Living Weapons: A Scholarly Analysis of Biodefense

In many ways the field of biodefense is young and still developing a robust amount of scholarly materials from which the foundations of the discipline will develop and new work flourish. There are, however, several books which, in my estimation, are worthy of being described as foundational in their approach.  I read almost everything in this field and usually find my knowledge deepened and better integrated by the process so each latest book is progressively less impactful. George Mason University's Gregory Koblentz's Living Weapons: Biological Warfare and International Security (2011) is one such book that bucks the trend in a good way and is a book that I highly recommend to those in the field.

Koblentz's book is a comprehensive overview of the field of biological weapons that is not a mere cataloging of the pathogens and the history. The book provides extensive analysis of the field and is especially illuminating when it comes to the problem of intelligence gathering in this realm. This, to me, was the chief value of the book.

Using the historical examples of biological weapons programs in the Soviet Union, Iraq, and South Africa Koblentz meticulously analyzes what western intelligence knew and what they did not and why. The book includes important tables that basically score intelligence agencies on whether they correctly identified a biological weapons production facility or not. 

The other aspect of this book is a very in-depth critique of the intelligence shortcomings that led to the mistaken conclusions regarding Iraq's post-Desert Storm biological weapons capabilities and intentions. Koblentz approaches this task not with a partisan aim but to better understand the nuances of infamous informer Curveball's revelations in order to improve intelligence capabilities in the future (in 2003 just 6 analysts in the CIA were devoted to biological warfare). His ideas for intelligence improvements are reflected in some of the newly released recommendations for the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense

For those wanting an intellectually rigorous overview of a fascinating field that provides a foundation for a viable path forward, Living Weapons is a great addition to one's library.