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Cube Jockey
I read an article titled U.S. bioterrorism research leaps past defensive tactics in the Oakland Tribune this morning, and it was of particular concern to me. First, the lab they mention is only about 40 miles from where I live and second I fear that genetically altered pathogens are well on their way to becoming the next arms race with much more potential to wipe us all out than nuclear weapons ever had.

QUOTE
The Bush administration is ramping up bioterrorism research that will press beyond traditional defenses against natural biowarfare germs to explore genetically engineered superbugs, as well as the means to mass-produce and disseminate them.

A classified presidential directive and other documents offer a roadmap for the new research as part of the first effort at coordinating all federal biodefense research since the October 2001 anthrax attacks by mail.


There are however a few problems with this approach, notably a global ban on bioweapons the US signed in 1972.
QUOTE
The 1972 treaty forbids development, manufacture and stockpiling of germs "for hostile purposes." At the insistence of the United States and the former Soviet Union, the treaty does not mention "research" and allows biological work that is "prophylactic, protective or for peaceful purposes." That created a gray area for biodefense because it employs many of the same scientific techniques and equipment used to develop bioweapons.


However, the glaring hypocrisy is sickening.
QUOTE
"If any other country set forth a program like this, U.S. intelligence undoubtedly would call it an offensive program," said Edward Hammond, head of the Sunshine Project, a group in Austin, Texas, that tracks bioweapons and biodefense issues.

The United States has accused eight nations of running bioweapons programs, based largely on evidence of genetic engineering of pathogens and possession of equipment for studying production and delivery methods. Looking at the administration's new biodefense strategy, other nations may make the same judgment of the United States, bolstering arguments by their own defense scientists for more aggressive biological research.

If we found these things elsewhere in countries we were suspicious of, we would not say they had a necessary biodefense program, said Leitenberg.


Finally, there is the problem with oversight and these programs taking on a life of their own.
QUOTE
During the Clinton administration, the CIA, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency launched several classified, code-name projects that pushed into the gray zone: the making of a Soviet-era biological bomblet and studies of gene shuffling to produce deadlier germs (Clear Vision); building a small anthrax factory out of commercial off-the-shelf parts (Project Bacchus); the development of a vaccine-resistant superstrain of anthrax (Project Jefferson.)

Some of the projects, first reported by the New York Times in September 2001, were never cleared by the Clinton White House.


The questions for debate are as follows:
1) Do you agree with the administration's position that "bioweapons" research is just as necessary as "biodefense" research? Why or Why Not?
2) Do the actions taken recently by our government constitute a breach of the 1972 treaty banning bioweapon research?
3) Is the United States being hypocritical and unethical by chastising other nations of researching bioweapons while our own scientists are hard at work creating our own bioweapons?
4) As evidence from the Clinton administration proves, will these new programs get out of hand and take on a life of their own?
5) Will bioweapons become the arms race of the 21st century?
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Amlord
I think you are slightly mis-reading the article.

What the article says is that the US wants to study not only naturally occurring diseases which could be used as bio-weapons, but the possibilities of man made germs. It also wants to study what the impact of delivery systems are.

The headline is more than a little sensationalistic, in my opinion.

Now, that being said, I am opposed to the US developing a bio-weapon program. On the other hand, we must be prepared for the worst. We already have small labs which are able to clone complex animals. There is talk of selecting the characteristics of your children (eye color, sex, etc.). This is being done by small labs, not huge multinationals.

Food is already manipulated to make it more resistant to disease, to make it healthier and to make it require less water, sunlight or whatever. It is certainly within the realm of possibility that a rogue scientist (not nation, not lab, but a single scientist) could develop a new strain of flu (for example) which is resistant to all known treatments and immunizations.

Should we have a better understanding of how this could be accomplished? I think we should.

The other thing mentioned (passingly) is research into delivery systems. How can a terrorist spread such a super germ? Can it be launched via missile, via water supply, spread naturally? These things need to be analyzed to assess our risk.

There is nothing in the article (except the headline ermm.gif ) which suggests that the US is planning an offensive bio-weapons program.


1) Do you agree with the administration's position that "bioweapons" research is just as necessary as "biodefense" research? Why or Why Not?
Yes, in order to counter a threat, you need to understand the threat.
2) Do the actions taken recently by our government constitute a breach of the 1972 treaty banning bioweapon research?
No, we have not developed new bio-weapons for use as weapons.
3) Is the United States being hypocritical and unethical by chastising other nations of researching bioweapons while our own scientists are hard at work creating our own bioweapons?
The US is the world's biggest target. We also have the strongest military. That being said, why would we risk opening "Pandora's Box" by deploying bio-weapons when we can use conventional weapons which are completely under our control? A cruise missile isn't going to come back in 6 months to kill the people of New York. A bio-weapon could (and probably would).
4) As evidence from the Clinton administration proves, will these new programs get out of hand and take on a life of their own?
Did those programs violate the treaty? If it is decided that they did, then perhaps we should re-think this program. If they were in-bounds, then so is this program.
5) Will bioweapons become the arms race of the 21st century?
I doubt it. No one has control of bio-weapons, which is why they would be so dangerous to deploy (especially given the genetic manipulation which is possible today). I always think to Stephen King's "The Stand" when super-germs are discussed. In that book, it was a US government germ program that went awry. I certainly hope our government knows that it is simply not possible to control these types of super germs. At the same time, which MUST understand what is possible and take steps to understand vaccines and other prevention (or treatment) methods which are more emergency oriented than they are today.
Cube Jockey
QUOTE(Amlord @ Jun 10 2004, 11:47 AM)
There is nothing in the article (except the headline  ermm.gif ) which suggests that the US is planning an offensive bio-weapons program. 

It all depends on how you read that first paragraph of the article.
QUOTE
The Bush administration is ramping up bioterrorism research that will press beyond traditional defenses against natural biowarfare germs to explore genetically engineered superbugs, as well as the means to mass-produce and disseminate them.


To me there is a very fine line between "biodefense" and "bioweapons". At best the government is toeing that line, at worst they have already crossed it.

Before anyone dismisses that accusation outright, we should all take a look at some of the Press Releases collected by a watch dog group called Sunshine Project.

Just as one example: Lethal Virus from 1918 Genetically Reconstructed
QUOTE
Despite the very dangerous nature of the 1918 virus, efforts to reconstruct it started in the mid 1990s, when Dr Jeffrey Taubenberger from the US Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington DC succeeded in recovering and sequencing fragments of the viral RNA from preserved tissues of 1918 victims. In the current issue of the scientific journal Emerging Infectious Diseases new genetic details of the 1918 flu virus will be published.

But after (partially) unravelling the genetic sequence of the virus, the scientists went a step further and began bringing the Spanish flu back to life. Unnoticed by the public, they succeeded in creating a live virus containing two 1918 genes that proved to be very lethal in animal experiments. This experiment is only one genetic step away from taking the 1918 demon entirely out of the bottle.

A resuscitation of the Spanish flu is neither necessary nor warranted from a public health point of view. Allegedly, the recent experiments sought to test the efficacy of existing antiviral drugs on the 1918 construct. But there is little need for antiviral drugs against the 1918 strain if the 1918 strain had not been recreated in the first place "It simply does not make any scientific sense to create a new threat just to develop new countermeasures against it." says Jan van Aken, biologist with the Sunshine Project, "Genetic characterization of influenza strains has important biomedical applications. But it is not justifiable to recreate this particularly dangerous eradicated strain that could wreak havoc if released, deliberately or accidentally."


Here is another example: US Army Patents Biological Weapons Delivery System, Violates Bioweapons Convention
QUOTE
The United States Army has developed and patented a new grenade that it says can be used to wage biowarfare. This is in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention, which explicitly prohibits development of bioweapons delivery devices.

US Patent #6,523,478, granted on February 25th 2003, covers a "rifle launched non lethal cargo dispenser" that is designed to deliver aerosols, including – according to the patent’s claims - “crowd control agents, biological agents, [and] chemical agents...”

The development of biological weapons delivery devices is absolutely prohibited - “in any circumstance” - by Article I of the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, to which the US is a party. There is no exemption from this prohibition, neither for defensive purposes nor for so called non-lethal agents.


A case can easily be made that delivery systems need to be studied for "biodefense", but patenting our own delivery systems and resurrecting old viruses seems to me to be stepping across the line.
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