Fort Detrick Poses a Threat to Frederick, Md.--and to Humanity
The NIH budget for medical research priorities has been slashed to help pay for bioweapons research--yet any bioterror threat pales in significance compared with diseases which already kill tens of thousands.September 28, 2006, 2006--A huge expansion of bioweapons research at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, is being planned as part of President Bush's $8 billion annual budget for bioweapons research (www.usamriid.army.mil/eis). This expansion is ill advised for the following reasons:
1. NO LOCAL SECURITY: “You could walk out with anything,’ researcher says,” “Scientist faults lab’s security;” (Frederick Post, 1/21/02): “Interviews with more than a dozen current and former Fort Detrick scientists provided a rare account of what they described as a lax security system, that could have done little to prevent an employee from smuggling the ingredients for biological terrorism out.” Also, see “Detrick lost pathogens: Army audit,” (front page, Frederick Post, 1/21/02): “Lab specimens of anthrax spores, Ebola virus and other pathogens disappeared during a turbulent period of labor complaints and recriminations among rival scientists...” Also, see “Beyond the breach,” (front page, Frederick Post, 5/13/06): “During a two-week period in April four years ago, officials at the Army’s lead biodefense laboratory at Fort Detrick discovered anthrax spores had escaped carefully guarded suites into the building’s unprotected areas.” Also, see “Risky Business,” (Frederick Post, front page, 5/14/06): “Employees at USAMRIID, the Army’s leading biodefense laboratory, filed 161 biological defense mishap reports between April 1, 2002 and Dec. 1, 2005.” Dangerous pathogens, some with no cure, could escape in the event of accident, terror attack or an inside job like the October 9, 2001 anthrax attack on Democratic Senators. The latter intimidation helped stampede the Patriot Act passage and terrorized Congress into authorizing war (www.freefromterror.net).
2. NO MEDICAL PRIORITY: In March, 2005, 750 US biologists signed a letter protesting what they see as the excessive study of bioterror threats. "The diversion of research funds represents a crisis for NIH-supported microbiological research," the letter states. Signers include two Nobel laureates and seven past presidents of the American Society for Microbiology. Real medical threats are going unfunded, such as staphylococcus, which is now largely unaffected by penicillin and other antibiotics (“Superbugs,” USA Today, 5/11/06). The NIH budget for medical research priorities has been slashed to help pay for bioweapons research--yet any bioterror threat pales in significance compared with diseases which already kill tens of thousands: (“Rising Diabetes Threat Meets a Falling Budget," NYT,5/16/06). Dr. Muin Khoury, Director of Disease Prevention at the CDC, stated in February 2003, ”Public health is in disarray, and this emphasis on terrorism is eroding the public health infrastructure even more.”
3. NO CREDIBLE BIOTERROR THREAT: Milton Leitenberg, a veteran arms control advocate and senior scholar at the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies, shows in his recently published Assessing the Biological Weapons and Bioterrorism Threat that billions of federal expenditures have been appropriated in the absence of virtually any threat analysis, and that the risk and imminence of the use of biological agents by nonstate actors/terrorist organizations “has been systematically and deliberately exaggerated.” It is critical to recognize that the only bioattack in American history, namely the anthrax letters of October 2001, almost certainly was generated by our own bioweapons establishment. Dr. David Franz, former director of the Army's bioweapons facility at Detrick (USAMRIID): “People don’t understand how difficult it is to pull off a biological attack.” Dr. C.J. Peters, formerly a senior virologist at USAMRIID: For a chemical or biological attack with mass casualties, “You have to have a state or the equivalent.”
4. NO MONEY: Federal deficit spending is pushing the national debt to beyond bankrupting levels. Military bases and weapons systems are being cut as branches vie for funding. So, cut Ft. Detrick!
5. NO WATER: Frederick has just contracted to help pay for an expensive pipeline 30 miles to the Potomac River (containing dioxin, PCBs, mercury and fecal bacteria). During droughts, D.C. can bar others from drawing from the Potomac, leaving Frederick to compete with Fort Detrick for Monocacy River water, also inadequate during droughts. Larger water bills are on their way, not to speak of higher taxes for more schools, roads and waste treatment. Already, many residents can no longer afford to live here.
6. NO LEGALITY: The former chief American negotiator of the Biological Weapons Convention, James Leonard, has warned that the administration’s initiative could be interpreted as “development” of biological weapons in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). This explains the Bush administration’s rejection of the International Protocol on Inspection and Verification of biological weapons activity, supported by practically all of the other 130 nations that are party to the BWC.
7. NO INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: Testing clouds of genetically modified pathogens on animals is worrisome because if we found these things elsewhere in countries we were suspicious of, we would not say they had a necessary biodefense program. One might conclude that the US bioweapons program could ignite similar efforts in other countries, fueling a biological arms race and the proliferation of genetically modified pathogens. If diseases with no vaccines or cures escape anywhere in the world, national boundaries would not mean much, as the HIV/AIDS epidemic shows. The US bioweapons program therefore threatens our global and national security.
8. NO LIMIT: Germ warfare agents can be genetically modified and each modification may require a different vaccine or countermeasure. Since Fort Detrick's stated mission is to anticipate biological threats, Fort Detrick plans to genetically modify diseases on which to test vaccines. This is a slippery slope to a bottomless pit of unlimited new diseases with no known cures, which could plague the earth till the end of time, if they escaped containment by accident, smuggling or terror attack. These technologies may very well end up under the control of the “enemy,” technologies that the “enemy” would never be able to develop on its own.
The rampant corruption associated with the failures of reconstruction in Iraq and post-Katrina portends the development of a disease protection racket.9. NO INTEGRITY: The situation is ripe for biotech corporate profiteering, and political bribery, to further warp the democratic process with pork and even germ scares for profit. The rampant corruption associated with the failures of reconstruction in Iraq and post-Katrina portends the development of a disease protection racket.
10. NO CREDIBILITY: The difference between defensive and offensive R&D is defined by intention. There is little reason to believe that the Bush administration's intentions with respect to expansion of bioweapons facilities are purely defensive. The Army has had to admit that it has been using chemical weapons in the current war in Iraq. Such use of white phosphorus and napalm is in clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which the U.S. is a party. Some history: In the 1980s, the U.S. Department of Commerce licensed 70 biological exports to Iraq. Saddam was our ally then, warring against our enemy Iran. Licensed exports included approved shipments to Iraq of weapons grade botulin poison and at least 21 batches of lethal strains of anthrax. (www.democracyrising.us/content/view/30/74/)
The Administration ignores the Convention Against Torture, rejects the Land Mines Treaty, and violates the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Treaty Against Militarization of Space. Why should anyone trust their germ warfare intentions in Frederick?11. NO TRUST: The Administration lied this nation into the war on Iraq, mismanaged the Katrina disaster, rejects World Court decisions, ignores the Convention Against Torture, opposes the Koyoto treaty on greenhouse gases, boycotted the South African Conference on Racism, defends and finances Israel's UN violations, rejects the Land Mines Treaty, violates the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Treaty Against Militarization of Space. This Administration has violated the UN Charter by aggression and occupation of a country which posed no threat to the US. The United Nations Chairman Kofi Annan has called this US war "illegal." After all this, why should anyone trust their germ warfare intentions in Frederick?
Barry Kissin is an attorney practicing in Frederick, Md. Richard Ochs, a retired printer, is a longtime Baltimore peace and environmental activist.
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This story was published on September 28, 2006.