Bureaucratic Empire Building as National Security Expanded from Nuclear Security to Encompass Terrorism and Biosecurity: One of the Many Ways Tony Fauci Built His Empire



Joseph Masco, The Theater of Operations: National Security Affect from the Cold War to the War on Terror (Duke University Press, 2014), pages 18-19 and 160-164

“[The nervous condition of globalization is] the establishment of the system of synchronous stress on a global scale. This has progressed to such an extent that those who do not make themselves continuously available for synchronous stress seem asocial. Excitability is now the foremost duty of all citizens. This is why we no longer need military service. What is required is the general theme of duty, that is to say, a readiness to play your role as a conductor of excitation for collective, opportunistic psychoses.”

– Peter Sloterdijk and Jans-Jurgen Henrichs, Neither Sun nor Death (Semiotexte, 2011), 82.

Theater of Operations, pages 18-19

I argue in this book that national security affect has a specific form in the United States, one that is tied to a deep structural investment in the atomic bomb and that has been recalibrated and expanded since 2001 to address a new concept of terror (consolidated in the logic of WMD). American citizens have been taught through mass-media campaigns to attune themselves to the possibility of terroristic violence as an unlimited daily potential. This new concept of terror maintains the minute-to-minute threat made familiar by decades of Cold War nuclear culture, but it is different in that it is an open-ended concept, one that links hugely diverse kinds of threats (nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons to be sure, but also attacks on the public image of the United States, computer hacking, infectious disease, and disruptions to daily life, to name but a few) and treats them all as equally imminent, equally catastrophic.

Counterterror today requires a continual expansion of the security state, reaching a limit only when its key objects attain planetary scale (exhausting space) or when federal monies run out (exhausting resources). That is, counterterror sets no conceptual or territorial limit to defense, scaling its problems up to the ultimate spatial unit—the earth—while offering an unlimited call for resources to secure life from the species to the population to the individual to the microbe. In this manner, counterterror produces a highly mobile sovereignty, one that uses the potential of catastrophic future events as a means of overcoming legal, ethical, and political barriers in the here and now and that is endlessly searching for new objects of concern. However, this commitment to total security—and the constant failure to achieve it—creates an unending bureaucratic circuit where shock requires ever more militarization and normalization in the name of warding off future shock.

Theater of Operations, pages 160-164

Consider, for example, how Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health, responded to the violent events of September 2001. He quickly declared the new mission of his institute to be biosecurity, which he defined as a means not only of confronting terrorism in an age of anthrax attacks but also of curing a wide range of diseases. Fauci argued that by focusing on Category A biological agents—anthrax, smallpox, tularemia, plague, botulism, and hemorrhagic fever (that is, the kind of pathogens most useful to terrorists)—his institute would soon identify other kinds of pathogens and microbes and cure other diseases. He stated definitively: “When we develop antivirals against diseases like Lassa and Ebola, Marburg and Smallpox, we’re going to fall upon antivirals for Hepatitis C” (2002, 2). This dual-use approach to biosecurity is modeled on Cold War military-industrial practices—in which building technologies for early warning of nuclear attack also produced revolutions in computers, telecommunications, satellite systems, and electronics, all of which eventually filtered into the commercial arena. A dual-use biodefense program promises breakthroughs in basic medicine even as it stockpiles vaccines and countermeasures against bioweapons. Fauci works here to transform counterterrorism into an opportunity for basic research, one that can address any form of biological threat through constant advances in the biosciences.

By 2011, the NIAID offered striking new language about WMDs on its website (see figure 4.6), claiming “allergies, infectious diseases, radiological, nuclear, and chemical threats” as part of its core mission, thereby absorbing an agency historically devoted to public health into the counterterror state apparatus. This is a strange new brew of interests and responsibilities, constituting a strategic effort to leverage the urgency of counterterror on behalf of a more general biomedicine. Fauci states that the goal of his institute over the next twenty years is nothing less than to produce a revolution in biomedical surveillance and response, constructing a new medical infrastructure that can go from “bug to drug in 24 hours” (2002, 2)—that is, meet the threat of bioterrorism by identifying any weaponized organism and deploying an existing drug to combat it within twenty-four hours of its identification. This goal of “bug to drug in 24 hours” potentially transforms biosecurity from a reactive form of counterterrorism into a positive form of public health—with viruses being contained and eliminated as fast as the bioterrorist or nature can engineer them. It also recruits a long-term federal commitment to research in the biosciences and creates an array of new linkages across intelligence agencies, research laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, military departments, and emergency responders. “The result has been a dramatic increase in the budget of the NIAID, which gained over $1 billion from 2001 to 2002 alone via the new linkage to biodefense, enabling a major new institutional commitment to research on emerging diseases.

By the same author: Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in
Post-Cold War New Mexico (Princeton University Press, 2006) Review here.

Fauci’s goal of a system that can go from “bug to drug in 24 hours” is part of a larger strategic effort among health professionals to make biomedicine as central to the War on Terror as engineering was to the Cold War, and thus the engine of a twenty-first-century biomedical revolution. However, to link infectious disease to the national security state so powerfully, the threat first has to be located, conjured, or communicated, before it can be successfully countered. The threat, as we have already seen, also needs to be of a species that activates the security logics of the state, and not all threats do. So we might pause here to ask what is the documented nature of bioterrorism—its actual material form, not as an anticipated, imagined, or projected risk?

… But if bioterrorism is not historically a statistically significant cause of American death, how is it possible to create a political consensus, let alone a massive counterterror state, to combat it in perpetuity? How is bioterror made visible and urgent in the year to year of bureaucratic statecraft if it is so rare that death by bee stings or being hit by lightning are greater risks for the average U.S. citizen over thirty years? How is it that terror comes to feel ever present, even if terrorism itself is a spectacularly rare event in the United States?


Joseph Masco, The Theater of Operations: National Security Affect from the Cold War to the War on Terror (Duke University Press, 2014), 160-164.

By the same author: Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico (Princeton University Press, 2006). 

Further study

Militarization of Territorial Planning in Cold War USA: A conversation recorded with Joseph Masco,” Archipelago, July 29, 2014.

Source cited in text above

Fauci, Anthony S. “An Expanded Biodefense Role for the National Institutes of Health.” Journal of Homeland Security (April 2002): 1-5.