Who might be tempted to initiate an attack on the agricultural sector?
Countries might consider agricultural attack for military, political, ideological, or economic reasons. Since there could be quite severe consequences of being recognized as responsible for a biological attack, such efforts would likely be covert. This would entail an effort to make the outbreak appear natural÷most probably a point-source outbreak, or multiple outbreaks with an apparently natural common source (see below).
Countries that are actively pursuing a secret military BW capability (thought to number about a dozen) are probably developing anti-agricultural agents for strategic use in the event of war. Iraq, for instance, was developing wheat cover smut as a weapon, presumably intended against Iran.
In the 1980âs, Iraq used chemical weapons extensively against Iran, and internally against civilian minorities, with virtually no political consequences. This has undoubtedly lowered the political threshold for use of BW in a regional or civil conflict.
Agricultural corporations, including producers, processors, and shippers, could benefit immensely from the economic impacts, market share changes, and financial market effects of a successful biological attack. Many also employ expert plant pathologists or veterinarians and have large collections of pathogens. The combination of motivation, expertise, and materials within a single, closed organization is worrisome. Of course, corporations, like countries, would run enormous legal risks if they perpetrated a biological attack, so if they were to choose to do this, it would be expertly designed to mimic a natural outbreak.
For both corporations and governments, decision to use bioweapons would be expected to require approval at the very highest level, thus reducing its likelihood. However, in both the possibility of mid- or lower-level zealots initiating unauthorized action has to be considered.
Because of the huge financial stakes in the agricultural sector, and because the foundation of the drug industry involves crop cultivation, organized crime may take an interest in biocriminal activities with agricultural targets. Furthermore, if the US-led initiative to use fungal pathogens to attack illicit drug crops (see section on "What goals might an attack on the agricultural sector serve?"), drug cartels might consider retaliating by biological attack on US agriculture
Terrorist groups might be interested in agricultural bioweapons for a variety of reasons: international terrorist organizations for the harm they could do to enemy states or peoples, millennial groups for their potential contribution to societal collapse, anti-GMO groups for their potential value in deterring farmers from the use of genetically engineered crops or animals. In some cases of ideologically-motivated terrorist attack there would be willing assumption of responsibility by the perpetrator; in other cases there could be an attempt to disguise the outbreak as natural.
Individual perpetrators (biocriminals) could include disgruntled employees or ex-employees in the agricultural sector, ideologically motivated individuals, speculators on the commodities market, or individuals with a profit motive (such as the New Zealand farmer(s) assumed to have covertly imported RHDV).