The mid 1990s was a scary time for those of us who had just enough knowledge about the downside scenarios that could come to fruition as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union. I was serving in the Navy during the transition from the bi-polar superpower world of the Cold War to the multi-polar, non-state actor chaos of the modern world. When the Warsaw Pact disintegrated, millions of people around the globe discovered freedom, capitalism and democracy. Other people, not very nice ones, saw an opportunity to smuggle weapons – the nuclear, chemical and biological kind – and sell them to the highest bidder.
A tremendous amount of resources was expended between the time of the demise of the Soviet state and the horrors of 9/11 to search, and account for, all of the nasty weapons of the Cold War that for the previous fifty years had been under the strict control of the Russian military industrial complex. In the hands of a mad man or terrorist, these weapons of mass destruction could have had disastrous consequences for our newly formed world order.
As a result of the uncertainty surrounding the control of this arsenal of weapons, the notion of a single non-state actor, a Bin Laden type perhaps, with the capability to wreak havoc with WMD became an all too real possibility. One of the triad of these awful weapons is the biological variety. To be clear, a biological weapon is a weapon of germ warfare. These terms simply describe the weaponization of germs, viruses, and infectious diseases like Smallpox or Ebola or something that would be very similar to COVID-19.
With these nightmare scenarios in mind, our military and security apparatus began to plan for such a situation. This was twenty-five years ago. It is difficult for me to believe, having been on the front lines of Cold War transition, that the current US Government response to the COVID-19 pandemic – which mirrors the exact potential result of a rogue actor initiating a biological attack – is the best that we can do. I am confident that there is a “plan on the shelf” somewhere in the Pentagon for this situation. That plan would encompass a step by step process for a massive response to curtail the effects of a fast spreading pathogen which would include the requisite equipment, test procedures, personnel, remediation activities, etc.
Does no such plan exist? If it doesn’t, then what happened with all of the planning that began twenty-five years ago. Does a plan exist but not been pulled off the shelf? If so, what is the hold up. The federal government response is a disgrace to our citizens. “Haphazard”, “uncoordinated”, “fly by the seat of the pants” are terms that come to mind. I know it doesn’t have to be this way. This scenario has been war gamed a thousand times at places like Rand, the Naval War College, and other similar institutions. The models are there. Responses have been devised. Estimates for infections, deaths, time frames, and end results have been played out. We know the answers to questions that the public wants to hear.
This pandemic is not a result of the scenarios that scared us twenty-five years ago; no one in China or anywhere else purposefully released COVID-19 into a crowd of unsuspecting hosts who would carry it around the world. But the results are the same. The world is in shock and looking for answers. I think we have the answers and for the life of me, I can’t understand why they are still in the file cabinet in the Pentagon or the Situation Room.
After initially writing this story, a very brief internet search produced the following Homeland Security Council “National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Implementation Plan” https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/pdf/pandemic-influenza-implementation.pdf