GOP rep: What if terrorists self-infect and bring Ebola into the U.S.?

This is posted at BuzzFeed without comment apart from a transcript, a classic way to imply “this is preposterous to a newsworthy degree” without actually having to explain why. Here’s Jonathan Last putting some meat on the bones of the idea Joe Wilson is expressing:

What’s to stop a jihadist from going to Liberia, getting himself infected, and then flying to New York and riding the subway until he keels over? This is just the biological warfare version of a suicide bomb. Can you imagine the consequences if someone with Ebola vomited in a New York City subway car? A flight from Roberts International in Monrovia to JFK in New York is less than $2,000, meaning that the planning and infrastructure needed for such an attack is relatively trivial. This scenario may be highly unlikely. But so were the September 11 attacks and the Richard Reid attempted shoe bombing, both of which resulted in the creation of a permanent security apparatus around airports. We take drastic precautions all the time, if the potential losses are serious enough, so long as officials are paying attention to the threat.

BuzzFeed’s point here, I guess, is that it’s bad form for a congressman to articulate this possibility even if plenty of Americans are already worried about it because that would be fearmongering, quite unlike what Democrats do routinely with climate change, the “war on women,” horsesh*t like this, etc etc. It’s one thing for the rank-and-file boobs on the right to see terrorists under every rock, it’s another for a man in power who’s, um, almost certainly going to be reelected anyway to broach the subject. But never mind that. What’s the actual argument for why Last’s point is stupid? I can see the argument for why an Ebola attack is inefficient: If you’re an Al Qaeda or ISIS ringleader who’s eager to kill a bunch of Americans, it’s easier to send someone into the U.S., have him buy a couple of guns and a few hundred rounds on the black market, and then open fire on the subway. You might kill a few dozen people that way. To kill the same number with Ebola, you’d have to enter the west African hot zone, try hard to get infected, immediately hop a plane to the U.S. via Europe (doing everything you can to suppress an early fever so that you’re not screened out at the terminal), wait while your viral load builds and then hop on the subway. An infected terrorist might have the strength to do that, but the longer he waits to let the disease spread in his system, the weaker he’d get. The average Ebola patient infects two other people; even someone who’s deliberately trying to spread the virus might have trouble infecting a few dozen as those around him begin to notice suspicious behavior. If you’re looking for a high death toll, why bother with all that? Just get a gun and do it the old-fashioned way.

But what if you’re not looking for a high death toll? What if you’re looking for a high impact? AQ would have had a much higher chance of success on 9/11 if they’d skipped the hijacking plot for the sort of small arms attack I just described. Imagine the 19 hijackers fanning out across the country, into malls, buses, and trains, and opening fire simultaneously. They could have easily killed several hundred people that way — not nearly as many as they ended up killing with their airline plot but with a vastly greater chance of success, just because the logistics were so much simpler. AQ chose to pass on the low-risk, comparatively low-reward method of attack, though, and go for the jackpot. An Ebola attack would be similar, not in terms of a “jackpot” death toll but in terms of the psychological effect. Jihadis shooting up a subway car would be horrific but well within the Overton window of terrorist attacks; it would be a replay of the London bombings, essentially, but with small arms. Jihadis using a bioweapon about which Americans are already deeply anxious would hit much harder, even if the death toll was lower. How many covert AQ or ISIS members are out there, people would wonder, silently infecting those around them? How can the feds possibly detect them? Every stranger’s cough in public would raise alarms. And if you don’t like this scenario because it’s too parochial, imagine jihadis trying to spread the virus not to the United States but to, say, Shiite areas of Iraq, the Christian parts of Nigeria, or the Hindu majority in India. The U.S. might be able to tamp down an Ebola outbreak but countries with weaker public health infrastructure would face more of a threat. Not sure why any of this is preposterous. Logistically complex, sure, but then so is every major terrorist attack. Click the image to watch.