160,000 sq ft of evil: Another U.S. 'Defense' Lab Chartered to Test Weaponized
- Please call your two U.S. Senators and one U.S. Representative and
demand an end to this cruel, barbaric and irresponsible "industry."
For contact information, type in your zip code at: www.congress.org
160,000 sq ft of evil: Another U.S. 'Defense' Lab built in Maryland
imprisons animals for making and testing weaponized microbes and
genetically engineered viruses and bacteria.
Once again animals will be the unseen victims suffering excruciating
deaths at the hands of our own out-of-control government, funded by
Congress at taxpayer expense while our country's education, healthcare
and environmental needs go unmet. The NBACC's Director's checklist
includes, "expanding aerosol-challenge testing capacity for non-human
We continue to up the ante of biological warfare and are developing a
thriving industry which we will undoubtedly export to our "friends"
and then have to defend ourselves when they become our "enemies"
because of oil or other non-renewable resources.
Read the full article at:
The Secretive Fight Against Bioterror
The government is building a highly classified facility to research
biological weapons, but its closed-door approach has raised concerns.
By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 30, 2006; A01
On the grounds of a military base an hour's drive from the capital,
the Bush administration is building a massive biodefense laboratory
unlike any seen since biological weapons were banned 34 years ago.
The heart of the lab is a cluster of sealed chambers built to contain
the world's deadliest bacteria and viruses. There, scientists will
spend their days simulating the unthinkable: bioterrorism attacks in
the form of lethal anthrax spores rendered as wispy powders that can
drift for miles on a summer breeze, or common viruses turned into
deadly superbugs that ordinary drugs and vaccines cannot stop.
The work at this new lab, at Fort Detrick, Md., could someday save
thousands of lives -- or, some fear, create new risks and place the
United States in violation of international treaties. In either case,
much of what transpires at the National Biodefense Analysis and
Countermeasures Center (NBACC) may never be publicly known, because
the Bush administration intends to operate the facility largely in secret.
In an unusual arrangement, the building itself will be classified as
highly restricted space, from the reception desk to the lab benches to
the cages where animals are kept. Few federal facilities, including
nuclear labs, operate with such stealth. It is this opacity that some
arms-control experts say has become a defining characteristic of U.S.
biodefense policy as carried out by the Department of Homeland
Security, NBACC's creator.
Since the department's founding in the aftermath of the Sept. 11
attacks, its officials have dramatically expanded the government's
ability to conduct realistic tests of the pathogens and tactics that
might be used in a bioterrorism attack. Some of the research falls
within what many arms-control experts say is a legal gray zone,
skirting the edges of an international treaty outlawing the production
of even small amounts of biological weapons.
The administration dismisses these concerns, however, insisting that
the work of NBACC is purely defensive and thus fully legal. It has
rejected calls for oversight by independent observers outside the
department's network of government scientists and contractors. And it
defends the secrecy as necessary to protect Americans.
"Where the research exposes vulnerability, I've got to protect that,
for the public's interest," said Bernard Courtney, NBACC's scientific
director. "We don't need to be showing perpetrators the holes in our
Tara O'Toole, founder of the Center for Biosecurity at the University
of Pittsburgh Medical Center and an adviser to the Defense Department
on bioterrorism, said the secrecy fits a larger pattern and could have
consequences. "The philosophy and practice behind NBACC looks like
much of the rest of the administration's philosophy and practice: 'Our
intent is good, so we can do whatever we want,' " O'Toole said. "This
approach will only lead to trouble."
Although they acknowledge the need to shield the results of some
sensitive projects from public view, critics of NBACC fear that
excessive secrecy could actually increase the risk of bioterrorism.
That would happen, they say, if the lab fosters ill-designed
experiments conducted without proper scrutiny or if its work fuels
suspicions that could lead other countries to pursue secret biological
The few public documents that describe NBACC's research mission have
done little to quiet those fears. A computer slide show prepared by
the center's directors in 2004 offers a to-do list that suggests the
lab will be making and testing small amounts of weaponized microbes
and, perhaps, genetically engineered viruses and bacteria. It also
calls for "red team" exercises that simulate attacks by hostile groups.
NBACC's close ties to the U.S. intelligence community have also caused
concern among the agency's critics. The CIA has assigned advisers to
the lab, including at least one member of the "Z-Division," an elite
group jointly operated with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
that specializes in analyzing and duplicating weapons systems of
potential adversaries, officials familiar with the program confirm.
Bioweapons experts say the nature of the research envisioned for NBACC
demands an unusually high degree of transparency to reassure Americans
and the rest of the world of the U.S. government's intentions.
"If we saw others doing this kind of research, we would view it as an
infringement of the bioweapons treaty," said Milton Leitenberg, a
senior research scholar and weapons expert at the University of
Maryland's School of Public Policy. "You can't go around the world
yelling about Iranian and North Korean programs -- about which we know
very little -- when we've got all this going on."
Creating the Weapons of Terrorism
Created without public fanfare a few months after the 2001 anthrax
attacks, NBACC is intended to be the chief U.S. biological research
institution engaged in something called "science-based threat
assessment." It seeks to quantitatively answer one of the most
difficult questions in biodefense: What's the worst that can happen?
To truly answer that question, there is little choice, current and
former NBACC officials say: Researchers have to make real biological
"De facto, we are going to make biowarfare pathogens at NBACC in order
to study them," said Penrose "Parney" Albright, former Homeland
Security assistant secretary for science and technology.
Other government agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, study disease threats such as smallpox to discover cures.
By contrast, NBACC (pronounced EN-back) attempts to get inside the
head of a bioterrorist. It considers the wide array of potential
weapons available. It looks for the holes in society's defenses where
an attacker might achieve the maximum harm. It explores the risks
posed by emerging technologies, such as new DNA synthesizing
techniques that allow the creation of genetically altered or man-made
viruses. And it tries in some cases to test the weapon or delivery
device that terrorists might use.
Research at NBACC is already underway, in lab space that has been
outsourced or borrowed from the Army's sprawling biodefense campus at
Fort Detrick in Frederick. It was at this compound that the U.S.
government researched and produced offensive biological weapons from
the 1940s until President Richard M. Nixon halted research in 1969.
The Army continues to conduct research on pathogens there.
In June, construction began on a $128 million, 160,000-square-foot
facility inside the same heavily guarded compound. Space inside the
eight-story, glass-and-brick structure will be divided between NBACC's
two major divisions: a forensic testing center tasked with using
modern sleuthing techniques to identify the possible culprits in
future biological attacks; and the Biothreat Characterization Center,
or BTCC, which seeks to predict what such attacks will look like.
It is the BTCC's wing that will host the airtight, ultra-secure
containment labs where the most controversial research will be done.
Homeland Security officials won't talk about specific projects planned
or underway. But the 2004 computer slide show -- posted briefly on a
Homeland Security Web site before its discovery by agency critics
prompted an abrupt removal -- offers insight into NBACC's priorities.
The presentation by NBACC's then-deputy director, Lt. Col. George
Korch, listed 16 research priorities for the new lab. Among them:
"Characterize classical, emerging and genetically engineered pathogens
for their BTA [biological threat agent] potential.
"Assess the nature of nontraditional, novel and nonendemic induction
of disease from potential BTA.
"Expand aerosol-challenge testing capacity for non-human primates.
"Apply Red Team operational scenarios and capabilities."
Courtney, the NBACC science director, acknowledged that his work would
include simulating real biological threats -- but not just any threats.
"If I hear a noise on the back porch, will I turn on the light to
decide whether there's something there, or go on my merry way?"
Courtney asked. "But I'm only going to do [research] if I have
credible information that shows it truly is a threat. It's not going
to be dreamed up out of the mind of a novelist."
Administration officials note that there is a tradition for this kind
of biological risk assessment, one that extends at least to the
Clinton administration. In the late 1990s, for example, a clandestine
project run by the Defense Department re-created a genetically
modified, drug-resistant strain of the anthrax bacteria believed to
have been made by Soviet bioweaponeers. Such research helped the
government anticipate and prepare for emerging threats, according to
officials familiar with the anthrax study.
Some arms-control experts see the comparison as troubling. They
argued, then and now, that the work was a possible breach of a
U.S.-negotiated international law.
Legal and Other Pitfalls
The Bush administration argues that its biodefense research complies
with the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, the 1972 treaty
outlawing the manufacture of biological weapons, because U.S. motives
"All the programs we do are defensive in nature," said Maureen
McCarthy, Homeland Security's director of research and development,
who oversees NBACC. "Our job is to ensure that the civilian population
of the country is protected, and that we know what the threats are."
Current and former administration officials say that compliance with
the treaty hinges on intent, and that making small amounts of
biowarfare pathogens for study is permitted under a broad
interpretation of the treaty. Some also argue that the need for a
strong biodefense in an age of genetic engineering trumps concerns
over what they see as legal hair-splitting.
"How can I go to the people of this country and say, 'I can't do this
important research because some arms-control advocate told me I
can't'?" asked Albright, the former Homeland Security assistant secretary.
But some experts in international law believe that certain experiments
envisioned for the lab could violate the treaty's ban on developing,
stockpiling, acquiring or retaining microbes "of types and in
quantities that have no justification" for peaceful purposes.
"The main problem with the 'defensive intent' test is that it does not
reflect what the treaty actually says," said David Fidler, an Indiana
University School of Law professor and expert on the bioweapons
convention. The treaty, largely a U.S. creation, does not make a
distinction between defensive and offensive activities, Fidler said.
More practically, arms experts say, future U.S. governments may find
it harder to object if other countries test genetically engineered
pathogens and novel delivery systems, invoking the same need for
Already, they say, there is evidence abroad of what some are calling a
"global biodefense boom." In the past five years, numerous
governments, including some in the developing world -- India, China
and Cuba among them -- have begun building high-security labs for
studying the most lethal bacteria and viruses.
"These labs have become a status symbol, a prestige item," said Alan
Pearson, a biologist at the Center for Arms Control and
Non-Proliferation. "A big question is: Will these labs have transparency?"
Secrecy May Have a Price
When it opens in two years, the NBACC lab will house an impressive
collection of deadly germs and teams of scientists in full-body
"spacesuits" to work with them. It will also have large aerosol-test
chambers where animals will be exposed to deadly microbes. But the
lab's most controversial feature may be its secrecy.
Homeland Security officials disclosed plans to contractors and other
government agencies to classify the entire lab as a Sensitive
Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF.
In common practice, a SCIF (pronounced "skiff") is a secure room where
highly sensitive information is stored and discussed. Access to SCIFs
is severely limited, and all of the activity and conversation inside
is presumed to be restricted from public disclosure. There are SCIFs
in the U.S. Capitol, where members of Congress are briefed on military
secrets. In U.S. nuclear labs, computers that store weapons data are
housed inside SCIFs.
Homeland Security officials plan to operate all 160,000 square feet of
NBACC as a SCIF. Because of the building's physical security features
-- intended to prevent the accidental release of dangerous pathogens
-- it was logical to operate it as a SCIF, McCarthy said.
"We need to protect information at a level that is appropriate,"
McCarthy added, saying she expects much of the lab's less-sensitive
work to be made public eventually.
But some biodefense experts, including some from past administrations,
viewed the decision as a mistake.
"To overlay NBACC with a default level of high secrecy seems like
overkill," said Gerald L. Epstein, a former science adviser to the
White House's National Security Council and now a senior fellow with
the Center for Strategic and International Studies. While accepting
that some secrecy is needed, he said the NBACC plan "sends a message
that is not at all helpful."
NBACC officials also have resisted calls for the kind of broad,
independent oversight that many experts say is necessary to assure
other countries and the American public about their research.
Homeland Security spokesmen insist that NBACC's work will be carefully
monitored, but on the department's terms.
"We have our own processes to scrutinize our research, and it includes
compliance to the bioweapons convention guidelines as well as
scientific oversight," said Courtney, the NBACC scientific director.
In addition to the department's internal review boards, the agency
will bring in small groups of "three or four scientists" on an ad-hoc
basis to review certain kinds of potentially controversial
experiments, Courtney said. The review panels will be "independent,"
Courtney said, but he noted that only scientists with government
security clearances will be allowed to participate.
Some experts have called for unusual forms of oversight, including
panels of well-respected, internationally known scientists and
observers from overseas. While allowing that the results of some
experiments should be kept confidential, O'Toole, of the Center for
Biosecurity, argues that virtually everything else at NBACC should be
publicly accountable if the United States is to be a credible leader
in preventing the proliferation of bioweapons.
"We're going to have to lean over backward," O'Toole said. "We have no
leverage among other nation-states if we say, 'We can do whatever we
want, but you can't. We want to see your biodefense program, but you
can't see ours.' "
In recent weeks, NBACC's first officially completed project has drawn
criticism, not because of its methods or procedures, but because heavy
classification has limited its usefulness.
The project was an ambitious attempt to assess and rank the threats
posed by dozens of different pathogens and delivery systems, drawing
on hundreds of studies and extensive computer modeling. When delivered
to the White House in January, it was the most extensive survey of its
kind, and one that could guide the federal government in making
decisions about biodefense spending.
Six months later, no one outside a small group of officials and
advisers with top security clearances has seen the results.
"Something this important shouldn't be secret," said Thomas V.
Inglesby, an expert at the Center for Biosecurity who serves on a
government advisory board that was briefed on the results. "How can we
make policy decisions about matters of this scale if we're operating
in the dark?"
Tomorrow: A new era of engineered microbes.