Date: January 17, 2011
Abstract: The Pentagon is scaling back one of its largest efforts to develop treatments for troops and civilians infected in a germ warfare attack after a $1 billion, five-year program fell short of its primary goal. Even the heavy infusion of research cash and a unified effort by university labs and biotech companies from Boston to California were insufficient to break through limitations of genetic science, according to government officials and specialists in biological terrorism.
Instead, the Pentagon’s next $1 billion for the Transformational Medical Technologies program will focus on better ways to identify mutant versions of Ebola, Marburg, and other deadly viruses. Those are among the genetically modified agents that officials fear could be used by terrorists or rogue states against urban or military targets.
The continued flow of money, even with the shift in strategy, should help Massachusetts and other states retain jobs and research labs focused on this arena.
“There is tremendous potential for further development of a biodefense subcluster in the state,’’ said James D. Rooney, vice president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council.
Among Bay State firms that have received contracts under the germ warfare effort is Worcester-based Microbiotix. Representatives from Microbiotix did not respond to requests for comment.
The new strategy represents a return to the drawing board for an ambitious program conceived after the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes and subsequent mailing of anthrax to members of Congress and media organizations — events that helped US military planners realize that the nation lacked adequate defenses against bioterrorism.
Scientists initially set out to develop new medicines capable of attacking viruses that might be altered by terrorists to make them more deadly. But after more than 50 research projects by more than 100 contractors — including biotech firms, pharmaceutical companies, and universities, including several in the Boston area — only two experimental medicines have shown promise. And even those are far from being ready for limited clinical tests, according to project officials.
“They are trying to come up with new medical technologies that are more difficult to develop,’’ said Crystal Franco, a specialist at the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center who specializes in biological defense policy. “They are really trying to push the envelope.
Another hurdle in the government’s effort: such treatments cannot be tested in human clinical trials, which are typically required for Food and Drug Administration approval, because it is unethical to expose people to deadly virus in such a study, requiring animals with similar traits as humans to serve as surrogates.
Rudolph, director of science and technology at the Defense Threat Reduction
Agency, said in an interview that the agency will now focus more attention on
ways of identifying new pathogens. That research could lay the groundwork for
further advances in the development of antidotes that could eventually win FDA
The new focus of the program will be making a “cadre of investments that are able to take an unknown sample that may contain different agents, and be able to determine very quickly what is in there,’’ Rudolph said. “It is our intent to continue to grow this capability.’’
He added the ultimate goal will still be to someday develop therapeutic remedies that could treat someone infected with any number of deadly viruses — what the Pentagon called “one size fits all’’ or “one drug, many bugs.’’
In addition to Ebola and Marburg, some of the potential biological threats on the Pentagon’s target list are Lassa, Sabia, Machupo, and Junin, especially modified versions designed to cause more severe symptoms of hemorrhagic fever that are more resistant to traditional drugs.
The difficulty in developing medicines so far, however, demonstrates how much more research is needed, say biological warfare specialists.
It turns out it is easier to modify a germ or virus for an offensive threat than it is to develop an effective defense, they said.
“The offensive capabilities outrun the defensive capabilities as the march of biology continues,’’ said Richard J. Danzig, a former Navy secretary and noted expert on bioterrorism who sits on the Pentagon’s high-level Defense Policy Board.
“The theory behind [the program] was these same advances should empower the defenses,’’ he said. “I think that intuition is worth exploring and investing in, but it is easier to conceive than to execute.’’
Margaret Kosal, an assistant professor at Georgia Tech who worked on the program between 2006 and 2007, said “there is a fundamental need for basic science. The low-hanging fruit has all been picked.’’
One Pentagon contractor involved in the program who was not authorized to speak publicly put it more bluntly: “We’re years away from any reasonable FDA certification, let alone production.’’
Franco said the project’s hurdles also highlight the need for ongoing taxpayer-investment commitments from government, to encourage private-sector focus on such technologies that will generate little in sales, compared to, say, cholesterol and diabetes treatments.
“These are not going to be
blockbuster drugs,’’ said Franco. “It is different when the government is your
only market. There needs to be incentives for companies to participate, to take
it on for the public good’(Boston.com,
Date: January 18, 2011
Abstract: It was supposed to come up with antidotes for pathogens that terrorists might use for a mass-casualty bio-attack. But after spending over $1 billion during the last five years, the Pentagon’s Transformational Medical Technology initiative can barely develop drugs ready for a clinical trial. That’s why the officials tasked with running it are setting their research-subsidy targets much lower.
In a shift, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s science and technology chief tells the Boston Globe that the bio-initiative will now invest money on early detection of new pathogens. That puts about another $1 billion worth of Pentagon cash closer to where science is, rather than throwing money at crash programs for undeveloped antidotes. Ultimately, the Pentagon wants to develop multi-pronged vaccines that can resist a variety of biological agents — what it calls “One Drug, Many Bugs.” But that’s a long way off: step one is understanding how those sicknesses develop.
The Globe reports that the program has hit one snag after another. Out of nearly 50 research programs, only two (unspecified) efforts to neutralize pathogens like Ebola and Marburg have shown promise, and they’re not ready for clinical trial. Making matters worse for the program, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t allow experimenting on people, so Transformational Medical Technology would have to make do with animal surrogates.
It’s also become something of an object of fun within the military’s chem-bio community. Our pal Jason Sigger lamented the program’s inability to come up with a lightweight, portable Tricorder-like bio-detection device. The office tasked with coming up with one still sought to buy a Cadillac, one networked into troops’ communications system and that can also detect chemical weapons. “All they need to do is warn the individual that there’s a bad bug nearby,” Sigger wrote.
But don’t expect the Pentagon to steer away from far-out bio-medical research. In 2009, Darpa wanted to create a bank of “universal immunity donor cells” to head bio-outbreaks off at the pass. More recently, in September, it doled out over $5 million so Arizona State University could experiment with growing vaccines with the aid of tobacco plants. “I don’t know if we can pull this off, but I think this basic idea might work,” one of the ASU researchers shrugged when the grant was announced.
Still, according to the Globe, if the military wants to
speed up the day when it can deliver mass antidotes for a host of
bio-threats, it’s got to subsidize pharma companies’ research in areas
that won’t yield the next generation of lucrative “blockbuster drugs.”
Bio-defense expert Crystal Franco of the Center for Biosecurity tells
the paper, “It is different when the government is your only market.
There needs to be incentives for companies to participate, to take it on
for the public good.” That is, until someone figures out how to make
Viagra stop anthrax (Wired, 2011).
Title: Bioterror Fears Prompt U.S. To Keep Its Smallpox Cache
Date: January 18, 2011
Source: Wall Street Journal
Abstract: The U.S. and Russia will fight international efforts this week to set a deadline to destroy the last known stocks of smallpox, saying the deadly virus is needed for research to combat bioterrorism.
Members of the World Health Organization meet on Wednesday to begin debating the future of what is left of what was one of the world's most lethal viruses before it was eradicated more than 30 years ago: samples kept in tightly guarded freezers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and a Russian government lab near Novosibirsk.
The U.S. says it needs to maintain the virus samples to develop new drugs and vaccines to counter a potential bioterror attack or accidental release of smallpox from an unsanctioned stock. "Our position is that we need to have the virus collections maintained for the foreseeable future," said a U.S. official familiar with the matter.
Russia also believes the virus should be kept for research and is likely to concur with the U.S. position, said Vladimir Starodubov, an official in the Russian delegation to the WHO executive board.
But Washington and Moscow must win over other governments and public-health officials who fear the virus could be stolen or unleashed by accident.
Smallpox is estimated to have killed hundreds of millions of people—roughly a third of those it infected—and left millions more scarred or blind over thousands of years before a global campaign finally halted the virus by 1980. It is the only human disease ever to have been eradicated by vaccination, and its extermination is considered a milestone in medical history.
Whether to extinguish the remaining smallpox strains has been one of the fiercest debates in global public health over the past two decades. Some say the argument is moot: Smallpox could eventually be synthesized in a lab, making total eradication impossible. Others argue the threat of a synthetic virus is all the more reason to get rid of the remaining strains.
The U.S. could face opposition from developing countries, where the memory of smallpox is freshest. "To put it bluntly, it is the same logic by which the superpowers continue the possession of the nuclear weapons; they wish to hold on to the smallpox virus as a super bio-weapon," said Kalyan Banerjee, a virologist from India, former member of a WHO advisory committee on smallpox research and now a committee adviser.
Destroying the virus is "not good public policy," said Kenneth Bernard, a health security expert in the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He said strains could exist outside of the U.S. and Russian facilities, posing a global threat.
Some scientists also argue the smallpox virus should be retained to unlock the secrets to its unique ability to target the human immune system.
On Wednesday, representatives of 34 countries, including the U.S. and Russia, are scheduled to discuss whether enough research has been completed on developing medical defenses to the virus to set a deadline for destroying the remaining samples. The group's executive board will then pass the debate on to the agency's larger decision-making body, the World Health Assembly, which will issue a decision at a meeting in May.
Once the virus stocks are destroyed, "any lab, scientist or country found to have the virus after the date of destruction is de facto guilty of very serious crimes against humanity," said D.A. Henderson, head of the WHO's eradication campaign and a former top government bioterror scientist after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He is now a distinguished scholar at the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh.
The World Health Assembly agreed in 1996 that surviving smallpox stocks be destroyed. But the virus has won multiple stays of execution as fears of bioterrorism spread.
A review completed late last year by a WHO advisory committee concluded samples of the virus were needed for the development of antiviral medications, as well as a vaccine with fewer side effects. The U.S. and Russian labs conduct research in both areas.
"There are scientifically valid reasons to continue to study the virus in safe and secure circumstances," said Inger Damon, chief of the CDC's poxvirus section and rabies branch. She is one of fewer than 10 CDC scientists with access, via security codes and retinal scans, to the high-security laboratory where 451 smallpox samples are kept frozen in liquid nitrogen.
U.S. officials say they need in particular to finish developing and licensing antiviral medications to treat infected people. None are currently approved.
The Russian State Research Center for Virology and Biotechnology Vector has 120 samples, with access controlled by guards and security systems. The WHO conducts inspections of the U.S. and Russian facilities.
U.S. officials say they fear a lethal strain of smallpox could be developed into a weapon through genetic engineering or synthesis and unleashed against a generation of people who have never been vaccinated.
While smallpox doesn't naturally spread as easily as some other infectious diseases—infected people aren't contagious until they are sick—world travel creates new risks, say experts.
Some worry about secret stockpiles of smallpox. Inspections in Iraq during 2003 and 2004 yielded some "credible intelligence and information that suggests it was there" but "no smoking gun," according to a former U.S. official and inspector for the United Nations familiar with the matter.
The U.S. has spent $1.8 billion since 2001 on smallpox countermeasures, mostly to buy vaccine. The government has stockpiled more than 300 million doses—enough for every person in the U.S.
No one is known to have synthesized smallpox, but terrorists could eventually learn how, said geneticist J. Craig Venter. "At the moment it requires a pretty sophisticated scientific team," he said. The smallpox virus is also quite large, he said: "Only a few labs in the world have the skill set for handling large pieces of DNA. It gets very brittle as it gets larger."In a paper posted online last week, smallpox expert Jonathan B. Tucker proposed partial destruction of the virus stocks as a compromise. The U.S. and Russia could winnow their collections to 10 strains, he wrote in the journal Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy, Practice, and Science (Wall Street Journal, 2011).
Title: Counterterrorism Calendar Features Bioterror Awareness
Date: January 21, 2011
Source: Bio Prep Watch
Abstract: The 2011 Counterterrorism Calendar features several pages on ways to spot and deal with biological and chemical attacks.
There have been 40,000 copies of the calendar and weekly planner produced, but it can be downloaded from the National Counterterrorism Center website free of charge at www.nctc.gov, according to the Washington Post.
Law enforcement officials and those working in the anti-terror field generally are generally given the calendar, which is why it contains tips for those working in the field.
Pages on the left of the weekly planner offer insights, safety tips, drawings and even wanted posters listing the rewards for killing or capturing some of the world’s most dangerous men. Catch Osama bin Laden, the calendar says, and a $25 million from the Rewards for Justice Program can be yours.
Other lesser known but still dangerous targets included in the calendar are Hussein al-Umari and Faker Ben Abdelaziz Boussora, the Washington Post reports.
There is a $5 million bounty for al Umari, who is wanted for a 1982 airplane bombing. He is 74 years old and the calendar says he is generally armed when he leaves his home in Lebanon.
Boussora is a Canadian and is also worth $5 million. The calendar says that he has “"prominently protruding ears and is believed to have a serious pituitary gland illness," the Washington Post reports.
On the right side of the calendar are major and some lesser known moments in the fight against terror, such as a gunman in Kuwait ambushing and killing a U.S. contractor and wounding one other person on January 21 2003 (Bio Prep Watch, 2011).
Title: Virtual World To Aid Secret Service In Fighting Bioterror
Date: January 28, 2011
Source: Bio Prep Watch
Abstract: The Secret Service has recently upgraded its original tabletop "Tiny Town" model to a high-tech virtual and three-dimensional world that will help agents to prepare for threat scenarios like chemical, biological and radiological attacks.
The program, known as "Virtual Tiny Town," combines three-dimensional modeling and gaming technology and will prepare agents for security scenarios at stadiums, airports, urban locations, hotels and more. Other threats the game includes are suicide bombers and assaults, Government Computer News reports.
The technology, called the Site Security Planning Tool, should be completed and activated by the spring. It will be deployed at the service's Security and Incident Modeling Lab located at the James J. Rowley Training Center near Washington, D.C.
"(The Secret Service) sought to take these scenarios beyond a static environment to encompass the dynamic threat spectrum that exists today, while taking full advantage of the latest computer software technology,” the service said, according to the Government Computer News. “The agency’s Security and Incident Modeling Lab wanted to update Tiny Town and create a more relevant and flexible training tool.”
The system involves three kiosks, each with a 55-inch Perceptive Pixel touch screen that includes a projector, a camera and a computer running the Virtual Battlespace base simulation game. Up to four people can use each kiosk at one time.
Future developments will involve more nuanced scenarios
like incorporating crowd behaviors and health effects (Bio
Prep Watch, 2011).
Title: Threat of Al Qaeda Nuclear Bomb Underscores Importance of Success in Afghanistan
Date: February 2, 2011
week the Vancouver Sun reported that al Qaeda is on the brink of using a
Al-Qaida is on the verge of producing radioactive weapons after sourcing
nuclear material and recruiting rogue scientists to build "dirty"
bombs, according to leaked diplomatic documents.
A leading atomic regulator has privately warned that the world stands on the brink of a "nuclear 9/11".
This report should come as no shock. Information that came into
the U.S. government's after 9/11 revealed that al Qaeda had vigorously pursued
WMD technology. The sad fact
is that acquiring the means of a nuclear, biological, or chemical attack are
all too easy. We are too easily comforted by the idea that
construction of an actual nuclear bomb is difficult. We see nation-states
with substantial resources, such as Iran, facing technical problems, so we
think that the threat of such an attack is low.
But this is wrong. Making other types of WMD weapons is not difficult.
A dirty bomb, for example, does not have the destructive impact of a true
nuclear bomb. It is only a conventional explosive that disperses nuclear
material of much lower grade into the surroundings. It may still kill
hundreds, if not thousands, and contaminate its surroundings with radioactive
material. The means to construct
biological weapons are available in thousands of biotechnology labs and plants.
Chemical weapons have been used by terrorists -- in the 1990s, a Japanese
terrorist group attempted to attack civilians with nerve gas; it only failed to
kill thousands because it flubbed the aerosol device to spread the agent.
It is not the technology that is ultimately unavailable to terrorists,
but their means of delivery. Nation-states
don't pursue dirty bombs, and perhaps have foresworn biological weapons because
they are difficult to control, imprecise, and have low effectiveness against
military targets. But the indiscriminate nature of such weapons makes
them perfect for terrorists. I think we've been lucky that al Qaeda has
been fixated on attacks that would produce spectacular video for its propaganda
uses back in the Middle East. Hence their repeated focus on airliners,
bringing down buildings, and attacking landmarks and well-known tourist sites.
If al Qaeda really wanted to spread terror in the United States, they
would use these primitive WMDs on soft, undefended targets like shopping malls,
sporting events, and the crowded downtowns of major cities.
Title: Researcher's Death From Plague Prompts CDC Warning
Date: February 24, 2011
Source: My Health News
Abstract: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reminding laboratory workers to be diligent about wearing protective gear, after it found that an Illinois researcher died in 2009 from exposure to plague-causing bacteria.
The 60-year-old researcher, a university employee, had been working with a strain of the bacteria Yersinia pestis. He died of cardiac arrest shortly after going to the hospital for what appeared to be flu symptoms, the CDC said in a report released today (Feb. 24).
After determining the cause of death, health agencies and the university began a safety investigation and learned that the man had inconsistently complied with the laboratory policy to wear gloves while handling the bacterial cultures, the CDC report said.
However, experts at the CDC did not rule out that the researcher could have been infected by the bacteria elsewhere on his skin or mucous membranes, such as his mouth or nose.
The CDC report did not identify the man or his university. According to a report from Chicago television station WLS in 2009, he was Malcolm Casadaban, a longtime professor of molecular genetics at the University of Chicago. His family said Casadaban had been seeking to develop a plague vaccine, and was working with a weakened strain of the bacteria.
The CDC report said he had hemochromatosis, a condition in which too much iron is absorbed into body tissues from foods in the gastrointestinal tract. Because Y. pestis bacteria are naturally iron-deficient, the extra iron in the man may have fed the bacteria and caused them to become virulent, the report said.
The researcher sought care from a physician Sept. 10, 2009, six days after he had last worked in the lab. But that doctor thought the problem was a respiratory infection or the flu, and referred him to an emergency department, the report said.
Three days later the researcher was brought by ambulance to an emergency department because of fever, cough, and worsening of his shortness of breath. He died there after suffering septic shock and cardiac arrest, the report said.
Blood tests later revealed he was infected with the bacteria . The Chicago Department of Public Health was then notified.Before then, the last known laboratory-acquired infection with Y. pestis bacteria in the United States occurred in 1959, the CDC report said. That person, who inhaled the bacteria, did not die (My Health News, 2011).
Title: Managing Biosecurity Threats In China
Date: March 9, 2011
Source: (PubMed, 2011).
Abstract: Compared to the extensive literature on bioterrorism and biosecurity in the United States, less analysis has been conducted on similar challenges in China. This article seeks to fill this void by providing an integrated and updated assessment of 3 major biosecurity threats China faces: biowarfare, bioterrorism, and biocrimes. An analysis of China's biosecurity threats and biodefense building suggest varying levels of risk associated with each threat type.
First, a direct
bioweapons attack on China is highly unlikely, although the threat of
biowarfare cannot be simply written off.
Second, potential perpetrators of bioterrorism have capabilities at their disposal for carrying out such attacks. While terrorist organizations in China do not have a strong interest in bioterrorism, the limited state capability to counter such a threat may increase the risk in the future. T
hird, unlike the
threats of biowarfare and bioterrorism, potential perpetrators of
biocrimes have both incentives and capabilities, and biocrimes can
produce reactions far out of proportion to the actual number of
casualties. Despite the distinct biosecurity challenges it faces, China
has yet to articulate a differentiated and coherent strategy to
effectively tackle the challenges. Assessing different types of
biosecurity threats in terms of degrees of risk not only provides
greater analytical clarity but also has important implications for the
strategies required to manage the risks (PubMed, 2011).
Title: Claims Arise That Bahraini Protesters Took
Drugs To Simulate Nerve Gas Attack
Date: April 7, 2011
Source: Bio Prep Watch
Abstract: It has been claimed that anti-government protesters in Bahrain allegedly stole and administered drugs from a local hospital in order to fabricate the effects of nerve gas, which they claimed were excessively used against them by police.
The suspicion comes in the wake of a month long siege that has seen protesters block off major highways and government facilities, including the Salmaniya Medical Complex, Gulf-Daily-News.com reports.
More than 5,000 vials of drugs and other medicines were reportedly taken from the Salmaniya Medical Complex so protesters could take them and claim that a chemical agent was being used by Bahrain's security forces, according to Gulf-Daily-News.com.
Health Ministry Arab Board Training Coordinator Dr. Nabeel Ansari said that individuals purposefully used the drugs to simulate the symptoms of caustic agents typically used by law enforcement.
Atropine, the drug taken be the protesters, is "used to treat poisoning from chemical agents like pesticides and insecticides and dries up the skin and eyelids become dilated," Ansari said, Gulf-Daily-News.com reports. "This typically looks like the patient has been exposed to nerve gas."
According to Ansari and other
senior doctors, the medical heist is believed to be a part of a campaign
focused on sending distorted information about the protesting efforts in
Bahrain to the international media (Bio Prep Watch, 2011).
Title: The 2011 TIME 100: Nathan Wolfe
Date: April 21, 2011
Abstract: Nathan Wolfe runs the CIA of infectious disease. The swashbuckling virologist is the founder and director of the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative (GVFI), an innovative NGO that tracks emerging infectious diseases before they begin to kill humans. Nearly every deadly new virus of the past few decades — from Ebola to swine flu — began spreading in animals before it jumped to people. Hot spots like rural Africa, where wild animals and humans coexist and can swap microbes, are, in essence, the front lines of a new virological war. The next HIV could be brewing in an African market — and we wouldn't know until it was too late.
But Wolfe, 40, is
trying to change that. GVFI has viral listening posts scattered throughout
Central Africa, while it tracks viruses at remote sites in China, Malaysia and
Laos. Wolfe — who is as much a 19th century explorer as a modern virologist —
spends much of his time traveling in Africa, collecting blood samples and
chasing down outbreaks. It's dirty, dangerous work — Wolfe has almost died of
malaria — but it's our best hope to stop the next great epidemic before it
Title: Can Biosecurity Go Global?
Date: April 27, 2011
Abstract: Outside the U.S., biological labs follow few if any security
regulations. A Sandia National Laboratory team works to help those labs
prevent deadly microbe releases, accidental and deliberate.
A tall, modest academic with graying temples, Ren Salerno was happily toiling away in obscurity at a small biological threat research program at Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M., “studying issues nobody really cared about,” he recalls. Then the attacks on Sept. 11 burst his academic bubble. As one of the few experts on the security of biological agents, Salerno was called to Washington, where, as soon as he arrived, he met with Deputy Secretary of Agriculture James Moseley, a man with a lot to worry about.
Some of the greatest bioterror threats are zoonotic pathogens — microbes that can be transmitted from other animals to humans and vice versa, including the plague, anthrax, Ebola and more. According to a 2001 study from researchers at the University of Edinburgh, 61 percent of the more than 1,400 pathogens that infect humans are zoonotic, and U.S. Department of Agriculture animal health laboratories are littered with them. The USDA, in fact, has more biocontainment labs in the U.S. than either the Centers for Disease Control or the National Institutes of Health.
For days, Washington officials peppered Salerno with questions about national biosecurity infrastructure and the possibility of bio-terrorist attacks, especially with microbes stolen from U.S. facilities. Within a month, Salerno and his team at Sandia had contracts with the USDA to assess and design security solutions for biocontainment labs around the country. Contracts with CDC and the Department of the Army soon followed.
But the stakes were about to rise again. Only weeks after 9/11, letters containing a suspicious white powder were mailed to media companies and two U.S. senators. People started dying. Bioterrorism was no longer a possibility. It was happening.
Before 2001, life scientists were familiar with biosafety — that is, working safely — but biosecurity, or keeping laboratory agents from being misused, was not really part of the scientific conversation outside of the military. “The prospect of somebody choosing to misuse biological agents was quite new and fairly controversial,” Salerno says. “The idea of threats and bad guys doing bad things is anathema to most scientists.”
Following 9/11 and the ensuing anthrax attacks, the Congress worked with what is lightning speed for the government, passing the Patriot Act at the end of 2001, restricting who was allowed to work with biological agents, and the Bioterrorism Act in 2002, improving the government’s ability to prepare for and respond to bioterrorism events. The latter law included a registration program for facilities and people who handle toxins and biological agents — in the U.S.
But even now, anywhere around the world, someone can build a laboratory to work with the most dangerous pathogens and be subject to no construction standards, no operating standards and no safety or security standards, Salerno says. It’s a situation that several international organizations are trying to address, and Salerno has helped put together trial biosecurity training programs around the world. But so far, the trials have not been expanded or institutionalized.
“It’s just the beginning, I hope,” Salerno says. “We’re trying to change the paradigm.”
After the 2001 anthrax maillings and implementation of the federal legislation they spawned, working with bacterial agents in the U.S. became a “major investment in training and infrastructure,” says Paul Keim, a biologist at Northern Arizona University and senior scientist of the lab that identified the anthrax strains used in the 2001 attacks. “A response to the security fears was to raise the biosafety levels, because we didn’t really know how to raise security, because we had no standards,” Keim says.
Researchers studying anthrax, for example, at biosafety level 2 — which required basic safety precautions like goggles and specialized cabinets with air filters — were suddenly required to fulfill the restrictions of a biosafety level 3 lab. This meant that expensive respiratory equipment, waste decontamination procedures and closed airflow systems were required, suddenly, in hundreds of labs scattered across the country. “It changed so fast; it’s been very difficult to keep up with the regulations,” he says.
In addition, labs rushed to get security systems. Laboratory managers hired security companies out of the Yellow Pages; they installed locks on doors and windows, put cameras and lights in parking lots and sat security guards at front desks. Many scientists considered the efforts ridiculous and a huge waste of money. If someone broke in, how would the would-be thief know how to identify and transport a pathogen?
“The likelihood of a terrorist commando team attacking a facility with helicopters and grappling guns is extremely low,” Salerno says, laughing. The probability of a scientist going rogue is significantly higher, but scientists were even less happy to discuss that idea. So when Salerno and his team arrived at lab doorsteps to talk about internal security, they met resistance.
“This just wasn’t a topic that life scientists thought about,” recalls Jennifer Gaudioso, a staff member at the International Biological Threat Reduction program at Sandia. “You wouldn’t necessarily think about opening a door for someone with an armful of books beforehand, and now you have to stop and think, ‘Should this person be allowed in here?’”
After an initial evaluation to assess the biological materials in the labs and their basic vulnerabilities, Salerno and the Sandia team — usually three to five members — got down to less glamorous work. With help from human resources personnel, they set up systems to monitor and limit access to the lab, implemented tracking systems to follow the movement of pathogens from room to room and trained lab staffers to look for behavioral changes in colleagues. Overall, Salerno’s team visited dozens of labs around the country. The effort lasted until 2003.
Then, with the largest national labs secure, Salerno and the U.S. government turned to look beyond the country’s borders.
Over the last 20 years, as laboratory tools and technologies have become cheaper, biocontainment labs, once rare, have become numerous. Scientists in countries around the world study pathogens of varying levels of danger — and with varying degrees of security.
For most intents and purposes, international standards or accreditations for bioscience facilities don’t exist. There is a World Health Organization manual on laboratory biosafety that includes tips like, “Children should not be authorized or allowed to enter laboratory working areas,” and, “Labels must not be licked.”
“Today,” Salerno says, “that 100-page document is just woefully inadequate.”
International biosecurity standards are important not only for the prevention of deliberate biological attacks but for the reduction of biological accidents. In 2004, nine cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, were linked to procedural lapses at China’s National Institute of Virology. One infected individual died. In 2006, a lab worker at Texas A&M University became sick with brucellosis, an infectious disease carried by cattle and dogs, after cleaning a chamber containing Brucella bacteria. All select-agent research at the school was suspended. In August 2007, some 60 cattle in Surrey, England, were infected with foot-and-mouth disease after the virus leaked from broken pipes running from a nearby infectious disease laboratory. The list goes on.
“An outbreak anywhere, deliberate or natural, is a threat everywhere,” says Andrew Weber, the assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs. “It’s not something we can just deal with within our own borders.”
Beginning in 2006, professionals in the biological community, especially biocontainment laboratory managers in North America and Europe, began discussing the need for international standards. In February 2008, the European Committee for Standardization published the first international biorisk management standards, developed by 76 participants from 24 countries. This standard, though still voluntary, includes both bio-security information — guidelines that restrict access to agents and toxins, for instance — and practical biosafety measures, such as details of the process of inventorying and disposing of hazardous materials.
“It represented an evolution in thought,” says Salerno, who participated in the formation of the guidelines. “The previously distinct fields of biosafety and biosecurity came together.”
Shortly after the International Biorisk Standards were published, Salerno was contacted by Nicoletta Previsani, head of biosafety and laboratory biosecurity at the World Health Organization in Geneva, about creating a hands-on risk management course to be taught to people involved in biological labs around the world. “Biosafety is not anymore an issue that only concerns the worker at the bench,” Previsani says. “Instead of just teaching biosafety, we thought we needed a different approach that addresses the management of big risks.”
Biologists are not typically mathematicians or modelers, nor are they taught to assess risk while getting a doctorate in microbiology or virology. “It becomes more of a management problem than simply a technical problem,” Salerno says.
Previsani corralled Salerno and Stefan Wagener, director for biosafety at the Canadian Science Centre for Human and Animal Health in Winnipeg, Canada, to serve as experts for the course and invited Pamela Lupton-Bowers, a professional adult educator, to integrate teaching techniques. The four professionals locked themselves in a room for five days, and in January 2010, the WHO premiered the first-ever international biosecurity training program. The two-week course trains laboratory leaders in assessing and mitigating the risk of deadly agents in the laboratory. Perhaps more important, the course trains those leaders to train others.
Workshops were held in Jordan, Ecuador, Sweden, the Maldives, Kenya and Thailand, and participants have already begun teaching biosecurity workshops in their own countries: After attending the WHO course, Rafiq Saleh, head of the public health laboratory at the Ministry of Health in Amman, Jordan, went on to teach two biosecurity courses of his own, training more than 30 lab technicians in Jordan. “We really feel that it’s been useful to our country,” he says.
Still, Salerno says, the program is limited by numbers. Overall, it has trained just 60 participants, not all of whom have gone on to train others. “If [the course] is a one-time extravaganza, it won’t mean very much because we’ve touched so very few people,” Salerno says. “On the other hand, if the powers that be can recognize it as a precedent-setting, paradigm-shifting event, and can leverage it and build from it explicitly, then I think hopefully five or 10 years from now, we’ll look back on it and say, ‘Wow, that was really formative.’ “But the jury’s still out on that” (Miller-McCune, 2011).
Title: Lugar Calls For Vigilance Against Bioterror Following Bin Laden’s
Date: May 4, 2011
Source: Bio Prep Watch
Abstract: Sen. Richard Lugar called for the United States to remain vigilant for an Al-Qaeda sponsored or inspired nuclear, chemical or biological counterattack in the wake of the strike that led to the death of the terrorist group’s leader Osama bin Laden.
“There is a risk that some bin Laden-inspired group may try to lash out in dramatic fashion,” Lugar wrote in an article published by the Washington Times on May 2.
Lugar, hopeful that there will be upheavals in Al-Qaeda that the U.S. can exploit as a result of its leader’s demise, urged vigilance in keeping nuclear, chemical and biological weapons materials away from terrorists.
“Our top military leaders have said that the biggest threat to U.S. security, both short-term and long-term, would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Lugar wrote in the Washington Post.
Lugar recommended continuing with the Nunn-Lugar program, which conducts an effort to destroy weapons of mass destruction in Russia and the former Soviet Union states. He said that the Nunn-Lugar program recently helped to facilitate the destruction of a Soviet-era chemical weapons stockpile in Albania and led to the dismantling of Libya’s chemical weapons program in 2004.
According to Lugar, American efforts in Africa to control and contain biological weapons and dangerous pathogens need to be stepped up.
“Africa has a unique combination of naturally occurring dangerous diseases, poorly secured laboratories and research centers where those pathogens are collected for public health study, and simmering Islamist terrorist activity that thrives in the region’s many poorly governed spaces,” Lugar wrote in the Washington Post.
The next step, Lugar said, is using the Nunn-Lugar program to address key security problems in African laboratories (Bio Prep Watch, 2011).
Title: U.S. Official Warns Of Bio Terror Despite Bin Laden Death
Date: May 5, 2011
Abstract: Terror kingpin Osama bin Laden was dead already, but the threat remains that extremists could still launch biological attacks on the public, a U.S. official told Xinhua in a recent interview.
"There is no doubt that al Qaida will continue to pursue attacks against us," said Ambassador Laura Kennedy, U.S. special representative for biological and toxin weapons convention issues.
In spite of bin Laden's death, Kennedy said the United States must continue to remain vigilant across the spectrum of possible methods that extremists might use to wreak havoc.
Among those are bio weapons, which can be constructed with little specialized knowledge and without costly facilities and infrastructure, she said.
"You can develop bio agents using very simple laboratories," she said. "So you don't require a huge elaborate infrastructure, as you would to develop a nuclear weapon."
"Very simple capabilities will do, that are available around the world. So indeed bio terrorism is a real threat and one that we take very seriously," she said.
Ricin, for example, is a toxin derived from the readily available castor bean, and extremists have attempted to use it in the past. In the early 1990s, for example, members of the Minnesota Patriots Council acquired the substance and allegedly planned to use it against federal officials.
Dangerous Agents, but can they be Delivered?
Some experts, however, said that while bio weapons may be fairly simple to construct, disbursing them is no easy task.
Global intelligence company Stratfor said on its website that although it is possible for non-state actors to develop and deploy biological agents and toxins, they are more likely to employ relatively simple and proven methods of attack --such as firearms and explosives --than some exotic weapon.
Moreover, manufacture of biological agents using low technology most often yields small amounts and minimally potent products. Truly weaponized biological agents produced and prepared in quantities great enough for deployment as a weapon of mass destruction require much more sophisticated labs and weaponization facilities than most non-state actors or lone wolves can ever create in their garages or storage sheds, Stratfor argued.
Kennedy, however, contended that a bio attack could take many forms. It could be relatively low tech and result in a limited number of casualties. Or it could be a sophisticated operation that produces tens of thousands of deaths.
But since a terrorist's objective is to terrify the public for the purpose of garnering political concessions, even an attack resulting in limited casualties could be damaging.
It could, for example, have harsh economic consequences, such as those that followed the 2001 anthrax attacks, Kennedy said. Some figures showed the damage to be in the billions of U.S. dollars.
Authorities Faced with Tough Task
For authorities, the challenge is how to thwart bio attacks when the materials needed for deadly biological weapons are readily available worldwide, even in high school laboratories.
"There's been an explosion of knowledge and development in the bio area, so it's very hard to keep track of," Kennedy said."You may think you have a handle on it, but then new things are engineered and new techniques are developed at quite a dizzying pace."
And given the massive movement of people and goods around the world, there will be a greater need to deal with pandemics and bio threats wherever they occur, she said.
One of the most successful bio weapons attacks in the United States was conducted by the Bhagwan Shri Rashneesh cult in Oregon in 1984. Members put salmonella bacteria in grocery store produce and in local salad bars and restaurants. The operation left more than 700 people sick and was meant to prevent voters from getting to the polls in an election in which one of the group's followers was running.
Biological Weapons Convention
Kennedy also said the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) is
one forum that aims to take on the issue through international
cooperation on a number of fronts. The next BWC meeting is slated to
take place in Geneva in December (Xinhua, 2011).
Title: Biometrics Against Bioterrorism; Steps For Trans-National Countermeasure Strategies
Date: June, 2011
Due to various factors like advances in biomedical technology, emerging infectious diseases research and other related activities, knowledge, materials, and equipment needed for manufacturing biological weapons are spreading rather rapidly. Consequently, fears relating to mass casualty terrorism and gross violations of Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) are also rising. Unlike nuclear weapons, where at least 5–15 kilograms of fissile material is required to build a rudimentary fission bomb, no such barrier exists for biological weapons. The dual-use nature of the equipment and supplies make biological weapon programs easy to hide under the guise of legitimate biomedical activities. Only small quantities of pathogens are required for seed stocks, and biological agents emit no detectable signal, making them virtually impossible to detect remotely. There is a general term, biometrics, which includes processes for verification and identification of individual or a group to ensure safety and security for the general public from any threat. Biometrics involves the autonomous recognition of human’s physical and behavioral characteristics through sensory mechanism. Biometric provides a comprehensive defence capability against threats from adversaries which increases its robustness. This can be done by using a detector to detect virus, bacteria, other micro organisms and biotoxins. It is expected to provide the complete safety of the individual and the country.History
Biometrics has become a critically important topic of research for scientist, researchers and engineers after 9/11. Following the fears of Anthrax and other agents’ usage, there is a heightened level of attention to this kind of threats and more measures are being put in place in order to avert these threats. It is needless to stress that biometrics plays a major role in serving the purpose. On the other hand, India relies heavily on the traditional security apparatus of the police and other security agencies to deal with many security challenges including cross border terrorism, illegal migration and monetary exchanges. Since 26/11, there is a need to do more with reference to maritime security as well. These kinds of threats make it necessary for the Indian security system to adapt biometric applications. However, despite this, research and development activities in this field are lagging behind in India as not many institutes are involved in biometrics research. Therefore, its time India brings strong institutional support for research and development in this area since it can play a crucial role in counter-terror strategies.
Developed countries like the United States are paying much attention to add biotechnology to their biometrics approach. This can be observed by looking at the advancement of biotechnology in the United States. It is estimated that by the end of the 20th Century, biotechnology contributed nearly half a million jobs and $47 billion in business revenue annually to the US economy.1 Similarly, China now has about 20,000 people working in 200 biotechnology laboratories.2 Mostly laboratories like these work towards developing defence mechanism against biological attacks.Using Biotechnology in Identifying a Biological Attack
Biotechnology applications are extremely useful for tracking the
source of any biological attacks and also for taking further action
against the culprits of that attack. However, the complexity of the
system would require advance setup of coordination efforts between
different agencies of the government and outside. This is because a
large count of known viruses and bacteria can be used in attacks and
there can be unknown new microorganisms used for the same. These can
cause disease in humans, animals and crops. Even the worst case is that
the terrorists can project their attack from the subtle to the
apocalyptic. Therefore, the first task would be to bring about
congruence in the disease-surveillance data from a variety of government
and public health sources towards determining which areas might get
affected and to what degree. An effective defence requires setting
priorities which includes indentifying the most likely near-term threats
and implementing research, detection and response agendas designed to
be able to better mange future threat scenarios.
Biometrics is a source that is rich in profiling information related to the biology like all DNA synthesis orders from all suppliers worldwide. Importantly, anticipation of potential terrorist strategies, analyses of the symptoms related to all the probable diseases etc forms the basis for a promising technology. A biometric system makes use of various sensory mechanisms to assess both identity and physiological state of an agent. It also includes checking the symptoms of the individual by face recognition and diagnostic tests. These data are then transferred to data management body where it is matched with disease surveillance data. In case an emergency situation is identified as a biological attack, the next step is to identify the source organism which leads to the next step of speedy disbursement of necessary antibiotics and drugs in the affected areas. Fumigation of the ozone and other disinfectants are immediately used in the disease prone area. Improved international disease surveillance might also detect the presence of covert biological weapon programs in the event of an accident that infects the local population.
A. Diplomatic Coordination:
Efforts by the World Health Organization (WHO) to implement the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network are well placed and the recently revised WHO International Health Regulations, which require reporting of any disease of international public health concern within 24 hours, when fully implemented, will have public health and security benefits for all nations. These efforts need sustained and global diplomatic and financial backing.3 Ultimately governments around the world must know that this spreading of disease does not depend on boundaries and public health is a great issue for all mainly during international travel and commodity transfer. Also this leads to the development of vaccine against that particular microorganism and to be served to people for their future security.
B. Research Coordination:
Exchanges of best practices at pathogen collections or biocontainment facilities that work with deadly pathogens can be undertaken in order to improve safety and security so that the risks associated with accidents or diversion could be reduced. This would help promote interaction among biomedical practitioners engaged in potentially dangerous research. International association and collaboration among biologists, medical professionals, and public health practitioners would help address emerging infectious diseases and the transparency produced through such collaborations would have, as a collateral benefit, the potential to detect covert activities.
Implementing defensive countermeasures against biological attacks will require not only research but drug development and distribution plan. According to the reports of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, nearly 100 companies are seriously engaged in advanced research on finding answers to bioterrorism and its effects.4 Their research includes using technology facilities to develop new antibiotics, vaccines and antiviral drugs. Some of these are reported to be in the advanced medical trial stages. Research is also in progress in order to develop advanced oral vaccines that are capable of boosting immunity in a shorter period compared to the existing medicines5. These developments, if effective will be useful against bioterrorism attacks. Similar research is underway on other diseases as well
Pre-emptive measures can be taken to destroy the weapon before they
can be launched, it can be done practically by opening the wings of
biological facilities and weapons are easy to find. Research is also
underway to identify simpler way to destroy these pathogens. Efforts to
improve intelligence on suspect groups or individuals are useful;
however, there are no technical fixes in the offing that will allow
intelligence agencies to improve their ability to detect covert
biological weapon programs in the future.
The best way for the defence is to discover and implement anti factor
on organism-by-organism basis so that one can win in this biological
arms race.6 It will be vital from a strategic perspective to consider
carefully what types of biodefence work should be classified. It needs
to be debated further whether it would be legal and wise to have
classified biodefence research produce genetically modified pathogens
that to our knowledge, no adversary has yet created. Claire Fraser once
said, “Terrorists could potentially make use of public genome sequences,
however it is also argued that such sequences should remain in the
public domain because these ‘maps’ are still relatively rough. Genomics
should be used to identify and fight bioterrorism, not to restrict
research.7 Hence with the advancement of biotechnology, its results and
new products should be included to biometrics so that the future
biological attack can be easily recognised and may be stopped before it
will become epidemic. It is the right time for India to pay attention to
the biometric side along with the research in biotechnology. This will
certainly make the nation to stand against any future bioterror attack.
Vaccines, antibiotics and drugs should also be produced against every
new microorganism. There should be complete database of all discovered
genome sequences which can help in the research activities of the
nation (IDSA, 2011).
Title: Bio-Terrorism The New Age Weapon Of Al Qaeda, Taliban?
Date: June 7, 2011
Source: One India
Abstract: As if terrorism has not been terrorizing us enough,
there's a new sort of terrorism looming in the horizon. According to media
reports from UK, food bioterrorism is the latest threat after scientists and
others failed to understand the sudden spread of the deadly E. Coli bacteria.
With al-Qaeda and Taliban involvement feared in the outbreak, doctors fear that killer germs may have been deliberately planted into fresh produce. With Germany as the centre of the outbreak, reports from the newspaper Daily Star ays that Britain could also be impacted by the deadly bacteria.
German scientists and health officials are zeroing in on the toxic batch of bean sprouts that may have been the root of the deadly outbreak. The chief doctor for hygiene at Germany's Vivantes Hospital in Berlin, Klaus-Dieter Zastrow was quoted as saying, “It is quite possible there's a crazy person out there who thinks: 'I'll kill a few people or make 10,000 ill.' It is a mistake not to investigate in that direction."
E Coli has already claimed 18 lives and led close to 1,800 seriously ill in Germany. The Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) in London has asked the producers of food and drinks along with suppliers and supermarkets to tighten security at plants and depots.
In a statement by the CPNI, "UK suffers from a low level of malicious contamination of food by the bad, the mad and the sad. Now it has to consider possibility of food supplies being disrupted by politically motivated groups" (One India, 2011).
Title: SIPRI Warns Of Major Challenges To 1972 Biological And Toxin
Date: June 13, 2011
Source: Bio Prep Watch
Abstract: The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute recently declared that scientific and technological developments, particularly those occurring when chemical and biological sciences overlap, are becoming a major challenge to the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.
According to SIPRI, the parties to the BTWC need to develop a clearer understanding of the convention’s role in supporting international peace and security once stockpiles are essentially destroyed. States must also continue to address determinations of what constitutes non-compliance with convention obligations or risk undermining the operational-level value of the regime, according to DefenceWeb.co.za.
The SIPRI 2011 yearbook, a guide to recent challenges to international security, details reports that emerged last May concerning severe crop damage caused by an unusual leaf disease that affected Afghanistan’s poppy crop. The blight led to a 48 percent decrease in opium yields from 2009.
“There was speculation that the blight was deliberately induced,” SIPRI said, DefenseWeb.co.za reports. "Such allegations highlighted the difficulty of distinguishing between fundamental and technical violations of international law and the possible role of a form of politicized legal dispute that aims to cast aspersions on the behavior of other states.”
The BTWC outlawed offensive
biological warfare, including the mass production, stockpiling and use of
biological weapons, among signatories. Since the treaty was created, it has
been ratified or acceded to by 163 countries for the purpose of preventing a
biological attack that could cause mass civilian casualties or disrupt the
global economy (Bio
Prep Watch, 2011).
Title: When Flying, The '2 Seat Rule' Might Keep You Healthy
Date: June 15, 2011
Source: My Health News
Abstract: A new study of influenza and air travel shows that passengers seated in the two rows either in front of or behind someone with the flu are at greatly increased risk of getting the flu themselves ― almost half as likely to become infected as the people who are seated next to the sick passenger.
Australian researchers found a "splash zone" of sorts ― within two seats, in any direction, of an infected passenger ― while studying flu infections that spread aboard two large airliners that entered the country during the swine flu pandemic in May 2009.
There was an increased risk of 3.6 percent for passengers sitting within two rows of someone with flu-like symptoms, the researchers said. That jumped to 7.7 percent for those within two seats on either side of the infected passenger.
"The closer you are to an infectious person, the higher your chances of becoming infected yourself," said study researcher Paul Kelly, an epidemiologist at Australian National University in Canberra. "This is especially the case on long-haul flights," those lasting more than four hours.
Researchers hope the results will help officials make better decisions when it comes to screening travelers to avoid the spread of not only influenza but other infectious diseases.
Governments should "screen and stop symptomatic patients from flying," Kelly said.
For travelers who are worried about an infected seat neighbor, Kelly had the following advice: "Change seats!"
He added: "If you have a mask, wear it or suggest your neighbor wears it. Wash your hands, and avoid touching your own face to minimize the chances of spread via that route." [Read: Intimate Pat-Downs Raise Infection Risk at Airports ]
The two flights studied had a total of 738 passengers, and 319 of them responded to the surveys. The researchers also used databases with reports of the H1N1 flu virus to find additional cases. However, they acknowledged there may have been more flu cases they did not obtain information on.
At least eight passengers on one flight, which left from Los Angeles, had flu-like symptoms at takeoff. Shortly after landing in Sydney, 2 percent of tested passengers on the plane had confirmed cases of H1N1, and there may have been more unreported cases.
The other flight, which arrived in Sydney from Singapore, was not suspected of posing a problem because Singapore had not yet reported any cases of H1N1. One passenger had flu-like symptoms before takeoff, and two others developed them in-flight. Only one of those three passengers was tested later, and that person did not have H1N1. Shortly after the plane landed, however, a child on the flight was found to have contracted H1N1.
The researchers said a major obstacle to warding off epidemics comes with delays in flu symptoms. Five of the nine infected passengers did not show signs of flu when boarding the plane.
"It's these people who are asymptomatic who may be the most troublesome, because they're harder to find," said Brian Coburn, a research scientist who does mathematical modeling at UCLA. "They're going through life without awareness that they're infected yet."
Coburn, who was not involved in the study, and the Australian investigators emphasized the importance of screening, particularly of passengers seated around a person known to be infected. That might include the need to contact them after the flight once an infection is discovered.
"It's that one person that actually gets away that could actually cause a major outbreak in an area," Coburn said.
Coburn said the results of the study are in line with previous projections of how influenza spreads on an airplane. (Coburn and colleagues made one such projection during the swine flu pandemic.) So there now seems to be a way to try to determine the spread of other infectious diseases, such as avian flu and tuberculosis, if they emerge.
"If you have the data on a virus ... for airborne diseases, I think this is an excellent framework for people to follow with other diseases," he said (My Health News, 2011).
Title: US Not Ready For WMD Attack, Report Says
Date: June 23, 2011
Source: The Hill
Abstract: The United States is unprepared for an attack involving weapons of mass destruction, according to a report by the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism.The report, and the commission’s prediction that it is “more likely than not” that a WMD will be used by terrorists by the end of 2013, were the principal topics at Thursday’s joint subcommittee hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee on the Weapons of Mass Destruction Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2011.
Lawmakers discussed the commission’s statement, made in a prior report, that “Unless the world community acts decisively and with great urgency, it is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013.”
Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), chairman of the subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies, called the report “a startling reminder of the danger we face as a nation” and emphasized the need to protect the nation from an attack.
Lungren acknowledged the Congress has not met the commission’s recommendations to fully prepare the country for an attack.
“We cannot forget Congress’s own shortcomings.” Lungren said. “The WMD commission gave Congress a failing grade for not reforming its congressional oversight to better address our homeland security needs.”
The WMD commission, headed by former Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Jim Talent (R-Mo.), was formed by congressional mandate and concluded its official work in February 2010. It has continued its work as an independent, bipartisan organization.
Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.), ranking member on the subcommittee, agreed that Congress must step up its efforts to safeguard the country.
“America needs to move aggressively to address our vulnerability to a bioterror attack,” Richardson said.
Reps. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) and Pete King (R-N.Y.) will introduce the Weapons of Mass Destruction Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2011 on Friday. The congressmen first introduced the legislation in 2010, but the bill was never considered by the entire House.
The bill would establish a new “special assistant” to the president for biodefense who would create a federal biodefense plan and a yearly budget. The bill also contains legislation that would allow state and local first responders access to surplus vaccine (The Hill, 2011).
Title: New York Subway System Seen As Likely Bioterror Target
Date: July 19, 2011
Source: Bio Prep Watch
Abstract: The possibility that the New York subway system could be the next target of a terrorist attack has lead to a new acceptance of suspicious package alerts, bomb-sniffing dogs and cameras trained on commuters and passengers.
Since the terrorist attack that brought down New York’s World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, subways have been targeted for attacks multiple times. Mass transit lines in Madrid, London, Moscow and, this spring, Minsk, Belarus, have all seen attacks in the last decade, according to MyFoxNY.com.
New York Police Department officers with heavy body armor and high-powered rifles and police commanders carrying smart phone-size radiation detectors have become commonplace.
Authorities said that a serious attack on New York's 24 hour subway system, which has more than 400 stations, could cripple the city in worse ways than the 2001 attack. The system is the largest in the United States, with more than 800 miles of track. Last year, it carried more than 5.2 million passengers on an average weekday, more than double the number that pass through U.S. airports every year.
“It's really a potentially very vulnerable environment — one that you can't totally protect," William Bratton, a security firm executive who was chief of the New York City transit police, said, MyFoxNY.com reports. "That's the reality of it. It's a unique challenge."
So far, no one has pulled off such an attack in New York City, but there have been a number of scares. In 2010, a homegrown al-Qaeda operative, Najibullah Zazi, pleaded guilty to plotting a rush hour suicide attack. In 2004, the NYPD foiled a bomb plot at Manhattan’s Herald Square subway station.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelley said that the NYPD is going to extraordinary lengths to make its presence known in the subways in order to give terrorists something to think about.
The new counterterror arsenal includes more than 30 dogs trained to smell for explosives, silent alarms and motion detectors to prevent tampering with ventilation systems, and a vast number of security cameras with live feeds.Random bag searches, once challenged as a civil rights violation, are conducted tens of thousands of times every year with barely a complaint made against them, MyFoxNY.com reports. The department has also started using high-tech detection devices to screen riders for peroxides or nitrates common in homemade explosive (Bio Prep Watch, 2011).
Title: Norway Terrorist Considered Using Anthrax In Attacks
Date: July 25, 2011
Source: Bio Prep Watch
Abstract: The 1,500 page document written by Anders Behring Breivik, who was arrested for killing at least 93 people in the recent bombing and shooting spree in Norway, contains calculations of how much anthrax would need to be used to eliminate "A and B category traitors" in several European countries.
The reference to traitors refers to those individuals who support multiculturalist societies. The identification system was created by European cultural conservatives as a means to identify priority targets for future reprisals after they reassert political control of a given country, according to ClassicalValues.com.
Breivik’s plan, described in the often rambling document, was to obtain anthrax for use in targeted killings he calls “surgically precise.”
“The number of civilian loses will be acceptable for certain targets,” Breivik wrote. “Certain target building complexes can contain as many as 30-50 category A traitors and 200-300 category B traitors with an acceptable amount of civilians.”
Category A traitors include the most influential political, media, cultural and industry leaders, including heads of state. If found guilty of crimes against western values, category A traitors, according to Breivik, would face execution and the expropriation of their property.
Category B traitors include less influential politicians as well as professionals, including journalists, teachers, celebrities, fiction writers and cartoonists. These cases, according to Breivik, are to be considered individually and, though their punishment is also the death penalty, it could be reduced in certain circumstances.
“Multiculturalism, like drugs, is an insidious weapon,” Breivik wrote. “Both destroy the heart and fabric of a people. All ties to family, community, and one's people as a whole are destroyed by these two opiates of the human mind. Both are sponsored from the top down by one world elitists bent upon creating a world order who's power is such that its subjects posses no potential for resistance.
“If you have moral quarrels remember that the multiculturalists are slowly exterminating us indirectly by allowing Islamic demographic warfare in combination with their refusal to ensure sustainable indigenous fertility rates. It is our duty to defend ourselves, our national sovereignty, our peoples and our cultures” (Bio Prep Watch, 2011).
Title: HHS Official Warns of Biodefense Vulnerabilities
Date: July 25, 2011
Abstract: A senior Obama administration biodefense official on Thursday told House lawmakers that the United States does not yet have all the medical countermeasures it might need to respond to an act of biological terrorism, Congressional Quarterly reported (see GSN, June 30).
Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Nicole Lurie spoke during a subcommittee hearing on reauthorization of the 2006 Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act.
Lurie recommended that a nongovernmental investment fund be formed that would deliver money to private firms researching medicines that would be used in the event of a naturally occurring epidemic or bioterror incident. The strategic investor fund would exist separately from the federal government and would operate much like a standard venture capital system.
"The strategic investor initiative would promote the transition of medical countermeasure development and procurement from a 'one bug, one drug' approach to an enterprise capable of responding to any threat at any time," the HHS official said in provided remarks to the House subcommittee.
The thinking behind the proposal is to encourage work on new medicines and systems that might be used to defend against a number of health dangers instead of a single threat.
Lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee appeared to favor the proposal. Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) last week also said he would back the establishment of a strategic investor fund.
Lurie told members of the House panel that renewing the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act would help to address remaining gaps in the production of necessary vaccines and treatments. Both congressional chambers are anticipated to consider reauthorization of the legislation the fall.
The Health and Human Services Department is also backing updating the authority of the Food and Drug Administration to permit the public use of experimental medicines, vaccines and diagnostic tools in an emergency scenario if there are no other licensed remedies available.
Lurie told journalists following the House meeting that it would be advisable to permit emergency use authorizations on an ad-hoc context prior to a catastrophic event. If authorizations are issued only after a biological strike has occurred, response efforts would be slowed down "by days or weeks," she said.
There is adequate informational available to ensure that some treatments do not pose a health threat and are likely to work as intended despite not yet having received FDA licensing. In these instances it would be wiser to issue a standing emergency certification, Lurie said.
The HHS assistant secretary emphasized that she was not advocating a run-around of standard FDA licensing procedures.
"You have to be sure that the product is safe and effective, or likely to be effective. I don't think you want to take that out of the process," Lurie said.
At the House hearing, Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) called for shifting some of the budget of Project Bioshield -- the multibillion dollar federal fund that pays for the acquisition of medical treatments for the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile -- to the Food and Drug Administration for assessment of experimental medical treatments (see GSN, July 13, 2010).
"That was something we'd have to think about," she said. "That was something I hadn't heard before" (Rebecca Adams, Congressional Quarterly, July 21) (NTI, 2011).
Title: Breivik’s Interest In Anthrax And Religious Extremism
Date: August 2, 2011
Abstract: Known as a lone wolf, Anders Behring Breivik planned and killed 77
Norwegians on July 22, 2011. Such a cruel expression of ‘belief’ by an
individual shocked the entire world, particularly since it occurred in
Breivik’s terrorism was an act of intolerance that stemmed from the migration of Muslims to Europe. He has outlined his ideology in a 1,518-page online manifesto 2083 – A European Declaration of Independence. In this manifesto, Breivik reveals his views on politics, culture, history, Marxism, Islam, and so on. He discusses various ‘revolutionary’ concepts and also expresses his views on the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) to bring about a change in the system and society. His manifesto deals with issues related to conventional as well as chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
Particularly alarming is his belief that Anthrax is ‘one of the most effective weapons’ and an instrument to help him achieve his goal. It appears that he neither had expertise in this field nor did he have a stockpile of Anthrax. According to the New York Times, the word Anthrax appears more than 50 times in his manifesto. He discusses the success of Anthrax attacks in the United States post 9/11. He is of the opinion that it should not be difficult to acquire Anthrax spores from the black market. He has also published a photograph of a man (mostly likely of himself) in a protective suit with respirator and a vial and a syringe in his hands. He speculates that any large scale Anthrax attack could kill 200,000 people and feels that this weapon has excellent shock value.
This highlights the necessity for a fresh debate on the otherwise ignored subject of biological weapons. Global concerns about biological weapons have been mainly concentrated on bioterrorism for many years. However, the history of the use of biological agents by non-state actors indicates that radical groups, religious fanatics and even disgruntled scientists have a deep interest in this form of intimidation and violence.
The most prominent case of the successful use of a biological weapon was by the Rajneesh (Osho) cult in the US state of Oregon. The cult had used Salmonella Typhimurium to contaminate salad bars in a particularly locality. Its purpose was not to kill people but make them ill for a few days and thus stop them from voting in local elections. Another instance of a radical group employing weapons of mass destruction was by the Aum Shinrikyo, which released Sarin gas in the Tokyo subway in 1995. This cult had made significant investments in biological weapons as well and had probably experimented with them though without much success. The third prominent instance was the anthrax attacks in the United States in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, which was the handiwork of a disgruntled scientist.
These instances and Breivik’s interest in using Anthrax highlight the
need to expand the debate on biological weapons and bioterrorism to
include the involvement of religious groups and cults; something that
must be undertaken at the 7th Review Conference of the Biological and
Toxic Weapons Convention (BTWC/BWC) scheduled for December 2011.
Hitherto, the primary argument about the threat from biological weapons has been that they may not be the first preference for terrorist groups since their impact is mostly unpredictable. Secondly, terrorist organisations are generally involved in a struggle to gain political power or control over a certain territory; and the use of such WMDs could turn world opinion against them and thus impede the achievement of the groups’ final goal. Moreover, a covert state supporter (if any) may not support such an attack because of geopolitical compulsions. Thirdly, since terrorist organisations gain legitimacy from their supporters, the use of biological weapons could result in the death of those who support and sympathise with their cause. Lastly, most terrorist organisations have a ‘copy cat’ syndrome. Since no terrorist organisation has used biological weapons as the primary mode of attack till date, it seems unlikely that there will be any such attack in the future.
However, such arguments do not deter terrorists and if they decide to opt for this form of terrorism they will. None of the above arguments holds good for a lone wolf like Breivik or for that matter any other radically motivated group in any part of the world. Consequently, it is important to take the threat of use of biological weapons by radical groups and cults seriously. Their occasional acts of terrorism are likely to have major consequences particularly if these involve the use of biological weapons.
The future use of biological weapons, which are easy to carry and disguise, cannot be ruled out. Norwegian police found 5000 kilograms of fertiliser in Breivik’s farm house. While the actual purpose of such a large stockpile is not known, it might well have been for the manufacture of ‘conventional’ bombs or for developing some form of chemical weapons. Breivik’s terrorism highlights the fact that there are always such people in every society who could use weapons of mass destruction in general and biological weapons in particular (IDSA, 2011).
Title: Bird Flu Rears Its Head Again
Date: August 29, 2011
Source: UN (United Nations)
Abstract: FAO today urged
heightened readiness and surveillance against a possible major resurgence of
the H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza amid signs that a mutant strain of
the deadly Bird Flu virus is spreading in Asia and beyond, with unpredictable
risks to human health.
The H5N1 virus has infected 565 people since it first appeared in 2003, killing 331 of them, according to WHO figures. The latest death occurred earlier this month in Cambodia, which has registered eight cases of human infection this year -- all of them fatal.
Since 2003 H5N1 has killed or forced the culling of more than 400 million domestic poultry and caused an estimated $20 billion of economic damage across the globe before it was eliminated from most of the 63 countries infected at its peak in 2006.
However, the virus remained endemic in six nations, although the number of outbreaks in domestic poultry and wild bird populations shrank steadily from an annual peak of 4000 to just 302 in mid 2008. But outbreaks have risen progressively since, with almost 800 cases recorded in 2010-2011.
Virus Spread in both Poultry and Wild Birds
At the same time, 2008 marked the beginning of renewed geographic expansion of the H5N1 virus both in poultry and wild birds.
The advance appears to be associated with migratory bird movements, according to FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth. He said migrations help the virus travel over long distances, so that H5N1 has in the past 24 months shown up in poultry or wild birds in countries that had been virus-free for several years.
"Wild birds may introduce the virus, but peoples' actions in poultry production and marketing spread it," Lubroth noted.
Recently affected areas are to be found in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Bulgaria, Romania, Nepal and Mongolia.
A further cause for concern, Lubroth said, is the appearance in China and Viet Nam of a variant virus apparently able to sidestep the defences provided by existing vaccines.
In Viet Nam, which suspended its springtime poultry vaccination campaign this year, most of the northern and central parts of the country -- where H5N1 is endemic -- have been invaded by the new virus strain, known as H5N1 - 22.214.171.124.
Viet Nam's veterinary services are on high alert and reportedly considering a novel, targeted vaccination campaign this fall. Virus circulation in Viet Nam poses a direct threat to Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia as well as endangering the Korean peninsula and Japan further afield. Wild bird migration can also spread the virus to other continents.
"The general departure from the progressive decline observed in 2004-2008 could mean that there will be a flareup of H5N1 this fall and winter, with people unexpectedly finding the virus in their backyard," Lubroth said.
The countries where H5N1 is still firmly entrenched – Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia and Vietnam – are likely to face the biggest problems but no country can consider itself safe, he said.
"Preparedness and surveillance remain essential," Lubroth underlined. "This is no time for complacency. No one can let their guard down with H5N1" (UN, 2011).
Date: August 30, 2011
Source: Fox News
Abstract: The bacteria that caused the Black Death, which wiped out millions in mid-14th century Europe, may be extinct, according to a new study.
Hoping to resolve some controversy regarding the cause of the Black Death, researchers examined more than 100 samples taken from bodies buried in London during that time.
"The Black Death was caused by the bacterium Yersinia Pestis — the one responsible for current plague outbreaks. This settles the controversy surrounding the causative agent. Although we cannot rule out, at this stage, that there was another co-circulating strain," said study author Hendrik Poinar, a biological anthropologist at McMaster University in Ontario.
However, the genetic sequence of the bacteria in the London bodies differed from the sequences of modern versions of Y. pestis, suggesting that the strain responsible for the Black Death is likely extinct, the researchers said.
The bubonic plague, which is the infection that spread during the Black Death pandemic, persists in the world today. Small outbreaks emerge in the southwestern United States every few years, and in 2009, the Chinese government quarantined a town in Qinghai province for 10 days after an outbreak there.
But differences between plagues has led some to speculate that the Black Death was the result of an agent other than Y. pestis bacteria, with some even saying it more closely resembled infections of the Ebola virus, based on historical descriptions.
The researchers found that people who died during the Black Death had genes of Y. pestis, while the bodies of people who had died earlier nearby lacked these genes.
"I think it's an elegant study and it's very intriguing," Dr. Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan, said of the study. "It's really neat, really hard to do, but there were millions who succumbed to the black plague." The 109 bodies examined in the new study represent "a small slice," he said.
Poinar agreed that the new study cannot account for all plague infections. "The follow-up is clearly to get more plague genomes, from other outbreaks, to compare them across both space and time," he told MyHealthNewsDaily.
Forensics goes Medieval
The study helps show that speculation on the causes of past ailments can be put to rest, said Markel, who has written extensively on the Black Death. In this case, he said, he and others can breathe a sigh of relief that their conclusion has been confirmed.
"Before all these disease techniques, you were never proven wrong," he said.
Poinar said he hopes future research in the area will shed light on how the modern incarnations of the bacteria spread and infect people. Some DNA segments in the ancient and modern strains "were identical to some circulating strains today, meaning that we cannot, from this stretch of DNA alone, make any claims as to difference in epidemiology between current and ancient strains."
"This technology will allow for the entire genome to eventually be sequenced down the road, and that may shed light on the differences between past and present epidemics," Poinar said.
But Markel expressed some skepticism at the ability of such research to curb present epidemics entirely.
"We never really conquer germs, we just wrestle them to a draw at best," he said.
it on: The bacteria strain that caused the Black Death is likely
extinct, but its modern relatives continue to cause bubonic plaque
outbreaks (Fox News, 2011).
Title: Scare Tactics Begin: UN Warns Of Asian Bird Flu Resurgence
Date: September 1, 2011
Source: Natural News
Abstract: Autumn is upon us, which means flu season and all of its corresponding
scare campaigns are once again starting to propagate in full force. New
reports from the Associated Press (AP) claim that the H5N1 avian flu
virus, which afflicted 63 countries during its peak spread in 2006, is
once again on the rise, and officials are warning the public to beware
of a rapid resurgence throughout the upcoming winter season.
This year's H5N1 strain is said to have mutated from the previous strain, which resulted in 331 confirmed human deaths since 2003, and is resistant to currently available vaccines (which, as we have written about many times before, do not work anyway). China and Vietnam are now facing a potential outbreak of the strain, and it is poised to potentially spread to various other countries as well, say officials.
According to a 2008 study published in the journal PLoS Pathogens, however, the H5N1 avian flu virus has already mutated into a form capable of growing in human upper respiratory tracts, and eventually killing them. So if another resurgence of the newly mutated strain takes place in the next few months, it could be even more deadly.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the biggest potential spread of H5N1 is not necessarily just wild birds, either, but also "people's actions in poultry production and marketing," an admission that sheds light on the filthy reality of the industrial food system and its tendency to spread disease.
"The general departure from the progressive decline (of H5N1) in 2004 - 2008 could mean that there will be a flare up of H5N1 this fall and winter, with people unexpectedly finding the virus in their backyard," said FAO's Juan Lubroth to the AP.
Such warnings may be nothing more than an organized scare campaign to incite fear into the public psyche. But in the event that another major flu outbreak does manifest itself, you can help prepare yourself naturally by maintaining high levels of vitamin D, loading up on antiviral "superfoods" like spirulina and garlic, and drinking plenty of mineral rich, fluoride free water (Natural News, 2011).
Title: Rep. Rogers Raises Concerns Of Al-Qaeda Acquiring Libyan Chemical Weapons
Date: September 8, 2011
Source: Bio Prep Watch
Abstract: Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has approached the White House with concerns that al-Qaeda will acquire Libyan weapons that were once controlled by dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Rogers said that the time frame to secure loose weapons "is rapidly closing" and he has urged the White House to quickly dedicate additional resources and work with NATO allies and the Libyan National Transitional Council on the problem, Bloomberg reports.
“We need to be doing more to secure these weapons systems now,” Rogers, a former Army officer and FBI special agent, said, according to Bloomberg. "(The U.S. has) special capabilities. There is nobody better who can get their hands on this stuff, account for it and render it safe.”
Rogers said that the U.S. could have been more aggressive in safeguarding the munitions in Iraq and that Libya's "systems are even more lethal."
According to a White House fact sheet, Libya's chemical stockpiles of 11.3 metric tons of mustard agent and 845 metric tons of chemical precursors are stored in non-weapon form inside steel containers and secure bunkers in a remote part of Libya.
Rogers said that Qaddafi might not have disclosed all his chemical and biological weapons.
“We just don’t know," Rogers said, according to Bloomberg. "There had been sarin gas and other things.”
The U.S. has provided $3 million to two international humanitarian organizations – the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action in Geneva and the Manchester, U.K.-based MAG International – specializing in removing weapons and munitions. To date, the teams have cleared more than 450,000 square meters of land and destroyed 5.8 tons of munitions.
Qaddafi's vast military and industrial complex has been kept under constant surveillance by NATO aircraft since the rebellion began in February, according to U.S. officials (Bio Prep Watch, 2011).
Title: Will 'Contagion' Wake Up Our Politicians?
Date: September 14, 2011
Source: Fox News
Abstract: “Contagion” is one of the few Hollywood thrillers that actually debunks conspiracy theories. In most thrillers, the bad guys work for a multinational corporation, or maybe the CIA or the Pentagon. But in this film, the villain is a naturally occurring killer virus. What? You mean the enemy isn’t big business? Or big government?
Yes, that’s right, the mass-killing enemy
comes straight from the bosom of Mother Nature. And so “Contagion” poses
a challenge to the political ideology of both the left and the right.
The new film, which opened last Friday, is a certified blue-chip production, featuring Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, and a huge ensemble cast--including even a cameo by CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta. And it is doing well at the box office, ranking #1 over the weekend.
Perhaps the success of “Contagion” has to do with its message, which syncs up with the 9/11 commemorations past weekend.
Rather than trying to censor research because its inevitable release might be harmful, we ought to be having a frank, open discussion about its implications. The correct questions that scientists, national security and political leaders, and the public ought to be asking are: How difficult was it to perform these experiments? Could they be replicated in the hands of criminals or would-be terrorists? What have these experiments shown us about the likelihood that the H5N1 "bird flu" virus will naturally evolve into this terrifying form? Are we safer, or less secure, today due to the post-2001 anthrax-inspired proliferation of high-security biological laboratories?
What Genie Has Popped from Which Bottle?
In 1997, the form of influenza now dubbed H5N1, or avian flu, emerged in Hong Kong, killing six people and forcing the destruction of every chicken in the protectorate. The virus had been circulating in aquatic migratory birds and domestic poultry flocks within mainland China for at least two years, but it was not recognized as a unique entity until the Hong Kong outbreak. The spread of H5N1 was temporarily halted by Hong Kong health official Margaret Chan, who ordered the mass culling of the area's poultry. Chan now serves as director general of the World Health Organization (WHO).
The virus reappeared in Thailand in 2003, killing flocks of chickens and ducks that November and infecting humans in January 2004 in Thailand and Vietnam. The H5N1 virus mutated in 2005 as it spread among various species of birds migrating through northern China, giving avian flu the capacity to infect a far greater range of bird species, as well as mammals -- including human beings. That year, human and animal outbreaks of H5N1 appeared across a vast expanse of the globe, from the southernmost Indonesian islands, up to central Siberia, and as far west as Germany.
By mid-2011, H5N1 had become a seasonal occurrence in a swath of the world spanning 63 countries of Asia, the Pacific Islands, Eastern and Western Europe, the Middle East, and North and West Africa. Since its 2004 reappearance, H5N1 has sickened at least 565 people, killing 331, for an overall mortality rate of 59 percent. The Ebola virus can be more lethal -- as high as 90 percent -- but is not terribly contagious. Rabies, in the absence of vaccination, is 100 percent lethal, but it can only be transmitted through the bite of an animal. It is estimated that in pre-vaccine days, the smallpox virus killed about a third of the people it infected.
Only influenza holds the potential of both severe contagion and, in the case of H5N1, astounding mortality rates, ranging from about 35 percent in Egypt (where the virus circulates widely) to more than 80 percent in parts of Indonesia (where 178 confirmed cases have resulted in 146 deaths). The virulence of H5N1 is far higher than that seen with any other influenza, including the notorious 1918 flu that killed an estimated 62 million people in less than two years. (Some reckonings of 1918 death tolls in poor countries that lacked epidemic reporting systems, such as China, India, and all of Africa, put the final mortality at 100 million, when the world population was just 1.8 billion and commercial air travel did not exist.) Six years ago, the spread of H5N1 sparked concern in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the White House, and many of its counterpart centers of government worldwide. Tremendous efforts ensued to kill infected domestic poultry, rapidly identify outbreaks, and pool scientific resources to track and scrutinize various H5N1 strains as they emerged. Some 400 million domestic birds were killed between 2004 and 2010, at an estimated global cost of $20 billion. It all seemed to work: By the end of 2008 the annual number of poultry outbreaks of H5N1 had shrunk from 4,000 down to 300.
In fearful anticipation, health and virus experts also watched for signs that the virus was spreading from one person to another. Although there were clusters of victims, infected families, and isolated person-to-person possible infections, the dreaded emergence of a form of humanly contagious H5N1 never occurred. By 2010, many leading virologists concluded that H5N1 was a terrifying germ -- for birds. The confident consensus, however, was that the mutations that avian flu would have to undergo to be able to spread easily from one human lung to another's were so complex as to approach evolutionary impossibility.
By mid-2011 the global response to avian flu had grown lethargic and complacent. Predictably, in the absence of vigilant bird-culling and vaccination efforts, trouble emerged as outbreaks mounted across Asia. Between January 2010 and the spring of 2011 more than 800 outbreaks were dutifully logged by government officials worldwide. In late July, a 4-year-old girl died of H5N1 in Cambodia, making her the seventh avian flu mortality in a country that had been free of the microbe for a long time.
On Aug. 29, the Food and Agriculture Organization sounded a mutation alarm, noting a new strain of the virus, dubbed H5N1-126.96.36.199, had surfaced in wild and domestic bird populations in Vietnam. Vietnam was one of six countries (including Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, China, and India) in which avian flu had become endemic, meaning it permanently circulated among local and migratory birds. A week later, a Boston biotech company called Replikins announced the discovery of a mutant combinationof the avian H5N1 flu and the so-called "swine flu" that spread swiftly among people during the 2009 global pandemic. Replikins's claim implied that the highly virulent bird flu could gain the capacity to spread rapidly between people by absorbing infection genes from the contagious-but-wimpy H1N1 swine influenza.
Although these announcements sparked a minor panic in Asia, further scrutiny of both the 188.8.131.52 and Replikins's claim left the WHO convinced that no new human threat loomed. In early September, a collective sigh of public-health relief was expelled.
Three days later, the conference of the European Scientists Fighting Influenza (ESWI, the Romance-language acronym) convened in Malta, opening with scientific evidence of current pandemic potentials. The stage was set by renowned University of Hong Kong flu scientist Malik Peiris, who described with exquisite precision which genetic factors made the "swine flu," H1N1, highly contagious between pigs, ferrets, humans, and other mammals. Peiris offered evidence that the 2009 H1N1 pandemic started among American pigs but had been circulating in swine populations throughout North America and China for decades before making the mutational steps that sparked global spread.
Fouchier, the Dutch scientist, who has tracked H5N1 avian flu outbreaks in Indonesia for years, then suggested that vaccines used for years on chicken farms are now failing. Perhaps under selective evolutionary pressure, forms of vaccine-resistant H5N1 have appeared, Fouchier told the Malta meeting, adding, "We discovered that only one to three substitutions are sufficient to cause large changes in antigenic drift." In other words, naturally occurring, infinitesimal changes in the flu's genetic material are sufficient to render vaccines useless.
Fouchier went on to describe what he dubbed his "stupid" experiment of infecting ferrets in his lab sequentially with H5N1. One set of the animals would be infected, and then Fouchier would withdraw nasal fluid from the ferrets and use it to inoculation-infect a second set of animals. After 10 repeats, the superkiller H5N1 emerged, spreading through the air rapidly, killing 75 percent of the exposed animals. (Because Fouchier's work has not been published, accounts of the experiment vary, based on reporting from those who were present to hear his Malta speech. In some accounts the superlethal bird flu resulted from only five serial passages in ferrets -- a number far more likely to occur randomly in nature.)
"This virus is airborne and as efficiently transmitted as the seasonal virus," Fouchier told the Malta crowd, adding that he had identified which specific five mutations were necessary. Only five minute switches in RNA nucleotides -- the most basic elements of genetics -- were needed.
"This is very bad news, indeed," a sober Fouchier concluded.
The five dire mutations (technically, single nucleotide changes occurring inside two genes) have been separately found in influenza viruses circulating in the world. The actual mutations are not, therefore, unique. Fouchier's only innovation was in making all five occur inside the same virus at once. The more famous flu researcher from Erasmus, Albert Osterhaus, told reporters that what is done in the lab can happen in nature, adding, "Expect the unexpected.… The mutations are out there, but they have not gotten together yet."
Under questioning in Malta, Fouchier said his ferret form of H5N1 would certainly spread among humans and is "one of the most dangerous viruses you can make."
Shortly after Fouchier's announcement, Kawaoka, the University of Wisconsin scientist, let it be known that he, too, has made an airborne-transmissible H5N1 that readily spreads among mammals. Kawaoka's efforts were jointly executed by teams he heads at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Tokyo. No further details regarding this effort are publicly available, though Kawaoka has submitted a paper detailing his techniques and discoveries for review by the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, as has Fouchier. Both scientists wish to publish their work in major scientific journals.
Scientists are deeply divided regarding publication. "If I were a journal editor and I received an article that said how to make a bioweapon, I'd never publish it, but that would be based on self-regulation, not any government restriction," anthrax expert and retired Harvard University professor Matt Meselson told an interviewer. "I've never heard of a case where the government has restricted publication. I don't think it would work." But fellow anthrax researcher Paul Keim, who chairs the advisory board, told reporters, "I can't think of another pathogenic organism that is as scary as this one. I don't think anthrax is scary at all compared to this."
Perhaps the most intriguing comments came from Australian scientist Ian Ramshaw, who suggested that the Fouchier or Kawaoka papers could serve as bioterrorism blueprints: "As a researcher you do the good thing, but in the wrong hands it could be used for evil. In this case I'm not so worried about bioterrorism. It's the disgruntled researcher who is dangerous -- the rogue scientist," Ramshaw warned, according to the Canberra Times. Ten years ago Ramshaw accidentally made a superkiller form of mousepox, the rodent version of smallpox, in his Australian National University laboratory. He injected lab mice with the pox virus to test out a completely unrelated contraceptive vaccine, but the experiment transformed the virus into a deadly monster with a 100 percent fatality rate. In 2001 Ramshaw's work spurred high-level concern about the use of genetically modified smallpox by a rogue nation or terrorist group, launching the vigorous, multibillion-dollar post-9/11 American smallpox vaccine effort, as detailed in my new book, I Heard the Sirens Scream.
Within two years of Ramshaw's accidental mousepox creation, separate labs deliberately created viruses. In 2002, researchers at the State University of New York in Stony Brook built a polio virus from its genetic blueprint. This constituted a proof of principle, demonstrating that in a sufficiently skilled laboratory, all that is required to make a deadly virus is its nucleotide sequence -- details of which are now routinely published for everything from anthrax to the Ebola virus. At the time, Eckard Wimmer, the lead scientist on the project, warned: "The world had better be prepared. This shows you can re-create a virus from written information."
The following year another scientific team deliberately mimicked Ramshaw's mousepox accident, not only with the rodent form of pox but also with pox viruses that infect rabbits and cows. And in 2005 the CDC famously joined fragments of RNA from thawed tissue of victims of the 1918 flu, re-creating the original superkiller.
The Genie Is Out of the Bioterrorism and Pandemic Bottles: How Scared Should We Be?
This April, a team of CDC scientists published word that it had tried to manipulate H5N1 genes to render the avian virus a human-to-human spreader, but could not make it work. The team used a different method from the one apparently deployed by Fouchier and Kawaoka's team: The CDC group directly altered the genes of viruses, rather than sequentially infecting ferret after ferret. The CDC concluded, "An improvement in transmission efficiency was not observed with any of the mutants compared to the parental viruses, indicating that alternative molecular changes are required for H5N1 viruses to fully adapt to humans and to acquire pandemic capability."
That seemed comforting.
But in 2007 a different CDC team did to the SARS virus what Fouchier apparently has done to H5N1, with lethal results. Just as Fouchier produced highly infectious bird flu in ferrets by sequentially infecting one group of animals after another, the CDC group passed the SARS virus through one group of mice after another. Mice are normally harmlessly infected by SARS, which cannot cause disease in the rodents. But after 15 such passages, the team got a 100 percent fatal form of the virus. Moreover, it was an airborne killer, sniffed out the air. (SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, killed more than 900 people worldwide in 2002 and 2003, mostly in China.)
The University of Minnesota's Michael Osterholm, an expert on both bioterrorism and pandemics, thinks that understanding how animals might pass a virus like SARS or H5N1 among themselves, in a fashion in nature that mimics the laboratory experiments, may hold a vital key to predicting future epidemics. "We don't want to give bad guys a road map on how to make bad bugs really bad," he recently told Sciencereporter Martin Enserink. Health experts, however, do applaud the controversial research because it shows which mutations are necessary and at least one way they might arise.
There is no way to put a number on the probability of such natural mutational events. Are the odds 50-50 that a deadly, contagious form of H5N1 will wreak havoc across the world in the next 10 years? Anybody who claims to answer such a question, or pooh-pooh the asking of it, is a fool or a charlatan. It is an unknown.
What About the Proliferation of High-Security Biology Labs: Good or Dangerous?
Before the anthrax mailings terrorized America in 2001, there were only a handful of top security Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) labs in the world and a few dozen of the next-level BSL-3 facilities. The CDC and U.S. Army had the two largest pre-2001 BSL-4 labs, which nested like matryoshka dolls, with one layer of security inside another and another. The innermost labs required identity clearance, scientists wore protective space suits, and all air and water were specially cleansed and filtered to prevent accidental escape of Ebola, smallpox, and dozens of other superlethal organisms. The world's most dangerous known microbes were carefully kept under lock and key in a clearly identified handful of BSL-4 labs.
Even the less-secure BSL-3 labs required that scientists undergo security checks, wear spacesuits, and breathe through special respirators. Their numbers were finite and known, and researchers working on influenza, anthrax, or other deadly-but-treatable microbes represented a fairly small pool of scientists.
Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, however, the number of such laboratories has proliferated spectacularly, not only inside the United States, but all over the world. In 2001 the United States had five "centers of excellence," as they were called, devoted to bioterrorism. By the end of 2002, more than 100 such centers were named, amid a record-breaking expansion in the numbers of laboratories and scientists studying anthrax, smallpox, Ebola, botulism, and every other germ somebody thought could be weaponized. After 9/11, the European Union saw the number of BSL-4 labs grow from six to 15. In the United States: from seven to 13. Canada built a BSL-4 complex in Winnipeg. Just as possession of rockets in the 1950s or nuclear power plants in the 1960s seemed the marks of a serious state power, so having BSL-3 and BSL-4 labs suddenly became a mark of national significance in the world -- an achievement to which countries should aspire. This year India opened its first BSL-4 facility, and it is rumored that Pakistan is now building one.
The proliferation of high-security labs means a great deal more than the mere construction of physical buildings. Where 10 years ago a finite pool of predominantly senior scientists toiled in such facilities, today thousands of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, technicians, and senior researchers work in facilities stocked with humankind's worst microbial foes. Accidents have occurred with alarming regularity since the lab proliferation commenced, as I have detailed in my book. The facilities also constitute locations wherein individuals could theoretically execute experiments to produce supergerms without risking harm to themselves or others, regardless of whether the intent were noble, as appears to be the case for Fouchier and Kawaoka, or whether the intent were evil, as was the case with those responsible for the anthrax mailings.
Since 2005, several flu experiments conducted under BSL-3 conditions have raised eyebrows, as critics have charged the work should have been done inside the far more difficult but secure BSL-4 conditions. The original 1918 virus was "revived" from a long-frozen human body and grown inside a BSL-3 lab. Experiments were done on the 1918 virus in an effort to discover what genes made it so lethal. And the research that the CDC team, Fouchier, and Kawaoka performed on the H5N1 virus was all done in BSL-3 labs.
In September, when news of the Fouchier work started to appear in science magazines, Thomas Inglesby of the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh told New Scientist, "Small mistakes in biosafety could have terrible global consequences." His Pittsburgh colleague D.A. Henderson concurred: "The potential for escape of that virus is staggering."
According to the FBI, the culprit behind the 2001 anthrax mailings was Bruce Ivins, who worked in the U.S. Army's BSL-3 and BSL-4 labs in Maryland. Whether or not the FBI caught the right man -- a point of controversy among scientists -- it remains extraordinary that the response to what the agency calls "Amerithrax" is the creation of more such facilities in which more "Ivins" might toil.
The questions that arise from these H5N1 experiments have nothing to do with publication of the Fouchier and Kawaoka papers. We should be asking what we can do to ensure that such terrible man-made viruses never accidentally escape their laboratory confines or are deliberately released. And we should heed the question posed in the recently released Hollywood thriller Contagion when a Homeland Security character queries a CDC scientist:
"Is there any way someone could weaponize the bird flu? Is that what we're looking at?"
"Someone doesn't have to weaponize the bird flu," the CDC scientist responds, "The birds are doing that" (Foreign Policy, 2011).
Bio-Security Officials Sound Warning After Scientists Create Deadly New Strain
Of Bird Flu
Date: December 20, 2011
Source: Fox News
Abstract: The U.S. government is sounding the alarm after reports that Dutch scientists have created a highly-contagious and deadly airborne strain of bird flu that is potentially capable of killing millions, The Independent reported Tuesday.
The U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity is currently analyzing how much of the scientists' information should be allowed to be published—given the inherent risks of having the information fall into the hands of terrorists or rogue states.
"The fear is that if you create something this deadly and it goes into a global pandemic, the mortality and cost to the world could be massive," a senior US government adviser told The Independent.
Scientists, too, are questioning whether the science should ever have been performed in the first place.
"There are people who say that the work should never have been done, or if it was done it should have been done in a setting where the information could be better controlled," a source close to the US biosecurity board told the newspaper.
"With influenza now it is possible to reverse engineer the virus. It's pretty common technology in many parts of the world. With the genomic sequence, you can reconstruct it. That's where the information is dangerous."
The mutated form of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza was created by a Dutch team of scientists led by Ron Fouchier, of Rotterdam's Erasmus Medical Centre, and the researchers are now hoping to publish the details of how they developed the new strain.
The new virus differs from H5N1—which is only known to be transmitted between humans who have very close contact with each other—because it can be transmitted through the air in coughs and sneezes.
Fouchier, who declined to answer The Independent's questions, said in a statement that it only took a small number of mutations to change the avian flu virus.
"We have discovered that this is indeed possible, and more easily than previously thought. In the laboratory, it was possible to change H5N1 into an aerosol-transmissible virus that can easily be rapidly spread through the air," he said (Fox News, 2011).
Title: Alarm As Dutch Lab Creates Highly Contagious Killer Flu
Date: December 20, 2011
Source: The Indepenent
Abstract: A deadly strain of bird flu with the potential to infect and kill millions of people has been created in a laboratory by European scientists – who now want to publish full details of how they did it.
The discovery has prompted fears within the US Government that the knowledge will fall into the hands of terrorists wanting to use it as a bio-weapon of mass destruction.
Some scientists are questioning whether the research should ever have been undertaken in a university laboratory, instead of at a military facility.
The US Government is now taking advice on whether the information is too dangerous to be published.
To see the graphic: The last outbreak - A deadly virus even before the latest twist
"The fear is that if you create something this deadly and it goes into a global pandemic, the mortality and cost to the world could be massive," a senior scientific adviser to the US Government told The Independent, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"The worst-case scenario here is worse than anything you can imagine."
For the first time the researchers have been able to mutate the H5N1 strain of avian influenza so that it can be transmitted easily through the air in coughs and sneezes. Until now, it was thought that H5N1 bird flu could only be transmitted between humans via very close physical contact.
Dutch scientists carried out the controversial research to discover how easy it was to genetically mutate H5N1 into a highly infectious "airborne" strain of human flu. They believe that the knowledge gained will be vital for the development of new vaccines and drugs.
But critics say the scientists have endangered the world by creating a highly dangerous form of flu which could escape from the laboratory – as well as opening a Pandora's box for fanatical terrorists wishing to make a bio-weapon.
The H5N1 strain of avian influenza has killed hundreds of millions of birds since it first appeared in 1996, but has so far infected only about 600 people who came into direct contact with infected poultry.
What makes H5N1 so dangerous, though, is that it has killed about 60 per cent of those it has infected, making it one of the most lethal known forms of influenza in modern history – a deadliness moderated only by its inability (so far) to spread easily through airborne water droplets.
Scientists are in little doubt that the newly created strain of H5N1 – resulting from just five mutations in two key genes – has the potential to cause a devastating human pandemic that could kill tens of millions of people. The study was carried out on ferrets, which when infected with influenza are the best animal "model" of the human disease.
The details of the study are so sensitive that they are being scrutinised by the US Government's own National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, which is understood to have advised American officials that key parts of the scientific paper should be redacted to prevent terrorists from using the information to reverse-engineer their own lethal strain of flu virus.
In an unprecedented move, the Biosecurity board is believed to have told the US Government that there is a serious possibility of potentially dangerous information being misused if the full genetic sequence of the mutated H5N1 virus were to be published in open scientific literature.
A senior source close to the Biosecurity board, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Independent that the National Institutes of Health, which funded the work, is about to make a decision on how much of the scientific paper on the H5N1 super strain should be published, and how much held back.
"There are areas of science where information needs to be controlled," the scientist said. "The most extreme examples are, for instance, how to make a nuclear weapon or any weapon that is going to be used primarily to kill people. The life sciences really haven't encountered this situation before. It's really a new age."
The study was carried out by a Dutch team of scientists led by Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, where the mutated virus is stored under lock and key, but without armed guards, in a basement building.
Dr Fouchier, who declined to answer questions until a decision is made on publication, said in a statement released on the university's website that it only took a small number of mutations to change the avian flu virus into a form that could spread more easily between humans.
"We have discovered that this is indeed possible, and more easily than previously thought. In the laboratory, it was possible to change H5N1 into an aerosol-transmissible virus that can easily be rapidly spread through the air," Dr Fouchier said. "This process could also take place in a natural setting.
"We know which mutation to watch for in the case of an outbreak and we can then stop the outbreak before it is too late. Furthermore, the finding will help in the timely development of vaccinations and medication."
A second, independent team of researchers led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the universities of Wisconsin and Tokyo is understood to have carried out similar work with similar results, which has underlined how easy it is to create the super virus with a combination of deliberate mutations and random genetic changes brought about by passing avian flu manually from the nose of one ferret to another.
Some scientists have privately questioned whether such research should have been done in a university department that does not have the sophisticated anti-terrorist security of a military facility. They also point out that experimental viruses kept in seemingly secure laboratories have escaped in the past to cause human epidemics – such as a 1977 flu outbreak.
"There are people who say that the work should never have been done, or if it was done it should have been done in a setting where the information could be better controlled," said the source close to the biosecurity board.
"With influenza now it is possible to reverse engineer the virus. It's pretty common technology in many parts of the world. With the genomic sequence, you can reconstruct it. That's where the information is dangerous," he said.
"It's scary from a number of different angles. You want to have the vaccines and therapeutics in place, and you need to have a much information as you can about a particular virus, but you also worry about it from a biosecurity perspective."
Profile: Researcher Behind the Science: Ron Fouchier
The Dutch virologist started as an expert in HIV, having received his PhD from the University of Amsterdam in 1995. After research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, he began a new career in the virology department at Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, studying the molecular biology of the influenza A virus.
At a conference in Malta in September, he described his work as something that was "really, really stupid," but ultimately useful for the development of vaccines (The Independent, 2011).
Title: It’s Too Late To Keep Details Of Deadly Flu A Secret! U.S. Scientists Say Details Of Virus Created In Laboratory ‘Are Already Out There’, Sparking Renewed Terror Alert
Date: December 22, 2011
Source: Daily Mail
Abstract: A super-strain of bird flu that could infect and wipe out millions will not be published by the virologist developers.
scientists who created ‘probably one of the most dangerous viruses you
can make' have agreed to leave out details on how to construct the virus
from published reports. But the scientists warned that the data had
already been shared with hundreds of researchers.
The decision was made after the US government warned releasing the details could be kill millions of people if it was used as a weapon of biological warfare.
Their research focused on what it took to convert bird flu – which can kill more than half of those infected but does not spread easily – into a highly contagious virus.
Developer Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands, said this knowledge would be vital for the development of vaccines and drugs to prevent a possible pandemic.
But others argue the virus should never have been created – and warn the potential if it escaped from the lab is ‘staggering’. There are also fears the recipe will be seized on by terrorists looking for a biological weapon.
National Science Advisory Board for
Biosecurity chairman Paul Kiem, an anthrax expert, said: ‘I can’t think
of another pathogenic organism that is as scary as this one. I don’t
think anthrax is scary at all compared to this.’
The results, which were to be published in U.S. journal Science, were impeded in an unprecedented move by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, ABCNews reported.
The group is an independent advisory committee to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other government agencies.
'Due to the
importance of the findings to the public health and research
communities, the NSABB recommended that the general conclusions
highlighting the novel outcome be published, but that the manuscripts
not include the methodological and other details that could enable
replication of the experiments by those who would seek to do harm,' the
committee said in a statement.
In response, Erasmus Medical Center said: 'The researchers have reservations about this recommendation but will observe it.'
In terms of how the virus will be used, Mr Fouchier said: 'We know which mutation to watch for in the case of an outbreak, and we can then stop the outbreak before it is too late.'
'Furthermore, the finding will help in the timely development of vaccinations and medication.'