1. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Social responsibility/ethics of writers

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by NaCl, Nov 15, 2009.

    I just completed a manuscript for a simultaneous terrorist attack against the UK, Japan, the US, Germany, India and France. My research was exhaustive and I discovered back doors into sensitive bio terrorism laboratories where I gained enough critical information to draw logical conclusions. The information allowed me to build a very possible (if not probable) scenario, complete with details of a clandestine laboratory capable of producing enough of the lethal agent to kill millions. It astonished me how such low-tech can produce enormous potential for mass casualties. Now for my questions...

    1) If you wrote such a manuscript, one that pretty much includes a "how to" for reproducing lethal bio-weapons, would you try to publish the story?

    2) Would you worry that such a novel, despite being fiction, would attract adverse scrutiny from national anti-terrorist agencies?

    Note: I have an appointment with a literary attorney to discuss the legal matters but I am interested in fellow writer-opinions on the ethical issues.
     
  2. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you were able to dig up the information, then real world terrorists could do so too without reading your book, and the intelligence agencies of various contries probably already know all that as something glaringly obvious to them.

    There's alot of fiction out there that proposes how-to's on unethical behavior, so I wouldn't worry about that.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I would certainly hesitate over publishing something that could be used as a blueprint for terrorism.

    However, if your research also suggested ways to head off such an attack, I would probably write a memo to Homeland Security regardless of whether I tried to publish the manuscript (including with the memo a detailed description of the scenario you envisioned.

    I certainly would not fear scrutiny if I were doing everything within my power to prevent such a scenario from coming to pass.
     
  4. sidtvicious
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    sidtvicious Contributing Member Contributor

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    Fight Club anyone? I agree completely with Horus on this one. There are tons of pieces out there that deal with unethical behavior in a how-to sort of way. With things like the anarchist cookbook out there and youtube videos floating around of kids blowing up mail boxes with pipe bombs, I wouldn't worry about scrutiny about your book. And even if you did, a lot of people read things because such authors have been given such scrutiny. If it's a work of fiction and you as the author have no intention of replicating or promoting this behavior (I say this in direct reference to the Turner Diaries of 1977)...I wouldn't worry about it.
     
  5. StrangerWithNoName
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    StrangerWithNoName Longobard duke

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    1)With all the due respect for your reasearch work, I seriously dubt that you have written something that can be used to build bio-weapons, unless you're a Nobel Prize biologist...

    2)If you found out some flaw in their security and publish a work about it they should be grateful because you're warning them. If they're too blind to see their errors, it's not your fault.
     
  6. RobT
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    RobT Active Member

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    In answer to question one, yes I would try and publish my manuscript regardless if it was something I’d worked on and thought was good enough to try and get published. From the title of your post you could argue that it’s socially responsible to publish your findings.

    In answer to question two, if I’d just sat through the Pelican Brief, Three Days of the Condor and Conspiracy Theory then it might cross my mind to worry for a moment. In reality I think it would be a little egotistical for anyone to worry about a knock on the door from the anti-terrorist agencies.
     
  7. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess I would have a slight fear about it. However if I can uncover this through research its nothing a terrorist group isn't already working on. Terrorist sorta work round the clock to plot and try and figure out the best method of getting the goal done.

    Actually this topic is quite relevant to my thoughts recently. I live in a small town and because of this the odds of a Terrorist attack ever coming to me is quite rare. Which leaves me not really fearing terrorist at all. I then wondered what happens if the Terrorist decided to strike small towns across the nation? To me that creates more fear then a bomb in New York. Even if it doesn't kill anyone.

    I have considered writing a story about this very idea. A group of terrorist spread across the nation in small towns. But this fear that terrorist might say 'hmm could it work?' though I suppose I would be a little flattered.

    But I figure there are tons of stories and movies and shows that deal with terrorist and clandestined groups trying to do something.

    So its a slim chance that anyone would take real notice. Most people would probably assume you made up these security flaws(hopefully the people in charge of such sensitive material double check the flaws)
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The problemn I see is that Dean may have uncovered bits and pieces of one or more terrorist agendas. But terrorists don't always have sufficient funds, access, well-placed operatives, and so on to put a particular plan into action.

    By publishing a scenario, Dean could unintentionally influence other malcontents to work toward a similar scheme.
     
  9. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Dave hit the nail on the head. I reviewed hundreds of papers from dozens of agencies and met with several doctors searching for simple ways to replicate deadly viruses. At first, it looked like a difficult task requiring specialized equipment and laboratory controls. But then I uncovered methods from decades ago, during early virus research, that make it possible for any terrorist organization to quickly reproduce large quantities of certain bio-weapons. After resolving production capability, I then studied bio-distribution theories, many right out of government manuals for dealing with such risks. I found a major flaw in their theories that can be exploited with devastating result...hence, the plot in my story. Ironically, the distribution systems I discovered are no more complex than terrorists taking flying lessons without asking how to land a plane, yet they can be exploited with mass casualty potential.

    Can terrorist organizations "learn" anything from my research? Probably not. I am sure they have done as much or more research on such matters, but I hesitate to make public the details of clandestine virus reproduction and aerosol distribution systems which provide "realism" in my story. While I want to create concern in my reader, I'd hate to motivate or guide bad guys.
     
  10. x_raichelle_x
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    x_raichelle_x Contributing Member

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    I understand your wariness about this; I'd be the same myself.
    Whilst the probability of a terrorist reading a fictional novel & using your methods is unlikely, it's not impossible. As much of a risk-taker I am, that's probably one I wouldn't want to take. I just don't think I'd be able to live with myself if that teenyweeny chance of this happening, actually did happen.

    Of course you'd want to use the research you have done, it sounds really in-depth, and it would be really beneficial having actual real-life flaws in security as part of it as this would have a massive impact on the reader. But then again there's the flip side, real-life flaws in security would be the governments responsibility, but would you really want to draw attention to them before they have been rectified? Even if it did come out & there was adverse publicity/attention to this, the flaws could take longer to resolve than a terrorist attack could take to plan. If that makes sense =/

    Personally, I wouldn't. As always though, its your discretion as a writer.

    I wish you well with this!
     
  11. FrankB
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    FrankB Member

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    Write it and let the publisher and their legal team hash it out.
     
  12. 67Kangaroos
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    67Kangaroos Contributing Member

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    There is such a thing as the "contagion" or "copycat" effect where persons model or copy something they see in the media (whether news or entertainment). The "good idea" proposed by either fiction or real accounts can be mimicked. For example, a ficticious bank robbery or news accounts of school shootings (source: Bartol, C. & Bartol A., 2008, Criminal Behavior: A Psychosocial Approach).

    That being said, you wouldn't be motivating anyone to commit a crime, but the idea you propose could be copied by someone who was already going to do something. Like others have suggested, if you have exposed possible weak points in security, it would be nice to let someone know. It doesn't mean you shouldn't publish it though.
     
  13. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    I'm surprised maia hasn't posted here yet. This is precisely why she won't help with any fiction containing violence.

    I tend to agree more with the poster above me than with maia on this one, but I won't provide an explicit how-to. I am ever the in-between guy.:rolleyes:

    I think that, for some people, violent media provides an outlet. People who feel strong urges to commit crimes--and won't seek help or admit to having a problem--can indulge in an outlet and live normal lives. . . So there are pros and cons. I would feel awful if someone used my work as inspiration to commit an act of violence. On the other hand, I can see how explicit scenes and stories can actually reduce criminal activity by providing a leash. People can take their monsters for a walk in a controlled environment where no one gets hurt.
     
  14. Destin
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    Destin Senior Member

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    Look on the bright side. If your book was re-enacted, instant fame! Notoriety! Celebrity!
    So 10 or 20 million people die because of it.
    I've always been a glass half full man myself.
     
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  15. apathykills
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    apathykills Contributing Member

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    Well first of, if your scenario if actually viable then kudos', you've done more research then most would be willing to do. The amount of shoddy, unimaginative inaccurate doom's day plans heavily offsets the realistic ones.

    Second of i don't mean to offend you but whatever it is you have in mind Chances are the terrorist have something worse in mind. You can't teach them anything since everything you have access to they have access to. As for inspiring them to go after a certain scenario I believe terrorist groups in general aspire to do anything they can to hurt however it is they don't agree with. It's impossible for you to inspire them any more then they already are.

    Then again i don't know what it is you uncovered and since you have military experience i can't really classify your worries as uneducated. So i'd say you send a query to you locale branch of the f.b.i and inquire if this information should be made public.

    Worse case scenario you can change small but important details that will paint a real picture without actually showing the correct steps.

    I will say this, in the Gaza strip they don’t have enough materials right now to build houses, but they manage to build rockets buy taking pvs tubes and filling them up with explosives.

    When in comes to low-tech ways of getting a result, you can't beat a terrorist.

    p.s

    What no Israel bio-bombing? Why is it we never get mentioned in fiction?

    I mean seriously French gets bombed but Israel doesn't? Who would bomb French anyway?

    We should have an equal opportunity to die!
     
  16. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    LOL...oh yes, Israel is included in the scenario and it is an Israeli security guard who first uncovers the nature of the attack. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, the Israeli warning is initially viewed as a unique attack against Israel, besides, the damage has already been done in other countries.

    As far as France, the story uses the CDC's concern about "Hub Theory" for distribution of the lethal virus and France's international airport is a perfect place to accomplish such wide distribution of the disease in a short period of time...as are international airports in Germany, England, the US...etc.
     
  17. crashbang
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    crashbang Active Member

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    writers should not be afraid of who reads their writing, simple as. If you are scared that someone might use the stuff you have found, then twist it, tell lies. only the most accomplished in those areas will know that you are playing them. stories are not about telling utter truth, they are about capturing the reader by making the story sound like truth, sound realistic. if you are close but not so close that people can use the information, then great. tread the thin line I guess.

    eg. telling someone about how to do an armed robbery on a jewellery store...failing to mention the armed security guards in the back.
     
  18. apathykills
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    apathykills Contributing Member

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    True but that's really the big problem of using bio weapons, you can't control them.

    I mean sure lets say Iranian terrorist infect a large amount of people in France. What's to prevent a French Muslim to carry the virus back to Iran when he goes to see his folks?

    In this event the richer more industrialized countries would suffer severely less then infected because of a superior ability to treat and contain.

    The other side of the coin is that if there is that if the virus can be easily detected/kills really quickly it won't spread well enough to take down much more then conventional weaponry.

    Sweet now you have to publish it, consequences be dammed!
     
  19. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just got off the phone with the FBI. Their initial comment was that as long as my information came from public resources, then I am free to publish the story. Then, an agent asked about the technical conclusions I reached in the book, and after a short explanation, they are concerned about the detailed lab for replicating lethal viruses and my low-tech distribution system in the story. Chapters of the manuscript that describe these two issues have been requested for professional analysis. I expect they have people who have already addressed these issues and they will okay publication. We'll see.
     
  20. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    These kinds of things do get published all the time, it seems.

    When I was in the service, there was a book (I could have worn it was called The Crystal Palace, but a brief internet search tells me I am wrong) which detailed with shocking accuracy the very 'secure' job field in which I was working for the USAF at the time.

    Because of the fact that I was in a position to either confirm or deny the information presented in the book, people in my job weren't allowed to own the book because it constituted the possession of secure material outside of a SCIF.

    There was a copy of it within the SCIF where I worked which we were free to peruse during the mid shifts. :rolleyes:
     
  21. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    If this is a work of fiction, can't you slip in something small that would make the 'blueprints' unworkable? Does every single fact have to be 100% correct, with no artistic licence at all?
    I remember seeing a documentary about Leonardo da Vinci--he used to draw some parts of his designs backwards or throw in other subtle red herrings which made his inventions impossible to steal.
     
  22. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Easier said than done. Someone with enough of the right kind of knowledge will be able to pull it together and spot the flaws. Granted, it won't be Basement Bomber Bob, who follows the instructions in The Anarchist's Cookbook word-for-word with no understanding of the hows and whys. But it's not often a great idea to shine a spotlight on the vulnerabilities of our oil refineries, airports, LNG distribution networks, power plants, etc.
     
  23. Daedalus
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    Daedalus Active Member

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    I wouldn't be wary at all. I knew quite a few "terrorists" during my run-ins with the IRA, and I can safely say that none of them read a book in their life. ;)

    Of course you'll have worries, Dean. I wonder how Clancy felt about writing Debt of Honour and then seeing an almost replicated event two years later. His research for that plane crashing into the Capitol Building in Washington was meticulous. Right down to the air-traffic control centres. There was nothing left to chance.

    But we can't let fears like that spoil what would be an otherwise brilliant novel. If we did, there'd be nothing more to write about. Trust your gut on this one, Dean.

    Sam.
     
  24. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    In a more general vein...

    I think self-censorship in art is a dangerous tendency. In its most basic workings it's about not saying what you want to say, in fear of how others might react. That's oppression. Not only from the outside, but from within.

    Let your editor tell you if you're out of line, and let him give you a really good reason why.

    But maybe it's just me. I come from the country that published the Muhammad drawing, which enraged the entire muslim world and lead to terrorist attacks.

    P.S. edited for spelling error, not out of self-censorship ;)
     
  25. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i wouldn't write it now... in my old life, i might have, but still wouldn't have included a virtual instruction manual, as that, to me, would've been incredibly irresponsible, even in my pre-non-violence-activist years...

    yes... i would have back then and do so much more strongly now... i can only hope you take out the 'how-to' parts before you try to publish this book, my friend...
     

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