Nova's Global Guide to Bioweapons
A Plague of Bioweapons
December 4, 2003 -- In
Iraq, a vial of harmless botulinium found in a scientist's refrigerator is cited by the United States' leaders as proof of
the righteousness of the occupation of a foreign country, while in Los Angeles women throw Botox parties where participants
receive injections of a related toxin to smooth wrinkles.
In Texas, a scientist respected for his decades of work studying and
treating infectious diseases in some of the world's more squalid quarters is hauled in front of a court in chains on bio-terrorism-related
charges because he didn't follow government regulations with his samples while his own university uses military funding to
genetically engineer plants to produce even more deadly poisons.
Meanwhile, two American health workers are killed by a vaccine against
a disease which should no longer exist; domestically produced anthrax spores terrorize the nation in one of history's great
unsolved crimes; and the writings of respected advisors to our president tout the benefits of developing synthetic viruses
that would target specific ethnic groups.
Welcome to the confounding, illogical and sometimes deadly space where
public health and raw science meet national security and military secrecy.
This shadowy world, which stretches from a college campus near you to
the terror training camps of Afghanistan, from the plague towns of Tanzania to the spotless labs of Ft. Detrick, is haunted
by terrors real and imagined, bogeymen employed when convenient to drum up funds, intimidate critics or squelch scandals.
In short, it is a conspiracy theorist's dream.
When it comes to talking about biological weapons, first employed three
centuries ago when the British gave smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans, almost nothing is ever black and white.
Just ask Dr. Thomas Butler, who faces the possibility of spending the
rest of his life in jail after being convicted Monday on 47 out of 69 federal charges filed after the FBI said he lied to
them about missing plague samples and launched an investigation into his research and financial practices. Yet only months
ago, according to his peers, this Navy vet and Texas Tech researcher was considered not only a leading medical scientist but
something of a hero for his years of work treating epidemics in rough-and-tumble places like Calcutta and wartime Vietnam.
"Butler is probably the nation's most eminent expert on the plague,"
he added. "Are students going to want to work on tropical medicine if there's a chance they might lose some samples, then
be hauled off in the middle of the night?" Peter Agre, a former student of Butler's who won this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry,
told the Los Angeles Times. But where Agre and the leaders of the National Academies believe this is an attack on scientific
initiative, the FBI has a decidedly different take. "An incident that could have sparked widespread panic of a bio-terrorism
threat in west Texas was stopped clean in its tracks," said U.S. Attorney Jane J. Boyle.
Butler, however, testified that the FBI forced him to lie in a statement
and that he is innocent of all charges.
Lost in Lubbock The story began in January of this year, when Butler reported 30 vials of plague bacterium missing
and all hell broke loose. The FBI and local police sent in 60 investigators and soon Texas was abuzz with fears of a plague-wielding
terrorist. After being interrogated and allegedly failing a lie dictator test, Butler signed a confession saying he had, in
fact, destroyed the vials and lied to cover up his mistake.
After being arrested, however, Butler recanted his confession, saying
he had been pressured to lie in order to calm public fears. He said FBI agent Dale Green told him "the FBI investigation pointed
toward accidental destruction as the explanation for the missing vials. . . . Because they were destroyed, there was no danger
to the public. [Green] wanted a written statement that would help them conclude the case."
The feds then upped the ante, charging Butler with a slew of other unrelated
crimes dealing with his financial relationships. He was convicted of fraud and embezzlement based on secret relationships
he had with pharmaceutical companies for whom he was doing clinical trials; apparently, he was siphoning off money that was
to go to the university. Texas Tech has begun proceedings to fire him.
So is Butler the latest scientist to be framed by an over-exuberant FBI,
a la Wen Ho Lee? Or was Butler so irresponsible in his treatment of potentially dangerous substances as to warrant such an
aggressive prosecution? It's too early to say. One prosecution consultant, interviewed by the Times, waxed philosophical:
"It struck me how much the world had changed. When you have a change
like that, you're going to have some casualties," said Victoria Sutton, director of the Texas Tech Center for Biodefense,
Law and Public Policy.
What was Sutton, with such an appropriate "biodefense" specialization,
doing there in remote Lubbock, pop. 200,000? As it turns out, Texas Tech is actually a large center for secretive military-funded
research on bioweapons, much of it done under the broad mantle of counterterrorism and potentially unacceptable under the
world Biological Weapons Convention.
Our guide here is The Sunshine Project, a nongovernmental organization
that is devoted to documenting and debunking secrets and myths about biological weapons. Adding context to the Butler case,
the group released a statement last week that said, "If life scientists are looking for a cause to symbolize their resentment
of new oversight laws, the Butler case may not be the one that wins them public sympathy. There is a 'crime' far more heinous
than Butler's bumbling that underlies the prosecution: the gutting of openness in academic institutions by secretive biodefense
"What has gone unreported in the Butler case is that Texas Tech's work
with bioweapons is far from a little program at an ordinary state school in a flat and dusty corner of Middle America. In
fact, Butler worked in the midst of a large and secretive biodefense program supported by the U.S. Army, a program that even
many life scientists may not be aware of."
According to Sunshine's investigators, to inject military dollars into
the university in order to fund research it needs done, the Army's Soldier Biological Chemical Command funnels money through
the Institute for Environmental and Human Health, a biodefense research center located off-campus at Reese Air Force Base
that receives four-fifths of its grant money from the Pentagon. From here, some money goes on to the university's Health Sciences
Center to fund research on such subjects as, yes, bubonic plague. Texas Tech financial documents current through August 31
list 22 active biodefense contracts totaling more than $7.5 million, according to the nonprofit.
"Supporters of intellectual and scientific freedom who are aligning themselves
to Butler's cause would be more likely to earn admiration by challenging the biodefense agenda that is compromising institutions
like Texas Tech and that has led to Buler's aggressive indictment," writes Sunshine. "If there can be a positive outcome of
Butler's trial, it will be a thorough public exploration of [Texas Tech's] research and of how biodefense is compromising
the integrity of institutions like Texas Tech."
Ricin, the Lubbock treat Another recent Sunshine Project investigative report illuminates how questionable some of this
research appears to be.
During his pre-war presentation to the United Nations Security Council
making the case that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was an imminent threat to world security, Secretary of State Colin Powell spent
several minutes describing the deadly natural poison ricin, the production of which he alleged Al Qaeda operatives might have
"The network is teaching its operatives how to produce ricin and other
poisons. Let me remind you how ricin works. Less than a pinch image a pinch of salt less than a pinch of ricin, eating just
this amount in your food, would cause shock followed by circulatory failure. Death comes within 72 hours and there is no antidote,
there is no cure. It is fatal."
When a few grams of ricin were discovered in Europe in 2002, the Continent
was sent into a panic. Yet back in Lubbock, Texas Tech aggie scientists have quietly been working for almost a decade to breed
two kinds of specialty castor beans one which would produce low levels of ricin (to improve the safety of castor oil produced
for human consumption) and one which would have very high levels of ricin. Why they would want to produce this high-ricin-yield
plant is not apparent.
Not only were they successful in this dual-purpose endeavor, breeding
both low- and high-yield variants, but in a parallel effort the university's chemical engineering department designed and
built a machine to automate the extraction of ricin from plant matter. Tech scientists have even developed a way that other
plants i.e., tobacco could be genetically modified to produce ricin, and is willing to sell the technology according to Texas
With all these advances, Texas Tech has now made it relatively easy to
produce hundreds of kilos of deadly ricin off a small plot of castor beans. But why? There is no current practical use for
ricin, and if one were to appear say in a new legal drug plenty could be harvested from normal castor beans using previously
existing technology. It would appear that the only rational reason for Texas Tech to spend all this time and money doing this
is to make it easier to produce biological weapons.
We don't know if the military was funding TTU's ricin projects. But if
it wasn't, it might want to shut them down lest it provide more ammunition to those who criticize the United States as being
hypocritical when it comes to weapons of mass destruction. After all, the United States insisted one of its key rationales
for invading Iraq earlier this year was because it believed the country still had hidden stores and production facilities
for ricin, despite ten years of UN inspections and sanctions.
"The effort at [Texas Tech] to develop ways to produce and use ricin
involved a coordinated effort across several academic departments and activities that, if conducted in many countries, the
US would consider proof of a weapons program," points out The Sunshine Project report. "Because [Texas Tech's] activities
relate to production of a toxin subject to severe restrictions under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions, [Texas
Tech] should provide a detailed public explanation of all its ricin projects."
(On Oct. 23 of this year, a small metal container found in an envelope
in a postal handling facility in Greenville, South Carolina, was determined to contain ricin. The accompanying letter complained
about legislation regulating the trucking industry. No suspects have been identified.)
Homegrown Toxin, Homegrown Terror Whether or not Texas Tech is doing ricin research for the military or just in the
name of raw science, the creation of this technology is worthy of public debate, if not censure. After all, this stuff can
boomerang back on us; consider, for example, that the deadly anthrax spores delivered through the mail in late 2001 were,
according to investigators who have done genetic comparisons, were spawned from an anthrax strain originally produced domestically
in a U.S. military lab and "weaponized" using a very advanced technique invented by the United States' Bill Patrick.
Biodefense experts and former employees of the Army medical research
institute at Ft. Detrick have charged that sloppy security procedures, disgruntled researchers and secret research into weaponization
and delivery techniques could have provided the deadly combination that wrought such terror and paranoia across the country.
News reports also claimed that one alleged suspect, scientist Steven Hatfill, had commissioned a report for Science Applications
International Corporation a couple years before the attacks on how to deal with an anthrax attack by mail.
"Some very expert field person would have been given this job [of studying
the mailing of anthrax] and it would have been left to him to decide exactly how to carry it out," Dr. Barbara Rosenberg,
of the Federation of American Scientists told the BBC last year. "The result might have been a project gone badly awry if
he decided to use it for his own purposes and target the media and the Senate for his own motives as not intended by the government
project." The likely motive? Generating attention and budget funds for the biodefense industry which they certainly accomplished.
The details of the mailing of anthrax report are sketchy. Patrick wrote
the report, according to ABCNews, describing "a hypothetical anthrax attack, specifying an amount and quality of anthrax that
is remarkably similar to what was sent to the offices of Sens. Patrick Leahy and Tom Daschle" in 2001. But Patrick denied
writing the report. As for Hatfill, who had received the anthrax vaccine, had ready access to the substance and lost his security
clearance for unknown reasons just before 9/11, he called ABC's report "completely inaccurate, scandalous and libelous."
While nobody has been charged with perpetrating the anthrax attacks,
a clear profile of who could have done it has emerged. Col. David Franz, who was in charge of Ft. Detrick for 11 years, through
1998, believes the anthrax attacks were carried out by a person or persons who knew their stuff. "It's not someone who just
got on the Internet or went to the library and got a book and led the book in one hand and a big wooden spoon in the other
and stirred up batches," Franz told the BBC in the same report, adding that they would have needed a lot of experience to
understand how to grow, purify and dry anthrax spores.
So why are we making this awful stuff? Less than one-millionth of a gram
is a deadly dose, and it is proscribed by international conventions. Furthermore, the United States was supposed to have ended
its production of biological weapons three decades ago. In fact, though, the line between "biodefense" and "bioweapons" is
so blurry as to be nearly useless. Just days before 9/11, the New York Times published an investigative article that reported
a military contractor called Battelle had actually been commissioned to create genetically altered anthrax.
Another secret project, according to Rosenberg, writing in the Los Angeles
Times "involved the construction of bomblets designed for dispersion of biological agents, although the Biological Weapons
Convention explicitly prohibits developing, producing or possessing 'means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins
for hostile purposes.'"
Rosenberg, a biodefense expert who believes the bioterror threat is increasing
and that the American public is the most likely target, is frustrated that under the Bush administration, "the U.S. has opposed
every international effort to monitor the ban on the development and possession of biological weapons by states or to strengthen
the toothless Biological Weapons Convention in any way."
This is odd, since we were supposed to have the moral high ground when
it came to Iraq, which had produced, according to President Bush, "more than 30,000 liters of anthrax and other deadly biological
agents. The inspectors, however, concluded that Iraq had likely produced two to four times that amount. This is a massive
stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for, and capable of killing millions."
To be fair, President Clinton's Republican Defense Secretary William
Cohen had been similarly apocalyptic when it came to describing Iraq's anthrax potential, noting in 1998 "a five-pound bag,
properly dispersed, could kill half the population of Columbus, Ohio." And a month after 9/11, it was Clinton's ex-CIA director
James Woolsey who announced on TV that "If we see the use of biological agents such as smallpox or anthrax, that would strongly
suggest to me that a state is involved with the terrorists because the state would be the likely producer of such weapons.
I personally believe the most likely state to be involved in something like this would be Iraq."
This would make sense in more ways than Woolsey acknowledged: The Commerce
Department under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush had long permitted U.S. companies to sell anthrax and other biological
and chemical supplies to Iraq, the Senate Banking Committee has documented. If Iraq had used anthrax, these U.S. companies
and leaders should surely bear some of the moral responsibility for whatever tragedies might have ensued.
Within days of Woolsey's statements, five people would be dead from anthrax
poisoning in the United States in one of the most amazing unsolved crimes of the past century. Meanwhile, hundreds of U.S.
inspectors have found no signs of anthrax in Iraq despite more than a half a year of looking.
A Big Threat From a Smallpox When, in the wake of 9/11, our president and noted "counterterrorism experts" (who
make a living off fear, it should be remembered) decided to add a new bogeyman to the list of terrors we should worry about,
the exterminated disease smallpox, it raised disturbing questions. Since the only known living smallpox virus was supposedly
held by Russia and the United States, it would seem that somebody would have to really have goofed up for smallpox to have
found its way into the hands of terrorists who had, as yet, never successfully (or unsuccessfully, as far as we know) employed
biological or chemical weapons in an attack even those much easier to produce. Did the president know more than he was telling?
Chaotic, corrupt Russia was trotted out whenever smallpox came up in
the media: Those poor Russian scientists might have sold some to Al Qaeda for some hard currency, reporters and experts said.
While this was simply speculation, it was loosely based on the fact that in 1989 a Soviet defector claimed his country had
weaponized and produced up to 20 tons of smallpox.
But if it wasn't understood before, the anthrax attacks should have been
a wake-up call that our own security surrounding these dangerous substances was rather lacking. The stricter controls that
have tangled up Dr. Butler are an attempt to batten down the hatches. It would seem there's more to be done: An Associated
Press report on Nov. 21 told the scary story of a vial of one of the most deadly plagues ever discovered sitting in an unlocked
freezer controlled by an undergraduate lecturer.
The question few asked, even as close to 40,000 Americans health and
emergency workers, mostly were subsequently vaccinated for smallpox at the government's instruction, was whether the whole
scare was nothing more than an irresponsible, panicky reaction to the 9/11 attacks. Or, far worse, a cynical attempt to increase
our already soaring national fear levels. After all, the smallpox vaccine itself was known to be somewhat dangerous.
In fact, two women died after receiving the shots, killed by "adverse
cardiac events" of a kind associated with the vaccine. Since then, the civilian program has basically ceased functioning,
although the military continues to vaccinate soldiers; one died of a mysterious "lupus-like" disease last week after receiving
the smallpox, anthrax and other vaccines on the same day.
Putting these tragedies aside, the questions remain: Did the threat demand
this? Was there even a realistic threat at all? Colin Powell, speaking at the UN, seemed to think so. "Saddam Hussein has
investigated dozens of biological agents causing diseases such as gas gangrene, plague, typhus, tetanus, cholera, camelpox
and hemorrhagic fever, and he also has the wherewithal to develop smallpox," Powell claimed.
Powell didn't explain this last sentence. There are two likely ways smallpox,
a truly devastating disease which is estimated to have killed 30 million people in the last century, could be reintroduced
to humanity: From a strain kept in a lab somewhere, or through a synthetic version of the virus made by gene wizards. However,
the latter is very unlikely, especially in the case of a rogue state like Iraq, since the complex variola virus that causes
smallpox is quite large and complex, and would be a major challenge to recreate in a lab.
What is not clear is who might have kept a smallpox strain and why. The
World Health Organization had recommended that all virus stocks be destroyed by 1999, but this almost certainly did not happen.
And while the virus was supposedly only held in two locations in the United States and Russia, it is possible that other nations
kept secret stashes of it taken in the years before it was eradicated in the populace. Donald Henderson, a science advisor
to the U.S. government, noted last month in the Independent that the countries of Iraq, Syria and Iran could theoretically
have retained smallpox samples from a natural outbreak there in 1972.
The government's official position on smallpox, which has no cure, is
simply that "the deliberate release of smallpox as an epidemic disease is now regarded as a possibility." No smallpox samples
have been discovered in Iraq.
It Gets Uglier Even as we fear the resurrection of one of the few plagues mankind has completely defeated,
some of those who advise and work for President Bush have talked warmly of possibilities even more horrifying.
A decade ago, neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz and Lewis Libby who
now occupy powerful positions in the White House wrote a draft policy paper that, among other calls for aggressively increasing
U.S. power in the world, argued that the government consider the development of biological weapons that "can target specific
genotypes [and] may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool."
Nobody who has living through the astonishing medical and scientific
advances of recent decades can doubt that such a horror might be possible. But to suggest we develop such diseases to add
to our arsenal in defiance of international covenants and human decency is abominable.
This month, the CIA convened a gathering of life sciences experts who
warned that genetically engineered diseases "could be worse than any disease known to man." The report generated by the scientists,
"The Darker Bioweapons Future," argues, "The same science that may cure some of our worst diseases could be used to create
the world's most frightening weapons." They also noted the possibility that these monstrous creations could potentially be
released secretly, and thus avoid any international "blowback."
"One panelist cited the possibility of a stealth virus attack that could
cripple a large portion of people in their forties with severe arthritis, concealing its hostile origin and leaving a country
with massive health and economic problems," the report says.
Is this just more fear mongering, or the sci-fi fantasies of a researcher
who is dependent on federal funds for his research? We won't know for a while, of course, but just this week, scientist L.
Craig Venter, one of the key players in the mapping of the human genome, posted on the Internet instructions for how to build
a synthetic virus (he is working on the artificial creation of living organisms that could clean up pollution).
In any event, if such nightmares should come true, it is likely to be
in the United States, the birthplace of bio-terrorism, which will have had the scientific ability, bureaucratic organization
and research money needed to create them. -- By Christopher Scheer,
as posted by AlterNet
CIA Looks at the Future of BioweaponsNovember 14, 2003 -- As bad as the threat of biological weapons
may seem-- it's actually worse.
That is the upshot of a summary report prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency
based on a workshop with non-governmental scientists held last January.
"Growing understanding of the complex biochemical
pathways that underlie life processes has the potential to enable a class of new, more virulent biological agents engineered
to attack distinct biochemical pathways and elicit specific effects...," the document stated.
A copy of the two page
CIA report was obtained by Secrecy News.
See "The Darker Bioweapons Future," Office of Transnational Issues, Directorate
of Intelligence, November 3, 2003:
http://www.fas.org/irp/cia/product/bw1103.pdfNo less interesting that the document itself is the tangled process
that produced it.
The CIA, in a becoming act of humility, reached out to biological scientists early this year for
insight and advice. It then squandered much of the good will it had engendered by informing the scientists that the
conclusions of their open meeting would be classified. But then, facing criticism, the Agency reversed itself, belatedly
yielding the present document. (Secrecy News, 4/02/03)
"CIA proactively reached out to the scientific community,
but instead of getting credit for it, it got slammed," according to one non-governmental participant who said critics were
mistaken to believe CIA was acting in bad faith.
"I hope that the scientific and security communities have both learned
something from this experience and will continue to make the effort to work together," he said today. "We'll have to
do a lot more of it in the future."
-- Excerpted from Secrecy News by Steven Aftergood for from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy, Volume 2003, Issue No. 101
Bioterrorism in the USA
The US has already seen a case of germ warfare conducted on innocent civilians.
Due to the mass media's decision to ignore this incredible story, most citizens have no idea of the incredible events and
conspiracies that took place in Oregon in 1984.
A religious cult known as the Rajneeshees -- followers of Bhagwan Shree
Rajneesh, a self-proclaimed guru exiled from India -- had moved into a ranch in rural Wasco County Oregon and took political
control of the small nearby town of Antelope. They changed its name to Rajneesh. Next, the cult sought to run the whole county
by winning the local election in 1984.
The amazing story of the Wasco County election scandal was revealed by Leslie
L. Zaitz, an investigative reporter for The Oregonian, and Dr. John Livengood, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease
To win the county election, the Rajneeshees planned to sicken a good portion of the population in the town
of The Dalles, where most Wasco County voters live. Their weapon of choice to keep local residents from voting was salmonella
bacteria. Cult members decided to test the use of salmonella and, if successful, to contaminate the town's entire water system
on Election Day. To test out their plan, the Rajneeshees proceeded to clandestinely sprinkle salmonella at the town's restaurant
salad bars. Ten restaurants were hit and more than 700 people got sick.
"They apparently didn't expect it to be such
a huge success," Zaitz said. "The attention attracted by the salad bar escapade brought hordes of health officials and investigators
into The Dalles. It dashed the cult's plan to do worse on Election Day." Health officials had pinned down salmonella as the
cause of the sudden outbreak, but put the blame on food handlers -- in 1984, who could have imagined bioterrorism?
The cult's conspiracy to contaminate the election failed and a year later,
the entire Rajneeshee commune collapsed under the weight of an internal conflict. Cult informers confessed to numerous crimes,
including plots to kill the US attorney, the state attorney general, and the guru's doctor, as well as the plot to contaminate
the election. Vials of salmonella were found on the Rajneeshees' ranch. -- Excerpts from the full article at Conspiracy Journal
Dr. John Livengood was one of the experts who participated in the 1999
meeting that helped to develop the following report for the Centers for Disease Control:
Public Health Assessment of Potential Biological Terrorism Agents
As part of a Congressional initiative begun in 1999 to upgrade national
public health capabilities for response to acts of biological terrorism, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
was designated the lead agency for overall public health planning. A Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Office has been
formed to help target several areas for initial preparedness activities, including planning, improved surveillance and epidemiological
capabilities, rapid laboratory diagnostics, enhanced communications, and medical therapeutics stockpiling (1). To focus these preparedness efforts, however, the biological agents towards
which the efforts should be targeted had to first be formally identified and placed in priority order. Many biological agents
can cause illness in humans, but not all are capable of affecting public health and medical infrastructures on a large scale.
The military has formally assessed multiple agents for their strategic
usefulness on the battlefield (2). In addition, the Working Group on Civilian Biodefense, using an expert
panel consensus-based process, has identified several biological agents as potential high-impact agents against civilian populations
(3-7). To guide national public health bioterrorism preparedness and response
efforts, a method was sought for assessing potential biological threat agents that would provide a reviewable, reproducible
means for standardized evaluations of these threats.
In June 1999, a meeting of national experts was convened to 1) review potential
general criteria for selecting the biological agents that pose the greatest threats to civilians and 2) review lists of previously
identified biological threat agents and apply these criteria to identify which should be evaluated further and prioritized
for public health preparedness efforts. This report outlines the overall selection and prioritization process used to determine
the biological agents for public health preparedness activities. Identifying these priority agents will help facilitate coordinated
planning efforts among federal agencies, state and local emergency response and public health agencies, and the medical community.
Based on the overall criteria and weighting, agents were placed in
one of three priority categories for initial public health preparedness efforts: A, B, or C (Table 1). Agents in Category A have the greatest potential for adverse public health
impact with mass casualties, and most require broad-based public health preparedness efforts (e.g., improved surveillance
and laboratory diagnosis and stockpiling of specific medications). Category A agents also have a moderate to high potential
for large-scale dissemination or a heightened general public awareness that could cause mass public fear and civil disruption.
Although use of conventional weapons such as explosives or firearms is
still considered the most likely means by which terrorists could harm civilians (14), multiple recent reports cite an increasing risk and probability for the
use of biological or chemical weapons (15-18). Indeed, the use of biological and chemical agents as small- and large-scale
weapons has been actively explored by many nations and terrorist groups (19-20). Although small-scale bioterrorism events may actually
be more likely in light of the lesser degrees of complexity to be overcome, public health agencies must prepare for the still-possible
large-scale incident that would undoubtedly lead to catastrophic public health consequences. -- Excerpts from the February 2002 report by the Centers for Disease Control
For me, the most thought provoking statement in this report was: "The
selection and prioritization of the potential biological terrorism agents described in this report were not based on the likelihood
of their use, but on the probability that their use would result in an overwhelming adverse impact on public health." The
CDC's emphasis and focus is on dealing with the less-likely occurrence of a large-scale, devastating bioterrorism attack --
even though smaller-scale attacks using Category B agents are more likely to occur, and in fact, already have. Their decision
is not reassuring. -- Editor
Devastating acts, such as the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon, have left many concerned about the possibility of future incidents in the United States and their potential
impact. They have raised uncertainty about what might happen next, increasing stress levels. Nevertheless, there are things
you can do to prepare for the unexpected and reduce the stress that you may feel now and later should another emergency arise.
Taking preparatory action can reassure you and your children that you can exert a measure of control even in the face of such
Center for Non-Proliferation Studies - Study Details Steps To Reduce Dirty Bomb Threat
: The interest of terrorist groups in radiological dispersal devices (RDDs)
has caused policymakers to seek new measures to ensure these materials do not fall into the wrong hands.
CDC - Emergency Preparedness and Response
: Access daily updates to the official federal government health agency in
charge of protecting the public from bio and chemical terrorism. With news, reports and alerts.
Biotech Threat Scenarios Get Scary
"The effects of some of these engineered biological agents could be worse
than any disease known to man," the report stated. "The same science that may cure some of our worst diseases could be used
to create the worlds most frightening weapons."
Entitled "The Darker Bioweapons Future," it was prepared for
the CIAs Strategic Assessments Group by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The academy is an organization of top scientists,
based in Washington, that advises the federal government on science.
Almost a dozen experts on bio weapons declined to comment on whether
the CIA report exaggerated the threat.
Dr. Stanley Falkow, of Stanford University, for instance, noted that
he chaired another NAS panel that is writing its own report on the bio weapon threat. Scheduled for completion in 2004, it
addresses some of the points raised in the CIA report.
"I will be uncharacteristically silent about this for the moment," said
Dr. Falkow, a noted professor of microbiology.
"I do think there is always a bit of arrogance involved when humans proclaim
that they can design infectious agents better than those seen in Nature. The bar is pretty high when one considers HIV/AIDS,
or just plain old-fashioned plague. Surely SARS scares the pants off a lot of people."
The CIA report is among dozens that have expressed concern about possible
intentional misuse of biotechnology, or accidents in legitimate research labs, that create deadly new "designer" viruses and
bacteria. The microbes, difficult to detect and stop, could kill or disable people or cause famines by decimating crops and
Concern predates the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which led President
Bush to declare biological warfare one of the top two 21st century security threats. The other was "information warfare" involving
terrorist attacks on the Internet and other information channels.
In 1999, for instance, the U.S. Department of Defense decided to find
out whether scientists really could make a disease-causing virus from scratch. DOD gave the job to Dr. Eckard Wimmer, of the
State University of New York at Stony Brook. It took his team 3 years to cook up the worlds first homemade virus - a synthetic
polio virus - with off-the-shelf ingredients.
By November, 2003, the time scale for cobbling together a synthetic virus
shrunk to 2 weeks. Thats how long it took genome pioneer J. Craig Venter, Nobel laureate Hamilton O. Smith, and an associate
to make an artificial "Phi X" virus, thanks to advanced genetic engineering technology.
The CIA report said such technology could be used to paste new genes
into naturally occurring microbes, creating viruses or bacteria that are greater health menaces.
Thats the scenario thrilling millions of "24-Hour" fans. The series,
staring Keifer Sutherland, is about a crime gang that uses a designer virus against the government.
"The virus has been engineered to kill more rapidly," according to Fox's
plot summary. "With one initial location of this weaponized strain, thousands of people could be infected within two days.
Over a million people will die in the first week."
In scientific terms, Fox's fictional virus has "enhanced virulence,"
and would result from 1 of 7 specific biotechnology experiments that top real-world sciences worry list.
NAS detailed them as "experiments of concern" in an October, 2003, report
that called for limitations on experiments that attempt to:
- Enhance the virulence of disease-causing microbes, or change harmless
microbes into disease-causing microbes.
- Render human or animal vaccines ineffective by making microbes that sicken
people despite immunization against polio, measles, tetanus, anthrax, or other diseases.
- Engineer viruses and bacteria with built-in resistance to antibiotics
or anti-viral drugs that are used to treat people, animals, or crops.
- Enhance the transmissibility of disease-causing microbes so that influenza
viruses or food poisoning bacteria, for instance, spread easier.
- Give animal or plant microbes genes that enable them to cause diseases
in humans, or alter human microbes so they can decimate livestock or crops.
- Create microbes that evade diagnostic tests.
- Could lead to the weaponization of microbes or other biological agents,
so they can be dispersed easily.
Some of those possibilities are fact.
Researchers at St. Louis University in November announced creation of
a retooled mousepox virus that defeats a vaccine for the disease, which is a cousin of smallpox.
"There are a number of perfectly valid reasons for researchers to perform
experiments of concern," Dr. James B. Petro noted. He is an expert on bio weapons at the Joint Military Intelligence College
The St. Louis research, for instance, was part of legitimate research
to find treatments for biological weapon agents. Scientists may want to know how specific threat agents behave in different
environments so they can prepare countermeasures against an attack.
Dr. Petro noted that seemingly harmless research can have unexpected
In 2001, for instance, Australian researchers accidentally created a
more potent form of the monkey poxvirus by pasting in an easily available immune-regulating gene. Other scientists have reproduced
a key protein from the smallpox virus that blocks part of the human immune response.
That technique "could be applied to other naturally occurring pathogens,
such as anthrax and smallpox, greatly increasing their lethality," the CIA report said.
Looming on the horizon are new "binary" and "stealth" bio weapons that
would be very difficult to detect, the report warned.
Binary weapons are 2-part concoctions, both of which are harmless until
combined. Terrorists, the report suggested, could release a custom-designed virus that causes mild headaches or indigestion.
But it would become lethal and spread when victims take a treatment like aspirin or antacid.
A stealth bio weapon might be a virus that infects people and lies dormant
inside the body for months until being triggered by something else.
The report mentions a possible "stealth virus attack that could cripple a large portion of people in their 40s with severe arthritis, concealing its
hostile origin and leaving a country with widespread health and economic problems."
"The resulting diversity of new biological weapons agents could enable
such a broad range of attack scenarios that it virtually would be impossible to anticipate or defend against," said the report.
Other experts, however, question that fatalism.
"Fortunately, the same advances in genomics that could be used to produce
bio weapons can also be used to set up countermeasures against them," Drs. Claire M. Fraser and Malcolm R. Dando concluded
in one study.
Dr. Fraser, of The Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Md.,
and Dr. Dando, of the University of Branford in England, are experts who reviewed bio weapons threats in the journal Nature
They identified many of the same threats described in the CIA report,
but detailed how new genetics technology could thwart them.
For instance, a new generation of bio sensors, based on DNA chip technology,
could quickly detect "any biological warfare agent," they said. That includes synthetic viruses and natural microbes engineered
with antibiotic resistance or other unusual traits.
Data on the genes that make up disease-causing microbes, also will make
it easier to develop vaccines and antibiotics that work against bio weapons, they said.
The CIA report called for a partnership between biologists and the national
security community to reduce the risk of biotechnologys misuse. It envisions the bio science community acting as "a living
sensor web - at international conferences, in university labs, and through informal networks - to identify and alert it to
new technical advances with weaponizing potential."
NAS laid out another roadmap in its October report.
It proposed, for instance, a formal system for reviewing "experiments
of concern" before they are done and deciding whether results should be published openly.
"The life science community should take the lead in partnering with national
security professionals to draft guidelines for identifying research of concern."
The report proposes a tiered system of review to identify experiments
that raise concern because of their high potential for misuse.
A Darker Bioweapon Future
Declassified on November 23, 2003 -- This unclassified CIA report was published Early November, and then posted on the Federation of American Scientist's
website a couple of weeks later. The national news media aired the story of a Friday, the least watched new cycle of week.
Briefly, this report by the CIA is probably the biggest story of the 21st century. The implications for the future (unless
we dramatically change course) are staggering.
I've taken the liberty of creating a synopsis of the below report:
Life science is now are where information technology was in the 1960s;
more than any other science, it will revolutionize the 21st century. The genomic revolution (due to understanding of genes
and how they work) is in an explosive growth phase, accelerating dramatically and unpredictably in its breadth and volume.
This evolving bioscience knowledge base is widely available to the public!
Advances in biotechnology plus nefarious biological activity equal a
much more dangerous biological warfare (BW) threat. In other words, advances in biotechnology can inadvertently teach techniques
that are applicable to bioweapon activity. The same science that may cure some of our worst diseases could be used to create
the worlds most frightening weapons.
New BW agents could enable such a broad range of attack scenarios that
it would be virtually impossible to anticipate and defend against. As a result, there could be a considerable lag time in
developing effective biodefense measures. Although, effective countermeasures (once developed) could be leveraged against
a range of BW agents, augmenting common elements of the bodys response to disease rather than treating individual diseases.
Detecting bioweapon activity is much more difficult than detecting nuclear
weapon activity because biotechnology is dual use, and thus is extremely difficult to distinguish from legitimate research.
It is suggested as a solution that we develop standards and norms intended to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate
research (taking into consideration the legal or regulatory implications of any such changes).
A qualitatively different working relationship between the government
and life sciences communities maybe necessary, using specific human intelligence within the life science community as collaborators
to identify and alert the government to any new technical advance with weaponization potential.
Future bioweapon activity can lead to engineered biological agents like:
- BW agents constructed in vitro from scratch.
- Binary BW agents, that only becomes effective when two components are
- Designer BW agents, created to be antibiotic resistant or to evade an
- Weaponized gene therapy vectors, which would effect permanent change in
a victims genetic makeup.
- Stealth virus, which could lie dormant inside the victim for an extended
period before being triggered.
A panel of life science experts convened for the Strategic Assessments
Group by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that advances in biotechnology, coupled with the difficulty in detecting
nefarious biological activity, have the potential to create a much more dangerous biological warfare (BW) threat. The panel
- The effects of some of these engineered biological agents could be worse
than any disease known to man.
- The genomic revolution is pushing biotechnology into an explosive growth
phase. Panelists asserted that the resulting wave front of knowledge will evolve rapidly and be so broad, complex, and widely
available to the public that traditional intelligence means for monitoring WMD development could prove inadequate to deal
with the threat from these advanced biological weapons.
- Detection of related activities, particularly the development of novel
bioengineered pathogens, will depend increasingly on more specific human intelligence and, argued panelists, will necessitate
a closer-and perhaps qualitatively different-working relationship between the intelligence and biological sciences communities.
The Threat from Advanced BW In the last several decades, the world has witnessed a knowledge explosion in the
life sciences based on an understanding of genes and how they work. According to panel members, practical applications of
this new and burgeoning knowledge base will accelerate dramatically and unpredictably:
As one expert remarked: In the life sciences, we now are where information
technology was in the 1960s; more than any other science, it will revolutionize the 21st century.
Growing understanding of the complex biochemical pathways that underlie
life processes has the potential to enable a class of new, more virulent biological agents engineered to attack distinct biochemical
pathways and elicit specific effects, claimed panel members. The same science that may cure some of our worst diseases could
be used to create the worlds most frightening weapons.
The know-how to develop some of these weapons already exists. For example:
- Australian researchers recently inadvertently showed that the virulence
of mousepox virus can be significantly enhanced by the incorporation of a standard immunoregulator gene, a technique that
could be applied to other naturally occurring pathogens such as anthrax or smallpox, greatly increasing their lethality.
- Indeed, other biologists have synthesized a key smallpox viral protein
and shown its effectiveness in blocking critical aspects of the human immune response.
- A team of biologists recently created a polio virus in vitro from scratch.
According to the scientists convened, other classes of unconventional pathogens
that may arise over the next decade and beyond include binary BW agents that only become effective when two components are
combined (a particularly insidious example would be a mild pathogen that when combined with its antidote becomes virulent);
designer BW agents created to be antibiotic resistant or to evade an immune response; weaponized gene therapy vectors that
effect permanent change in the victims genetic makeup; or a stealth virus, which could lie dormant inside the victim for an
extended period before being triggered. For example, one panelist cited the possibility of a stealth virus attack that could
cripple a large portion of people in their forties with severe arthritis, concealing its hostile origin and leaving a country
with massive health and economic problems.
According to experts, the biotechnology underlying the development of
advanced biological agents is likely to advance very rapidly, causing a diverse and elusive threat spectrum. The resulting
diversity of new BW agents could enable such a broad range of attack scenarios that it would be virtually impossible to anticipate
and defend against, they say. As a result, there could be a considerable lag time in developing effective biodefense measures.
However, effective countermeasures, once developed, could be leveraged
against a range of BW agents, asserted attendees, citing current research aimed at developing protocols for augmenting common
elements of the bodys response to disease, rather than treating individual diseases. Such treatments could strengthen our
defense against attacks by ABW agents.
Implications for Warning The experts emphasized that, because the processes, techniques, equipment and know-how needed
for advanced bio agent development are dual use, it will be extremely difficult to distinguish between legitimate biological
research activities and production of advanced BW agents.
The panel contrasted the difficulty of detecting advanced bioweapons
with that of detecting nuclear weapons, which has always had clear surveillance and detection observables, such as highly
enriched uranium or telltale production equipment.
Consequently, most panelists argued that a qualitatively different relationship
between the government and life sciences communities might be needed to most effectively grapple with the future BW threat.
They cited the pace, breadth, and volume of the evolving bioscience knowledge
base, coupled with its dual-use nature and the fact that most is publicly available via electronic means and very hard to
track, as the driving forces for enhanced cooperation. Most panelists agreed that the US life sciences research community
was more or less over its Vietnam-era distrust of the national security establishment and would be open to more collaboration.
- One possibility, they argued, might be early government assistance to
life sciences community efforts to develop its own standards and norms intended to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate
research, efforts recently initiated by the US biological sciences community.
- A more comprehensive vision articulated by one panelist was for the bioscience
community at large to aid the government by acting as a living sensor web-at international conferences, in university labs,
and through informal networks-to identify and alert it to new technical advances with weaponization potential. The workshop
did not discuss the legal or regulatory implications of any such changes.
-- by Brad Arnold as posted to InfoShop.org
Court Upholds Life Sentence for Aum Cultist
September 25, 2003 TOKYO -- The Tokyo High Court upheld a lower court ruling
and sentenced Noboru Nakamura, a senior Aum Shinrikyo cultist, to life in prison for his involvement in the 1994 deadly sarin gas attack in Matsumoto. The prosecutors had demanded the death penalty on Nakamura, 36. Both the prosecutors and Nakamura had appealed
the life sentence issued May 2001. (Kyodo News/Japan Today)
The Aum Shinrikyo cult had begun experimenting with biochemical attacks against
the public as early as April 1990, when they tried to release botulin toxin from a vehicle driving around government buildings
in central Tokyo. In June 1993, another attempt was made to release botulin toxin in conjunction with the wedding of the crown
prince. Later that month, the cult released anthrax spores from its Tokyo office building laboratory.
On June 27, 1994 in Matsumoto, a group of cult members drove a converted
refrigerator truck into a residential neighborhood. Parking in a secluded parking lot behind a stand of trees, they activated
a computer-controlled system to release a cloud of sarin. The nerve agent floated toward a small dormitory which housed all
three judges sitting on a panel hearing a lawsuit over a real-estate dispute in which Aum Shinrikyo was the defendant.
Seven people died in this attack, and 500 others had to be transported to local hospitals, where approximately
200 required at least one night's hospitalization.
In March 1995, just before the sarin subway attack, an attempt to spray botulin
toxin in the subway at Kasumagaseki Station was preempted by a cult member who opted not to load the improvised briefcase
sprayers with actual agent.
On March 20, 1995, in the midst of morning rush hour, ten highly placed Aum Shinrikyo members boarded five trains at different stations in Tokyo with packages filled
with sarin wrapped in newspaper. At a predetermined time, the ten members punctured the bags with the tips of their umbrellas
and left the trains. Kasumigaseki Station, which suffered the worst in the attack, is located under many government offices
and the National Police Agency's headquarters. By the end of the day, 15 subway stations in the world's busiest subway system
had been affected. Twelve people died and 3,800 required medical attention, with approximately 1,000 requiring hospitalization
as a result of this coordinated attack.
The time and places had been selected with calculation to cause the most death,
sickness, and disruption to society despite, or perhaps as retaliation against, a police raid on a Aum Shinrikyo building
dedicated to the god Shiva, but actually housing a chemical weapons production facility, on March 17. After the subway
attacks, police raided Aum Shrinrikyo buildings all over Japan.
More violent incidents followed. On March 30, 1995, there was an attempted assasination
of police Chief Kunimatsu, the head of the National Police Agency, and subsequent gas attacks occured on trains in the Tokyo-Yokohama
area. In these cases there were deaths or serious injuries.
At the time of the Tokyo subway attack, the group claimed to have 9,000 members
in Japan and up to 40,000 worldwide. The Cult operated in Australia, Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, the
former Yugoslavia, and the United States.
The group now employs videoconferencing
and the Internet to communicate with its membership, whose growing numbers now range from 1,500 to 2,000 according to US State
Department. Some of the cult's 650 leaders and teachers reside in Japan, but others operate in small but enduring Russian
cells, although the cult has been outlawed in Russia. Japanese authorities have been reluctant to invoke a 1952 anti-subversive
law that would ban the group, citing concerns for civil liberties and religious freedom.
Edited and excerpted from the following sources: Jackie Fowler for University of Virginia, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism, and the Center for Defnese Information
March 11, 2003 -- In this time of
the chronic threat of terrorism and the possibility of war with an adversary who may be armed with biological weapons, high
on the wish list of security agencies and battlefield commanders is a quick and easy way to detect the presence of dangerous
A dirty bomb, also known as a radiological weapon, is a conventional explosive such as dynamite packaged with radioactive material that scatters when the bomb goes
off. A dirty bomb kills or injures through the initial blast of the conventional explosive and by airborne radiation and contamination
-- hence the term "dirty". Such bombs could be miniature devices or as big as a truck bomb.
Nerve Drug Poses Its Own Risks
February 11, 2003 -- Scientists
and several veterans groups said the US Food and Drug Administration ignored evidence indicating serious safety concerns when
it recently approved a drug called PB to protect soldiers from poisoning by a nerve gas.
February 12, 2003 -- Scud alert drills, simulating a chemical weapons attack, were held at the main headquarters for US forces assembling
for a possible invasion of Iraq in Kuwait.
Biological and Chemical Weapons
: CNN explains how many biological and chemical weapons work, including anthrax,
smallpox, botulism, and sarin. Also find a map of countries involved with such weapons.
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