More About the Author
Kenneth King holds a Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska and a J.D. from Vanderbilt University. King has taught writing at colleges and universities in Kentucky, Missouri, and Illinois, clerked for the Hon. Eugene Siler, Jr. of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and worked as a staff attorney for the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund. He was on the faculty at Western Kentucky University before resigning to complete Germs Gone Wild.
HOW Germs Gone Wild CAME TO BE WRITTEN
Like most people after the fall of 2001, I sometimes worried about anthrax in the mail. But I never delved deeper than what was being served up by our mass media. For all I knew, Saddam Hussein was behind the anthrax letters. I certainly had no notion that the anthrax had been linked to one of our own facilities, and that we were in the process of building huge new numbers of similar facilities.
In the spring of 2006, bioterror germs weren't even on my radar screen. I was in the midst of a painful divorce, wondering if the time had come to move on from my non-tenure-track teaching position at Western Kentucky University.
One evening that spring, TV Channel 13 in Bowling Green, KY, carried a clip from an affiliate. Some of my former neighbors in Pulaski County, including David Taylor and Floyd Lovins, were featured expressing concerns about a government facility being solicited for our county. That was the first I'd heard about the Department of Homeland Security's National Bio-and Agro Facility.
I was still living 120 miles away that spring, and was not at first involved with the widespread and determined grassroots opposition to that facility in Pulaski County. While I was still living elsewhere, my neighbors gathered thousands of signatures in opposition, held a successful rally, established a website, and gained media attention.
Meanwhile, in Bowling Green, I was gradually learning more about the facility, which DHS proposed to make a sort of super complex for the study of human, animal, and zoonotic diseases. (Later public relations statements by DHS would act like its earlier characterization of the facility had never existed.) NBAF would be the country's second largest biodefense facility, and would include BSL-4 labs for experiments with killer diseases with no effective treatment or cure.
One had to wonder whether this was the sort of thing anyone in his right mind would want two miles down the road in a Pulaski County pasture. But our Congressman, Harold "Hal" Rogers, who'd already siphoned public funds to bring the "National Institute for Hometown Security" and the Kentucky University Consortium for Homeland Security to our local hotbed of terrorist activity, assured his constituents that a facility studying incurable diseases would be as safe as going to Wal-Mart. And our local excuse for a newspaper, the Somerset Commonwealth-Journal, assured its readers that BSL-4 facilities had been operating around the country for 50 years with not even an accident.
Early on, many residents of Pulaski County found their way to Michael Carroll's Lab 257, which documented serious accidents and safety problems at NBAF's predecessor, the Animal Disease Center at Plum Island. For me, however, the first warning signals were raised by a remaindered copy of Judith Miller et al's Germs, which I happened onto one day in the Bowling Green Barnes & Noble. Though the book takes a pro-biodefense stance, it recounts a scary history of bioweapons and biodefense research, replete with secrecy, reckless experiments, and accidents--including the accidental deaths of researchers. That book alone clearly demonstrated that Congressman Rogers and our fawning local media outlet were either liars, stupid, or both. Yet they--the truly ignorant ones--were depicting the concerned citizens of Pulaski County and elsewhere as "backward, uneducated" people.
That's what got me involved in the Kentucky opposition to NBAF. I'm normally fairly fatalistic and pessimistic about the possibility of influencing our bought-and-sold "democratic" processes for the good. In this case, however, I was outraged by the local lies, propaganda, and smear tactics, painting a picture so completely at odds with the history of existing germ labs.
I'd taught in Paris the summer of 2005, and I'd planned to spend a month or more in France again, but instead I spent most of the summer of 2006 researching in Lexis-Nexis, EBSCO Host, and other online databases, and preparing Fact Sheets to be posted on the No Kentucky Biolab website. I also wrote and published op-eds in the Lexington Herald-Leader, and letters in the Somerset Commonwealth-Journal (the SCJ turned down my op-eds, declaring--in the summer of 2006--that the subject was no longer timely).
Somewhere along the way I began thinking about a book. There were multiple books--and good ones--about the history of bioweapons, and the 2001 anthrax attacks, but there was nothing about the serious situation that was developing now.
In December 2006, Betty, my wife of 29 years, and ex-wife of one year, died unexpectedly. She also left me, unexpectedly, a $100,000 life insurance bequest. As I began to emerge from the fog of grief which surrounded me in the early months of 2007, and as Kentucky escaped being named an NBAF finalist in July 2007, I began to think more seriously about the book. I felt Betty, who valued small farms and rural communities, would have approved of this use of her bequest.
If Betty's bequest provided the financial foundation for the book, several events in 2007 further established the need for the book and supplied important factual underpinnings. Ed Hammond's Sunshine Project discovered that Texas A&M University, a DHS "Center of Excellence" and frontrunner for NBAF, had violated the minimal accident reporting rules of the CDC on two different occasions. A redfaced CDC, investigating, found a safety train wreck in progress, and shut down all of A&M's biodefense research. Later that fall, a hearing conducted by the House Energy and Commerce's Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, and an accompanying report by the Government Accountability Office, indicated just how critical and unsafe the madcap proliferation of new biodefense facilities actually was.
A grant from the Kentucky Arts Council, awarded on the basis of a sample chapter from the book, gave me some notion the book would appeal to others. It took me four months, however, to find my agent Winifred Golden, and another four months for her to place the project with a quality publisher, Pegasus Books. So essentially, I have spent four years, three of them full-time, on the writing of the book. If the book is widely read, I will consider the years well-spent. If not, I gave it my best shot.--Kenneth King