Federation of American Scientists Module 1.0: Introduction
Topic: Control Efforts Subtopic: Balancing Scientific Freedom with National Security

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While a number of steps taken by both the government and the scientific community have helped, it is clear that individual researchers still shoulder the responsibility for addressing biosecurity issues in the lab.

While focused on the more commonly confronted “dual-use” dilemmas, these case studies do not cover the consequences of not striking a balance between research freedom and national security. We cannot stress enough the importance of being aware of your responsibilities in the lab and the laws that regulate work on select agents in particular. There have been several cases where researchers have found themselves in trouble with law enforcement because they were either unaware of or neglected new security rules. For example, two forgotten vials of anthrax from a 1960 cow necropsy led to a University of Connecticut graduate student being charged with violations of the Patriot Act because he did not possess the anthrax for "bona fide" research. In another case, Dr. Thomas Butler, a researcher at Texas Tech University, was convicted of mislabeling plague samples being shipped from overseas, but had been indicted for a broad range of crimes including illegal transport of a select agent and providing false information to the FBI on the whereabouts of about 30 vials of Yersinia pestis, or plague, bacteria. National security has become an inexorable aspect of biology research and how high the stakes can be for scientists. Experience has shown how easily the balance between research freedom and national security can shift in response to world events.


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