Is this why the US is so wedded to GE?
Secret US germ tests threat to treaty
The Times (London), WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 05 2001
FROM ROLAND WATSON IN WASHINGTON
THE Pentagon has secretly built a germ factory capable of producing enough deadly bacteria to kill millions of people, it was revealed yesterday. The project is one of a number of covert biological initiatives pursued by the United States over recent years. One proposal awaiting final approval is to manufacture a more potent version of anthrax using genetically engineered biological agents. Last night, Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, confirmed that the Administration planned to proceed with these tests.
The disclosure suggests that the US has been severely testing the spirit, and possibly the letter, of the 1972 convention on biological weapons. The treaty forbids nations from developing or acquiring weapons that spread disease, but allows work on vaccines and other protective measures.
The White House insisted yesterday that all research conducted by military and CIA scientists in the field of biological warfare was “purely defensive”. The projects, which were started under the Clinton Administration and are set to be expanded under President Bush, are designed to allow the US to defend itself in the face of germ warfare, according to government officials.
Ari Fleischer, Mr Bush’s spokesman, said: “The United States has operated for a period of time a programme that was designed to protect our servicemen and women particularly from the hazards of chemical and biological warfare.” However, the disclosure, in The New York Times yesterday, is likely to deepen the diplomatic rifts between Mr Bush and other Western governments already smarting from what they regard as his high-handed approach to international protocols. Mr Bush has angered significant sections of international opinion by threatening to dismantle the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in favour of his vision of a missile defence shield. He has also refused to sign the Kyoto treaty on climate change.
Yesterday’s disclosure was seen as one reason why Mr Bush had also refused to sign up to a draft agreement strengthening the 29-year-old convention on biological weapons, even though it had been ratified by 140 other countries. By signing, the US would have had to reveal if, and where, it was conducting defensive germ research.
The first in a series of projects was begun in 1997, according to The New York Times, whose report was timed to coincide with the imminent publication of a book entitled Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War. The impetus for the research was to mimic the steps that a state or terrorist would take to amass a biological arsenal, allowing the US military to better understand the threat, according to Administration officials who spoke to the authors. It led the Defence Threat Reduction Agency, an arm of the Pentagon, to build its own germ factory in the middle of the Nevada desert.
At Camp 12 of the Nellis Air Force Range, scientists constructed a 50-litre cylinder capable of cultivating germs out of materials bought commercially from hardware stores. The aim was to assess how easy it was for a rogue state or terrorist group to construct one of its own without being detected. In a separate CIA programme, codenamed Clear Vision, agents built and tested a model of a Soviet-designed bomb that they feared could make its way on to the black market.
In a third programme the Pentagon has drawn up plans to engineer genetically a more potent version of the bacterium that causes anthrax. The project would be designed to assess whether the anthrax vaccine given to US servicemen and women was effective against such a superbug. The projects led to rows among officials about whether they violated the 1972 treaty. Legal advice taken by the CIA suggested the research was within its bounds, but others disagreed.
An official from the Clinton White House complained that they had not been kept fully informed of developments. However, after they became aware of the extent of the projects, the White House took its own legal advice and concluded that the treaty was not being violated.
Copyright 2001 Times Newspapers Ltd.