In the months after 9/11, the government seemed scared shitless of just about everything. Chemical, biological, dirty-bomb attack it didn't seem to matter what type of scare was involved. For every threat, the fear dial was cranked up to 11. Even cattle poisoning and hacker break-ins were suddenly treated like potential cataclysms.bsl4_suit.jpgThankfully, that's a trend which seems to be petering out. The Department of Homeland Security is in the process of sketching out plausible attack scenarios, and rating them in terms of seriousness, the New York Times reports. And judging from the preliminary results, DHS seems set on separating out the truly scary (and truly likely) strikes from the Hollywood or tin-hat variety.The chart which accompanies the Times story is particularly useful in this sorting process. An attack on a chlorine chemical plant could leave 17,500 dead and 100,000 hospitalized. Cyberstrikes on "several parts of the nation's financial infrastructure," on the other hand, would have a total casualty count of zero. A deliberate spread of foot-and-mouth disease to American livestock would have similar results at least among the human population. If you were Michael Chertoff, the new homeland security chief, where would you spend your resources?Hopefully, this kind of cost-benefit analysis will also lead to a second look at how we're spending bio-defense dollars. The result of a coordinated, five-city aerosolized anthrax attack which would take a minor miracle of planning and science for a terrorist group to pull off could leave 13,000 dead and cause billions of dollars in damages, DHS believes. But a new flu pandemic, emerging from China a not altogether unlikely possibility could kill five times that number, put 300,000 is the hospital, and cost up to $160 billion to contain. So preventing naturally-occurring diseases, you'd figure, would take precedence over these deliberately-spread agents, right?Well, maybe in the future. But for now, as the Times recently noted:

...grants for research on the bacteria that cause anthrax and five other diseases that are rare or nonexistent in the United States have increased fifteenfold since 2001. Over the same period, grants to study [viruses and] bacteria not associated with bioterrorism [think flu ed. ] have decreased 27 percent
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