Others are engaging even in an eco- type of terrorism whereby they can alter the climate, set off earthquakes, volcanoes remotely through the use of electromagnetic waves.
- Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, April 28, 1997
Cohen was talking at a conference about the time and resources wasted by false or imaginary terrorist threats, and for examples, he listed some speculative threats by Alvin Toffler, a futurist writer.
Step 1 - Original Source:
Step 2 - Context
Cohen made the remark as part of an answer given at a conference, the Sam Nunn Policy Forum being hosted by the University of Georgia, "on Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and U.S. Strategy", on April 28th 1997. His full answer is below, showing the quote in context. Emphasis mine.
Step 3 - Establish the meaning of the terms, allusions and references in the quote and context
Q: Let me ask you specifically about last week's scare here in Washington, and what we might have learned from how prepared we are to deal with that (inaudible), at B'nai Brith.
A: Well, it points out the nature of the threat. It turned out to be a false threat under the circumstances. But as we've learned in the intelligence community, we had something called -- and we have James Woolsey here to perhaps even address this question about phantom moles. The mere fear that there is a mole within an agency can set off a chain reaction and a hunt for that particular mole which can paralyze the agency for weeks and months and years even, in a search. The same thing is true about just the false scare of a threat of using some kind of a chemical weapon or a biological one. There are some reports, for example, that some countries have been trying to construct something like an Ebola Virus, and that would be a very dangerous phenomenon, to say the least. Alvin Toeffler has written about this in terms of some scientists in their laboratories trying to devise certain types of pathogens that would be ethnic specific so that they could just eliminate certain ethnic groups and races; and others are designing some sort of engineering, some sort of insects that can destroy specific crops. Others are engaging even in an eco- type of terrorism whereby they can alter the climate, set off earthquakes, volcanoes remotely through the use of electromagnetic waves.
So there are plenty of ingenious minds out there that are at work finding ways in which they can wreak terror upon other nations. It's real, and that's the reason why we have to intensify our efforts, and that's why this is so important.
The question is about "last week's scare here in Washington" and "that ... at B'nai Brith". This is referring to an incident on April 24th 1997, when a package labeled as antrax was found at the international headquarters of the B'nai B'rith Jewish fraternal organization in Washington D.C.
The incident created chaos, but turned out to be a false threat.WASHINGTON (CNN) -- At least 17 people were taken to hospitals after a package leaking an unknown liquid was discovered at the international headquarters of the B'nai B'rith Jewish fraternal organization.The package and its contents were placed in sealed containers and taken to the Bethesda Naval Research Facility for examination.
Police say labelling on the package indicated it contained anthrax, a dangerous biological warfare chemical, but they added that testing has shown that is not the case.
So what Cohen is talking about is a "false threat", and "a false scare of a threat". He then goes on to list things that Alvin Toffler has written about. He's referring here to Toffler's 1995 book "War and Anti-War", which contains the following passage (pages 142-143, emphasis mine)The incident, which is being investigated as domestic terrorism, spread beyond the headquarters of the international service organization. Chaos descended as reporters rushed to the scene and police cordoned off a five-block radius around the building, snarling evening rush-hour traffic and trapping people in adjacent office buildings, a restaurant and at least one hotel.
When tests at the Naval Medical Research Institute determined that the substance was not harmful, Clearfield announced that the quarantine was over.
Step 4 - Explain the meaning of the quoteIn 1992 Bo Rybeck, director of the Swedish National Defense Research Institute, pointed out that we will become able to identify the DNA variations of different racial and ethnic groups, "we will be able to determine the difference between blacks and whites and Orientals and Jews and Swedes and Finns and develop an agent that will kill only [a particular] group" One can imagine the used to which such technology be put by "ethnic cleansers" or tomorrow.
These acts [Saddam Hussein burning oil fields] are primitive compared with some of the imaginable (and imagined) possibilites of sophisticated ecological weaponry. For example, triggering earthquakes or volcano eruptions at a distance by generating certain electromagnetic waves; deflecting wind currents; sending in a vector of genetically altered insects to devastate a selected crop; using lasers to cut a custom-tailored hole in the ozone layer over an adversary's land; and even modifying weather.
You have keep in mind that this is Cohen speaking off the cuff, in a live Q&A session. He's basically just saying things that come to mind. You also have to remember he's trying to promote policy. The message he reiterates is "we have to intensify our efforts [to deal with terrorism]".
First, because the question was about an hoax terrorist attack, he's talking about the "false scare of a threat" and how that can use up a lot of resources. The example he gives is the genetically engineered virus. He then mentions that Toffler wrote about this as a potential future weapon, and then added some other things Toffler wrote about. (Judging by how closely he listed Toffler's items it's likely he'd read the book pretty recently before the conference.)
Then he steps back from this and says, basically, that clever people are trying to figure out ways of inflicting terror, and the threat is real. Here he means the threat of biological terror is real. He does not mean everything Alvin Toffler listed is real. It's like he realized that he just listed a bunch of imaginary threats, thought that this was making it seems like all biological weapon threats were imaginary, and so qualified this by saying the general threat is real.
Unfortunately, with the disconnected nature of live speaking, it's a bit tricky to summarize this in a single sentence. The conspiracy theorists like to take the last sentence of his first paragraph, and pair it with the last paragraph ("it's real"), as if that's what he's referring to. For someone who wants to believe, you are not going to convince them otherwise.
Step 5 - Single Sentence Debunking
Cohen was talking at a conference about the time and resources wasted by false or imaginary terrorist threats, and for examples he listed some speculative threats by Alvin Toffler, a futurist writer.