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The National Biodefense Analysis
and Countermeasures Center

The National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) is a federally funded research and development center affiliated with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). NBACC is managed by Battelle National Biodefense Institute (BNBI), a subsidiary of the R&D contractor Battelle Memorial Institute. According to a Department of Homeland Security factsheet, "The programs conducted at NBACC will provide knowledge of infectious properties of biological agents, effectiveness of countermeasures, decontamination procedures, and forensics analyses to support policy makers and responders’ development of policies, programs, and technologies."

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in conjunction with the United States Army Garrison at Fort Detrick, Maryland, authorized the construction and operation of the NBACC on January 26th, 2005, after reviewing the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the facility. According to the environmental review and the related February 2nd press releases, biological and medical research at the NBACC will enhance risk assessment and the detection, diagnosis, and mitigation of consequences of a bioterrorist attack. Specifically, work at this facility will gauge not only the infectious properties of biological agents used in a bioterrorist capacity, but the capabilities of countermeasures, decontamination procedures, and forensic analyses and will allow more strategic application of resources in the case of a bioterrorist attack.

The two research units which comprise the NBACC will actualize the research capabilities required by the Department of Homeland Security as directed by the Homeland Security Act of 2002. The National Bioforensics Analysis Center (NBFAC) will conduct forensic analysis of evidence from suspected bioterrorism events and support other federal agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in these concerns. Work associated with the other unit, the Biological Threat Characterization Center (BTCC), will perform research on biological threat agents (BTA) to acquire more information on the microbes and factors that contribute to infection, leading to the development of vaccines and therapeutics that are more effective, better detection methods, and improved decontamination procedures.

Development of the NBACC has not been without controversy. Specifically, some have complained that its functions possibly violate tenets of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC). According to the treaty, signatory states are not "to develop, produce, stockpile, or otherwise acquire or retain microbial or biological agents, or toxins, that have no justification for prophylactic, protective, or other peaceful purposes." However, part of the NBACC threat assessment includes acquiring, growing, modifying, storing, stabilizing, packaging, and dispersing BTA to determine various properties and capabilities, according to a February 2004 presentation by Army Lt. Colonel George W. Korch, Jr, Ph.D. He continues that the facility will "characterize classical, emerging, and genetically engineered pathogens for their BTA potential" through "computational modeling of feasibility, methods, and scale of production," functions which opponents of the NBACC find troubling. A prominent opponent, Dr. Martin Leitenberg of the University of Maryland, has said in The Journal of Clinical Investigation "that when you are doing high-fidelity modeling and simulation and computational modeling of feasibility methods and scale of production, you've crossed the line." Such sentiment is noted as the FEIS states that the NBACC's work is only for defensive purposes and the facility will comply with the BWC and all other laws.

To fulfill the stated function of the NBACC, the 160,000 gross square foot building will contain secured Biosafety Level (BSL)-2, -3, and -4 laboratory space and facilities for conducting research with disease-causing agents. The BSL-4 space will provide space for research into deadly microbes that have no available treatment, such as the Ebola and Marburg viruses. The NBACC is projected to have a staff of approximately 120 people. Construction at Ft. Detrick in Frederick, MD, began in the summer of 2006 and is to be completed in 2008.

According to the environmental statement, the location at the army installation Ft. Detrick was chosen based upon several factors including its close proximity to the headquarters of various federal agencies and other biodefense facilities in the Washington, DC area, especially those at Ft. Detrick itself. Possible locations outside of Ft. Detrick were readily discounted since "it would be contrary to congressional intent" and developing the necessary infrastructure would delay construction. Already situated near the planned NBACC site is a United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) laboratory with BSL-3 and -4 space and animal study facilities. In addition, construction has begun on the National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Integrated Research Facility, to be located at Ft. Detrick, as well. With similar BSL-2, -3, and -4 capabilities, scientists in this facility will advance NIAID's biodefense mission of researching the mechanisms that potential biological threat agents utilize in infecting targets and how the targets' immune system responds. The research foci behind the three facilities, collectively known as the National Interagency Biodefense Campus, would serve to complement one another, promote strong collaboration among the researchers, and allow sharing of the unique resources and services required by each labs' animal research and BSL-3 and -4 capabilities.

The Homeland Security Act laid the groundwork for the NBACC in late 2002 and assigned the DHS's Science and Technology Directorate the responsibility to implement research and develop countermeasures related to an assortment of terrorist threats, including biological. The unclassified version of the April 2004 Presidential Directive Biodefense for the 21st Century directly expressed the need for the NBFAC and its functions within the NBACC. Addressing those needs along with public comment, discussion of proposed location site, and possible environmental ramifications, the process leading to the released FEIS provided public information on the NBACC.

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Contact:  Michael Stebbins (mstebbins@fas.org)
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