Disclaimer: As of 1 February 2008, the Sunshine Project is suspending its operations. Although this website is no longer updated, it remains online as an archive of our activities and publications from 2000 through 2008. If you have any questions, please contact us by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your interest.
1. Oversight of Research Involving Biological Weapons Agents
Regulation, Committees, Safety, and the Law (and Lack Thereof)
2. Transparency and Public Accountability in Biodefense: Freedom of Information and Access to Research Information
Since the late 1990s, US spending on biological weapons agent research has increased roughly tenfold. As of early 2006, more than 16,000 persons are registered to handle biological weapons agents ("select agents") in the US, and hundreds of facilities are conducting biodefense projects. The trend is acontinued dangerous expansion in the number of people and places conducting experiments with bioweapons agents. Although the meteoric growth of research in the US is greater than that other countries, internationally the number of high containment labs and the amount of experimetnation with bioweapons agents is also growing. The expansion have safety and security implications locally, nationally, and internationally.
Because so much research with biological weapons agents is dual-use (that is, potentially has both offensive and defensive implications), transparency at biodefense labs is critical to gaining public confidence and the trust of other countries in the peaceful intent of biodefense research. Especially when it comes to experiments using genetic engineering and related new technologies. But too often, policymakers opt for secrecy or pay only lip service to the need for openness. This, in turn, is breeding a dangerous world of biological mistrust for us and, especially, our children.
To combat secrecy, the Sunshine Project files requests open records laws, such as the Freedom of Information Act and equivalent laws in US states and other countries, to obtain and disseminate information about biodefense research and the (often lacking) systems to ensure its safety and accountability. In an average year we file about 300 such open records and declassification requests, frequently in collaboration with other nonprofit partners. By exercising rights to obtain and publicize information on biodefense projects, the Project seeks to increase transparency and, thereby, safety and security.
3. Civil Society Laboratory Monitoring: Collaborations to Promote Local Laboratory Oversight
Since 2001, the Sunshine Project has worked with a variety of individuals and organizations in communities affected by the dramatic expansion of the US biodefense program. We advise and collaborate with these groups to help them monitor labs and, in some cases, oppose their construction. The Sunshine Project is able to provide subject matter expertise, collaborate using open records laws, and help draw public and media attention to policy and safety issues raised by biodefense research.
Organizations that we have worked with include, among others, the Citizens Education Project (Salt Lake City, UT), Tri-Valley CAREs (Livermore, CA), LabWatch (Seattle, WA), ACE-EJ (Boston, MA), Los Alamos Study Group (Albuquerque, MN) and NukeWatch of New Mexico (Los Alamos).
4. Smallpox Virus Stocks/Final Eradication of Variola Virus
Although the smallpox virus (Variola) was eliminated from nature in the late 1970s, the job of eradicating this virus was never entirely finished. Hundreds of viable samples (collectively called "stocks") of smallpox virus, perhaps the most deadly disease in human history, remain in storage at laboratories in Atlanta, Georgia, and near Novosibirsk, Russia. Although the world's governments have repeatedly resolved to destroy all remaining smallpox stocks, the US and Russia have failed to do so. In fact, they have recently expanded their activities with the virus, including proposals to genetically-engineer it and unauthorized transfers of smallpox DNA.
In collaboration with Third World Network, the Sunshine Project is working to oppose the expansion of dangerous research involving variola virus and to achieve the final step in its eradication - the destruction of all remaining virus stocks. Please visit www.smallpoxbiosafety.org to learn more about this program.
5. "Non-Lethal" Biological and Chemical Weapons: Preventing the Development and Use of Drugs as Weapons
Some of the medicines that are used to put people to sleep for surgery and to relieve pain, aqmong other applications, can also be used as a weapon. Long-standing fears about (secret) military interest in such weapons were dramatically confirmed by the disaster at the Dubrrovka Theatre in Moscow in 2002, when more than 100 hostages (as well as guerillas) were killed by a "non-lethal" agent pumped into the theater by Russian special forces. Other applications of such biochemical weapons could be on enemy troops, rioters, freedom fighters, terrorists, political protesters, and even prisoners. The development of these weapons presents a grave threat to both the Biological and the Chemical Weapons Conventions, which frequently overlap in this area.
Since 2000, the Sunshine Project has been a leading source of information on often secretive programs to develop so-called non-lethal biochemical weapons. We have worked to document interest in such weapons in countries including France, the United Kingdom, and - especially - the United States. Our Freedom of Information Act discoveries about these weapons have repeatedly made international headlines. In addition to obtaining information and publicizing these dangerous programs, the Sunshine Project is seeking ways to ensure that the treaty prohibitions on these weapons are upheld.6. Reinforcing Treaties: The Bioweapons Convention and Beyond
Debate remains young about how the wave of recent advances in biotechnology - especially genetic engineering - relate to peace and disarmament. The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) came into force nearly a quarter century ago. Techniques mastered since then can be used to make biological weapons (BW) more virulent, easier to handle, and harder to fight.
The adoption of a verification protocol to the BTWC would add teeth to international law; but the détente era global legal framework on biological warfare is stressed as never before. During the last decade, military researchers have altered the genes of lethal bacteria to design strains that can withstand antibiotic treatment and are undetectable by usual sensors. Civilian researchers have developed viral and fungal pathogens that kill cultivated crops and spread uncontrollably. Genetic alteration of plant traits like fertility may find a use in economic warfare.
The Project has initiated a long-term research and awareness-building program to reinforce global consensus against BW. The Project will publish its results and develop policy options for governments to avoid hostile use of biotechnology, including linkages to other important instruments such as the Cartagena Protocol and standards-setting bodies.
7. Environmental Modification: From Agent Orange to Agent Green
The Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (ENMOD) prohibits using the environment as a weapon in conflicts. Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1976, ENMOD entered into force in 1978. This little-known treaty has a remarkable past. ENMOD was inspired by global opposition to Agent Orange and other environmental modification technologies used in the Vietnam War. It was also influenced by 1970s fears that technology was rapidly reaching the point that deliberate catastrophic environmental changes could be triggered as a weapon for hostile use.
8. Agent Green: The US Biological Weapons Project that Refuses to Die
Biological weapons are being developed to kill illicit crops of coca, opium poppy, and cannabis in forced crop eradication programs. The pathogenic fungi were developed principally by the US for use in narcotics-producing areas globally; but especially Asia and South America. The agents threaten to legitimize agricultural biowarfare, are environmentally unsafe, and threaten wild plants and agriculture in fragile and biodiverse ecosystems. They also endanger human health and, most importantly, the global ban on biological weapons.