COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | MICHAEL GIORGINO

Protect San Diego from bioterrorist attack -- secure the border

Rob Rossi loved baseball. Exiting the trolley near Petco Park, he admired all the new residential development around the stadium. Rob and his son Charlie took their seats and joined 42,000 happy San Diegans singing "Take me out to the ball game." Charlie cheered when the Padres scored their first run of the evening. Rob hardly noticed the small plane circling slowly overhead.

On Saturday, Rob woke up with a splitting headache. His chest felt like it was on fire. Why is it so hard to breathe? And today is Charlie's Little League game! "Daddy," his son gasped from the hall, "I don't feel so good."

U.S. counterterrorism officials have verified the authenticity of an Al Jazeera video, in which Kuwaiti dissident and al-Qaeda recruiter Abdullah al-Nafisi states, "Four pounds of anthrax ... carried by a fighter through tunnels from Mexico into the U.S. are guaranteed to kill 330,000 Americans within a single hour if it is properly spread in population centers there." Such an attack, according to al-Nafsi, would make 9/11 seem like "small change."

Since running for Congress in California's border district in 2004, I have stayed in contact with a group of civilian volunteers who monitor illegal immigration. They have installed cameras on private property and post weekly video clips of actual border incursions on their Web site borderinvasionpics.com.

The videos reveal that terrorists would not need a tunnel. Large numbers of people enter the United States illegally every day by simply walking unchallenged across our southern border. Their guides use literally thousands of trails and paths, ever changing their routes to avoid detection.

Anthrax has been called "the poor man's atom bomb." Only a millionth of a gram is a lethal dose. Concealment, transportation, and dissemination of anthrax are very easy. One kilogram (less than half the size of a red clay brick) can eradicate thousands of people living in a metropolitan area. Extremely lethal, an accidental release of anthrax from a biowarfare lab in the Soviet Union in 1979 caused the infection of 94 people, of whom at least 68 died.

As an aerosol, anthrax is odorless and invisible, making it a very stealthy killer. A single airplane delivering 100 kilograms of anthrax -- an amount about the size of a basketball -- after dark on a calm night could kill hundreds of thousands of people in San Diego.

If you inhaled a tiny drop, here is what happens: The spores travel from your lungs to your lymph nodes, where they multiply and spread throughout your body. Within two to five days, you develop a high fever, difficulty breathing, chest pain and vomiting. This progresses to acute respiratory distress, blood poisoning and shock. Antibiotics would only delay the disease process. The only possible cure is to be immunized during treatment and hope your body is able to mount a protective immune response.

What would your chances of survival be if exposed? 50-50 at best.

It can happen here. San Diego County's Hazardous Incident Response Team has conducted frequent anthrax attack drills at places like the Del Mar Fairgrounds and Qualcomm Stadium. The team consists of ten trained technicians with five vehicles. Even with the cooperation of every civilian and military medical facility in the region, they would be quickly overwhelmed by tens of thousands of mass casualties in the event of a real biological attack.

In the past, American leaders from both parties have found it politically expedient to look the other way regarding illegal immigration. However, given Al-Qaeda's history of heightening fear by telegraphing its attacks in advance, a responsible government would order immediate measures to secure the border. Instead, the Department of Homeland Security recently blocked its computer network from accessing the Border Invasion videos because of their "content characterization."

Enough is enough. The Border Patrol lacks the manning, resources and support to stop this invasion. Illegal border crossing poses a grave national security threat. The time has come for us to demand that our government use whatever means necessary, including military force to secure the Mexican border. If we fail to do so, we invite a bioterrorist attack that will make September 11 pale in comparison.


Giorgino is a retired Navy Surface Warfare Commander and a Gulf War veteran. He graduated from the University of San Diego School of Law in 2000 and practices law in San Diego. He may be contacted at mgiorgino@aol.com.

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