempre (?) l’OMS tiene sotto controllo l’emergere di epidemie nel mondo: già nel 1947 (un anno dopo la sua fondazione) aveva creato un servizio di informazione epidemiologica via telex. Tuttavia, negli ultimi anni le cose sono cambiate. In particolare, le International health regulations (IHR) del 2005, entrate in vigore nel 2007, hanno radicalmente modificato i requisiti per le notifiche internazionali. 

A questo scopo l’OMS ogni giorno raccoglie informazioni da fonti diverse: servizi sanitari nazionali, uffici regionali, organizzazioni non governative, università, ospedali, ma anche stampa, radio, televisione, Internet. Quindi non solo informazioni ufficiali, ma anche quelli che gli anglosassoni chiamano rumours, ovvero chiacchiere

Mentre in precedenza gli Stati membri avevano l’obbligo di notificare all’OMS in modo automatico i casi di colera, peste e febbre gialla, da quel momento in poi la notifica parte quando nel territorio di uno Stato viene identificato un evento che può costituire un’emergenza per la salute pubblica di rilevanza internazionale, chiamato anche PHEIC (Public Health Emergency of International Concern). 

A questo punto comincia un processo di verifica al termine del quale parte la diffusione dell’informazione e l’organizzazione della risposta: l’OMS offre un sostegno alle autorità sanitarie della nazione colpita attraverso il GOARN (Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network), una rete alla quale aderiscono le maggiori istituzioni scientifiche e sanitarie del mondo. 

Le capacità di intervento del GOARN vanno dall’invio di team per le indagini epidemiologiche e l’assistenza medica alla fornitura di strutture per le diagnosi di laboratorio o la raccolta dei campioni biologici.

Le malattie epidemiche e pandemiche emergenti e riemergenti costituiscono una seria minaccia alla salute, tanto che il 12° programma generale di lavoro dell’OMS (2014-19) pone come uno dei cinque obiettivi strategici la riduzione di mortalità, morbidità e disagi sociali dovuti alle epidemie attraverso la prevenzione, la preparazione, la risposta e le attività di recupero. 

Prendiamo ora in esame alcuni dei principali eventi di questo inizio secolo che costituiscono o potrebbero costituire potenziali emergenze per la salute pubblica mondiale:

L’influenza s. fu causata dal virus a RNA H1N1.
L'influenza spagnola, altrimenti conosciuta come virus dell'influenza H1N1, questa tragica epidemia, fu una pandemia influenzale, insolitamente mortale, deflagrò tra il 1918 e il 1920 uccise un minimo di 50 milioni di persone: Prima delle tre pandemie che coinvolsero la maggior parte del mondo durante l'ultimo secolo.

Questa epidemia fu portata dai soldati che ritornavano dal fronte del 15-18. Molti di essi, scampati alle granate nemiche, morirono di influenza già al fronte, a guerra quasi finita. Oltre cinquanta milioni di morti "dimenticati".

All’inizio l’influenza virale H1N1 non sembrava destare molta preoccupazione: «Cette maladie a fait son apparition aussi chez-nous, mais sous une forme assez bénigne et peu allarmante. Quelques jours de fièvre et voilà tout» scriveva l’11 ottobre Le Pays d’Aoste e si augurava che «les premiers froids en balayeront les derniers vestiges». Invece la epidemia colpiva solo e soprattutto giovani adulti precedentemente sani. 

 Si stima che un terzo della popolazione mondiale fu colpito dall’infezione durante la pandemia del 1918–1919. La malattia fu eccezionalmente severa, con una letalità maggiore del 2,5% e circa 50 milioni di decessi, alcuni ipotizzano fino a 100 milioni.

Tre focolai di influenza (pandemia) in tutto il mondo si sono verificati nel 20 ° secolo: nel 1918, 1957 e 1968. Questi ultimi 2 erano nell'era della virologia moderna e caratterizzati in modo più completo. Tutti e 3 sono stati identificati in modo informale dai loro presunti siti di origine rispettivamente come influenza spagnola, asiatica e di Hong Kong. Ora sono noti per rappresentare 3 diversi sottotipi antigenici del virus dell'influenza A: H1N1, H2N2 e H3N2, rispettivamente. 

Non classificate come vere pandemie sono 3 notevoli epidemie: una pseudo-pandemia nel 1947 con bassi tassi di mortalità, un'epidemia nel 1977 che fu una pandemia nei bambini e un'epidemia abortiva di influenza suina nel 1976 che si temeva avesse un potenziale pandemico. 

Le principali epidemie di influenza non mostrano periodicità o pattern prevedibili e differiscono tutte l'una dall'altra. Le prove suggeriscono che le vere pandemie con cambiamenti nei sottotipi di emoagglutinina derivano dal riassortimento genetico con i virus dell'influenza A animale.I morti furono più di 200 milioni.Negli anni trenta furono isolati virus influenzali dai maiali e dagli uomini che, attraverso studi siero-epidemiologici furono messi in relazione con il virus della pandemia del 1918. 

Si è visto che i discendenti di questo virus circolano ancora oggi nei maiali.

Forse hanno continuato a circolare anche tra gli esseri umani, causando epidemie stagionali fino agli anni ’50, quando si fece strada il nuovo ceppo pandemico A/H2N2 che diede luogo all’Asiatica del 1957.

Da allora virus simili all’ A/H1N1 continuarono a circolare in modo endemico o epidemico negli uomini e nei maiali, ma senza avere la stessa patogenicità del virus del 1918.

Dal 1995, a partire da materiale autoptico conservato, furono isolati e sequenziati frammenti di RNA virale del virus della pandemia del 1918, fino ad arrivare a descrivere la completa sequenza genomica di un virus e quella parziale di altri 4. Il virus del 1918 è probabilmente l’antenato dei 4 ceppi umani e suini A/H1N1 e A/H3N2, e del virus A/H2N2 estinto.

Questi dati suggeriscono che il virus del 1918 era interamente nuovo per l’umanità e quindi, non era frutto di un processo di riassortimento a partire da ceppi già circolanti, come successe poi nel 1957 e nel 1968. Era un virus simile a quelli dell’influenza aviaria, originatosi da un ospite rimasto sconosciuto.

La curva della mortalità per età dell’influenza, che conosciamo per un arco di tempo di circa 150 anni. ha sempre avuto una forma ad U, con mortalità più elevata tra i molto giovani e gli anziani. Invece la curva della mortalità del 1918 è stata a W incompleta, simile cioè alla forma ad U, ma con in più un picco di mortalità nelle età centrali tra gli adulti tra 25 e 44 anni.

I tassi di mortalità per influenza e polmonite tra 15 e 44 anni, ad esempio furono più di 20 volte maggiori di quelli degli anni precedenti e quasi metà delle morti furono tra i giovani adulti di 20–40 anni, un fenomeno unico nella storia conosciuta. Il 99% dei decessi furono a carico delle persone con meno di 65 anni, cosa che non si è più ripetuta, né nel 1957 e neppure nel 1968. I fattori demografici non sono in grado di spiegare questo andamento.

I virus imparentati a quello del 1918 non diedero più segnali di sé fino al 1977, quando il virus del sottotipo H1N1 riemerse negli Stati Uniti causando un’epidemia importante nell’uomo.

Dopo aver causato un primo focolaio in America Settentrionale ad aprile 2009, un nuovo virus influenzale ha cominciato a diffondersi rapidamente nel mondo, finché a giugno dello stesso anno l’OMS ha dichiarato che si trattava di una p. influenzale. 

L’evento non si era più verificato dal 1968, anno dell’influenza di Hong Kong. 

Nel 2009 la p. di influenza H1N1 è stata dichiarata un PHEIC, così come il riemergere di casi di poliomielite in alcuni Paesi asiatici, del Medio Oriente e dell’Africa centrale nel 2014 e, nello stesso anno, l’epidemia di Ebola in Africa occidentale.

Il virus del 2009 (A/H1N1pdm09) non era mai stato identificato come causa di infezioni negli esseri umani. Le analisi genetiche hanno mostrato che ha la sua origine nei virus influenzali che colpiscono gli animali e che non ha relazioni con altri virus H1N1 che circolavano in precedenza.

La p. del 2009 si è mostrata meno pericolosa delle antecedenti. 

Tuttavia, le prime stime sulla mortalità diffuse dall’OMS nel 2010, contando i casi confermati dai laboratori (circa 16.000 morti), si sono rivelate troppo ottimistiche. 

Uno studio del 2013 valuta che la mortalità per problemi respiratori dovuta alla p. influenzale del 2009 sia stata circa 10 volte più alta: un numero di morti che va da 123.000 a 203.000

Inoltre, benché la mortalità sia simile a quella dell’influenza stagionale, è decisamente più alta tra le persone al di sotto dei 65 anni: tra il 62 e l’85% delle morti ha riguardato persone al di sotto di quella età, contro il 19% dell’influenza stagionale. Questo vuol dire che si sono persi molti più anni di vita (Simonsen, Spreeuwenberg, Lustig et al. 2013).

MERS-CoV. – Nel 2012 in Arabia Saudita è stata identificata una nuova malattia virale che colpisce le vie respiratorie e che può essere anche molto grave. Poiché i casi sono tutti collegati ai Paesi della penisola arabica, la malattia è stata battezzata MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) e il coronavirus che ne è la causa è il MERS-CoV. I coronavirus sono abbastanza comuni e normalmente causano malattie piuttosto lievi delle alte vie respiratorie, come il raffreddore, ma nel 2002 in Cina è apparso un nuovo coronavirus dalle caratteristiche particolari: causa una malattia molto grave chiamata SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) che, tra il 2002 e il 2003, ha colpito 8.098 persone in 25 Paesi uccidendone 774.

Anche il MERS-CoV è degno di attenzione: la malattia che causa, i cui sintomi sono tosse, febbre e respiro affannoso, fino a metà gennaio 2015 ha colpito 955 persone e ne ha uccise 351, circa il 30%. I dati disponibili suggeriscono che i dromedari rappresentino la fonte d’infezione (diretta o indiretta) di molti casi umani (Al-Tawfiq, Memish 2014).

La trasmissione interumana appare invece limitata. Il passaggio del virus avviene prevalentemente attraverso goccioline di saliva o per contato diretto; sembra tuttavia plausibile anche la trasmissione per via aerea in quanto tracce di RNA (RiboNucleic Acid) virale sono state rilevate nell’aria di una stalla di dromedari colpiti dal virus. Le misure di prevenzione e controllo sono difficili da mettere in atto perché spesso non è possibile identificare i pazienti in modo precoce: infatti, i sintomi iniziali di questa malattia si possono confondere con quelli di altre patologie respiratorie.

Influenza H7N9 e H5N1. – Un’altra malattia che deve essere tenuta sotto controllo è l’influenza aviaria. Ci sono due virus rischiosi per l’uomo: H7N9 e H5N1. Il primo nel 2013 in Cina è stato individuato per la prima volta negli esseri umani, in pazienti che avevano avuto contatti con i polli. Da allora e fino a gennaio 2015 sono stati riportati 347 casi con un tasso di mortalità del 21%. 

Fino al 2015 non è stata confermata una trasmissione da persona a persona che possa considerarsi efficiente. L’altro virus, H5N1, è apparso per la prima volta nel 1997 e ha un tasso di mortalità ancora più alto: 59% (Bartlett 2014). La differenza principale tra i due virus è che mentre l’infezione causata da H5N1 risulta fatale in tempi rapidi negli uccelli, quella causata da H7N9 è normalmente asintomatica in questi animali. Questo vuol dire che H7N9 ha un reservoir (serbatoio) stabile e silente che è molto difficile da trovare ed eliminare.

Media e pandemie. – Le epidemie e le p. più recenti hanno messo in evidenza il ruolo determinante dei media nella comunicazione e nella gestione del rischio. Da un lato, come abbiamo visto, grazie ai rumours i media sono una delle fonti che contribuiscono a identificare un evento rischioso per la salute pubblica. Dall’altro lato, sono anche il canale di diffusione delle notizie alla popolazione quando c’è un’emergenza per la salute pubblica.

Oggi i social media e le informazioni scambiate su Internet si stanno sostituendo ai media tradizionali e si sta pensando di utilizzarli come opportunità per migliorare la sorveglianza degli eventi epidemici (Velasco, Tumacha, Denecke et al., 2014). 

In particolare, sta nascendo un nuovo settore di ricerca chiamato digital epidemiology che è un approccio interdisciplinare tra scienza, tecnologia e salute pubblica. Già esistono esempi di cosa può produrre questo approccio: un sistema per identificare le comunità con un maggior rischio di alta incidenza di influenza basato sull’analisi delle attitudini nei confronti della vaccinazione rilevate da Twitter (Costello 2015).

Nella percezione del pubblico, tuttavia, non sempre i media svolgono il loro ruolo in modo ineccepibile. Uno studio pubblicato in Svizzera ha analizzato come il pubblico dei non esperti ha recepito il comportamento di quanti, a vario titolo, sono stati coinvolti nella p. influenzale del 2009. 

Ne è uscito un quadro drammatizzato dove si muovono eroi (medici, ricercatori) e vittime (i Paesi poveri), mentre i media sono i cattivi che generano allarme o che sono marionette al servizio di interessi forti e industrie farmaceutiche (Wagner-Egger, Bangerter, Gilles et al. 2011). Infatti, un’accusa che spesso viene mossa ai media è quella di esagerare il rischio di un’epidemia contribuendo così a creare malintesi. Ma si è visto che spesso i media hanno avuto un’influenza positiva sulla percezione della malattia da parte della popolazione, facilitando gli interventi di prevenzione (Riva, Benedetti, Cesana 2014).

Un problema da tenere presente è che il termine epidemia viene utilizzato in due accezioni diverse dagli esperti e dai non esperti. Per i secondi il termine di solito implica un pericolo per la popolazione e un grande numero di vittime, non così per gli epidemiologi, come abbiamo visto. Questa discrepanza contribuisce a creare confusione e può diventare un problema nella comunicazione del rischio. 

L’obiettivo fondamentale infatti è evitare la paura, ma non sempre la comunicazione degli esperti riesce a raggiungerlo: il «New York Times», inondato negli ultimi mesi del 2014 da domande dei lettori su come ci si contagia con Ebola, sostiene che gli esperti spesso sono poco chiari e usano termini ambigui, come per es. l’espressione fluidi corporei, utilizzata senza specificare a quali fluidi è legato il rischio di contagio (Altman 2014).

C’è poi un problema di fondo: ogni nuova minaccia alla salute è accompagnata da incertezze che riguardano in particolare la comprensione di che cos’è la malattia e di quali sono i rischi di trasmissione. L’ammissione dell’incertezza però spesso dà luogo alla sensazione terrorizzante che le autorità sanitarie non sappiano quello che stanno facendo (Rosenbaum 2015). L’equilibrio tra la necessità di essere trasparenti anche su ciò che si ignora e la necessità di trasmettere indicazioni con autorevolezza è difficile da raggiungere e le strategie per ottenerlo meritano un’attenta riflessione da parte dei diversi attori coinvolti.

Bibliografia: Pubblicato da Treccani- P. Wagner-Egger, A. Bangerter, I. Gilles et al., Lay perceptions of collectives at the outbreak of the H1N1 epidemic: heroes, villains and victims, «Public understanding of science», 2011, 20, 4, pp. 461-76; L. Simonsen, P. Spreeuwenberg, R. Lustig et al., Global mortality estimates for the 2009 influenza pandemic from the GLaMOR project: a modeling study, «PLoS medicine», 2013, 10, 11:e1001558; J.A. Al-Tawfiq, Z.A. Memish, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus: epidemiology and disease control measures, «Infection and drug resistance», 2014, 7, pp. 281-87; T.R. Frieden, I. Damon, B.P. Bell et al., Ebola 2014. New challenges, new global response and responsibility, «The New England journal of medicine», 2014, 371, 13, pp. 1177-80; E.C. Hayden, The Ebola questions, «Nature», 2014, 514, 7524, pp. 554-57; M.L. McNairy, W.M. El-Sadr, Antiretroviral therapy for the prevention of HIV transmission: what will it take?«Clinical infectious diseases», 2014, 58, 7, pp. 1003-1111; M.A. Riva, M. Benedetti, G. Cesana, Pandemic fear and literature: observations from Jack London’s The scarlet plague, «Emerging infectious diseases», 2014, 20, 10, pp. 1753-57; UNAIDS (United Nations AIDS), The gap report, Genève 2014; E. Velasco, A.T. Tumacha, K. Denecke et al., Social media and Internet-based data in global systems for public health surveillance: a systematic review, «The Milbank quarterly», 2014, 92, 1, pp. 7-33; L. Rosenbaum, Communicating uncertainty. Ebola, public health, and the scientific process, «The New England journal of medicine», 2015, 372, 1, pp. 7-9. Webgrafia: L.K. Altman, Epidemic of confusion. Like AIDS before it, Ebola isn’t explained clearly by officials, «The New York Times», 10 nov. 2014, http://www.nytimes. com/2014/11/11/health/ likeaids-before-it-ebola-isnt-explained-clearly-byofficials. html?_r=0; J.G. Bartlett, An epidemic of epidemics, «Medscape infectious diseases», 2014,;Graphic: as Ebola’s death toll rises, remembering history’s worst epidemics, «National geographic», 25 ott.2014, http://news. 141025-ebola-epidemic-perspective-historypandemic/; V. Costello, Researchers changing the way we respond to epidemics with Wikipedia and Twitter, «PLoS blogs», 29 genn. 2015, Tutte le pagine web si intendono visitate per l’ultima volta il 6 agosto 2015.

Wednesday, November 28


This is a chapter-by-chapter analysis and documentation of the power of Israel via the Israeli, Jewish or Pro-Zionist Lobby on US Middle East policy. 

It raises serious questions as to the primary beneficiary of US policy, and its destructive results for the United States. The extraordinary extent of US political, economic, military and diplomatic support for the state of Israel is explored, along with the means whereby such support is generated and consolidated. Contending that Zionist power in America ensured unconditional US backing for Israeli colonization of Palestine and its massive uprooting of Palestinians, it views the interests of Israel rather than those of Big Oil as the primary cause of the disastrous US wars against Iraq and threats of war against Iran and Syria. It demonstrates and condemns US imitation of Israeli practice as it relates to conduct of the war on terrorism and torture. It sheds light on the AIPAC spying scandal and other Israeli espionage against America; the fraudulent and complicit role of America’s academic “terrorist experts-in furthering criminal government policies, and the orchestration of the Danish cartoons to foment antipathy between Muslims and the West. It questions the inability in America to sustain or even formulate a discourse related to the subject of Israeli influence on the United States. It calls for a review of American Mid East policy with a view to reclaiming US independence of action based upon enlightened self-interest and progressive principles.

Friday, October 26


What is the matter with the Palestine solidarity movement? Since 1948 (and before that, even) the Palestinians have been viciously abused and dispossessed while the perpetrators and their supporters, including unprincipled politicians of the Western powers, have continually played the anti-Semitism card.

Lately, bemused spectators were bored witless by the long and ludicrous propaganda campaign to vilify Jeremy Corbyn, bully the Labour Party into making the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism a cornerstone of their code of conduct and stifle discussion of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people. The expected riposte never came.

Jewish Voice For Labour, of all people, have now stepped in and struck back with a useful looking definition of anti-Palestinian racism which they describe as “hatred towards or prejudice against Palestinians as Palestinians”. In a document faintly mocking the pronouncements on anti-Semitism, they suggest that manifestations of anti-Palestinian racism might include the denial of Palestinian rights to a state of Palestine as recognised by over 130 member countries of the United Nations and blaming Palestinians themselves for their plight under brutal military occupation and lock-down. Here’s how they put it:

Contemporary examples of anti-Palestinian racism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

1. Denying the Palestinian people their right to self-determination and nationhood, or actively conspiring to prevent the exercise of this right.

2. Denial that Israel is in breach of international law in its continued occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

3. Denial that Israel is an apartheid state according to the definition of the International Convention on Apartheid.

4. Denial of the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians during the 1948 Nakba and of their right, and the right of their descendants, to return to their homeland.

5. Denial that Palestinians have lived in what is now the land of Israel for hundreds of years and have their own distinctive national identity and culture.

6. Denial that the laws and policies which discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel (such as the recently passed Nation-State Law) are inherently racist.

7. Denial that there is widespread discrimination against Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories in matters of employment, housing, justice, education, water supply, etc, etc.

8. Tolerating the killing or harming of Palestinians by violent settlers in the name of an extremist view of religion.

9. Making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Palestinians – such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth of a Palestinian conspiracy to wipe Israel off the map.

10. Justifying the collective punishment of Palestinians (prohibited under the Geneva Convention) in response to the acts of individuals or groups.

11. Accusing the Palestinians as a people of encouraging the holocaust.

I am not sure how Palestinians, as genuine Semites living there for thousands of years, will react to No.5 which claims their homeland is “now the land of Israel”. Despite being illegally occupied by an apartheid entity most of whose members have no ancestral links to the ancient “land of Israel”, it is still Palestine.

For decades activists have been telling the Israel lobby to look in the mirror and address their own racial hatred towards the Palestinians. You must truly hate people to deny them their freedom and even their right to return to their homes and livelihoods. Why has it taken so long for such a simple and obvious weapon to be produced? Doesn’t it make you wonder about the true agenda of those in charge of Palestine solidarity? And why is it left to a group of Jews (bless ’em) to do it?

The question now is how best to deliver this somewhat delayed riposte. It might have been most effective while the iron was hot, at the height of the anti-Semitism witch-hunt and media onslaught. Many activists wanted Corbyn to turn on his tormentors and tell them to mend their own vile attitude towards Palestinian Arabs before daring to smear others with accusations of anti-Semitism.

On the other hand, it will benefit from careful honing, cool planning and the massing of pro-Palestinian support to make the hit really count.

For reasons we know only too well, our politicians won’t adopt it as eagerly as they embraced the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism. But it is at least a starting point in the fight-back, especially if deployed by a coalition of genuine pro-Palestine groups and the BDS movement as the centrepiece of a new, high-octane strategy.

Lies, damned lies…
Meanwhile, I hope all those who allowed themselves to be suckered by the ZIONIST U.S.LOBBY will hang their heads in shame when they read this report by the Media Reform Coalition: Labour, Antisemitism and the News – A disinformation paradigm. The Executive summary says that an analysis of over 250 articles and news segments from the largest UK news providers (online and television) showed:

 29 examples of false statements or claims, several of them made by anchors or correspondents themselves, six of them surfacing on BBC television news programmes, and eight on The

A further 66 clear instances of misleading or distorted coverage including misquotations, reliance on single source accounts, omission of essential facts or right of reply, and repeated assumptions made by broadcasters without evidence or qualification. In total, a quarter of the sample contained at least one documented inaccuracy or distortion.
Overwhelming source imbalance, especially on television news where voices critical of Labour’s code of conduct were regularly given an unchallenged and exclusive platform, outnumbering those defending Labour by nearly 4 to 1.

In all, there were 95 clear-cut examples of misleading or inaccurate reporting on mainstream television and online news platforms, with a quarter of the total sample containing at least one such example. On TV two thirds of the news segments contained at least one reporting error or substantive distortion.

The report points to “a persistent subversion of conventional news values”. Furthermore, coverage of Labour’s revised code of conduct during the summer of 2018 often omitted critical discussion of the “working definition” of anti-Semitism promoted by the IHRA and wrongly described it as universally adopted. It says:

We established through background case research that although the IHRA is an international body with representatives from 31 countries, only six of those countries have, to date, formally adopted the definition themselves.

In spite of a call for local authorities to adopt the definition by the UK’s central government in early 2017, less than a third of councils have responded and several of those have chosen not to include any of the controversial examples contained within the working definition.

Several high-profile bodies have rejected or distanced themselves from the working definition, including the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (a successor to the body that drafted the original wording on which the definition is based) and academic institutions, including the London School of Economics and the School of Oriental and African Studies.

Mainstream academic and legal opinion has been overwhelmingly critical of the IHRA definition, including formal opinions produced by three senior UK barristers and one former appeals court judge. Virtually none of this essential context found its way into news reports of the controversy. Instead, the Labour Party was routinely portrayed by both sources and correspondents as beyond the pale of conventional thinking on the IHRA definition.”

Which all goes to show that Britain’s mainstream media has a hill to climb to get back its self-respect.

By Stuart Littlewood

Saturday, June 30


Glencore is keeping the marketing rights for the Sarir and Messla crude grades for a third year even though BP and Shell are returning to lift Libyan oil in a sign the country’s industry is perceived as becoming more reliable. One source familiar with the matter said Libya’s state oil firm National Oil Corporation (NOC) had allocated its 2018 crude and that the contracts would be signed next week. 

With production having steadied at around 1 million barrels per day (bpd) since the middle of last year, Libya, beset by factional fighting, has become a less unstable supplier. However, supply risks remain. One pipeline bringing Es Sider crude to export was recently bombed but swiftly repaired. BP and Shell declined to comment. Spokesmen for Glencore and the NOC did not immediately respond to requests for comment (Last August, Shell directly lifted its first cargo of Libyan crude in five years).

Since the end of 2015, Glencore has been the sole marketer of the Sarir and Messla grades, which are produced in the east of the country and exported via the Hariga port. Glencore was one of the few traders willing to deal with the risks associated with Libya’s unrest, Islamic State intrusions and a crippling port blockade that slashed the country’s output.

Earlier this month, the NOC said it was seeking a prompt restart of the country’s largest refinery at Ras Lanuf, following a resolution to arbitration cases with its operator, Lerco. The refinery, closed since 2013, runs on the grades allocated to Glencore. It was not immediately clear when the refinery would resume operations or what would happen to Glencore’s allocation once it does. 

NOC subsidiary Arabian Gulf Oil Co produces the Sarir and Messla grades. Output has been fluctuating between around 150,000 and 230,000 bpd, its chairman said in early January, below its potential 320,000 bpd owing to power problems.

Other contract winners include Vitol, Total, Unipec, OMV, BB Energy, ENI, API, Cepsa, Socar and Repsol, trading and shipping sources said, largely unchanged from 2017 to June, 2018.

-Shell and BP have agreed annual deals to buy Libyan crude oil. Sources told the news agency that Shell’s deal is the first of its kind since 2013, and that the first cargo of 600,000 barrels will start to be loaded from Zueitina port.

-The head the eastern-based National Oil Corporation EAST (NOC) has claimed that his office has signed 29 contracts independently of the Tripoli-based organisation.

Naji al-Maghrabi told Reuters that recent contracts included deals with major states such as Russia and China. Russia is reported to be planning to arm eastern-based strongman General Khalifa Haftar

-The Deputy Prime Minister of Libya’s internationally recognized government in Tobruk, Abdus Salam al Badri, told a conference last week in Malta that his government will punish international oil companies (IOCs) that continue to work with the rival administration in Tripoli.

-In parallel, the Chairman of the National Oil Corporation (NOC) based in the East of Libya, BP, which didn’t have a term deal in 2017, has reportedly also reached an agreement for this year.

-The Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation (NOC) held a series of meetings with a group of global refineries in the Mediterranean area and with a major oil companies last week in London. The first meeting was with BP, followed by meetings with more than 20 partners, customers, Libyan crude refiners and fuel suppliers. BP, which didn’t have a term deal in 2017, has reportedly also reached an agreement for this year.

-The newly-created National Oil Corporation (NOC) loyal to the internationally recognised government in the east of Libya has reportedly invited international oil companies (IOCs) to “discuss legally signed agreements and contracts” at a conference in Dubai next month.

-The Tobruk government set up the rival company – ‘NOC East’ – in Benghazi, but oil buyers are still dealing only with the established NOC in Tripoli. According to Reuters, oil customers have refused to sign any deal with the eastern entity due to legal concerns as geological data to prove ownership of oil reserves are stored at NOC Tripoli. The invitation to a conference on 2nd September was issued by Naji al-Maghrabi, who was recently appointed chairman of the eastern NOC.

-The head the eastern-based National Oil Corporation (NOC) has claimed that his office has signed 29 contracts independently of the Tripoli-based organisation.  Naji al-Maghrabi told Reuters that recent contracts included deals with major states such as Russia and China. Russia is reported to be planning to arm eastern-based strongman General Khalifa Haftar, commander in the Libyan National Army (LNA), who opposes the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.

-The Deputy Prime Minister of Libya’s internationally recognized government in Tobruk, Abdussalam Elbadri, told a conference last week in Malta that his government will punish international oil companies (IOCs) that continue to work with the rival administration in Tripoli.

-In parallel, the Chairman of the National Oil Corporation (NOC) based in the East of Libya, Nagi al-Magrabi, told Bloomberg: “We will send letters to all the international companies that operate in Libya asking them to deal with the internationally recognized and legal government. “We will take measures based on their respective replies to the letter. If they continue to decline to cooperate with the legal government, we will stop their loadings once their contracts expire.” Mahdi Khalifa, an NOC board member, said that any oil companies that refuse to cooperate with the government face the risk of legal action.

-Libya’s internationally recognised government has warned companies against dealing with the Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation (NOC). Speaking to a press conference of Beida, the head of the House of Representatives (HoR), Abdullah al-Thinni (pictured), said his government is taking further steps to export crude oil from the regions under its control through its locally recognized “NOC”, and away from the Tripoli-based organisation.

-The chairman of the pro-HoR “NOC”, Mabruk Abu Yousef Maraja, warned of the illegality or illegitimacy of dealing with the NOC in Tripoli. He also warned Tripoli not to enter into any contracts or legal actions that would impose any obligations on the Libyan oil sector.

-National Oil Corporation (NOC) Chairman Nuri Berruien [Nuri Balrwin] (pictured), has confirmed that there are to be no new exploration-production sharing agreements (EPSAs) before mid-2014. Answering questions at the end of a conference in London, he added that this would probably be “during a constitutional government”, implying that the current “interim” government is not deemed constitutional enough or does not have the authority or legitimacy to launch an EPSA bidding round, according to Libya Herald. He added that he hoped for a “win-win” situation for both the NOC and the international oil companies, admitting that the current EPSAs had problems for both parties and hoped that the new EPSAs would “encourage long-term development”.

Glencore oil deal in Libya branded worthless by rival government. Internationally recognised regime in Benghazi says commodity firm’s potentially lucrative oil-export deal in Tripoli is with the wrong people. 

Glencore’s deal to export Libyan oil is not worth the paper it is printed on, the commodities company has been told. The Switzerland-based firm agreed last week to buy up to half of Libya’s oil exports from the western division of the National Oil Company in Tripoli, where an Islamist-backed government is based. But the internationally recognised government in Benghazi, in eastern Libya, said Glencore had signed a deal with the wrong people

Nagi Elmagrabi, chairman of the eastern division of the National Oil Company, told Bloomberg that he had written to Glencore asking for an explanation but not yet received a reply. He said that if Glencore had signed a deal with the parallel regime in Tripoli, the Benghazi government could physically prevent Glencore tankers from using Libyan ports. 

The deal in question envisages Glencore loading and finding buyers for crude oil from the Sarir and Messla fields, exported via Tobruk’s Marsa el-Hariga port in the east. The eastern government says it does not recognise any agreement signed with Tripoli.

Finding a way to resolve the impasse could prove particularly lucrative for Glencore, given that Libya’s oil exports have huge potential to increase. Libya was pumping about 1.6m barrels of oil a day before the civil war that ended Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s rule in 2011. 

Production has since slumped to as low as 400,000 barrels a day, although it could be increased if the security situation in Libya improves. Glencore regularly invests in countries where security risks and political turmoil have deterred other investors, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Colombia

However, the company is in need of new sources of income, after the economic slowdown in China prompted a slump in global commodity prices, ravaging its share price. The company floated its shares at £5.30 in 2011 but they have since plunged, closing on Monday at 90.42p. 

The firm announced proposals earlier this year to raise £6.6bn in an effort to allay investors’ fears about its £20bn debt pile. The plan includes mine closures, asset sales and a £1.6bn share-placing but has yet to arrest the decline in Glencore’s stock. Glencore declined to comment on its dealings in Libya

Tuesday, April 24


Dedicate to H.E. JOHN McCAINE (from Adriaticus)

U.S. Congressional investigators want to know what an former CIA operative was doing in Montenegro last fall at the time of an alleged Russian backed coup plot against NATO’s newest member.
Michele Rigby and Joseph Assad
(U.S. authorities say they are curious why former CIA operative Joseph Assad, seen above in 2016 with his wife, Michele, was in Montenegro last fall around when an alleged coup plot was foiled). 
Photo by Lady Hereford/ Palm Beach Atlantic University
Former Central Intelligence Agency‎ Officer Joseph Assad is celebrated in Washington for helping extract dozens of Iraqi Christians from Islamic State territory in 2015‎. Last October, days before a hotly contested national election in Montenegro, Mr. Assad flew to the tiny Balkan country that has been the subject of tensions between the U.S. and Russia.

The imbroglio is a sign that old East-versus-West spy games are alive again in Europe. Current and former U.S. and Russian officials acknowledge privately that their operatives are at work in the Balkans and in Montenegro in particular.

U.S. and Montenegrin officials say the campaign culminated in a Russian-backed plot that was thwarted at the last moment. The government’s opponents say the events amounted to a fake coup intended to rally the people to the ruling party’s side.

Montenegrin officials said they are investigating whether Mr. Assad was hired to help the alleged perpetrators. Prosecutors have charged 14 people in the alleged plot, including what the indictment describes as a group of Serb nationalists, several of whom called themselves The Wolves. 

The indictment, recently upheld by Montenegrin courts, says the men planned to overthrow Montenegro’s government, possibly kill its prime minister and install a pro-Russian regime. It doesn’t charge Mr. Assad, but names him as a potential contractor hired to help to lead a subsequent escape from the country.

U.S. and allied officials have said it makes no sense that the coup plotters would use an outsider to help extract their team from the country. But Montenegrin and U.S. officials said it is possible Russian operatives wanted to associate a former CIA officer unwittingly with the plot so as to obscure Moscow’s responsibility.

U.S. and allied officials said one reason they believe there was a coup planned was that Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said his country’s security services had found “undeniable and material” evidence to back the Montenegrin account and cooperated with the investigation.

Prosecutors allege in their indictment that Mr. Assad approached a Florida security firm, Patriot Defense Group, looking for someone to help with “counter surveillance and evacuation” for the opposition party.

Brian Scott, a former CIA official and chief executive of Patriot Defense Group (John McCain), said a staff member spoke with Mr. Assad about general security work in Montenegro for a company affiliated with Patriot. Mr. Scott said he didn’t know if the work was to conduct an evacuation, adding his company quickly turned down the job because it wasn’t aligned with his firm’s mission to assist U.S. companies overseas.

Mr. Assad, who hasn’t been indicted, declined to speak to The Wall Street Journal. His lawyer, Vincent Citro, said Mr. Assad had been in Montenegro to assist a friend and colleague who was managing the opposition’s campaign. Mr. Citro says Mr. Assad had nothing to do with any plot and denies Mr. Assad was working as a spy for Russia or anyone else.

Mr. Citro confirmed there was a call between Mr. Assad and Patriot Defense Group. He said Mr. Assad has cooperated with the U.S. government “to clarify misinformation coming from Montenegro” but said he was told his client isn’t under investigation.

A story about Mr. Assad and his wife on the website of his college alma mater and a 2016 profile in a Florida newspaper provides this sketch of Mr. Assad: He is an Egyptian Christian raised in Lebanon and Egypt and is now a naturalized U.S. citizen. He moved to the U.S. to attend Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida, where he focused on political science and biblical studies and graduated in 1994. In 1999, Mr. Assad and his wife, born in the U.S., both joined the CIA.

In 2015, after Mr. Assad moved to a private security consultancy, ABC’s 20/20 featured a segment on how the Assads helped rescue 149 Iraqi Christians from ISIS.

Among those charged in the alleged plot in Montenegro are two accused Russian operatives, three members of the Montenegrin opposition and nine Serbs. The trial will hinge on the credibility of the government’s main witness, a (unindicted) Serb who in a statement cited in the indictment says he was recruited by a Russian intelligence agent to overthrow a government.

Staff members and investigators of the House Intelligence Committee this week reached out to Mr. Assad and Mr. Scott to ask them questions. “If Americans were involved we need to investigate,” said Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), the committee’s chairman. He recently visited Montenegro to meet with prosecutors about the allegations of Russian involvement. “This was an attempt to take down the pro-NATO government by Russian interests,” he said.

Last year, Montenegro’s Democratic Party of Socialists, which has ruled the country since independence in 2006 and has pushed for NATO membership, faced a stiff challenge from the Democratic Front, a coalition of opposition groups that campaigned on an anticorruption platform and called for a referendum on NATO.

The opposition hired Aron Shaviv, a British-Israeli campaign manager who had made his mark producing amusing political advertisements for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. With Mr. Shaviv’s satirical ads poking fun of the government on the air, Mr. Shaviv said, he was followed and pulled over by Montenegrin police and security.

Mr. Shaviv said he called Mr. Assad, with whom he had worked previously, to come to Montenegro to conduct a security assessment. Mr. Assad’s lawyer says his client provided the assessments for Mr. Shaviv, then left on the day of the election.

Montenegrin and U.S. congressional investigators have questioned the timing of Mr. Assad’s exit. In conversations with the Journal, they asked why a security adviser would leave his client on the day of the election, hours after high-profile arrests of alleged plotters.

Mr. Shaviv, who hasn’t been accused in the plot, said the Montenegrin prosecutors’ allegations amount to believing Moscow tried to topple a government using a team made up of a political consultant, a former CIA agent and “some farm boys from rural Montenegro with their hunting rifles.”

Mr. Shaviv said Montenegro’s government faced defeat in the October election and whipped up the “sloppiest conspiracy theory ever concocted.” Both the Montenegrin government and ruling-party officials deny the allegation.

While Russian officials deny they are trying to destabilize NATO aspirants or countries on their borders, U.S. officials said they expect more Russian interference across Europe. 

Gen. Ben Hodges, a senior U.S. Army commander in Europe, said Russia is “going to continue doing this, putting pressure on countries on their periphery.”

Write to Julian E. Barnes at and Drew Hinshaw at

Sunday, April 15


Edward M. Spiers, professor of strategic studies at Leeds University, in England, explores both the myths and realities of chemical and biological warfare. Organized more or less
chronologically, Spiers recounts the evolution of chemical and biological weapons from the first mass uses of chemical weapons in World War I to the potential of modern biology to transform bioterrorism.

Spiers writes that chemical and biological weapons have probably been around as long as warfare itself. Ancient European, Indian, and Chinese history is replete with the use of poisonous snakes, insects, diseased animals, incendiaries, poison-tipped weapons, and poisoned water supplies in warfare. The first large-scale use of chemical weapons occurred in World War I, when the Germans discharged chlorine gas from cylinders at Ypres, Belgium, in 1915. 

Reported casualties from the gas ranged from 7,000 to 15,000 people, but after the initial surprise, the Allies were able to improvise protective measures. Within five months, the British were able to retaliate at the Battle of Loos, but they suffered 2,000 casualties to their own gas.

The failures of gas to break the enemy’s lines at Ypres, Loos, and other battles contributed to the legacy of gas warfare in World War I as a failure. However, Spiers argues, this legacy was largely shaped by postwar historians, because few participants shared that view. The use of gas actually increased over the course of the war. In addition to consequent casualties, gas negatively affected morale and considerably contributed to psychological and physical stress. Antigas defenses also made warfare more cumbersome, exacerbating logistical and communication challenges.

As evidence of the effectiveness of chemical weapons, real or imagined, Spiers writes that the Allies prohibited Germany from manufacturing and importing asphyxiating or poisonous
gases as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended the war. Furthermore, in 1925, 44 nations signed the Geneva Protocol, which prohibited the use of chemical and biological weapons by international law and the “conscience and practice of nations.” Nonetheless, during the period between World Wars I and II, Britain considered but, for largely moral and political reasons, did not use chemical weapons in Egypt, Afghanistan, India, and Iraq.

Winston Churchill himself was “strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes,” Spiers writes. The eventual use of gas bombs by the Italians in Ethiopia in 1935–36, however, in direct contravention of the Ge ne va Protocol, reawakened Europe to the possibility of gas warfare. In Britain, more than 50 million “antigas” helmets had been distributed by the beginning of World War II. 


A Kurdish woman carries photos of relatives killed in chemical weapons attacks ordered
Questions of efficacy aside, Spiers writes that a combination of other factors averted the use
of chemical weapons during the Second World War. Because of the industrial and economic
hardships engendered as a result of the First World War, German, French, and British
chemical production capacity was limited. Hitler personally disdained chemical weapons,
which had injured him during World War I

Moreover, early in World War II, Germany did not need to resort to chemical weapons, and the Allies could not risk using them near friendlycivilian populations. Eventually, Germany did test its V1 and V2 rockets with chemical warheads, although the nation was deterred from using them by fear of reprisal against its civilian population. 

By the end of the war, U.S. military-industrial might had produced the world’s largest stock of chemical weapons and the air power to deliver them. However, the development of the atomic bomb, and success on other fronts, made their use unnecessary.

Biological weapons were not used to a significant extent in either the First or Second World
Wars. Nonetheless, as Spiers describes, there were still chilling reminders of the potential
power of even crude biological weapons. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, six Japanese soldiers released hordes of plague-infested rats and 60 horses infected with glanders into the Chinese countryside, leaving Changchun and surrounding environs uninhabitable until the mid-1950s.

Nuclear weapons, of course, came to dominate deterrence strategies during the Cold War.
Nonetheless, the proliferation of a new class of chemical weapons, nerve agents such as
sarin [2-(fluoro-methylphosphoryl)oxypropane], touched off a new chemical arms race, Spiers writes. From 1954 to 1969, the U.S. also manufactured and stockpiled numerous antiplant and antipersonnel biological weapons.

In Vietnam, the U.S. faced criticism, both at home and abroad, for its use of riot-control agents (to clear tunnels, for example), defoliants, and chemical weapons to kill crops and render soils infertile. In 1967 alone, the U.S. defoliated 1.5 million acres of vegetation and destroyed 220,000 acres of crops in Vietnam. In 1969, the Nixon Administration announced the end of the U.S. biological weapons program, in part, Spiers argues, to blunt criticism for its use of herbicides and riot control agents in Vietnam.

In the meantime, Spiers writes, the Soviets were developing the world’s most advanced chemical and biological weapons program.

During the Cold War, Iran and Iraq also waged a devastating war (1980–88) that again witnessed the mass by former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

Credit: Newscom use of chemical weapons. The Iraq Survey Group (ISG) later confirmed that the Iraqis had used some 1,800 tons of mustard agent, 140 tons of tabun (ethyl Ndimethyl phosphoramido cyanidate), and 600 tons of sarin. 

Iraq estimated these attacks resulted in more than 30,000 Iranian casualties (compared with the 500,000 to 1 million estimated total Iranian casualties). As Spiers notes, although the number of casualties from chemical weapons may have been small on a relative basis, the psychological impact was significant. Iraq’s ballistic missiles, and the fear of their potential to deliver chemical warheads to Iranian cities, played a role in Iran’s accepting the United Nations-brokered truce in 1988. Iraqi chemical weapons also helped to suppress the internal Kurdish rebellion, killing and injuring thousands of Kurds and leading to the flight of 65,000 others to Turkey in 1988, Spiers writes.

By the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Iraq had significantly restocked and improved its chemical weapons capabilities. U.S. Central Commander Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf originally planned for 10,000 to 20,000 chemical weapons casualties, but Iraq never resorted to chemical weapons. The George H. W. Bush Administration had already decided not to respond with nuclear or chemical weapons if coalition forces were attacked with chemical weapons, but they deliberately conveyed the opposite impression.

Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. Tariq Aziz later commented that the Iraqis understood that the use of chemical weapons might very well provoke the use of nuclear weapons against Baghdad by the U.S. Although Iraq’s SCUD missile attacks against Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain inflicted minimal physical damage, the specter of chemical warheads inflicted great psychological damage. Spiers quotes Schwarzkopf: “The biggest concern was a chemical warhead threat. … Each time they launched … the question was, is this going to be a chemical missile. That was what you were concerned about.” 

Their unique ability to engender such fears, of course, is precisely what makes chemical and biological weapons appealing to terrorists. As Spiers astutely notes, “terrorists can choose when, where, and how to attack their targets, they can avoid many of the uncertainties that have bedeviled the military use of chemical and biological weapons. By maximizing the element of surprise, they can attack targets with low or non-existent levels of protection; by careful choice of target environment, especially an enclosed facility, they need not wait upon optimum meteorological conditions; by attacking highly vulnerable areas, they may use a less than optimal mode of delivery; and by making a chemical or biological assault, they may expect to capture media attention and cause widespread panic.”

Although chemical weapons have been used much more frequently, Spiers notes that on a per-mass basis, biological weapons are more lethal than chemical weapons. As advances in production technologies can simultaneously result in increased yields in smaller, harder-todetect facilities, the potential utility of biological weapons to terrorists will become even more significant. 

In the most well-known example of biological terrorism to date, in October 2001, just after the 9/11 attacks, anthrax-tainted letters began appearing in the U.S. Despite fears of another international attack, the strain was identified as having come from a domestic source, the Army research facility at Fort Detrick, Md. Letters were received in Florida, New York, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C., including a Senate office building. As Spiers described it, “massive panic and chaos” erupted, and Congress and the Supreme Court were closed for several days, although only 22 cases of anthrax actually resulted, including just five fatalities.

One of the most sobering developments outlined in the book is the application and
proliferation of emergent molecular biology techniques to the production of biological
weapons. Through the use of genetic engineering, new or modified organisms of greater
virulence, antibiotic resistance, and environmental stability may be produced. 

In one notable example foreshadowing the utility of biotechnology to weapons production, the Soviets developed the host bacterium Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, which through genetic engineering could also produce the myelin toxin. Infected animals developed both the tuberculosis-like symptoms caused by the bacteria and the paralysis induced by the myelin toxin. One former Soviet scientist recalled that after a briefing on the results, “the room was absolutely silent. We all recognized the implications of what the scientists had achieved. A new class of weapon had been found.”

Additional topics in this comprehensive book include the various international attempts at chemical and biological weapons disarmament, deterrence, and nonproliferation, including the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention; the sarin attacks on the Japanese subways in the mid-1990s; the use of chemical warfare in developing-world conflicts; and the embarrassing failures of American and British intelligence regarding Iraqi chemical weapons that led to the second Gulf War. 

For those of us interested in the potential impacts of chemistry and biology on humankind, Spiers’s book is a thoroughly documented, no-nonsense (often to the point of being dry) review of the malevolent potential of our science.

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