The lone wolf may have been a myth when British author John Fowles was writing his postmodern novel about the mental darkness of young teacher Nicholas Urfe, but in the modern times – the lone wolf is rising and shining as a new serious threat to both national and international security concepts.

The term “lone wolf” itself was discussed starting in 1990, after the fiery speeches made by white supremacist Alex Metzger, who advocated the lone wolf modus operandi for many racist organizations.  He invited followers of the white nationalist ideology to act covertly, without including or being connected to the organization in public.

Many years since, in the age of a permanent terrorism threat, the lone wolf against pack attack becomes our reality. The ideology of these loners has changed, but the circumstances and consequences are almost the same. Lone wolf terrorism requires the individual to make a plot and undertake their violent actions alone. There is no any link which could lead back to the group or even someone who could be providing support.

This loner is an extremist who has a goal, to destroy everything that is considered the opposite to what his beliefs are. The lone terrorist can share some highlights of the group ideology, but despite being close, that doesn’t mean much when his project is based on individual consideration of which means he will use and which targets he will pick.

There is no group activism, so he can’t be stopped before the attack is committed.  He can be an observer of other lone wolves actions for years, and still remain hidden from law enforcement officers, as well as anti-terrorism efforts. Jeffrey Simon, famous senior terror expert, addressed this problem in his book “Lone Wolf Terrorism: Understanding the Growing Threat” and he emphasized the importance for a state and society to recognize the potential of a lone wolf and to find whatever tiny connections between his influencers in some ideological aspects and his practical capacity to cause violence.

The author writes that a loner think “outside the box” so he is able to achieve more innovative attacks than old fashioned terrorist cells are generally capable of. He is creative and not concerned about being caught. His own scenario of the violent act is solitary; he is a free rider without responsibility to cover others or achieve higher goals. He is a wolf beside his pack, but he is also a wolf against the pack.  Before the cyber-world, lone wolf terrorists were not as active or inspired to conspire against the rest of the civilization, but with the growing impact of the Internet, they were given many opportunities to develop their radical fantasies and to learn how to realize their violence. They are anti-social, but they are very informed. Some of them are educated and successfully integrated in society, such as the recent case of one of the most famous lone wolf terrorist –Nidal Hasan and his shooting at Fort Hood in Texas. The designed profile of a lone wolf terrorist is changeable because the global society is going through constant changes also. New aspects of human security also open new threats to that security.

Related: Bioterrorism at the salad bar: 30 years ago in US history

The increasing risk of biological terrorism made us think of modified lone wolf terrorist in a future. He would become a lone wolf terrorist, his ammunition based on biological agents capable of devastating the entire world. He could be skilled to disperse anthrax spores from a low-flying airplane over an agricultural field or populated area. If he attacks food, it will be kind of lone wolf agro terrorism. Attacking a population, it will be considered an individual act of bioterrorism. In both cases, the act will cause many causalities, and the outcome would be devastating.

The new lone wolf bioterrorist could also release a microbe from the ground, using a device for aerosol dissemination, or set off the biological agent through a ventilation system, which could include the heating and air-conditioning network of a private, commercial, or government building or buildings. What earlier seemed like a good thriller story now seems a reality which has not happened yet.

All of those alarmists, who have always believed in the biological terrorism possibility, begin to be a kind of rocket scientist who have found their rational based in the background of the rise of Islamic terrorism and the emergence of infectious diseases worldwide. The picture of some isolated terrorist who is able to reach a microbe which is the eleventh on the official list of 10 potential dangerous biological agents to be weaponized, is no longer the stuff of science fiction. This is a serious security question for policy makers and security officers alike.

Amanda Teckman, the emerging infectious disease expert, even published a detailed report: “The Bioterrorist Threat of Ebola in East Africa and Implications for Global Health” in 2013, inviting politicians all over the world to think seriously regarding the Ebola virus potential to become a biological terrorism favorite germ. This virus is very demanding and requires a lot of professional “know-how” before it could be used as a weapon, which is not something easily achieved by Islamic terrorists.

But another scenario would ask for less engagement and a lower level of intelligence by a holder. The Suicide bomber – lone wolf bioterrorist would infect himself with Ebola virus so he would be able to transmit the virus to others. In one day, he would visit as many places as he is capable of, infecting as many people as he can, causing a rapid dissemination due to today’s global rapid transit.

But the real lone wolf bioterrorists are still in the domain of futuristic security anticipation. In the post 9/11 landscape, everything seems like a threat and everyone could be considered as a terrorist.  Becoming a lone wolf bioterrorist is not an easy journey for isolated fanatics. It requires a lot of technical knowledge, patience and logistic support, in which there are typically cells and groups under the umbrella of one agreed ideology.

Ebola virus and similar deadly microbes could be misused but not as easily nor as quickly. They are still quite a big hurdle not only for lone wolf terrorists but also for terrorist groups. Global policy makers should concentrate on solving health issues, preventing possible outbreaks and creating detection systems more than just considering lone wolf bioterrorism through science fiction like ideas. They could be surprised that reality sometimes can produce stories which can’t be written by even the most creative novelist. For now though, lone wolf bioterrorism is just a draft, but it is a scary one.

Sandra Maksimovic-Sara, has an MA in Biological  Counter Terrorism Studies, with special interests of researching and writing about  Biological Weapons, Biosecurity and Biodefense. Sandra hails from Serbia.

Other articles by Sandra:

Germ Bank Security: Safeguards for a new age of challenges 

Dark Biology: When microbes become the ultimate weapon