A New Bio Warfare Arms Race Begins in Maryland

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“You will do well to try to innoculate the Indians by means of blanketts, as well as to try every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race…” ~ Approval by Lord Gen. Jeffrey Amherst, British Commander-in-Chief of America, for Col. H. Bouquet’s suppression of Pontiac’s Rebellion with smallpox laced-blankets, July 1763. The attack partially backfired when Bouquet infected his own troops.

The United States has come a long way since our British ancestors used small pox poisoned blankets as a biological weapon against Indians. But, sadly, biological weapons are still with us — indeed they are becoming a major thrust of the U.S. military and a threat to humanity.

Ft. Detrick in Frederick, MD, just 45 miles away from the nation’s capitol, is going through a massive expansion into the largest bio-weapons facility in the world. The federal government is installing a 220-acre campus that will bring together numerous federal agencies anchored by a massive U.S. Army building — 22 acres in size. The National Interagency Biodefense Campus (NIBC) is likely to ignite a bio-weapons arms race.

Expansion of Bio-Weapons Activity Will Make America, and the World, Less Safe

Not only is this a multi-billion dollar misuse of federal funds, but it will encourage our adversaries to develop similar programs, lead to the invention of new infectious agents and increase the risk of diversion of U.S. made bio-weapons to our adversaries. If the government really wanted to increase the safety of Americans the U.S. would invest in the public health system, strengthen international controls and work to remove pathogens from the face of the earth, rather than creating new ones.

The only modern bio-weapons attack was the use of anthrax in letters to Senators Daschle and Leahy at the time the Patriot Act was being considered. There is no question the anthrax used in this attack was produced in the United States and came through Ft. Detrick. The type of anthrax used was the "Ames strain," with a concentration and dispersability of one trillion spores per gram — a technology that is only capable of production by U.S. scientists.

It is not surprising that the only bio-weapons attack originated in U.S. laboratories. As advocates Barry Kissin and Richard Ochs point out:

"University of Michigan science historian Susan Wright calls the extent of fear of terrorism with biological weapons u2018completely unrealistic.’ u2018Heaven only knows how they think a terrorist is going to put up a lab and do this stuff without being caught,’ she said. u2018Labs with ventilation and good scientists leave huge footprints.’ Milton Leitenberg of the University of Maryland demonstrates in his recently published u2018Assessing the Biological Weapons and Bioterrorism Threat’ that billions of federal expenditures have been appropriated in the absence of virtually any threat analysis, and that the risk and imminence of the use of biological agents by non-state actors/terrorist organizations has been systematically and deliberately exaggerated. It is critical to recognize that the only bio-attack in American history, namely the anthrax letters of October 2001, almost certainly was generated by our own bio-weapons establishment."

Now, the U.S. is expanding the number of laboratories involved in bio-weapons development by the hundreds and the number of individuals involved by the thousands, thereby increasing exponentially the number of people who have access to these weapons and the risk of diversion of the material. The U.S. may end up spending billions of dollars and provide those who oppose the United States with weapons they could not produce themselves.

The U.S. is also developing new methods of using bio-weapons. Attorney and Congressional candidate Barry Kissin testified recently that "In May of 2003, it was reported that the United States Army has developed and patented a new grenade that it says can be used to wage bio-warfare. This is in explicit violation of the BTWC, which explicitly prohibits all development of bio-weapons delivery devices. US Patent #6,523,478, granted on February 25th 2003, covers a u2018rifle launched non lethal cargo dispenser’ that is designed to deliver aerosols, including, according to the patent’s claims, u2018crowd control agents, biological agents, [and] chemical agents…’"

International Controls Weakened By the Bush Administration

The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) bans the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition and retention of microbial or other biological agents or toxins, in types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes. The Convention also bans weapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict. The actual use of biological weapons is prohibited by the 1925 Geneva Protocol and Article VIII of the BTWC recognizes that nothing contained in the Convention shall be construed as a derogation from the obligations contained in the Geneva Protocol.

The investment in bio-weapons that is likely to spur a bio-weapons arms race is occurring at a time when the Bush administration is blocking the strengthening of international controls of such weapons. In 2001, the U.S. rejected an effort to conclude an inspections protocol for the BTWC. The United States was the only country to favor terminating efforts to create a legally binding inspection and verification mechanism. Further, on October 23, 2002, when the UN Disarmament Committee adopted a resolution reaffirming the 1925 Geneva Protocol "prohibiting the use of poisonous gases and bacteriological methods of warfare," the resolution passed unanimously, with two abstentions: the U.S. and Israel. The U.S. abstention amounts to a veto: banning the resolution from being reported.

The combination of massive new investment in bio-weapons facilities and the blockage of international controls on such weapons could be a deadly one for the world.

History of Fort Detrick

Fort Detrick actually began in 1943 as Camp Detrick and worked with the British in creating an anthrax bomb. It became a permanent Army installation, Fort Detrick, in 1956 and developed offensive bio-weapons. But, in 1969 during the Vietnam War, when the U.S. was criticized for using gas, napalm and herbicides in Vietnam, President Nixon unilaterally ended the nation’s offensive biological warfare program and ordered pathogens and toxins destroyed. This also led to the signing of the Biological Weapons and Toxins Convention in 1972 which became law in 1975. It was discovered in 1975 that the CIA had disobeyed the order to destroy all bio-weapons stocks, and had retained pathogens and toxins for its own use. In the 1980’s, the Reagan and Bush Administrations revived the dormant budget for "defensive" biowarfare research. It was also in the 1980’s that the U.S. supplied Saddam Hussein with the basis for Iraq’s biowarfare capability.

After 9/11 the Bush administration dramatically increased funding for bio-weapons activity. Ft. Detrick will become the National Interagency Biodefense Campus (NIBC), bringing together the U.S Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, the National Institute of Health, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Agriculture. The campus will cost billions of dollars, cover hundreds of acres, include millions of square feet of buildings and thousands of square feet of BSL-4 (Level 4) laboratory space — laboratories used for experimentation with infectious agents of which there exists neither a vaccine nor a cure. All of this in the now heavily populated Frederick County with more than 200,000 residents.

As part of their efforts to “defend” the United States from bio-weapons, Ft. Detrick will be creating new weapons, as well as the means to mass-produce and disseminate them. The rationale is that to defend against the weapons we have to understand them. In the Frederick News Post, Barry Kissin, a lawyer activist who is running for Congress in Frederick, asked Col. Mary Deutsch, Fort Detrick’s Commander, about the work at the base and she acknowledged that among the technology used will be "genetic engineering or recombinant DNA technology" along with many other "advanced methods." Follow up questions by Kissin’s colleagues about allowing international inspections and potential violations of international treaties went unanswered. The former chief American negotiator of the Biological Weapons Convention, James Leonard, has warned that the administration’s initiative could be interpreted as "development" of biological weapons in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention. Of course, there are endless variations of pathogens so this is a never-ending task — a constant drain of billions of U.S. tax dollars on a strategy that will never lead to safety. According to Dr. Milton Leitenberg, a veteran arms control advocate and senior scholar at the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies, germ warfare agents can be genetically modified and each modification may require a different vaccine or countermeasure.

History of Problems with Security at Ft. Detrick Continue to This Day

Ft. Detrick has had significant problems over the years. Before 1969 a seven-story tower was used to house anthrax bacteria. When Nixon stopped production the tower was off limits. There were repeated efforts to clean the tower. A 1993 Ft. Detrick publication noted that the tower had been used to grow anthrax, "a dangerous organism which can lie dormant for thousands of years in a spore state [and then become reactivated]." The Tower was demolished in 2003 and all indications are that the rubble was deposited in the Frederick County landfill.

In addition, it was discovered in 1991 that water supplies surrounding Ft. Detrick contained high levels of cancer causing agents, TCE and PCE. The Washington Post reported: "The Maryland Department of the Environment and the Frederick County Health Department tested 33 wells at homes near Area B. Half were contaminated with the two agents, six so badly that the water was unfit to drink. In a few wells, concentrations of the two chemicals exceeded Environmental Protection Agency limits many times over. In an Army monitoring well nearest the dump, the chemicals were so concentrated, “you could smell it,” said Joseph Gortva, an engineer who is managing the cleanup."

In 2003, The Guardian headlined "U.S. Finds Evidence of WMD — at last — Buried in Maryland." They reported:

"The good news for the Pentagon yesterday was that its investigators had finally unearthed evidence of weapons of mass destruction, including 100 vials of anthrax and other dangerous bacteria.

"The bad news was that the stash was found, not in Iraq, but fewer than 50 miles from Washington, near Fort Detrick in the Maryland countryside.

"Even more embarrassing for the Pentagon, there was no documentation about the various biological agents disposed of at the US bio-defence centre at Fort Detrick.

"The Fort Detrick clean-up has unearthed over 2,000 tonnes of hazardous waste.

"The sanitation crews were shocked to find vials containing live bacteria. As well as the vaccine form of anthrax, the discarded biological agents included Brucella melitensis, which causes the virulent flu-like disease brucellosis, and klebsiella, a cause of pneumonia."

The Washington Post report noted that deer jump through the fields and cattle roam where the poisons were found. And, in addition traces of Agent Orange.

This year, the Frederick News Post received responses to Freedom of Information Act requests that documented anthrax being found in unprotected areas outside of carefully guarded suites. They also found documentation of workers’ potential exposures to biological agents between April 1, 2002, and Dec. 1, 2005. The reports also documented that adherence to and enforcement of safety and security procedures was lax. Further, 161 biological defense mishap reports were filed between April 1, 2002 and Dec. 1, 2005. Between 1989 and 2002, Ft. Detrick’s clinic evaluated 234 individuals for potential exposure to agents of bioterrorism and nonbioterrorism — 162 cases were assessed as minimal, negligible or no risk; 67 were assessed as moderate or high risk. These reports are consistent with whistleblowers who have reported sloppy procedures and missing bio-agents over the years.

Neighbors have also been affected. For example in May of 2005, residents downwind of Fort Detrick woke up one morning to find their residential properties coated with flakes of a soot-like substance. And in August 2005, there was a "suspicious odor" at the Fort’s wastewater treatment plant. According to the Fort’s spokesperson an "unknown source" dumped an "unknown substance" into the sewer line at the steam plant.

How To Really Protect America and the World from Bio-Weapons

At a time when the U.S. public health care system is unprepared for epidemics — natural flus for example — massive funds are being spent chasing an endless variety of pathogens, of unpredictable genetic make-up, a chase the U.S. can never win.

Dr. Muin Khoury, Director of the Office of Genomics and Disease Prevention at the CDC stated in February 2003: "Public health is in disarray, and this emphasis on terrorism is eroding the public health infrastructure even more." In March, 2005, more than 750 US biologists including two Nobel laureates and seven past presidents of the American Society for Microbiology, signed an open letter to NIH protesting at the excessive use of bacteriology funds for the study of bio-terror threats. “The diversion of research funds from projects of high public-health importance to projects of high biodefence relevance represents a misdirection of NIH priorities and a crisis for NIH-supported microbiological research.u201D They conclude: u201CBioweapons agents cause, on average, zero deaths per year in the United States, in contrast to a broad range of non-prioritized microbial pathogens that cause tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths per year.u201D Essentially, misdirection of funds is making America less safe, not more.

The direction of the United States is misplaced. It is time for transparent monitoring under the Bioweapons Convention and making sure pathogens are no longer produced.

For more information:

Kevin Zeese [send him mail] is director of Democracy Rising.

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