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US Biodefense Program

1.  Three secret biodefense projects

A New York Time article entitled, "U.S. Germ Warfare Research Pushes Treaty Limits" identifies three secret US government projects that have conducted research on biological weapons. In one project, the Pentagon planned to produce a genetically enhanced form of Bacillus anthracis in order to test the efficiency of the anthrax vaccine used by the military. In the second project, Pentagon researchers constructed a germ production facility using commercially available materials in order to determine whether a terrorist organization could do the same without being detected. The third project, which was run by the CIA, built and tested a model of a Soviet cluster bomb designed to disseminate bacterial agents. These projects, whose lack of transparency only serve to heighten suspicions further, bring into question the US' compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention.

None of the questionable activities were declared in the annual information exchange on biodefense activities under the Biological Weapons Convention. The bomb construction task was given to the CIA, the BW production facility was constructed by DTRA, and DIA is responsible for engineering the anthrax strain. Would declaration of the bomblet construction be required under the Protocol text rejected by the US? The answer is uncertain because it has been assumed that construction of delivery systems is prohibited. Is bomb construction for defensive purposes consistent with the BWC? The wording of Article I, part 1, of the BWC permits the use of agents of types and in quantities appropriate for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes; but there is no such escape clause in part 2, where development, acquisition, etc. of "weapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict" are flatly prohibited.

By late May, 2001, US officials knew that the NY Times had obtained information about questionable US activities and planned to publish it in the fall. This did not prevent the US from rejecting the Protocol but it relieved US officials of any pressure from the outside and gave them advance notice of what was to come. Several journalists have privately commented that the long delay before publishing material that might have affected the outcome of current events was contrary to professional ethics.

2. US Aerosol Facilities

Like the germ bomb construction project run by the CIA, aerosol testing is also conducted outside the formal DOD biodefense program. It is part of a DOE program but is actually carried out in collaboration with DOD, in part at a DOD site, the Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center in MD. Edgewood has two aerosol facilities of enormous size: the one for spray dispersion testing is 70 cubic meters; the one for explosive testing is155 cubic meters (compare the 1 cubic meter aerosol chamber on the Australia Group list of controlled equipment that could be used for the production of BW, and the 5 cubic meter threshold for declaring aerosol work with listed agents in the Protocol text). Aerosol work is also being conducted by Sandia National Laboratories (part of DOE) at an undisclosed location, very probably DOE’s Nevada test site, in one or more underground facilities. The program is studying dose/response, agent survivability and potency as a function of environment and time, and developing "source term models of material released--the dispersal method, the agent type, the amount of agent and its state (gaseous, particulate or both), the size distribution and how the source varies over time." The aerosol work is obscurely reported (and has gone unnoticed until now) in the Annual Report for FY 2000 of the DOE Chemical and Biological National Security Program, Appendix, under "Modeling and Prediction," pages 175-177. Tests were carried out in FY 2000 using simulants, but "a significant contribution of the experimental work will be to establish tests and procedures for agent characterization that can be applied to additional simulants and ACTUAL AGENTS in later work." and "We expect to develop and improve experimental measurements and analysis techniques that can be applied to additional agents and simulants." It is possible that the CIA's bomb has or will be used as one of the sources studied in one of the aerosol facilities. The size and scope of this aerosol work are not readily perceived as necessary for protective purposes.

Presumably the intent of the United States is defensive, but if the United States wants to avoid a BW attack it is very important to set the right example.

See "Who's Afraid of a Germ Warfare Treaty?" and Further Comments Regarding Questionable US Aerosol Activities


3. Production of Weapon-Grade Anthrax

Two months after the discovery of the classified biodefense projects, the US Army admitted to manufacturing weaponized anthrax in small quantities for defensive purposes. The anthrax was produced in a dry form and had a high concentration and small particle size. These traits increased its lethality considerably. This production of weaponized anthrax is also questionable under the BWC, which prohibits prohibits the possession of biological agents "of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes." See the following articles for more information.

Army confirms making anthrax in recent years, The Baltimore Sun - 13 December 2001

Anthrax matches Army spores, The Baltimore Sun - 12 December 2001

Official FBI Statement

One of CIA's key responsibilities is to provide accurate and comprehensive assessments of the threat to US interests posed by foreign development or acquisition of biological weapons or agents. Among other things, this requires that we be able to detect the presence of various BW agents and related substances. In support of these efforts, CIA contractors maintain samples of several strains of Bacillus anthracis to help determine whether these agents are present in samples acquired from foreign sources.

  • The contractors involved are among those registered with CDC and other authorities to handle this material.
  • CIA does not maintain any separate samples or stocks of agent at its own facilities.
  • None of the Bacillus anthracis samples involved have been prepared in dried or powdered form.

Aside from the work described above, none of CIA's efforts have involved the use of virulent strains of Bacillus anthracis. CIA has sponsored some laboratory work involving the use of anthrax simulants or non-virulent strains of anthrax.


4. Resources

 


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