Bio-Warfare: Modern Day Trojan Horse

Various types of biological warfare have been practice repeatedly through history such as biological agents e.g. microbes and plants as well as biotoxins e.g. venoms derived from them. Before the 20th century, biological agents took the form of deliberate contaminates to food and water with poisonous or contagious material, the use of microbes, biological toxins, animals or plants in a weapon system and the use of biologically inoculated fabrics. In the 20th century, as technique in virology and bacteriology greatly improved so did the production of significant stockpiles of weaponized bio-agents grow such as bacterial agents e.g. Anthrax, Brucella, Tularemia, etc., viral agents e.g. Smallpox, Viral hemorrhagic fevers, etc. and toxins e.g. Botulinum, Ricin, etc. After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Iraq admitted to the United Nations inspection team to having made 19,000 liters of concentrated botulinum toxin including 10,000 liters of which was loaded into weapons and much of which was never accounted for. The amount produced is three times what is needed to kill the entire human population by inhalation even though the delivery unless protected from oxygen would make it impossible to distribute due to deterioration in storage. According to the U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment, eight countries are reported to have run unofficial biological warfare programs in 1995 which includes  China, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, North Korea, Syria and Taiwan and five countries have admitted to running offensive weapon or development programs in the past which includes United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Programs in Iraq under the guidance of the Coalition Forces and United Nations were dismantled after the Gulf War in 1991 even though Iraqi military bio-weapons programs continued to operate in defiance of the international agreement until the program was abandoned in 1995 and 1996.

Several past instances deliberate and unintentional, public and top-secret have involved some form of bio-weapons research or actual use. On September 18, 2001 and a few days after, several letters containing intentionally prepared anthrax spores were sent to member of Congress and American media outlets killing five of 22 people sickened by the spores. The identity of the bioterrorist  remained unknown until 2008 when an official but dead suspect was named. Suspicion of ongoing Iraqi bio-weapons programs could not be confirmed in the wake of the March 2003 invasion. In 2008, according to U.S. Congressional Research Service report, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Taiwan to varying degrees have some bio-weapon capability, however by 2011, 165 countries officially signed the BWC pledging to disavow biological weapons. Besides individual and foreign sources of potential biological risk, the United States has performed numerous experiments on human test subject considered unethical even illegal without the consent, knowledge or informed consent of the test subjects in question. The experiments include the deliberate infection of people with deadly or debilitating diseases, exposure of people to biological and chemical weapons, human radiation experiments, injection of people with toxic and radioactive chemicals, surgical experiments, interrogation/torture experiments, tests involving mind-altering substances, and a wide variety of others. Many of these experiments were performed on children, the sick, and mentally disabled individuals, often under the guise of “medical treatment” with a large portion of these subjects being poor, racial minorities, or prisoners.

The funding for these projects came from the United States government especially the Central Intelligence Agency, United States military and federal or military corporations. The research was often highly secretive and kept until many years after the studies were finished. The ramifications of such research had ethical, professional and legal implications in the United States medical and scientific community leading to many institutions and politic to ensure future human subject research in the United States would follow ethical and legal standards. Public outrage over the discovery of government experiments on human subjects force numerous congressional investigations and hearing to be open into the nature of these experiments including the Church Commission, Rockefeller Commission, and Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments, amongst others. As of 2007, no U.S. researcher has been prosecuted in connection to these experiments and the many victims have not received compensation or acknowledgement from the government for what was done to them.

According to the World Health Organization, Infectious diseases also known as transmissible or communicable diseases are caused by pathogenic microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, protozoa, aberrant proteins called prions or fungi spreading directly or indirectly from one person to another, while zoonotic diseases are infectious diseases of animals that can cause disease when transmitted to humans. In some cases, the infectious disease may not present itself in the traditional definition and may even be asymptomatic for a given host and the disease may only be defined as such in the secondary host after contact with an asymptomatic carrier. The infectivity is the ability to survive and multiply in he host, while the infectiousness refers to the comparative ease with which the disease is transmitted to other hosts. The path by which transmission occurs varies including physical contact, contaminated food, body fluids, objects, airborne inhalation, or through vector organisms. Contagious diseases are a subset of infectious diseases as they are especially infective or easily transmitted e.g. influenza, but does not include specialized routes of infection such as vector or sexual transmission as they do not require medical isolation or quarantine of the victim.

Despite incredible advances in medical technology and treatments during the 20th century, infectious diseases remain the leading cause of deaths worldwide due to the emergence of new infectious diseases, re-emergence of old infectious diseases and persistence mismanagement of infectious diseases. The top three single agent or disease killers of today include HIV/ AIDS, TB and malaria, however there has been a decline in the number deaths due to two of the three diseases listed with HIV/AIDS increasing fourfold. Childhood diseases include pertussis, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, measles and tetanus with children also making up a large percentage of lower respiratory and diarrheal deaths. Compared to the medical profession of the past and advancements in medical technology, the world is better prepared to deal with a global epidemic or pandemic than in the past. Here are some stats on historical pandemics that managed to wipe out large geographical areas of the globe:

  • Plague of Justinian, from 541 to 750, killed between 50% and 60% of Europe’s population.
  • The Black Death of 1347 to 1352 killed 25 million in Europe over 5 years. The plague reduced the world population from an estimated 450 million to between 350 and 375 million in the 14th century.
  • The introduction of smallpox, measles, and typhus to the areas of Central and South America by European explorers during the 15th and 16th centuries caused pandemics among the native inhabitants. Between 1518 and 1568 disease pandemics are said to have caused the population of Mexico to fall from 20 million to 3 million.
  • The first European influenza epidemic occurred between 1556 and 1560, with an estimated mortality rate of 20%.
  • Smallpox killed an estimated 60 million Europeans during the 18th century (approximately 400,000 per year). Up to 30% of those infected, including 80% of the children under 5 years of age, died from the disease, and one-third of the survivors went blind.
  • In the 19th century, tuberculosis killed an estimated one-quarter of the adult population of Europe;by 1918 one in six deaths in France were still caused by TB.
  • The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 (or the Spanish Flu) killed 25-50 million people (about 2% of world population of 1.7 billion). Today Influenza kills about 250,000 to 500,000 worldwide each year.

Many factors play into the emergence of new disease or the spread of existing diseases to new areas. In most cases, the microorganism lives within the host via mutual or commensal interactions and only when the existing parasite becomes pathogenic or when new pathogenic parasites enter a new host can disease emerge. Coevolution between to the two may make the host resistant to the parasite or the parasite may become virulent leading to immunopathological disease. Of course one of the biggest factors is human activity in the emergence of infectious disease as changes in the environment enable parasites to occupy new niches therefore wider distribution and potential new host organisms. The process of zoonoses enables parasites to jump from nonhuman to human hosts potentially causing the invading parasite to become pathogenic int he new host. Several human activities have led to the emergence and spread of new diseases as follows:

  • Encroachment on wildlife habitats. The construction of new villages and housing developments in rural areas force animals to live in dense populations, creating opportunities for microbes to mutate and emerge.
  • Changes in agriculture. The introduction of new crops attracts new crop pests and the microbes they carry to farming communities, exposing people to unfamiliar diseases.
  • The destruction of rain forests. As countries make use of their rain forests, by building roads through forests and clearing areas for settlement or commercial ventures, people encounter insects and other animals harboring previously unknown microorganisms.
  • Uncontrolled urbanization. The rapid growth of cities in many developing countries tends to concentrate large numbers of people into crowded areas with poor sanitation. These conditions foster transmission of contagious diseases.
  • Modern transport. Ships and other cargo carriers often harbor unintended “passengers”, that can spread diseases to faraway destinations. While with international jet-airplane travel, people infected with a disease can carry it to distant lands, or home to their families, before their first symptoms appear.

According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, emerging diseases include previous unknown disease or known disease who incidence in humans has significantly increased in the past two decades. Re-emerging diseases are known diseases that have reappeared after a significant decline in incidence. Within the past two decades, innovative research, improved diagnostic and detection methods have allowed the discovery of formerly unknown human pathogens e.g. within the last decade, chronic gastric ulcers were found to be a result of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and not stress or diet. Due to human demographic, behavior, land use, etc., new infectious diseases continue to evolve and emerge as changing transmission dynamics has brought people closer and in more frequent contact with pathogens. Examples of this include exposure to animals or arthropod carriers of disease, the increasing trade of exotic animals as pets, and exotic animals as a food source contributing to the rise in opportunity for pathogens to jump from animal to humans e.g. close contact with exotic rodents imported to the U.S. as pets resulted in a monkey pox outbreak and the use of exotic civet cats for meet in China resulted in SARS coronavirus making the transition from animal to human. In addition to new pathogen discoveries, old infectious diseases have re-emerged due to natural genetic variations, recombinations and adaptations allowing new strains of known pathogens to appear resulting in a slow response from the immune system e.g. influenza. A factor as previously stated, the role of human behavior, has caused the development of resistant pathogens making many diseases formerly treatable to make a resurgence due to the increased and overuse of antimicrobial drugs and pesticides e.g. tuberculosis, malaria, nosocomial, and food borne infections. Furthermore, the decrease compliance with vaccination policy has led to re-emergence of the measles and pertussis pathogens which were under control. The use of deadly pathogens such as smallpox or anthrax as bioterrorism agents is an increasing threat to civilian populations as many important infectious diseases have never been managed on the national or international level. Even more troublesome is the fact that infectious diseases once confined to developing countries pose an ongoing health problem for the United States e.g. food- and waterborne infections, dengue, West Nile virus.

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in the journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases has identified the following factors contributing to disease emergence:

  • Microbial adaptions; e.g. genetic drift and genetic shift in Influenza A
  • Changing human susceptibility; e.g. mass immunocompromisation with HIV/AIDS
  • Climate and weather; e.g. diseases with zoonotic vectors such as West Nile Disease (transmitted by mosquitoes) are moving further from the tropics as the climate warms
  • Change in human demographics and trade; e.g. rapid travel enabled SARS to rapidly propagate around the globe
  • Economic development; e.g. use of antibiotics to increase meat yield of farmed cows leads to antibiotic resistance[citation needed]
  • Breakdown of public health; e.g. the current situation in Zimbabwe
  • Poverty and social inequality; e.g. tuberculosis is primarily a problem in low-income areas
  • War and famine
  • Bioterrorism; e.g. 2001 Anthrax attacks
  • Dam and irrigation system construction; e.g. malaria and other mosquito borne diseases

While the devastation from these invisible enemies has altered human history and caused millions of deaths, there have been positive developments resulting in a better understanding of these invisible invaders. It’s often thought that the course of history hinges on great battles where the stars are a few powerful individuals such as presidents, monarchs and dictators whose actions can influence the direction society develops, yet some influential actors are nasty, ruthless and microscopic. In his book Twelve Diseases That Changed Our World, Irwin Sherman, a professor emeritus of biology at the University of California Riverside, explains how bacteria, parasites, and viruses have virtually wiped out populations and crumbled cities, felled great leaders and thinkers and transformed politics, public health and economies. U.S. News & World Report spoke with Sherman about how 12 key diseases—smallpox, tuberculosis, syphilis, AIDS, influenza, bubonic plague, cholera, malaria, yellow fever, two noninfectious diseases hemophilia and porphyria, and the plant disease behind the Irish Potato Famine—have altered history.

While some of these epidemics and pandemics have been halted, others continue to remain a constant problem for public health professionals and the greater population. Smallpox is the only infectious disease that has been eradicated through vaccination and the medical science of vaccination is a direct result of the smallpox devastation as studies in immunity and vaccines emerged from studies of smallpox. The struggle to fight tuberculosis led to the quest for antibiotics promoting pasteurization in order to kill TB and other pathogens in milk as well as prompted the building of sanitariums to isolate and treat those infected. Syphilis inspired the discovery of chemotherapeutic agents e.g. the sexually transmitted disease prompted chemotherapy pioneer Paul Ehrlich to find a magic bullet which turned out to be the drug salvorsan. No discussion of disease can occur without mentioning HIV/ AIDS  as Irwin Sherman has said,”It’s also a disease that is modern and yet has its parallels with the past in the kind of reactions that populations have when there’s an unforeseen epidemic.” While chemotherapy cocktails have been effective when available in reducing the number of deaths associated, there is no known cure and can only be controlled by controlling behavior. Influenza is one of few in human history that has had such a widespread effect on the number of deaths in the modern world and remains a major threat globally despite the existence of a vaccine. The disease may have actually influenced the course of World War I as many soldiers became sickened even died from the flu, while the military healthcare system struggled to treat all of those infected. Like HIV/AIDS, no discussion is complete without the bubonic plague which led to the idea of quarantining or isolating those infected or potentially infected as a way to stem the spread of disease. Similar to HIV/ AIDS, the popular reaction to the plague in medieval times was similar to HIV/ AIDS in the modern era as fear, ignorance, anxiety, prejudice, isolation and panic can all result from not understanding the nature of the disease. Cholera though not a problem in the developed world as clean water and sewage systems are readily available, the disease still runs rampant in parts of the world where sanitation systems do not exist. One of the most persistent and lethal infectious diseases in history, Malaria, has caused over 300 million cases worldwide and 3 million deaths a year. It’s one of the best examples, according to Sherman, of the importance of controlling vectors in this case mosquitoes which are the insect carriers in preventing transmission of the disease. Like Malaria, Yellow Fever another mosquito borne illness hasn’t been eradicated and never will be according to Sherman. The disease even influenced the construction of the Panama Canal, the Louisiana Purchase and pre-World War II development in the southern United States. Sherman explains,”The stereotypes of the lazy, drawling southerner and the energetic, bright northerner were typical characterizations due to disease or the absence of disease. In the North, mosquitoes couldn’t survive overwintering, so there wasn’t yellow fever. In the South, on the other hand, you had a population that was either decimated or debilitated by the disease.” The potato blight which caused the Irish Potato Famine did not directly affect humans but what humans eat as the staple food that fed much of Ireland in the mid-1800s was profoundly devastated. Like the Potato Famine of the past, many modern agricultural economies focus on one crop, so a single disease could be a significant threat and major game changer. The Irish famine influence America by generating an influx of Irish immigrants to U.S. cities which led to the expansion of the Democratic party, development of labor unions and molded the nation’s character in other ways.

As mentioned above, pandemics are epidemics of infectious disease spread through human populations across large regions e.g. multiple continents or worldwide. Throughout history there have been many pandemics such as  smallpox and tuberculosis with more recent pandemics including the HIV pandemic and the H1N1 pandemics of 1918 and 2009. The World Health Organization has a six stage classification to describe the process by which the influenza virus moves from the first infected humans to pandemic as follows: This starts with the virus mostly infecting animals, with a few cases where animals infect people, then moves through the stage where the virus begins to spread directly between people, and ends with a pandemic when infections from the new virus have spread worldwide. This general guideline can be used to describe most epidemiological cases of pandemics. As new and old diseases continue to emerge and re-emerge, some diseases have the potential in the future of becoming a major threat to human populations and possible pandemics such as viral hemorrhagic fevers (e.g. Lassa fever virus, Rift Valley fever, Marburg virus, Ebola virus and Bolivian hemorrhagic fever), antibiotic resistant microorganisms or “superbugs” (e.g. multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, Staphylococcus aureus, Serratia marcescens, Enterococcus, and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) ), SARS, Influenza and H5N1 also known as Avian Flu.

The use of infectious diseases against enemies in times of war have occurred throughout history making the following historical events some of the first known uses of biological warfare. In 1346, the bodies of Mongol warriors who died of the plague were thrown over the walls of the Crimean city of Kaffa now Theodosia which has been speculated to be the arrival of the Black Death in Europe. The Native American population was devastated after contact with the Old World due to different fatal diseases. One documented case of germ warfare involves British commander Jeffrey Amherst and Swiss British officer colonel Henry Bouquet whose correspondence referred to the idea of giving smallpox infected blankets to Indians as part of the Pontiac’s Rebellion occurring during the Siege of Fort Pitt 1763 in the French and Indian War. During the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), Unit 731 of the Imperial Japanese Army conducted experiments on thousands of Chinese, while the Japanese army used biological weapons on Chinese soldiers and civilians. Plague fleas, infected clothing and infected supplies were encased in bombs and dropped on various targets resulting in 400,000 Chinese civilian deaths due to cholera, anthrax and plague. Diseases considered for or known to be used as weapons include anthrax, ebola, Marburg virus, plague, cholera, typhus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, brucellosis, Q fever, machupo, Coccidioides mycosis, Glanders, Melioidosis, Shigella, Psittacosis, Japanese B encephalitis, Rift Valley fever, yellow fever, and smallpox.

Because of the recent use of anthrax laced letters to members of Congress and President Obama, chemical and biological weaponry also known as “the poor man’s atomic bomb” have become worrisome in the minds of the public. The ability to manufacture such weapons are relatively cheaper and easier to produce due to the widespread availability of chemical and biological agents compared to nuclear therefore future terrorist attacks might utilize biological weapons similar to anthrax. According to Adam Rotfeld, former Director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), biological warfare is the “intentional use of disease-causing microorganisms or other entities that can replicate themselves (e.g., viruses, infectious nucleic acids and prions) against humans, animals or plants for hostile purposes…it may also involve the use of toxins: poisonous substances produced by living organisms…plants…and animals. If they are utilized for warfare purpose, the synthetically manufactured counterparts of these toxins are biological weapons.” The delivery system can range from sending a letter  or package via mail i.e. anthrax to a sophisticated chemical warhead to other possibilities such as contaminating the water supply or air dispersal in the form of gas. As Rotfeld explains, chemical and biological weapons development presents a trickier ethics case as biotechnology is applied commercially every day with the dual use potential of most technology involved in the research and development of biotechnology complicating the issue. Dual use means anything made for the public could be used by the military and visa versa e.g. researching vaccines means researching and possibly developing weapon agents.

The use of such weapons comes down to a fundamental question whether it is ever morally acceptable and ethically responsible to do harm to another person. In this case, the destruction of human life therefore biological and chemical weapons is for the most part unacceptable. Like nuclear weapons, the potential for mass destruction poses a significant threat as targeting specific small groups is difficult. Because of the threat of such attacks exist, it is also important to develop the technology to fight it using countermeasures where necessary to ensure the safety and health of the general population. While ultimately the development of weapons agents is unethical, it is important to develop vaccines to cure them. With a better understanding of disease in the 20th century, comes the emergence of new forms of chemical and biological weaponry e.g. during World War I poisonous gases and anthrax applications were used by German operatives, while recently radical groups have implemented various chemical agents such as the release of sarin nerve gas in the subway system of Japan in March 1995. Due to the significant impact on human life, stopping these activities would be ideal, however this has proven to be difficult as rogue parties and states continue to develop chemical and biological weaponry.

In 1992, to curb the proliferation of chemical and biological agents, members of the United Nations agreed upon the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction formerly known as the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). It is considered an extension of the Geneva Protocol of 1925 and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention of 1972 (BTWC). The Geneva Protocol called for the prohibited use of chemical and biological weapons in war, the BTWC outlawed biological and toxin weapons even requiring their destruction and the CWC provided specific information regarding actual chemicals and assistance if chemical weapons are used on a cooperating state. Vaccine research is allowed under the protocols.

The field of biotechnology has led to both harmful and beneficial outcomes due to the idea of dual use research. The same technology used for genetically engineered medicine can be used for military weapons. A 2001 Australian research study illustrates the dual use dilemma where a deadly mouse pox (a virus equivalent to human smallpox) virus was created by accident while developing a contraceptive vaccine for purposes of pest control according to one research on the project, Ronald J. Jackson. As he explains, “It would be safe to assume that if some idiot did put human IL-4 into human smallpox they’d increase the lethality quite dramatically.” When the convention banned such weapons, the world did not think these weapons had a military use but with recent terrorist and scientific developments stronger measures are needed. The capability to engineer weapons to target ethnic groups e.g. the Human Genome Diversity Project and agriculture e.g. regions where monoculture is the norm pose a real threat making it more important than ever to impose a stronger code of ethics to prevent harmful applications of biotechnology. One proposal put forth by some nations including the U.S. is to institutionalize a code of ethics for scientist working on potentially dangerous pathogens and toxins requiring scientists to discontinue research or redirect research if there is a potential dangerous application of their work. As of 2002, according to a SPIRI online survey, only 11% of 71 international scientific organizations and 12% of 267 national or regional scientific organizations have a code of ethics. The proposal requires scientist to look into the future in order to determine if their work has harmful applications which when put into practice is impossible as history has shown us. A man called Einstein had no idea that his work would lead to the atomic bomb. Education and resources are needed in ethics to bring awareness to the potential devastation dual use research poses.

Biological weapons have many features which make them attractive to military strategists as the attack will cause no harm to infrastructure or physical property. The applications are numerous from incapacitating guerrilla attacks to fatal epidemics that sweep enemy populations. The fact that these types of weapons are cheap and easy to manufacture compared to nuclear weapons makes them great alternatives for low-budget countries and pack a punch. They are impossible to trace to their source making them suitable to covert operations. However biological weapons are unpredictable and could injure the wrong populations. The global community has condemned their use so to use them would cause the offending country to be ostracized therefore impact their economic and political livelihood. Genetically modified agents could also mutate and spread out of control in the global population even impact the environment infecting wildlife in the target area and potentially upsetting the ecosystem. Though biological agents on their own are good candidates, the modification of these pathogens could make them more efficient at killing or incapacitating enemy populations i.e. recombinant DNA could lead to a longer lived, more virulent germ capable of being weaponized inside a bomb or floated through the air over enemy territory. Of course, to have the desired effect, weather permitting, most biological agents must be ingested or inhaled. Before 1969, almost every superpower in the world including the United States and Soviet Union had a defensive biological weapons program. However in 1969, Richard Nixon announced that the U.S. biological stockpiles would be destroyed.

The atomic bomb of biological warfare may have already been created in the lab and measures are being taken to prevent this mutated pathogen from falling into the wrong hands, according to the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity. American authorities have asked two scientific journals (Science and Nature) to withhold information from two separate research teams, one led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the other led by Ron Fouchier at Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, who managed to mutate the H5N1 virus known as the bird flu to a dramatically more dangerous strain.have tinkered with H5N1, otherwise known as bird flu. The original strain unlike its Spanish sister is not easily transmitted to humans or between them, but if the virus evolved could hop effectively from person to person wreaking havoc on large populations. This worse case scenario now has the potential to occur due to the research done by these two separate teams. Each team engineered the virus to transmit through the air from ferret to ferret which are good proxies for humans through natural evolution and a few engineered mutations. After several generation, the virus was able to go airborne with five mutations in two genes which have never been found in one strain of the virus but found separately in nature. The fear is that if researchers describe the genetic changes needed and the precise method then terrorist or mischief makers will be able to copy the technique with the potential for a biological atomic bomb. The NSABB has asked only enough information be published to encourage further understanding and responsible research but not allow the researchers’ methods to be used. The censorship of this research, Dr. Alberts, the editor of Science,  argues would be counterproductive to developing new treatments to combat this lethal form.

The ripple effect of such research may require scientists to put publication of similar studies and presentations on hold if the NSABB has anything to do with it. The research itself would continue as usual, but the three-month moratorium on publication and presentation would allow scientists to weigh the risks and benefits of releasing such research to the public according to Paul Klein, a microbial geneticist at Northern Arizona University and chair of the NSABB. Of major concern to Laurie Garret, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, is some deadly viruses such as smallpox are kept in secure facilities, while new strains are not as well protected. The labs where they reside are rated at bio-saftey level 3 enhanced where the Spanish flu was resuscitated, however this is a notch below level 4 where the nastiest bugs are handled. The problem therefore does not lie with terrorist but the accidental release of this potentially lethal strain due to human error.

The portrayal of such catastrophic accidents was best seen in the British sci-fi film 28 Days Later which opens with animal rights activists breaking into the Cambridge Primate Research facility to free chimpanzees (infected with genetically modified pathogens) used in a secret weapons program and once released, the infected chimpanzees attack everyone unleashing a plague of unimaginable proportions. Despite the fictitious scenario, this grim, cautionary tale holds several kernels of truth as potential threats to safety loom on the horizon. According to the Dark Government website, the sixth anniversary of the murder of British biological weapons expert Dr. David Kelly on July 17, 2003 helped to expose more than just government lies that led to the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, but exposed the germ warfare research programs of Britain and the United States. Along with the 2001 anthrax attacks in American that killed five people and exposed some 10,000 others to weaponized bacteria, Kelly’s highly questionable death focused attention on the West’s bio-weapons establishment that includes a network of medical researchers, corporate grifters and Pentagon weaponeers working with deadly microorganisms.

The production of biological weapons was officially banned in the Biological Weapons Convention of 1975, yet the absence of any formal verification regime has taken away from the effectiveness of the treaty. As the Dark Government website points out, a giant loop-hole allows the production of “small quantities” of pestilential agents “for medical and defensive purposes,” however, these agents are not prohibited but rather the transformation into “weapons, equipment or means of delivery … for hostile purposes or in armed conflict.” After the September 11 and anthrax attacks, the United States began systematic and reckless research into the creation of these prohibited weapons dubbing their program “biodefense” to avoid breaching the BWC which allowed for new facilities and upgrades to take place along with a huge funding increase. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) report in May 2009 estimated that overall government spending had “increased from $690 million in FY2001 to $5.4 billion in FY2008.” According to the Washington D.C.-based Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, since the 2001 terrorist attacks “the U.S. government has spent or allocated nearly $50 billion among 11 federal departments and agencies to address the threat of biological weapons. For Fiscal Year 2009 (FY2009), the Bush Administration proposes an additional $8.97 billion in bioweapons-related spending, approximately $2.5 billion (39%) more than the amount that Congress appropriated for FY2008.” The bulk of these funds according to the Center have gone to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA ($31.5 billion), the Defense Department ($11.8 billion), Department of Homeland Security ($3.3 billion) and Project BioShield ($5.5 billion).

However according to numerous studies, deadly pathogens will more likely spread due to laboratory accidents than terrorists as more and more Biosafety Level 3 and 4 facilities are being built across the United States. A BL-3 lab facilities is capable of handling indigenous or exotic agents that may cause serious or potentially lethal disease after inhalation e.g. tuberculosis, anthrax, West Nile virus, SARS, salmonella, and yellow fever. While a BL-4 lab facilities handles the most deadly pathogens known to humankind which are aerosol transmitted infectious agents that cause fatal disease and have no known treatments e.g. Marburg virus, Ebola virus, Lassa fever and Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever. CRS researchers reported that “Non-federal entities have also expanded or constructed additional high-containment laboratories. In addition to the threat of bioterrorism, an increasing awareness of the threat posed by emerging and re-emerging diseases has led to the proliferation of high-containment laboratories internationally, as the technologies used are widely available.” The number of labs is unknown, however CRS has determined that BL-4 labs have increased twelve fold since 2004. Much of the work is being done by private corporations with little oversight with some prominent firms receiving the greatest funding for BSL-3 and 4 work including Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, Battelle Memorial Institute, Southern Research Institute, and others.

According to the Dark Government website, during the 2007 hearings before Congress’ Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, committee Chairman Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) said:

“These BSL–3 and 4 labs are the facilities where research is conducted on highly infectious viruses and bacteria that can cause injury or death. Some of the world’s most exotic and most dangerous diseases are handled at BSL–3 and 4 labs, including anthrax, foot-and-mouth disease and Ebola fever. The accidental or deliberate release of some of the biological agents handled at these labs could have catastrophic consequences. Yet, as we will hear from the Government Accountability Office, GAO, no single Government agency has the ultimate responsibility for ensuring the safety and securing of these high-containment labs. However, GAO states there is a major expansion of the number of BSL laboratories is occurring both in United States and abroad but the full extent of that expansion is unknown. “(“Germs, Viruses and Secrets: The Silent Proliferation of Bio-Laboratories in the United States,” Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, U.S. House of Representatives, October 4, 2007, Serial No. 110-70, pp. 1-2)

The hearings revealed that no one “in the Federal Government even knows for sure how many of these labs there are in the United States, much less what research they are doing or whether they are safe and secure.” Neither “safe” nor “secure” such facilities however, are highly profitable. During 2007 alone, some 100 “incidents” were reported; however, “there are indications that the actual number of incidents may be much higher,” according to Rep. Stupak. Reporting guidelines are so lax that dangerous pathogens such as hantavirus, SARS and dengue fever “are not on the select agent list” nor are there requirements “that the theft, loss or release of these agents … be reported to Federal officials.”

According to Edward Hammond, director of the now-defunct Sunshine Project, some 20,000 people working at more than 400 sites in the U.S. conduct research on organisms that can be used as bio-weapons representing a tenfold increase in employment at such facilities since the 2001 anthrax attacks. Using the Freedom of Information Act, Hammond obtained records from several university bio-safety committees stating that some of the deadliest pathogens had escaped containment due to poor safety practices resulting in accidental infection of lab works. Some of these included plague, anthrax, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, brucellosis and Q fever. Scientists have warned for many years that mishandling of these lethal pathogens increases the probability of mishaps occurring and Hammond reports the following well publicized incidents:

*Texas A&M University: workers were exposed to Q fever when it escaped containment;
*University of New Mexico: one worker was jabbed with an anthrax-laden needle while another was stuck with a syringe filled with an undisclosed, genetically altered microbe;
*University of Ohio Medical Center: workers are exposed to and infected with Valley Fever;
*University of Chicago: a syringe puncture of a lab worker with an undisclosed substance that required heavy containment, most likely anthrax or plague;
*University of California at Berkeley: workers handled the air-borne toxin Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever without containment. It had been mislabeled as “harmless”.

As of recent, the Global Security Newswire reports that an inventory at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Md., “found nearly 10,000 more vials of potentially lethal pathogens than were known to be stored at the site.” Claiming that there are “multiple layers of security,” Ft. Detrick’s deputy commander Col. Mark Kortepeter said it was “extremely unlikely” that any of the center’s samples had been smuggled out. “Unlikely,” but not impossible. Amongst the 9,200 extra samples uncovered during the inventory were “bacterial agents that cause plague, anthrax and tularemia; Venezuelan, Eastern and Western equine encephalitis viruses; Rift valley fever virus; Junin virus; Ebola virus; and botulinum neurotoxins.” Any one of these pathogens should they escape or made to “disappear,” could be transformed into a doomsday weapon.

In Emerging Technologies: Genetic Engineering and Biological Weapons, researcher Edward Hammond described how “Genetic engineering can contribute to offensive BW programs in a variety of ways. With genetic manipulation, classical bio-warfare agents such as anthrax or plague may be made more efficient weapons. Barriers to access to agents such as smallpox, Ebola or the Spanish flu are being lowered by genetic and genomic techniques.” Recombinant DNA research has allowed enterprising corporations to exploit the process for less than noble purposes as Hammond explains the “access to highly virulent agents and strains is increasingly regulated and restricted,” with lethal toxins such as the smallpox virus “eradicated outside the laboratory more than 20 years ago … it is only a question of time before the artificial synthesis of agents or agent combinations becomes possible.” In 2002, poliovirus was synthesized by researchers at the University of New York in Stony Brook. Hammond writes that “researchers built poliovirus ‘from scratch’ through chemical synthesis. Starting with the gene sequence of the agent, which is available online, the researchers synthesized virus sequences in the lab and ordered other tailor-made DNA sequences from a commercial source. They then combined them to form the full polio genome. In a last step, the DNA-sequence was brought to life by adding a chemical cocktail that initiated the production of a living, pathogenic virus. The experiment was funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).” Although poliovirus is not well suited for bio-weapon purposes, the experiment makes it possible for similar techniques to be used for smallpox.

The potential for an engineered smallpox virus as a bio-weapon strikes fear in the hearts of many, however the bigger concern of late is the fact U.S. researchers, led by a Pentagon pathologist, have genetically reconstructed the Spanish Flu responsible for the 1918-1919 pandemic. “In one experiment” Hammond informs us, “a partially reconstructed 1918 virus killed mice, while virus constructs with genes from a contemporary flu virus had hardly any effect.” During the 1918-1919 outbreak some 40 million people died in the global pandemic. Hammond reports that a sample of lung tissue from a 21-year-old soldier who died in 1918 at Ft. Jackson in South Carolina “yielded what the Army researchers were looking for: intact pieces of viral RNA that could be analyzed and sequenced. In a first publication in 1997, nine short fragments of Spanish flu viral RNA were revealed. Due to the rough tissue preparation procedure in 1918, no living virus or complete viral RNA sequences were recovered.” By 2002 according to Hammond, “four of the eight viral RNA segments had been completely sequenced, including the two segments that are considered to be of greatest importance for the virulence of the virus.”

A look into America’s dark and secretive past reveals one facility that has played a major role in the American Cold War bio-weapons program, the 840 acre Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC). Under the control of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Plum Island shares close ties to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Md., the Dark Government website reports. According to numerous reports by researcher Mark Sanborne, Plum Island’s “spiritual godfather” was none other than one Dr. Erich Traub, “a Nazi scientist with a fascinating history.” Traub spent the pre-war years as a scientific fellow at the Rockefeller Institute in Princeton, N.J., “studying bacteriology and virology, while still finding time to hang out at Camp Sigfried, headquarters of the American Nazi movement in Yaphank, Long Island, 30 miles west of Plum Island.” According to Michael Christopher Carroll’s Lab 257, when war broke out Traub returned to Germany becoming the head of the Insel Riems, a secret Nazi biological research facility located in the Baltic Sea. A fanatical Nazi, Traub tested germ and viral sprays over the occupied Soviet Union “while reporting directly to Heinrich Himmler.” Due to the sinister nature of Traub’s research, most would suspect that he ended up dead or in jail, however this was not the case according to Carroll:

“After the war Traub worked briefly for the Soviets before escaping into the embrace of Operation Paperclip, Washington’s covert employment program for useful Nazi scientists. As Werner von Braun was to rockets, Traub was to germs: He promptly went to work for the Naval Medical Research Institute and gave operational advice to the CIA and the bio-warriors at Fort Detrick. Indeed, his detailed description of his work at Insel Riems probably helped inspire the selection of Plum Island by the Army: both the German and U.S. facilities were situated on islands where the prevailing winds blew (mostly) out to sea.” (Mark Sanborne, “‘Bionoia’ Part 3: The Mystery of Plum Island: Nazis, Ticks and Weapons of Mass Infection,” World War 4 Report, No. 121, May 1, 2006)

Carroll builds a compelling case for the 1975 outbreak and pandemic spread of Lyme Disease, suggesting that the debilitating disease began with experimentation at Plum Island and that more than just tick research occurred. This tick borne illness was first identified in Old Lyme, Connecticut “just 10 miles across Long Island Sound from Plum Island.” Since 1975 there has been 300,000 reported cases in  49 states with the CDC estimating that only one in 10 cases are recognized as such due to its ability to imitate other diseases and multi-symptom manifestation meaning that three million Americans may have been infected. Why would the military be interested in a disease that does not kill but debilitated its victims? According to Sanborne, a wounded soldier puts greater stress on an army than a dead one, “gradually sickening a population places greater economic and social stress on a society than simply killing a limited number of people with a more direct and virulent attack.” The ability of the disease to transmit via natural vectors like ticks and mosquitoes allows for greater deniability making it even more attractive as a weapon. Carroll found that entomologist Dr. Richard Endris and African swine fever team leader Dr. William Hess traveled to Cameroon and other African locations to hunt for ticks and by the time they had finished amassed over 200,000 hard and soft ticks of multiple species. However due to unsafe lab containment practices, the pair was fired in 1988 and the tick colony destroyed. There is also evidence that the island experimented with more than ticks as Carroll declares,

“Dr. Endris also conducted experiments with sand flies on Plum Island in 1987 to test transmission of leishmaniasis, a bacterial ailment that if left untreated, has a human mortality rate of almost 100 percent. It is characterized by irregular bouts of fever, substantial weight loss, and swelling of the spleen and liver. The work was performed under contract for Fort Detrick, and serves as another example of a deadly germ warfare agent worked on at Plum Island for the Army, with no public knowledge or public safety precautions taken.” (Michael Christopher Carroll, Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government’s Secret Germ Laboratory, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005, p. 24)

The New York Times reported in 2004 that “the highly contagious foot and mouth virus had briefly spread within the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in two previously undisclosed incidents earlier this summer.” The lab spokesperson Donald W. Tighe told the paper that “the virus had remained within the laboratory’s sealed biocontainment area. He said there had been no risk to humans or animals inside or outside the laboratory.” An investigation “is continuing.” Alarmingly, in 1991, Hurricane Bob knocked out power on the island for several hours and disabled the air pressure systems that contained the viruses. At the time, lab spokespersons assured the public “they were safe.”

Despite lax oversight and $50 billion going to universities, corporations and the military, since 2002 the National Institute of Health has spent billions on constructing new BSL-3 and 4 facilities. Ultimately plans are in place to close the facility and build a new $450 million facility on the Kansas State University campus under the direction of the Department of Homeland Security, the Global Security Newswire reports. The New York Times discovered that additional costs would bring the total to $630 million. The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBADF) would have “safety built into every square inch,” DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano assured critics. One Boston resident, alarmed by the prospect that Boston University Medical Center officials were building “a biological defense laboratory in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods” told the Los Angeles Times, “We heard anthrax and Roxbury-South End,” she recalled. “Then we heard Ebola. The last thing we heard was bubonic plague. We looked at each other and said, ‘No way are they bringing that … into our community.’”

“Seven years later, the $198-million lab complex stands completed between an apartment building and a flower market. But state and federal lawsuits by anxious residents, backed by skeptical scientists, have blocked the opening until late next year at the earliest.

The battle marks the first major setback in the vast growth since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks of labs authorized to research the world’s most dangerous diseases. It also underscores a growing debate over the safety and security of such labs–and whether so many are needed.” (Bob Drogin, “Biodefense Labs Make Bad Neighbors, Residents Say,” Los Angeles Times, May 17, 2009)

According to a 2008 University of California budget document the Board of Regents wanted $3,998,000 for a project to renovate and “upgrade” the existing laboratory facility “for programs that require Bio-safety Level 3 (BSL3) containment” on the U.C. Davis campus. “The BSL3 space is needed” we are informed, “for research programs utilizing infectious and pathogenic organisms.” Indeed, “the facility would be designed to accommodate research studies involving in-vitro experimentation utilizing infected avian, murine, arthropod hosts, and the development of genetic markers for a wide range of disease agents that require BSL3 containment.”

The antinuclear bay Area watchdog group Tri-Valley CAREs (TVC) has been monitoring and protesting the expansion of America’s nuclear weapons complex with particular focus on the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). A partner with U.S. national security, LLNL is a “limited liability corporation” comprised of five partners: the University of California, Bechtel, BWX Technologies, Washington Group International and Battelle–all heavy-hitters in the biotech, construction, defense, energy, nuclear and security worlds. As a result of the Freedom of Information Act, the group obtained government documents demonstrating that LLNL violated federal regulations and carried out restricted experiments that were later discovered by the Center for Disease Control inspection in August 2005.  The CDC, Department of Energy and LLNL covered up the inspector’s report.

“Restricted experiments are experiments utilizing recombinant DNA that involve the deliberate transfer of a drug resistance trait to select agents that are not known to acquire the trait naturally. Select agents, which include anthrax and plague, are biological agents and toxins having the potential to pose a severe threat to public health and safety.
Because of the dangers involved in transferring drug resistance to select agents, restricted experiments require approval from the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Livermore Lab did not have that approval, but ran the experiments anyway.” (“Livermore Lab Caught Conducting Illegal Restricted Bio-Experiments,” Tri-Valley CAREs, Press Release, May 26, 2009)

According to the watchdog group, the experiments happened at the same time the accidental release of anthrax occurred in August-September 2005 exposing five people to the deadly pathogen and resulting in a $450,00 fine. TVC noted that “the relevant details of the 2005 anthrax accident were kept from the public at the time, just as happened with the illegal experiments that are coming to light today.”

LLNL has opened a BSL-3 facility and is planning to experiment with pathogens that can be used as offensive weapons. Activities contemplated include, “aerosolizing (spraying) pathogens such as plague, tularemia and Q fever, in addition to anthrax. Moreover, government documents disclose that planned experiments in the BSL-3 include genetic modification and potentially novel manipulation of viruses, prions and other agents.” According to Battelle Memorial’s website, the firm’s national security brief includes what they euphemistically call “vaccine and therapeutic product development.” Battelle “specialists” at their Aberdeen, Maryland research facility (adjacent to USAMRIID’s Ft. Detrick bioweapons complex) “study aerosolized microorganisms that may be possibly used in terrorist attacks.”

Indeed, Ft, Detrick is currently undergoing the largest expansion in its history. Investigative journalists Bob Coen and Eric Nadler revealed in Dead Silence: Fear and Terror on the Anthrax Trail that the recently opened “National Biodefense Analysis Countermeasures Center … contains heavily guarded and hermetically sealed chambers in which scientists will simulate terrorist attacks and use lethal germs and toxins.” Coen and Nadler confirms, “this, remember, is the facility that officialdom claims was the source of the only significant germ war attack on US soil.” Conveniently enough, “Battelle has the $250 million contract to manage the operation.”  During an interview with constitutional law scholar Francis Boyle, a University of Illinois professor and acknowledged expert on the Biological Weapons Convention, Boyle told the investigative sleuths that the “Pentagon is ready to wage anthrax war.” “Look at the Department of Defense’s Chemical and Biological Defense Program Report to Congress, April 2007, page 22, Table 2-5. Information Systems Modernization Strategy, Mid FY09-13,” Boyle told Coen and Nadler. “Here you find a study” Boyle asserted, that estimates the “human effects from a 5,000 weapon worldwide strike; to predict fatalities and incapacitation, both initial and delayed and to accommodate population moves including area evacuations or sheltering in place. Now how does that strike you?”

National Intelligence Estimate: The Global Infectious Disease Threat and Its Implications for the United States, by David F. Gordon, Donald L. Noah, and George Fidas, explains the growing threat of new and reemerging diseases on the global stage and their subsequent impact:

“Infectious diseases are a leading cause of death, accounting for a quarter to a third of all deaths worldwide. The spread of infectious diseases results from both human behavior such as lifestyle choices, land-use patterns, increased trade and travel, and inappropriate use of antibiotic drugs, as well as mutations in pathogens. These excerpts from a January 2000 National Intelligence Estimate highlight the rising global health threat of new and reemerging infectious diseases. The National Intelligence Council argues that the infectious disease threat will complicate U.S. and global security over the next twenty years. These diseases will endanger U.S. citizens at home and abroad, threaten U.S. armed forces deployed overseas, and exacerbate social and political instability in key countries and regions in which the United States has significant interests, according to the report.”

5 thoughts on “Bio-Warfare: Modern Day Trojan Horse

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