US admits germ war tests in Britain
By Charles Aldinger
** Editor’s Note: Saddam Hussein isn’t exactly alone in using chem/bio weapons against his own people. Below this article is a compilation of articles on the subject of America’s use of chemical/biological weapons on civilians at home and abroad that I sent out last June to the Dissident Voice email list. Of course you’ll find none of this stuff in mainstream discussion of Iraq, but it does sorta color the debate wouldn’t you say?
— Sunil Sharma
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has acknowledged it carried out a sweeping Cold War-era test programme of chemical and germ warfare agents in Britain and North America.
An unknown number of civilians were exposed at the time to “simulants”, or what were then thought to be harmless agents meant to stand in for deadlier ones, the Defense Department said. Some of those were later discovered to be dangerous.
“We do know that some civilians were exposed in tests that occurred in Hawaii, possibly in Alaska and possibly in Florida,” said William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.
Also exposed or possibly exposed were civilians in or around Vieques, Puerto Rico, and an unknown number of U.S. service personnel, said Michael Kilpatrick of the Pentagon’s Deployment Health Support Directorate.
As many as 5,500 members of the U.S. armed forces were involved, including 5,000 who took part in previously disclosed ship-board experiments in the Pacific in the 1960s, the Pentagon said.
So far, more than 50 veterans have filed claims related to symptoms they associate with exposure to the tests, the Department of Veterans Affairs said.
The tests of such nerve agents as Sarin, Soman, Tabun and VX were carried out from 1962 to 1973 both on land and at sea “out of concern for our ability to protect and defend against these potential threats,” a Pentagon statement said on Wednesday. The tests were co-ordinated by an outfit called the Deseret Test Center at Fort Douglas, Utah.
The reports amounted to an acknowledgement of much wider Cold War testing of toxic arms involving U.S. forces than earlier admitted by the Pentagon
“During this period there were serious and legitimate concerns about the Soviet Union’s chemical and biological warfare programme,” Winkenwerder added at a Pentagon news briefing.
But the tests also had applications to the offensive chemical and biological weapons stocks then maintained by the United States, he said. President Richard Nixon ordered an end to U.S. offensive chemical and biological weapons programmes in 1970.
Britain and Canada joined the United States in a series of tests on their military proving grounds from July 1967 to September 1968, a document released by the Pentagon said.
These joint exercises, known as Rapid Tan 1, 2 and 3, were designed to investigate “the extent and duration of hazard” following a Tabun, Soman or other nerve agent attack, a fact sheet said. These agents, along with VX, were sprayed in both open grassland and wooded terrain at the Chemical Defence Establishment in Porton Down, Wiltshire, the document said.
Similar tests took place at the Suffield Defence Research Establishment in Ralston, Canada, the Pentagon said.
“The weapons systems germane to this test were explosive munitions (Soman-filled), aircraft spray, rain-type munitions (using both Tabun and Soman), and massive bombs (Tabun- and Soman-filled), the fact sheet said.
Both Canada and Britain made public information about these tests years ago, Kilpatrick said, citing word received from their governments as part of the process of co-ordinating the U.S. release of information.
But in Ottawa, Canadian Defense Minister John McCallum told reporters he had just learned of the experiments.
“My understanding is that this was … for the purposes of defence against biological or chemical weapons … My understanding also is that no human beings were deliberately exposed to any of these agents.” he said.
The department said it had contracted with the Institute of Medicine, a private group with ties to the National Academy of Sciences, to carry out a three-year, $3 million (1.92 million pounds) study of potential long-term health effects of the tests conducted aboard U.S. Navy ships.
The reports on the U.S. land tests in Alaska, Hawaii, Maryland and Florida did not all involve deadly agents and were used to learn how climate and a battle environment would affect the use of such arms, the Pentagon said.
The information was released amid U.S. charges that Iraq has continued building weapons of mass destruction despite disarmament requirements at the end of the 1991 Gulf War.
Iraq flatly denies having such weapons programmes.
Within minutes, Sarin can trigger symptoms including difficult breathing, nausea, jerking, staggering, loss of bladder-bowel control and death.
Extremely lethal VX is an oily liquid that is tasteless and odourless and considered one of the most deadly agents ever made by man. With severe exposure to the skin or lungs, death usually occurs within 10 to 15 minutes.
Chutzpah and Hypocrisy: The US and Chem/Bio Warfare
Articles Compiled by Dissident Voice News Service
June 1, 2002
1) Sailors Sprayed With Nerve Gas in Cold War Test, Pentagon Say
2) Military Used Nerve Gas in ’60s Tests
3) Preparing for Germ Warfare: US Performing Secret Experiments in Case of Attack
4) Documents Reveal Plan to Develop Offensive BioWeapons
5) Last Minute Sabotage: US Wrecks Bioweapons Treaty Conference
6) US Report Mum on Cuban “Bio-Threat”
7) Fidel Castro, Bioterrorism and the Elusive Quote
8) Inside Iraq: In Basra, effects of Gulf War linger, and US is blamed
9) Agent Orange All Over Again: EPA Stalled Resolution on Spraying in Colombia
10) Colombia: Studies Show Coca Spraying Harms Health and Environment
11) Test Tube Republic: US Chemical Warfare Testing in Panama
12) Why Has the FBI Investigation into the Anthrax Attacks Stalled?
13) US “Non-Lethal” Weapons Research: Genetically Engineered Anti-Material Weapons
** Editor’s Note: We hear constantly that the US must invade Iraq and take down Saddam Hussein because he’s a murderous villain who’s even committed the ultimate horror: gassing his own people. What these reports bend over backwards to ignore is that the US supported Saddam Hussein in the 1980s when he was committing his worst crimes, and even escalated that support after the Halabja massacre in 1988, when Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurdish village in Mosul Province, killing over 5,000. The US supplied Iraq with a veritable witch’s brew of the very chemical and biological agents we’re now citing as proof of Saddam’s perfidiousness . Yet history reveals that the moral outrage and saber-rattling of the politicos and their press stenographers is nothing less than high-horse hypocrisy.
As this compilation shows, the US has an unsavory history of chem/bio warfare use against others and in experiments against its own people. Not touched on in this digest are the now forgotten revelations of a few years ago regarding US Cold War medical experiments involving the injection of plutonium in unsuspecting patients in hospitals across the US, including tests on retarded children. For a detailed history, see The Plutonium Files: America’s Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War by Eileen Welsome (The Dial Press, 1999). Nor do I include discussion of US Army medical experiments on prisoners at Holmesburg Prison in Pennsylvania in the 1960s and early 70s, which included the use of radioactive isotopes and dioxin. See Allen M. Hornblum’s Acres of Skin: Human Experiments at Holmesburg Prison (Routledge, 1998). Nor do I include the ongoing, horrifying legacy of America’s saturation of South Vietnam with 19 million gallons of the dioxin-based Agent Orange from 1962-71. The US is now using chemical and biological agents in the so-called Drug War in Colombia, and it’s become clear that the use of these agents are exacting a destructive human and environmental toll there (see items 9 and 10). Nor does this compilation touch on the shameful history of how the US shielded from prosecution leading Japanese war criminals who conducted hideous medical experiments on Chinese prisoners and biological warfare tests on Chinese cities, in order to gain access to the fruits of their grim research. See Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman’s The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets from the Early Cold War and Korea (Univ. of Indiana Press, 1998).
Meanwhile, the US is TODAY developing its offensive biological warfare program (in contravention of international law) and designing a new generation of nukes (having scrapped earlier treaties with the Russians), yet there are no calls for international inspectors to visit US facilities. Such is the privilege of being the world’s leading rogue state: “Do as I say, not as I do, or else.”
— Sunil Sharma
1) Sailors Sprayed With Nerve Gas in Cold War Test, Pentagon Says
By THOM SHANKER with WILLIAM J. BROAD
New York Times; May 24, 2002
WASHINGTON, May 23 — The Defense Department sprayed live nerve and biological agents on ships and sailors in cold war-era experiments to test the Navy’s vulnerability to toxic warfare, the Pentagon revealed today.
The Pentagon documents made public today showed that six tests were carried out in the Pacific Ocean from 1964 to 1968. In the experiments, nerve or chemical agents were sprayed on a variety of ships and their crews to gauge how quickly the poisons could be detected and how rapidly they would disperse, as well as to test the effectiveness of protective gear and decontamination procedures in use at the time.
Hundreds of sailors exposed to the poisons in tests conducted in the 1960’s could be eligible for health care benefits, and the Department of Veterans Affairs has already begun contacting those who participated in some of the experiments, known as Project Shipboard Hazard and Defense, or SHAD.
“We are committed to helping every veteran who took part in these tests,” said Anthony J. Principi, the secretary of veterans affairs. “If we find any medical problems or disabilities we can attribute to Project SHAD, we’ll ensure these veterans receive the benefits they deserve.”
Of the six tests, three used sarin, a nerve agent, or VX, a nerve gas; one used staphylococcal enterotoxin B, known as SEB, a biological toxin; one used a simulant believed to be harmless but subsequently found to be dangerous; and one used a nonpoisonous simulant.
Michael Kilpatrick, a medical official in the office of the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said it was unclear whether sailors had been intentionally exposed to the germ and chemical agents without the benefit of protective masks and gear. Also uncertain, he said, was whether any had given their permission to become human guinea pigs in medical experiments with the deadly substances.
“When you read the overarching plans for the testing, people were to be protected,” he said in an interview. “But when we get to individual reports, we do not see things like informed consent or individual protection. We don’t have the records for what, if any, protection was given to people.”
The implication, he said, is that in some cases sailors may have been exposed to the chemical and germ dangers.
“To me,” Dr. Kilpatrick added, “the important thing now is that the Defense Department and veterans affairs are cooperating for the benefit of the veteran.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs has notified 622 of about 4,300 military personnel, mostly from the Navy, identified as participants in Project SHAD. The process of identifying the veterans who participated in the program began in September 2000 under pressure from Representative Mike Thompson, Democrat of California, who was responding to claims by veterans that they had suffered health damage from the tests.
“This information is significant since we now know that our military personnel were exposed to sarin gas and VX nerve agent, which are both highly lethal, and other agents that are known carcinogens,” Mr. Thompson said.
While noting that the documents made public today by the Pentagon were the third installment of fact sheets on Project SHAD, bringing to 12 the number of tests that had been declassified, he demanded that the Defense Department release additional information on the 113 secret SHAD tests believed to have been planned.
“It is only fair to inform service members, some of whom may not even know of their exposure, of the specific harmful agents used in SHAD tests,” Mr. Thompson said.
Leonard A. Cole, an expert on biological weapons at Rutgers University who wrote “Clouds of Secrecy,” a book on the government’s germ testing program, said the new disclosures were troubling but grimly logical.
“They’re important because they add to a whole pool of knowledge about what the military was doing,” he said. “But they don’t shock me. We’ve known that the Army had exposed human subjects to biological agents,” though always with permission.
“If there was no informed consent,” Dr. Cole added, “that would be a big deal. I know of no large-scale testing on human subjects with chemical or biological weapons that was performed without some level of informed consent.”
A number of the SHAD tests used harmless simulants that were meant to mimic and trace the dissemination of real agents. But others used deadly chemicals and germs.
One test, named “Fearless Johnny,” was carried out southwest of Honolulu during August and September of 1965. The George Eastman, a Navy cargo ship, was sprayed with VX nerve agent and a simulant to “evaluate the magnitude of exterior and interior contamination levels” under various conditions of readiness, as well as study “the shipboard wash-down system,” according to the new documents.
VX gas, like all nerve agents, penetrates the skin or lungs to disrupt the body’s nervous system and stop breathing. In small quantities, exposure causes death.
A 1964 test named Flower Drum Phase I, conducted off the coast of Hawaii, sprayed sarin and a chemical simulant onto the same ship and into its ventilation system while the crew wore various levels of protective gear. In phase 2 of the test, VX gas was sprayed onto a barge to examine the ship’s water wash-down system and other decontamination measures, according to the documents.
Another experiment, Deseret Test Center Test 68-50, was intended to determine the casualty levels from an F-4 Phantom jet spraying SEB, a crippling germ toxin. The test was done in the Marshall Islands in September and October of 1968. The jet sprayed the deadly mist over part of Eniwetok Atoll and five Army light tugs, the documents said.
SEB, a report added, “is not generally thought of as a lethal agent” but instead as an incapacitating agent that can knock out people for one or two weeks with fever, chills, headache and coughing. The SEB came from a bacteria that causes a common type of food poisoning.
Deseret Test Center Test 69-32, done southwest of Hawaii from April to June 1969, used two germs that were thought to be harmless, Serratia marcescens and Escherichia coli, the germ of the human gut. But Serratia marcescens in time turned out to be dangerous.
“It is an opportunistic pathogen,” the report said today, “causing infections of the endocardium, blood, wounds, and urinary and respiratory tracts.”
The documents said the Pacific test of the two germs, which were meant to simulate dangerous biological agents, was meant to see how sunlight influenced their survival. A military aircraft sprayed the germs on five tugs, “each converted to serve as an oceangoing sampling platform and laboratory,” the documents said.
2) Military Used Nerve Gas in ’60s Tests
By MATT KELLEY
Associated Press; May 23, 2002
WASHINGTON (AP) – The U.S. military used two kinds of nerve gas and a biological toxin in tests on Navy ships in the 1960s, the Pentagon (news – web sites) acknowledged for the first time Thursday. Officials said veterans harmed by exposure to the agents could be eligible for health benefits.
The four tests in the Pacific from 1964 to 1968 used either the deadly nerve agent sarin, the nerve gas known as VX, or a biological toxin that causes flu-like symptoms, Defense Department statements said.
The tests, conducted on barges, tugs, destroyers and other ships, were to test the weapons themselves, protective gear and decontamination procedures.
Sketchy records of the tests and ships’ logs do not indicate any of those involved in the tests suffered serious health problems at the time, said Dr. Michael E. Kilpatrick, a Defense Department health official.
“It may not be the best, but we believe if anything catastrophic happened or if there were large numbers of ill people, it would be in the log,” said Kilpatrick, who was involved in reviewing the records. “There’s no indication on any of these tests that that had occurred.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs (news – web sites) has mailed letters to about 600 veterans who may have taken part in the tests, VA Secretary Anthony Principi said Thursday. Any who were harmed by the chemicals could be eligible for VA benefits.
“There’s always been a question whether veterans and active-duty service members became ill as a result of that testing,” Principi said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It’s been controversial, so we were sending out letters to veterans to ask them to take a physical and to see if they are entitled to any benefits.”
The Pentagon released details about six tests from a 1960s program to evaluate chemical and biological weapons and defenses against them. The Defense Department had agreed two years ago to begin releasing details about the tests and contacting participants after pressure from Rep. Mike Thompson (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., and veterans who participated.
“I’m somewhat alarmed by it,” Thompson said. “It seems to me enough time has passed that someone over there should have known who was involved and what was going on.”
The tests also used chemicals and bacteria meant to simulate weapons, as well as fluorescent or radioactive chemicals used as tracers, the Defense Department said. One type of bacteria used to simulate germ weapons was later found to cause infections, and a separate test where that germ was sprayed on San Francisco is believed to have caused an infection that killed a man.
The tests were among 113 conducted as part of a project called SHAD, or Shipboard Hazard and Defense. The Pentagon has acknowledged using chemical and biological simulants before, but has not admitted using the actual weapons agents themselves.
Sarin, the deadly nerve gas used by a cult to kill a dozen people in a Tokyo subway in 1995, was used in a 1964 test code-named Flower Drum Phase I off the coast of Hawaii. Both sarin and a chemical simulant were sprayed onto the USS George Eastman from a turbine on the ship’s bow and injected into the ship’s ventilation system, the Pentagon statement said.
Crew members wore gas masks during the tests, and those who worked most directly with the sarin wore chemical protection suits, the statement said.
Monkeys were used as test subjects during the exercises using nerve gas and were later “sacrificed” to determine whether they were exposed to the weapons, Kilpatrick said. Although records do not say how potent the sarin was, the fact that participants used protective gear indicates it was in a harmful or deadly form, Kilpatrick said.
Tests in 1964 and 1965 used VX, another deadly nerve gas. For the “Fearless Johnny” tests in 1965, the George Eastman was sprayed with VX and a simulant to test decontamination procedures. In the Flower Drum Phase II tests, VX gas tagged with radioactive phosphorus was sprayed on a barge to test decontamination procedures
That second test used a compound that was 90 percent VX — “the most lethal nerve agent” and one that can linger for weeks, Kilpatrick said. But there is no evidence any people were on the barge sprayed with VX, which was towed nearly a half-mile behind a tugboat, he said.
A 1968 test used staphylococcal enterotoxin Type B — a poison produced by bacteria that causes flu-like symptoms such as fever, muscle aches, cough, vomiting and diarrhea.
During that test, the toxin was sprayed from tanks on airplanes over five tugboats, the USS Granville S. Hall and some parts of the Eniwetok Atoll in the Pacific. The test was to evaluate how the toxin — meant to incapacitate soldiers for up to two weeks without killing them — could be spread from the air.
The Granville S. Hall also acted as a support vessel for the tests using nerve gas.
3) Preparing for Germ Warfare
U.S. Performing Secret Experiments in Case of Attack
By John McWethy
ABC News; May 28, 2002
Editor’s Note: Shouldn’t we Submit to International Inspections? Would we take Saddam seriously if he said suspected facilities were simply part of a “defensive effort” as the US is claiming about ours? And don’t give me that “moral equivalency” bullshit!
CAMP 12, NEVADA TEST SITE, Nev., Sept. 4 — In a remote corner of the Nevada desert, a highly restricted area once used to test nuclear bombs, the U.S. government has been running a secret experiment called Project Bachus.
It is a small germ warfare factory, set up inside an abandoned government building. U.S. officials say they built it to better understand how to detect similar operations in places like Iraq or Afghanistan or even by terrorists here at home.
The factory, built by the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, has been brought to full production for several weeks on two occasions — in 1999 and again in 2000. Technicians grew several pounds of a harmless bacterium with characteristics similar to deadly anthrax.
“A terrorist could easily grow anthrax in a facility like this,” Jay Davis, who was DTRA director at the time the factory was built, said in an interview at the one-time classified facility, “and produce enough quantity in a covert delivery to kill, say, 10,000 people in a large city.”
The DTRA team bought all materials for the small-scale laboratory from local hardware stores and the Internet. Included in their shopping list was a 50-liter fermenter purchased “used” from overseas. “Commercial item. Off the shelf,” Davis said. “Easy to find.”
At no time did any of the purchases cause law enforcement to be suspicious, Davis added.
Asked if this was how a terrorist group might put together such a laboratory, Davis said: “A terrorist group would choose to do this, yes … This is the size of thing you would be afraid a non-state group would do, either people in our country or people in some other country. This is fairly concealable.”
The primary reason for conducting the experiment was to place sensors outside of the building to create what the intelligence community calls a “signature,” according to intelligence sources. Once in operation, technicians measured heat changes, emissions that could be sampled in the air and soil as well as patterns of energy consumption.
“The ultimate product is knowledge,” Davis said. Other officials say the primary customers for the knowledge were the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency, both agencies responsible for detecting an operation like this in other countries. Officials say the FBI also was given data from the project.
And according to officials who supervised the project but asked not to be identified, what is so frightening about this top-secret project is that it shows that with the right technical knowledge, it is surprisingly easy to build and operate a small germ warfare factory. And worse, even with the most sophisticated sensors, it is extremely difficult to detect.
The project was conducted in such extreme secrecy that some worry it might be misunderstood and seen as a violation of the international treaty that bans making germ weapons.
“I think there is a very delicate line that has to be drawn between the need to keep some kinds of information secret and the need to allay suspicions about what the country is up to,” said Judith Miller, a reporter for the New York Times and co-author of a new book on biological warfare called Germs.
“People overseas will think that the United States may be secretly conducting an offensive weapons program, that we may be secretly trying to develop biological weapons,” she said.
As for the Bush administration, Miller said: “I think that this administration wants to not only expand these projects, but intends to keep most of them secret.”
Miller and other experts on biological weapons have been concerned that the supersecret U.S. projects would be misunderstood by other governments and might lead those governments to develop offensive biological weapons.
But the Pentagon agreed to show ABCNEWS this once-secret project. Sources say it’s part of an effort to anticipate a threat that has the potential to kill on a scale only nuclear weapons could match.
4) Documents Reveal Plan to Develop Offensive BioWeapons
Pentagon Violates Bioweapons Act
by Edward Hammond
Counterpunch; May 24, 2002
Three Pentagon documents proposing development of offensive biological weapons have been turned over to the US Department of Justice, the US government law enforcement agency.
Two of the documents are from the US Naval Research Laboratory and the US Air Force’s Armstrong Laboratory. These two documents propose anti-materiel biological weapons and were described in the Sunshine Project’s news release of May 8. On May 10th, in response to a Sunshine Project request, the National Academies of Science (NAS) released another US government proposal for offensive anti-material biological weapons. The third proposal is from the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (INEL). The three documents have been turned over to the US Department of Justice (DOJ) accompanied by letters from the Sunshine Project requesting United States Attorney action pursuant to the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989.
The Third Biological Weapons Proposal: On May 10th, the National Academies released “Biofouling and Biocorrosion”, a 1994 document from the National Security Programs Office of the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (INEL), a facility of the US Department of Energy. In the paper, INEL proposes US development of offensive biological weapons that destroy materials. Like the Air Force and Navy proposals discussed on May 8th, the INEL document has recently been distributed to government officials by the Marine Corps-directed Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program (JNLWP) and in 2001 was submitted for consideration by the National Academy of Sciences Panel “An Assessment of Non-lethal Weapons Science and Technology” (NAS Study NSBX-L-00-05-A).
In “Biofouling and Biocorrosion”, INEL specifically proposes “selection of particularly active [microbe] strains” and “consideration of genetic techniques for further optimization and control”. INEL also proposes “investigation of probable scenarios for [microbe] employment” and development of “organisms with faster rates of degradation and production of fouling agents, as well as novel methods for introducing the organisms to their targets.” This proposal is available on the Sunshine Project website for independent analysis.
US Attorney Contacted: In two letters, one on 16 May and another on 23 May, the Sunshine Project has provided copies of three documents to Mr. Johnny Sutton, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Texas. They are: “Biofouling and Biocorrosion” (INEL, Idaho Falls, ID), “Enhanced Degradation of Military Materiel” (US Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, DC), and “Anti-Materiel Biocatalysts and Sensors” (Armstrong Laboratory, Brooks Air Force Base, San Antonio, TX). Letters accompany the documents requesting Department of Justice action pursuant to the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989.
The Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989 is the US law that implements the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), to which the United States is a contracting party. The Act was passed unanimously by both houses of the US Congress and signed into law by President George Bush, Sr. It creates a general prohibition punishable by imprisonment and/or civil penalties on the development, production, stockpiling, transfer, acquisition, or possession of biological weapons (Section 175), and permits the United States Attorney to seek injunctions against preparation, solicitation, attempt, or conspiracy to engage in prohibited conduct (Section 177). The Act defines biological agents to include anti-material agents, specifically including those that cause deterioration of food, water, equipment, supplies, or material of any kind (Section 178).
Edward Hammond is director of The Sunshine Project, based in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at: [email protected]
5) Intent to Kill: Last Minute Sabotage:
U.S. Sabotage Wrecks Bioweapons Treaty Conference
The Sunshine Project
News Release; December 2001
“They treated us like dirt.”, says Europe of the US, “They are liars… In decades of multilateral negotiations, we’ve never experienced this kind of insulting behavior.”
(Geneva and Austin – 7 December 2001) – Deliberate last minute sabotage by the United States has wrecked the 5th Review Conference of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, provoking intense anger from developing countries and harsh criticism from Europe, which accused the United States delegation of being “liars”. The collapse was triggered late this afternoon in Geneva when, on the final day of three weeks of negotiations, the US reversed a commitment made on Thursday, December 6th, by insisting on new resolution language. The language was intended to scuttle the negotiations because the US knew no other country could agree to it.
The US delegation, headed by Under Secretary of State John Bolton, yesterday said it would agree to continuing the mandate of the BTWC “Ad Hoc Group”, which is charged with negotiating mandatory verification mechanisms for the Convention, including international inspections of suspected biological weapons research and production facilities. But only an hour before Review Conference negotiations were scheduled to end, the United States reversed course and tabled what it said was a non-negotiable proposal that terminated the Ad Hoc Group mandate, ending prospects for new legally-binding measures to prevent development of biological weapons. No US allies were notified, much less consulted, on the proposal. Non-Aligned countries, most of whom strongly support the Ad Hoc Group, were shocked.
Criticism of the US came fast and furious. “They treated us like dirt.” said one EU delegate. A delegate from a non-aligned country in Latin America told the Sunshine Project “It’s not only the proposal; but the procedure. It is completely impossible to negotiate with a delegation behaving like the US.” Europe was even harsher. “They are liars” said one angry EU delegate, “In decades of multilateral negotiations, we’ve never experienced this kind of insulting behavior.” Following the US move, the Conference quickly broke up for regional consultations to try to salvage the meeting. The European Union took the unprecedented step of boycotting the meeting of the Western Group.
At 7:12 PM Geneva time today, the Review Conference failed and was formally adjourned until November 11th, 2002 without any decisions being approved.
6) Report mum on bio-threat: U.S. omits reference to Cuba
BY TIM JOHNSON
Miami Herald; May. 22, 2002
WASHINGTON – In a surprising announcement in early May, the Bush administration charged that Cuba maintains a ”limited offensive” biological warfare capability. By Tuesday, the administration seemed to have forgotten about the matter.
A sweeping, 177-page State Department report on trends in global terrorism summed up Cuba in 47 lines, omitting any reference to its reported biological warfare research.
Officials seemed flustered when asked about the omission.
”It doesn’t mean that it’s something we’re not concerned with,” State Department counterterrorism coordinator Francis X. Taylor said.
On Capitol Hill, Otto Reich, the department’s top diplomat to Latin America, appeared initially confused when asked why the report made no mention of Cuba’s bio-weapons research.
”Is it an oversight?” asked Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat.
”I do not know who publishes that particular document,” Reich said moments later when asked about the report, which Dorgan held in his hand.
”It’s your department that publishes it,” Dorgan said. “This is a State Department publication, and we just received it on Capitol Hill.”
Reich countered: “It must be incomplete.”
FOCUS OF PAPER
The U.S. government considers Cuba and six other countries state sponsors of terrorism, and they were the focus of much of the new report, Patterns of Global Terrorism 2001.
The document said Cuban leader Fidel Castro ”has vacillated over the war on terrorism,” and has criticized U.S. counterterrorism actions as “worse than the original attacks, militaristic and fascist.”
Castro allows 20 Basque separatists to reside in Cuba ”as privileged guests,” and offers ”some degree of safe haven and support” to Colombian rebels who engage in terrorism, it said. It noted that Cuba hosted an Irish Republican Army explosives expert, later arrested in Colombia, and helped protect fugitives of a Chilean extremist group, the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front.
Also, numerous U.S. fugitives continue to live on the island, the report says.
In a headline-grabbing speech May 6, John Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control, charged that Cuba is researching biological warfare means and has shared such technology with “rogue states.”
He offered few details, however.
Last week, Secretary of State Colin Powell clarified that the Bush administration doesn’t believe Havana has such armaments: “We didn’t say it actually had some weapons, but it has the capacity and capability to conduct such research.”
President Bush made no mention of the bio-weapons threat Monday, a day focused almost exclusively on his administration’s Cuba policy. Bush offered a policy speech at the White House in the morning, reaffirming the U.S. embargo of Cuba, then cheered on Cuban Americans at a rally in Miami in the afternoon.
In Cuba, National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón ridiculed Bush for meeting with ”terrorists” in Miami and said the U.S. president shouldn’t talk about transparent elections.
”To go to Miami to talk about clean and honest elections and speak against what [Bush] calls electoral fraud, one has to be very brave,” Alarcón said during a round table Monday night, referring to the 2000 election, which Bush won by a slight margin.
In a new sign that the White House faces significant domestic opposition outside of Florida to its Cuba policy, a bipartisan group of 48 former U.S. senators sent a letter to the White House calling for normalization of relations with Cuba.
”We are the only nation in the world to have an economic embargo and boycott of Cuba,” the letter read, “and the clear lesson of recent history is that if economic sanctions are to be successful, they must have strong international support.”
Among the signers were several former senators considered hawks on foreign policy matters, including Republicans Malcolm Wallop and Alan Simpson, both of Wyoming, and Jake Garn of Utah. Democrats included Sam Nunn of Georgia and Lloyd Bentsen of Texas.
email: [email protected]
7) The Problems of an Under Secretary of State
Fidel Castro, Bioterrorism and the Elusive Quote
by Nelson P. Valdes
Counterpunch; May 28, 2002
Last May 6, John R. Bolton, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, gave a presentation at the conservative Heritage Foundation entitled “Beyond the Axis of Evil: Additional Threats from Weapons of Mass Destruction.” Bolton’s thesis was based on two basic points: First, that Cuba had the capacity to produce bio-products that could be used for terrorist against the U.S. And secondly, that the Cuban government had announced its commitment to do precisely so. The scientific community throughout the world, as well as newspapers and former President Jimmy Carter from Cuba, had challenged the Bush administration to show the evidence. The Secretary of State, Colin Powell, even had to downplay Bolton’ s charges.
However, no one has questioned Bolton’s accusation that the Cuban government actually wants to bring harm to the United States. The Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security said that last year, Fidel Castro visited Iran, Syria and Libya and that “at Tehran University, these were his words: ‘Iran and Cuba, in cooperation with each other, can bring America to its knees. The U.S. regime is very weak, and we are witnessing this weakness from close up.'”
One would assume that the United States government with all of its monitoring capabilities would be able to produce those words. Well, Fidel Castro never said those words either in Teheran or anywhere else. I have secured all the transcripts of all the public statments made by the Cuban leader while visiting Iran, and there is nothing that midly resembles the alleged quote. Mr. Bolton, nonetheless, has recycled an invented and false quote that has been used by rightwing Cuban exiles in the last 12 months.
I have been particularly interested in that quote because I have studied Cuba in general and Fidel Castro in particular since 1969. The so-called quote simply did not fit with his political style nor his syntax. Moreover, I am the director at the University of New Mexico of the Program of Academic research on Cuba, and I also preside over the non-profit organization Cuba research & Analysis Group. Both institutions produce a daily service that monitors information on Cuba. Thus, when Fidel Castro went to the Middle East we monitored the media from there as well as from Cuba.
Neither the Iranian news service (IRNA), nor the Cuban media carried the alleged Castro statement. Nor could it be found in files of the BBC Monitoring Service or the U.S. government’s Foreign Broadcasts Information Service.
The Nuevo Herald in Miami published the AFP version (attributing it to AP) with the title “CASTRO PRONOSTICA EN IRAN LA CAIDA DE EU” (Castro Forecasts the Downfall of the US). It then made the rightwing press circuit. And by October 10, 2001 Nancy San Martin in the Miami herald cited the quote. I wrote to her at the time to secure a source. She replied, “You may be interested in the UM paper, which also was included in the article and can easily be obtained from the Institute for Cuban & Cuban American Studies.” Thus, I contacted the University of Miami and the above mentioned “Institute” (which just received one million dollars from the Bush administration). From the Institute I received the paper Castro and Terrorism – A Chronology written by by Eugene Pons with a foreword by Jaime Suchlicki (director of the Institute). On the front page the famous quote appeared. The source provided was Agence France Presse, May 10, 2001.
Actually AFP had two different cables with the quote one sent on May 9th and another on the 10th. When I asked the Institute to provide me with an original Spanish version, I received a note that stated that “As you are probably aware, many news sources from Cuba have modified their original publications to meet current anti-terrorism/violence issues, therefore making it much harder to track down” – which is, to say the least a very odd explanation. After all, print materials do not disappear from libraries and the Google in the Internet has a nifty procedure called “cache” that allows you to see pages that have been deleted. Obviously the story was getting ever more interesting.
With the exception of the two cables from AFP, none of the wire services represented in Iran at the time carried such a statement from Fidel Castro. Although I have contacted AFP they have not provided evidence that the quote was accurate, nor do we know yet the identity of the person who wrote the story. Did he/she understand Spanish while stationed in Teheran?
On May 10, 2002 from Havana President Fidel Castro, went on record to deny that he ever made the statement attributed to him. Who is historically accurate? John Bolton or Fidel Castro? Tne answer is clear: Fidel castro is accurate. But the question then is, how come the Under Secretary of State used a quote that obviously the intelliegnce service knew Fidel castro did not make?
Jimmy Carter asked the Under Secretary to offer evidence of the charge that Cuba was involved in bio-terrorism, perhaps we could add our humble request that he also provide us with the original recording that shows Fidel Castro stating that he wants to bring the United States to its knees. The evidence does not exist.
Nelson P Valdes is a professor of Sociology University of New Mexico. He can be reached at: [email protected]
8) Inside Iraq: In Basra, effects of Gulf War linger, and U.S. is blamed
By Jon Sawyer
St. Louis Post-Dispatch; May 26, 2002
Editor’s Note: To read more about how the US intentionally destroyed Iraq’s water supply and water treatment infrastructure, a form of biological warfare: http://www.progressive.org/0901/nagy0901.html
BASRA, Iraq – When you fly Iraq Air Lines from Baghdad to Basra, you think about more than whether you’ll arrive on schedule.
Every time one of Iraq Air’s green-and-white Boeing 727s heads south, it defies the no-fly zone imposed on 60 percent of Iraq’s territory after the 1991 Gulf War and enforced ever since by warplanes of the United States and the United Kingdom.
In theory, one of the F-18 Hornets that patrol these skies could swoop in at any moment and bring your plane down, though they’ve never attacked commercial airliners.
If the airline bears an anti-U.S. grudge, it wasn’t apparent during a trip earlier this month to Basra, the country’s second-largest city and a major port.
As travelers, most of them Iraqis, settled into their seats, the plane’s public-address system welcomed them with Peter, Paul and Mary’s pop classic, “Leaving On a Jet Plane.”
And that was just a warm-up. Every other selection played during the hourlong flight celebrated a specific American locale – from “Georgia On My Mind” to “Kansas City,” from “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” to “Chicago.”
Upon landing, passengers were treated to the King himself, Elvis Presley, belting out “Viva Las Vegas.”
You won’t find Vegas-style glitter in Basra, a city reeling from two decades of war, sanctions and the destruction of much of its economic, health and social-services infrastructure – and wondering when U.S. warplanes might strike next.
For most Americans, the Gulf War is a fast-receding memory. The sanctions and no-fly zones, a hard-to-follow piece of arcane foreign policy. Iraq itself is reduced, for many, to the threatening persona of Saddam Hussein.
What’s striking in Basra is the Gulf War’s continuing impact on civilians, more than a decade later, and the fact that so many of them hold the United States – not Saddam Hussein – responsible.
It was Saddam who in 1980 plunged Iraq into a reckless and bloody war with Iran, one that ultimately cost the combatants nearly a million lives. His equally reckless 1990 invasion of Kuwait triggered the Gulf War, and in the turbulence that followed Iraq’s defeat, he brutally suppressed a Shi’ite rebellion that began in Basra.
Yet when residents of Basra cite their troubles today, it is U.S. actions they blame most.
Electricity here is routinely off for 10 or more hours a day, thanks to a power grid crippled by U.S.-led attacks in 1991 that also knocked out water and sewage treatment plants. Clean water is available by bottle only, not through local pipes.
Half of the primary health clinics have shut down, according to estimates from UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency. Hospitals are scrambling – coping with mortality rates up 80 percent since 1990, an incidence of congenital birth defects that is 2 1/2 times the prewar rate and doctors salaries that have shrunk to $10 or less per month.
Before the war, Abbas Wasmy made enough money on his date farm south of Basra to support three families. Date prices have plummeted since, from $3 a kilogram in 1990 to 1 cent a kilo. Today all family members work second jobs off the farm.
In Basra’s al-Jumhuriya neighborhood, the drop in status is especially pronounced for the former middle class. One teacher there recalled for visitors the old days: a freezer full of meat, an Italian bed, a couple of television sets, weekly trips to American-style groceries to stock up on food.
The freezer, furniture and televisions have long since been sold, the visitors reported. What’s left are mats for sitting and sleeping in mostly bare rooms, six of them for an extended family of 24.
The al-Jumhuriya neighborhood suffered a further blow on Jan. 25, 1999, when an errant 2,000-pound bomb from a U.S. plane landed, killing 11 and wounding dozens. The Pentagon said the bomb had been intended for an Iraqi air-defense system.
Twenty-two other families in Basra, having lost their homes, now live in buildings owned by the local Catholic church, which also runs two kindergartens where Muslim students predominate.
“All Iraqi people are war victims,” said Archbishop Djibrael Kassab. “So many of them have no jobs, no food, no medicine. It all comes from the war, and for 12 years now they have suffered.”
Kassab’s mother and all of his seven brothers and sisters emigrated to America in the 1970s; most of them now live in the Detroit area. Although Kassab visits frequently – he spent a week in St. Louis last year at a church conference – he has no desire to leave his native land.
“Thank God I’m still Iraqi,” he says with a smile.
“Since 9/11, all Americans have trouble,” Kassab says. “But the troubles are small. They have seen a small bit of what we have experienced for more than 20 years.”
Targets then, and now
With President George W. Bush’s administration considering military action against Iraq again today, the issue of what targets are acceptable has more than academic relevance for people in places like Basra.
Shortly after the Gulf War ended in 1991, a key U.S. policymaker said that it was “perfectly legitimate” for U.S. warplanes to have targeted facilities like electric power plants and water treatment facilities that were critical to civilian life.
The official was Dick Cheney. During the Gulf War he served as defense secretary under Bush’s father, President George Bush.
“If I had to do it over again, I would do exactly the same thing,” Cheney told reporters several months after the war ended.
“There shouldn’t be any doubt in anybody’s mind that modern warfare is destructive, that we had a significant impact on Iraqi society that we wished we had not had to do,” Cheney said.
“While you still want to be as discriminating as possible in terms of avoiding civilian casualties,” he added, “your number one obligation is to accomplish your mission and to do it at the lowest possible cost in terms of American lives.”
Keeping the pressure on
On that score, the Gulf War was a spectacular success, producing a rapid American victory and virtually no casualties. The story was different on the Iraqi side.
A team from the Harvard School of Public Health visited most of Iraq’s 20 electric generating plants a few months after the war ended. It found that 17 had been damaged in allied bombing, with 11 deemed a total loss. Pentagon officials said they believed 80 percent of the country’s overall electrical capacity had been destroyed.
Targeting the power grid crippled Iraq’s command, control and communications system, no doubt shortening the war. It also assured long-term, adverse consequences for every Iraqi civilian, in a domino sequence where systemic power failures fouled machinery and led to the breakdown of sewage, water treatment and hospital services.
The United Nations sanctions, first imposed in August 1991 and since modified to permit the importation of humanitarian goods, made the situation worse, according to senior officials at the United Nations itself. Iraq’s purchase of replacement pumps, generators, chlorinators and other items essential to reconstruction were blocked for years, almost always by the United States or the United Kingdom, on the grounds that Iraq might divert them to military use.
The proscribed items in Basra included even firetrucks and other safety vehicles, because of the possibility that they might be converted for use as mobile rocket launchers. The result today: a fleet of just 10 aging fire and emergency vehicles serving a population of more than 1 million.
Anapuma Rao Singh, regional director for UNICEF, returned to New York last year after a frustrating two-year tour in Iraq.
Singh recalled holdups in shipments of vaccines, the blocking of essential components and rules that barred the use of dollars to pay salaries of health care workers and teachers.
“In many of these sectors, the timely arrival of everything is key,” she said. “You need vaccines, syringes and needles all at the same time. Often we’d find that where seven contracts were needed, three had been put on hold – so what you got with the other four couldn’t be used.”
Questions, too, have been raised about Saddam’s use of oil-for-food money to prop up his regime rather than help his people.
The U.N. Security Council earlier this month liberalized the sanctions, agreeing to expedite the processing of goods and services for Iraq that are not considered of military use. Singh said she remains skeptical, noting that U.S. officials have been quick to cite “dual-use” military potential in many civilian-sector goods.
“As of April, we had 172 contracts for water and sanitation supplies worth $730 million that are still on hold,” she said. The total includes contracts worth $30 million where the U.N. sanctions committee is waiting for technical information from suppliers.
“All the rest,” Singh said, “the sanctions committee in its wisdom has placed on hold because they consider them to be dual-use items.”
A U.S. official at the United Nations said the latest modifications in the oil-for-food sanctions are intended to answer critics who say U.S. policies have harmed Iraqi civilians. But he said the United States will continue to take a tough stance when it comes to imports that might aid Iraq’s work on chemical, nuclear or biological weapons.
“We are the ones who hold up the most,” this official said. “We make no bones about it. We would ask other countries to be as aggressive as the United States and the United Kingdom in making sure that items that could be used for weapons of mass destruction will not end up in Iraq.”
9) EPA Stalled Resolution on Spraying in Colombia
Agent Orange, All Over Again
by James Ridgeway
Village Voice [NY]; July 25-31, 2001
Washington, D.C.—For seven months, the Environmental Protection Agency sat on a call to investigate the coca-defoliation program in Colombia. Presented by one of the agency’s own internal boards, the letter asked for a study of harm to people and the environment posed by the U.S.-backed spraying of Roundup Ultra, a chemical critics compare to Agent Orange.
When the resolution was proposed at a December 10 meeting of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, “there was a lot of eye rolling and clearing of throats among the EPA members,” said one government employee. No one from EPA “thought it had a snowball’s chance in hell” of reaching administrator Christie Whitman’s desk.
Those EPA members may seem jaded, but for a long while they also appeared to be right. President Bush has kept the agency hamstrung, forcing it to do an about-face on global warming and to relax water-quality standards. Now the president is seeking yet more funding for Plan Colombia, which is supposed to cut off the supply of cocaine on the streets of New York by halving the 300,000 acres of coca fields in Colombia over five years. The U.S. has pledged $1.3 billion in this fiscal year to support the $7.5 billion scheme with army anti-narcotics training and helicopters.
So far, the attack hasn’t worked. Over 38,000 hectares have been sprayed since this year alone, but coca production is shifting to other parts of Colombia and spreading into Ecuador. The program has become the pretext for a Vietnam-style counterinsurgency in which U.S.-trained units of the Colombian army link up with paramilitary death squads in a bloody drive against guerrillas. U.S. Special Forces, who are doing the training, are kept out of the fighting, but U.S. civilian contractors who fly the spray planes have been reported in the thick of firefights.
Meanwhile, the peasantry are getting drenched with Roundup Ultra. In one EPA study published in 1993, California doctors reported that the herbicide’s active ingredient, glyphosate, ranked third out of 25 chemicals that caused harm to humans. Some observers say the aircraft blitzing Colombian coca fields are flying at too great a height to ensure surrounding villages and farms are kept safe from the spray. Lower flights would court direct hits by rebel troops.
“Our concern is the longevity of the effects of the spraying: If the farmers can’t plant, they can’t grow or eat,” said Alberto Saldamando, general counsel of the San Francisco-based International Indian Treaty Council, who drafted the resolution. “This is going to affect the whole agricultural economy. We think it’s a very serious health-damaging case. We are talking about indigenous people. They are poor; they are not aware of what can happen to their health.”
After being approved at the board meeting, the request for an investigation went to the agency’s Office of Environmental Justice, a sort of clearing house and rewrite operation for advisory-group resolutions before they are sent up to the administrator. Sure enough, the letter disappeared amid complaints it was full of typographical errors.
It never reached the outgoing Clinton administrator, Carol Browner, and the issue was temporarily set aside as Bush took control of the White House. Next, the letter was kicked over to the Office of International Activities, where bureaucrats argued pro and con.
Eventually the resolution was sent back to the advisory board for its approval. There it sat. Peggy Shepard, executive director of the West Harlem Environmental Action and chair of the board, said Monday she only got the letter two weeks ago. She then cleaned it up and forwarded it to Whitman. “The letter was not withheld,” she explained. “I simply did not sign it because I thought it was weak grammatically and lacking factually and needed to be fixed.” As for Whitman’s expected response, Shepard said, “We have no idea. We have not had any interaction with the administrator since she’s been appointed.”
Roundup is sold widely in the U.S., and the EPA says it’s safe for most commercial uses. According to the State Department’s Web site, glyphosate is less toxic than common salt, aspirin, caffeine, nicotine, and vitamin A. In a report sent to the House Appropriations Committee in January, the State Department, with the concurrence of the EPA, claimed that “there are no grounds to suggest a concern for human health.”
But in a 1996 out-of-court settlement, the manufacturer Monsanto admitted to certain reservations about such glyphosate-based herbicides. Monsanto withdrew claims that Roundup is “safe, nontoxic, harmless, or free from risk,” and signed a statement, saying absolute claims that Roundup “will not wash or leach in the soil” aren’t accurate. Roundup Ultra, the product used in Colombia, is a concoction boosted by other powerful chemicals manufactured by ICI and Exxon.
Sources within the agency doubt that Whitman will support the proposal to study the effects of Roundup on civilians and the environment. An EPA spokesman acknowledged that Whitman’s deputy administrator, Linda Fisher, is a former Monsanto vice president, but said the EPA has no role in the spraying.
“We do not govern the use of Roundup in another country,” the spokesman said. “Anything we say about the use of chemicals in another country is only speculation because we have no authority to check what they’re doing.”
For critics, the need for some kind of check is clear. “We demonstrated concern over Roundup that was being used without warning or telling people what was in it,” Saldamando recalled. “There is a lack of public awareness in the U.S. and especially in Colombia. Children become sick and adults start getting rashes.”
Plan Colombia has a short but dubious history. In 1999, the General Accounting Office concluded that “U.S. and Colombian efforts to eradicate enough coca and opium poppy to reduce the net cultivation of these crops have not succeeded to date.” Despite fumigating 65,938 hectares of Colombian coca in 1998, the office wrote, the total number of hectares of coca under cultivation in Colombia grew from 101,800 to 122,500.
Defoliation merely sends production elsewhere. Successful eradication programs in Bolivia and Peru in the 1990s led to a sharp rise in production in Colombia. “The pattern has been that fumigation ‘chases’ coca cultivation from one area to another, while overall cultivation levels rise,” noted a report last month from the Washington Office on Latin America. Fumigation does result in a short-term increase in coca prices, but, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency, hasn’t caused any change in the price of cocaine in the U.S. And while the military aspects of the plan have been in full effect, promised alternative assistance to farmers has not begun, the report said.
Democratic congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who represents the Chicago suburbs, is offering a measure—along with Democrats John Conyers of Detroit and Cynthia McKinney of suburban Atlanta—to stop funding for the fumigation project. In February, Schakowsky took a fact-finding mission to Putumayo Province, where she met with health ministers, governors, mayors, and police, all of whom reported Roundup’s devastating effects.
“People told of rashes and intestinal problems,” Schakowsky said. “There is an increasing number of internally displaced humans. It has destroyed legal crops and livelihood.”
As for the overall effectiveness of the program, said the congresswoman, “We’ve seen no change in the availability or price of cocaine. Coca production simply moves. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if demand is strong you move your operation. Fumigation is never going to get ahead of that.”
Additional reporting: Ariston-Lizabeth Anderson and Sandra Bisin
10) Studies Show Coca Spraying Harms Health and Environment
by Luis Angel Saavedra
Colombia Report; August 20, 2001
Studies conducted on both sides of the border between Ecuador and Colombia have raised an alarm about the health and environmental effects of spraying herbicide on coca crops in Colombia, but officials in both countries have dismissed the results. A study carried out between February and April by Colombian biologist Elsa Nivia in that country’s Putumayo department, and another done by the Quito-based environmental organization Ecological Action in May and June in Ecuador’s Sucumbíos province, indicate that spraying with the herbicide glyphosate is causing health problems and affecting non-drug crops.
Nivia is a representative of Rapalmira Colombia, an affiliate of the international Pesticide Action Network, which has spent more than 20 years studying the harmful effects of agricultural chemicals. According to Nivia, Roundup Ultra, the herbicide being sprayed in Colombia, contains glyphosate, as well as surfactants known as polyoxyethyleneamines and another additive, Cosmo-Flux 411F, which increase the compound’s toxicity by a factor of 22.
Nivia said the herbicide is highly toxic even in the one percent concentration permitted for use in the United States, and added that the concentration used in Colombia is as high as 26 percent. Spraying of Putumayo coca plantations was intense from late December until February and continued sporadically in March and April (see, Death Falls from the Sky).
Symptoms that appeared among residents of the Colombian municipalities of Valle del Guamez and Río San Miguel in Putumayo, also appeared in indigenous communities in the Ecuadorian provinces of Sucumbíos and Orellana. “About an hour after the planes go over, you start smelling an odor like gasoline, which makes it hard to breathe. Then you get a headache, as if you had a hangover, and your eyes burn. Then the children start crying and feeling sick. Finally we get fevers,” said one campesino who gathers coca leaves in the Valle del Guamez area of Putumayo.
“The symptoms described in studies by the manufacturer (of Roundup Ultra) are consistent with those that have been reported in Valle del Guamez,” Nivia said, referring to technical information provided by the U.S.-based Monsanto Corp. The same symptoms reported by residents of Valle del Guamez and Rio San Miguel in Putumayo, also appeared among residents of indigenous communities in the provinces of Sucumbíos and Orellana, on the Ecuador side of the border.
The symptoms appeared “after a dense cloud with a strong smell came and made our eyes burn,” according to Abelardo Sáez, a campesino leader from Puerto Aguarico in Sucumbíos, who spoke at the presentation of the results of the Ecological Action and Rapalmira studies.
In April, 38 campesino organizations belonging to the Union of Associations of Orellana and Sucumbíos claimed that the spraying in Colombia was harming their crops and the health of local residents. “Neither the Health Ministry, nor the Agriculture Ministry, nor the military wanted to listen to us,” Sáez said. “I’ve lived on the border for 30 years and have never seen coca or the illnesses we’re seeing now. I want reparation for the damage and harm this has caused us, for our children’s illnesses, for our burned crops, for our dead animals. We don’t want (the government) to improve our income; we just want it to let us survive. We don’t want to pay for something we haven’t done,” he said.
Ecological Action has registered the campesinos’ complaints. In May and June, the group carried out a study of the effects of the spraying on three Sucumbíos communities–San Francisco, San Francisco II and Nuevo Mundo–located less than two kilometers from the sprayed area, and other communities five and 10 kilometers away. “We wanted to identify the most common pathologies among the people affected by the spraying and map these pathologies as a function of the distance from the spraying sites,” said Dr. Adolfo Maldonado, who coordinated the study.
The study sample consisted of 144 of the 2,000 residents. The researchers also examined environmental damage in various communities, as well as cases attended by health workers at the hospital in Lago Agrio, the capital of Sucumbíos, and in health centers operated by the Catholic Church in the province. The researchers found that all Ecuadorian residents in the study who lived within two kilometers of the spraying sites suffered the same symptoms as the Colombians living in the spraying zone, as did all those living in the communities five kilometers from the spraying. In the communities 10 kilometers from the spraying sites, the proportion of residents affected dropped to 89 percent.
According to the study by Ecological Action, skin problems from the chemicals were still visible three months after the spraying. In the six communities studied, there were also losses in the coffee harvest. The researchers said productivity had been reduced to only 10 percent of the normal level and plants were not bearing fruit. Rice crops also decreased by 85 to 90 percent. “The coffee flowers did not develop fruit, and when they did, it was only an empty husk. Rice, banana and cacao plants are burned. The flavor of the cassava has changed, so it’s no longer possible for indigenous communities to make their ritual chicha. With the sacred plants contaminated, the shamans have left the communities, and now the people feel unprotected,” said Patricia Granda, a researcher at Ecological Action.
Gabriel Martínez, political attaché at the Colombian Embassy in Ecuador, questioned the credibility of the Ecological Action study, “The document has questionable elements, because you have to understand the health and phyto-sanitary conditions in the area. Similar illnesses existed before the spraying, and they are only problems endemic to tropical regions. Similarly, substantial crop losses occur because of poor crop management,” he said.
Maldonado disputed the Colombian diplomat’s claims, “If we have a series of pathologies that occur with great frequency near a particular point and decrease as the distance from that point increases, it means there is–or was–something at that point. That’s just common sense, especially if the symptoms differ completely from pathologies found in other areas with similar characteristics,” he said.
In addition, records at the Catholic Church’s health centers include endemic illnesses such as malaria, but during the spraying they reported an increase in symptoms consistent with those described by Monsanto in cases of exposure to the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup Ultra.
The residents of the Ecuadorian communities, meanwhile, feel they have been left unprotected and called on government officials to visit the area. While the administration of President Gustavo Noboa refused to schedule a visit, in early July it sent a diplomatic message to Colombia asking that the neighboring country “abstain from aerial spraying with glyphosate in areas located less than 10 kilometers from the border.”
Martínez pointed out that 54 percent of Colombia’s coca production is based in Putumayo, and that most of the spraying was aimed at large-scale coca crops in areas controlled by paramilitaries. “It isn’t true that 100 percent of the population has been affected. It isn’t true that the aim has been to harm indigenous communities. Nor is it true that legal crops are these communities’ economic mainstay. The spraying must be understood as necessary in the context of the Colombian conflict,” Martínez said of the spraying in Valle del Guamez and Río San Miguel in Putumayo.
On July 27, Bogotá Civil Circuit Judge Gilberto Reyes Delgado ordered a temporary halt to the spraying of poppy and coca crops in response to a complaint filed by the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon. He lifted the suspension on August 6, however, saying there was no evidence that the herbicide was harmful to human health or the environment. That decision came after Anne Patterson, U.S. ambassador to Colombia, warned that the suspension would jeopardize U.S. aid.
This article previously appeared in Latinamerica Press. It can also be found in Spanish at Noticias Aliadas.
11) Major Report on Chemical Weapons in Panama
by John Lindsay-Poland
Fellowship of Reconciliation [US Ecumenical Group]
Number 24, September/October 1998
Editor’s Note: Read the full text of “Test Tube Republic: Chemical Weapons Tests in Panama and U.S. Responsibility” at:
The Fellowship of Reconciliation and five other organizations released a major report in July, “Test Tube Republic: Chemical Weapons Tests in Panama and U.S. Responsibility.” The report is based on documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and the National Archives, and interviews with military officers, veterans and chemical weapons experts. The Panamanian Center for Research and Social Action, Greenpeace, Chemical Weapons Working Group, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund and the Center for Latin American Studies (in Panama) also participated in the study.
The United States maintained an active chemical weapons program in Panama for over 40 years, focusing on canal defense from the 1920s to 1946, and on testing munitions under tropical conditions from 1943 through the 1960s. The first chemical weapons test using live agent known to be carried out in Panama occurred in July of 1941, using soldiers from the Canal Zone. The soldiers quickly developed problems breathing, and were rushed to nearby Gorgas Hospital. One of the test subjects, Jack Cadenhead, told me that one soldier “almost choked to death.” A medical aide then asked the doctor, “What’s wrong with them?” And the doctor said, “It’s that damn mustard gas!”
The release of “Test Tube Republic” was front-page news in Panama, where Foreign Affairs Minister Ricardo Arias said Panama may take its case for chemical weapons clean-up to the United Nations. Pentagon spokesmen initially scoffed at the problem, saying Panamanians “have not produced one shred of evidence” of abandoned chemical weapons. However, military agencies are quietly doing their own research about chemical munitions left in Panama and U.S. obligations.
Some 130 tests were conducted on San Jose Island in Panama from 1944 to 1947 with chemical agents including mustard gas and phosgene. One of the tests sought “to determine if any difference existed in the sensitivity of Puerto Rican and Continental U.S. troops to H [mustard] gas.” Hazards from unexploded chemical rounds still remained on San Jose Island thirty years after being left there. In 1974, a workman for the island’s owner was burned and requested help from the U.S. military.
When I visited San Jose Island in July, I saw remains of bombs and chemical containers scattered in fields and woods. The current owners, who have asked the U.S. State Department to conduct a review of the island for contamination, are building tourist cabins they expect to be rented by Christmas of this year. Tourists will be able to explore the island on motorbikes and carts, without supervision.
From 1953 to 1957, the United States conducted tests of mustard gas in Panama which included the detonation of chemical mines. The U.S. Army Tropic Test Center from 1964 to 1968 also conducted at least four “surveillance” tests in Panama with live nerve agent-filled warheads, which included the detonation of live VX mines. Since ten milligrams of VX agent constitutes a lethal dose, each VX mine theoretically had enough nerve agent for nearly half a million lethal doses. VX gas is the agent the United States accuses of Iraq of stockpiling.
The United States has acknowledged having buried chemical warfare agents in the Panama Canal area, but has refused to disclose to the Panamanian government a document listing suspected burial sites in Panama. The Army also denied a Freedom of Information Act request by the FOR for the document, saying it contains “information concerning weapons systems [that] could assist in the development or use of weapons of mass destruction.” Despite repeated formal requests by the Panamanian government, the United States had not turned over a single document on its chemical weapons programs conducted in Panama until July, 1998, when it released to Panama copies of nerve agent test reports which the FOR’s requests had surfaced.
The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) requires member states that have abandoned chemical weapons on other nation states’ territories to declare those weapons within thirty days of their ratification of the Convention. The United States’ declaration to the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons, established by the CWC, in May 1997 asserted it had not abandoned chemical weapons in other countries. In light of the apparent abandonment of chemical weapons in Panama, the United States is clearly violating the Chemical Weapons Convention. [use this last sentence as a pull quote] Panama’s ratification of the Convention in July invokes new obligations for the United States to destroy chemical weapons left on San Jose Island.
[in box] CBS “Sixty Minutes” Goes to Panama
The investigative TV program “Sixty Minutes” broadcasts a report on the U.S. military’s environmental record on bases and firing ranges in Panama in late September or early October. Based on interviews with survivors of explosive accidents on the U.S. ranges, U.S. and Panamanian officials, explosive experts and footage of lands in Panama contaminated with conventional and chemical munitions, the program is an important for understanding the U.S. legacy in Panama and holding Washington accountable.
The date for the program had not been set as Panamá Update went to press, but we will issue an action appeal as soon as know when it will be broadcast. We urge Panamá Update readers to contact their Congressional representatives to call for a full clean-up of explosives and other hazards left by over 60 years of military activities in Panama.
Copies of “Test Tube Republic” can be obtained for $5 from the FOR Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean, 995 Market St. #1414, San Francisco, CA 94103, or found on the Web at: http://www.nonviolence.org/for/chem-report
12) Riddle of the Spores: Why Has the FBI Investigation into the Anthrax Attacks Stalled? The Evidence Points One Way
by George Monbiot
The Guardian [UK]; May 21, 2002
The more a government emphasizes its commitment to defense, the less it seems to care about the survival of its people. Perhaps it is because its attention may be focused on more distant prospects: the establishment and maintenance of empire, for example, or the dynastic succession of its leaders. Whatever the explanation for the neglect of their security may be, the people of America have discovered that casual is the precursor of casualty.
But while we should be asking what George Bush and his cabinet knew and failed to respond to before September 11, we should also be exploring another, related, question: what do they know now and yet still refuse to act upon? Another way of asking the question is this: whatever happened to the anthrax investigation?
After five letters containing anthrax spores had been posted, in the autumn, to addresses in the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation promised that it would examine “every bit of information [and] every bit of evidence”. But now the investigation appears to have stalled. Microbiologists in the US are beginning to wonder aloud whether the FBI’s problem is not that it knows too little, but that it knows too much.
Reducing the number of suspects would not, one might have imagined, have been too much to ask of the biggest domestic detective agency on earth. While some of the anthrax the terrorist sent was spoiled during delivery, one sample appears to have come through intact. The letter received by Senator Tom Daschle contained one trillion anthrax spores per gram: a concentration which only a very few US government scientists, using a secret and strictly controlled technique, know how to achieve. It must, moreover, have been developed in a professional laboratory, containing rare and sophisticated “weaponization” equipment. There is only a tiny number of facilities–all of them in the US–in which it could have been produced.
The anthrax the terrorist sent belongs to the “Ames” strain of the bacterium, which was extracted from an infected cow in Texas in 1981. In December, the Washington Post reported that genetic tests showed that the variety used by the terrorist was a sub-strain cultivated by scientists at the US army’s medical research institute for infectious diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Maryland. That finding was publicly confirmed two weeks ago, when the test results were published in the journal Science. New Scientist magazine notes that the anthrax the terrorist used appears to have emerged from Fort Detrick only recently, as the researchers found that samples which have been separated from each other for three years acquire “substantial genetic differences”.
The Ames strain was distributed by USAMRIID to around 20 other laboratories in the US. Of these, according to research conducted by Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, who runs the Federation of American Scientists’ biological weapons monitoring program, only four possess the equipment and expertise required for the weaponization of the anthrax sent to Senator Daschle. Three of them are US military laboratories, the fourth is a government contractor. While security in all these places has been lax, the terrorist could not have stolen all the anthrax (around 10 grams) which found its way into the postal system. He must have used the equipment to manufacture it.
Barbara Hatch Rosenberg has produced a profile of the likely perpetrator. He is an American working within the US biodefense industry, with a doctoral degree in the relevant branch of microbiology. He is skilled and experienced at handling the weapon without contaminating his surroundings. He has full security clearance and access to classified information. He is among the tiny number of Americans who had received anthrax vaccinations before September 2001. Only a handful of people fit this description. Rosenberg has told the internet magazine Salon.com that three senior scientists have identified the same man–a former USAMRIID scientist–as the likely suspect. She, and they, have told the FBI, but it seems that all the bureau has done in response is to denounce her.
Instead, it has launched the kind of “investigation” which might have been appropriate for the unwitnessed hit and run killing of a person with no known enemies. Rather than homing in on the likely suspects, in other words, it appears to have cast a net full of holes over the entire population.
In January, three months after the first anthrax attack and at least a month after it knew that the sub-strain used by the attacker came from Fort Detrick, the FBI announced a reward of $2.5m for information leading to his capture. It circulated 500,000 fliers, and sent letters to all 40,000 members of the American Society for Microbiology, asking them whether they knew someone who might have done it.
Yet, while it trawled the empty waters, the bureau failed to cast its hook into the only ponds in which the perpetrator could have been lurking. In February, the Wall Street Journal revealed that the FBI had yet to subpoena the personnel records of the labs which had been working with the Ames strain. Four months after the investigation began, in other words, it had not bothered to find out who had been working in the places from which the anthrax must have come. It was not until March, after Barbara Hatch Rosenberg had released her findings, that the bureau started asking laboratories for samples of their anthrax and the records relating to them.
To date, it appears to have analyzed only those specimens which already happened to be in the hands of its researchers or which had been offered, without compulsion, by laboratories. A fortnight ago, the New York Times reported that “government experts investigating the anthrax strikes are still at sea”. The FBI claimed that the problem “is a lack of advisers skilled in the subtleties of germ weapons”.
Last week, I phoned the FBI. Why, I asked, when the evidence was so abundant, did the trail appear to have gone cold? “The investigation is continuing,” the spokesman replied. “Has it gone cold because it has led you to a government office?” I asked. He put down the phone.
Had he stayed on the line, I would have asked him about a few other offenses the FBI might wish to consider. The army’s development of weaponized anthrax, for example, directly contravenes both the biological weapons convention and domestic law. So does its plan to test live microbes in “aerosol chambers” at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, also in Maryland. So does its development of a genetically modified fungus for attacking coca crops in Colombia, and GM bacteria for destroying materials belonging to enemy forces. These, as the research group Project Sunshine has discovered, appear to be just a tiny sample of the illegal offensive biological research programs which the US government has secretly funded. Several prominent scientists have suggested that the FBI’s investigation is being pursued with less than the rigor we might have expected because the federal authorities have something to hide.
The FBI has dismissed them as conspiracy theorists. But there is surely a point after which incompetence becomes an insufficient explanation for failure.
George Monbiot is a columnist for the Guardian. Visit his website at: http://www.monbiot.com
13) Non-Lethal Weapons Research in the United States:
Genetically Engineered Anti-Material Weapons
Backgrounder Series, Number 9
The Sunshine Project
This paper is the second in a series of three reports on United States government research on chemical and biological non-lethal weapons. Shaken by experiences including its disastrous mission in Somalia, the US has concluded that it lacks appropriate weapons for peacekeeping and other “military operations other than war”. To address this problem, the US has embarked on a program to develop new non-lethal weapons to control both armed enemies and civilians. Militaries and domestic law enforcement agencies in the United States and elsewhere are closely following this research and, in some instances, are participating. The non-lethal weapons research detailed here raises questions about protection of civil liberties, particularly freedoms of thought and expression, and US compliance with arms control agreements including the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. The first report, on calmatives and malodorants (Backgrounder #8), was published in July 2001. The third report will be published later in 2002 and will address new crowd control technologies.
The use of genetic engineering to manipulate natural processes of microbial degradation is opening up new possibilities for the development of offensive biological weapons that destroy materials. Practically every natural or manufactured material in the world is potentially vulnerable. The development of this technology raises serious arms control concerns for the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) and, because of the environmental dangers such organisms pose, for the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol, the principal international agreement on movement of genetically modified organisms.
The United States is the world leader in the development of genetically engineered anti-material organisms and a federal law prohibits their military use. The enforcement of this law is weak and under threat. A number of military projects are researching anti-material technology (generally for self-described “protective purposes”), and different elements of the US armed forces and their advisors are in open disagreement about the desirability of developing anti-material biological weapons. Development – including research by the US Army, Navy, and Marine Corps – is proceeding virtually unchecked and, in some cases, in secret.
If governments fail to check the threat, US research threatens to carve an enormous exemption in the global prohibition on biological weapons. The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention must act to restate that its Article I contains no exemptions, and that anti-material weapons are prohibited.
Naturally occurring biodegradative microorganisms pose virtually no military threat. It is only though the use of genetic engineering that they can become viable weapons. Thus, the development of genetically engineered anti-material microbes underscores the tight relationship between the prohibition of biological weapons and the precautionary approach to regulation of biotechnology. The Convention on Biological Diversity, through its Biosafety Protocol, should develop approaches to control these ecologically unsound weapons and move to more tightly coordinate its work with the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC).
Discussion of military abuse of genetic engineering typically concerns genetic “upgrading” of classic biowarfare agents, such as the creation of antibiotic resistant disease, ‘invisible’ anthrax, or new poxviruses. Genetically engineered anti-material agents (“GAMAs”) are part of a second tier of biotechnological products that may be abused in warfare: new types of weapons that have been previously impossible due to technological constraints. A danger exists that these new technical possibilities will raise new interest in certain biological weapons and may thereby undermine governments’ conviction to uphold and strengthen the BTWC.
Biodegradation and Bioremediation Science
Throughout the world a very large number or microorganisms exist with the ability to degrade materials. Many of these cause or contribute to familiar processes such as deterioration of food, wood, and the conversion of organic waste into soil. These microorganisms can be destructive; but are also used for beneficial purposes such as environmental cleanup. Less well known are microbes that contribute to the degradation of more permanent and seemingly impervious items even, for example, stone. Limestone ruins in Mexico and marble monuments in Italy (among others) are under ‘attack’ by naturally occurring microorganisms.(1)
Modern products and infrastructure are not immune to microbial degradation and, in fact, attacks termed biodeterioration, biodegradation, biocorrosion, and biofouling are major problems in infrastructure worldwide. Examples include: Hydrocarbon-loving bacteria that bore holes in asphalt, leading to the deterioration of road and runway surfaces. (2) Oil-degrading microbes are of particular interest to industry, and hundreds of kinds of hydrocarbon-eating bacteria and fungi have been identified. (3) Concrete is also susceptible, for example in the sewer systems of Houston, Texas, where destructive microbes are a significant problem. (4) Microorganisms can also damage most metals, including pipes used in industrial and public water systems, and structural members. (5) Thiobacillus ferrooxidans and other microorganisms are used to leech metals in “biomining”. (6) Microbe induced degradation causes trouble in high-tech, inhospitable environments, for example in fuel systems (7) and composite materials of military aircraft, (8) as well as lubricants. (9)
These natural phenomena are an expensive and destructive nuisance, hindering the use or causing the loss of property and requiring expensive treatment and/or replacement to restore the full and safe functioning of industrial systems. For this reason, civilian and military research is done to combat the effects of microbial degradation through resistant materials and biocide treatments.
Typically, in the human-built environment, including military applications, biodegradative microbes are more of a problem than a tool. Using them as weapons appears difficult, if possible at all. Although some materials are degraded relatively quickly by naturally occurring organisms (weeks or months), including hydrocarbons, plastics, and, in some cases, metals, the Mayan ruins of Mexico stand firm after centuries of microbiological assault. Degrading microorganisms can also be put to constructive uses, and there is significant scientific interest in the use of naturally occurring microbes to remove pollutants. Called bioremediation, this process works by recruiting microbes to metabolize waste or contaminants that are otherwise difficult to remove, for example, by introducing them into soils or water contaminated by an oil spill.
In their natural state, bioremediation microbes are generally slow acting; but genetic engineering will increasingly be able to make them more efficient. Such microbes have cleanup potential; but also pose environmental dangers and open the avenue to microbial weapons to destroy materials.
In the United States (and other countries), heavily polluted sites are a common legacy of military and industrial operations. To address environmental problems including radiation, hydrocarbon, and chemical contamination, a number of US military projects seek to develop microbes to remove pollutants. For example, the explosive TNT (2,4,6-Trinitrotoluene) is both a pollutant and a component of many weapons. Bioremediation studies have identified several microbes that degrade TNT (10) and, reportedly, TNT inoculated with one of these loses 50% of its explosive charge every seven days, (11) a rate that would quickly render infected stores useless.
But such efficiency is exceptional. More often, the major difficulty encountered in bioremediation research is that naturally occurring organisms are inefficient, unpredictable, slow, or require very specific conditions. Even highly selected strains often fail to reach specifications required for bioremediation purposes. Because of these problems, some bioremediation scientists – including US military researchers – are turning to genetic engineering. The goal of this research is to develop specifically targeted, faster-acting, more predictable microbes. Research results to date reveal a field with potential to develop commercial genetically engineered products, but one which will take several years to mature and which is fraught with serious biosafety concerns.
GMO Microbes: Biotech Bioremediation and GAMAs
“It is quite possible that microbial derived or based esterases might be used to strip signature
control coatings from aircraft, thus facilitating detection and destruction of the aircraft.
— Dr. James R. Campbell, US Naval Research Laboratory(1998)
Thirty years ago, at the dawn of genetic engineering, the first patent ever granted on a living organism was for a genetically engineered microbe that degrades oil; but since then development has been slow. Through the 1990s there was limited development of genetically engineered anti-material agents for use in bioremediation. Only one field trial has been performed, and there is a lack of serious commercial interest in the technology outside the military. For cleanup applications, this has partly to do with (cost) competition with other technical solutions and the thin profit margins for bioremediation industry. (12)
Most bioremediation projects concentrate on selecting and enriching natural occurring bacteria. Genetic engineering approaches have only recently emerged. A major focus is on cleaning up radioactive waste. Two years ago, scientists at the US Uniformed Services University in Maryland genetically engineered radioactivity resistant bacteria to detoxify mercury. Among the few such non-military projects are a Stanford University effort to make a single microbe to remediate both carbon tetrachloride and heavy metals, and Michigan State University research on a genetically engineered microbe to degrade polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB). (13)
The development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for bioremediation raises the concrete possibility that microbes that have been heretofore militarily useless might be transformed into serious anti-material biological weapons. The same characteristics that would make many GMOs more useful in bioremediation and other industrial applications (e.g. fermentation to produce certain enzymes) might also convey a weapon potential.
In most research on organisms that can be used as weapons, scientific discoveries and facilities can be dual-purpose, that is, the difference between a peaceful and hostile use is largely a question of intent. For example, the same facilities that produce vaccines can usually be used to produce weapons. This general rule holds true in the area of genetically engineered anti-material agents, where the relationship is aptly captured by the commonly used adage, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. In other words, the definition of waste relates to a material’s use for its owner and not its physical nature. Biodegrading microbes don’t necessarily have to be used on what is unwanted, they can be used on items before they are relegated to the “trash”: an engine before it goes to the junkyard, a computer before it’s replaced by the next year’s model, pavement before it degrades from use.
In the early 1990s, the US government’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico began to investigate non-lethal weapons. (14) Among the first areas of work was an assessment GAMAs. According to its director, the military-funded science group at Los Alamos “was amazed at the range of vulnerable targets… we came to understand that there was almost nothing in the world that some organism will not consume.” (15)
In 1998, the US Naval Research Laboratory identified a number of offensive uses of genetically engineered anti-material weapons. These include microbes that damage or destroy hydrocarbons, plastics, natural and synthetic rubber, metals, composite materials. Also included are microorganisms that produce small inclusion bodies of salts, metals, or plastic-like granules (“polyhydroxyalkanates”) that can cause failure of machinery. These properties could be used to damage or destroy: (16)
* Highways and runways, both cement and asphalt
* Metal parts, coatings, and lubricants of weapons
* Vehicles (including aircraft) and support equipment
* Fuels, supplies, and replacement parts
* High efficiency filters (through clogging)
* Composites, paints and protective coatings, including “stealth” anti-radar coatings
* Plastics, including body armor
Military researchers have cited these possibilities of offensive use of GAMAs as a rationale for ‘biodefense’ studies and even, in the case of the US Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program, to propose development of offensive weapons. Other military-linked research for bioremediation purposes is of a type that yields data and creates facilities that could be diverted into weaponsmaking. No weaponized GAMAs are known to exist. Ongoing US research, however, is rapidly developing more practical GAMAs, including ways to facilitate their field release.
Profiles of US Military Research
Confronted with major pollution problems, and an interest in investigating the weapons potential of genetically engineered microbes, the US federal research system is developing a number of facilities capable of pursuing GAMA offensive research and weapons production. These include a significant testing and bioreactor (fermenter) capacity, as well as biodefense experiments genetically-engineering microbes and preparing them for field release.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee is a major center of research for the bioremediation of nuclear waste, and world leaderin genetically engineered anti-material research. Oak Ridge (with the Center for Environmental Biotechnology of the University of Tennessee), has conducted the first field test of a genetically engineered bioremediation bacteria. For GMO microbe tests, Oak Ridge has constructed unique high-security field lysimetry facility (pictured), a series of twenty enclosed containers with a total capacity of over 250 square meters of soil. (17)
The Environmental Microbial Biotechnology Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory near San Francisco, California features a high-tech industrial-sized production system for biodegradative microbes and enzymes. Livermore’s big fermenter (1,500 liters, pictured) has mass-produced Methylosinus trichosporium, an organism that degrades trichloroethylene, an industrial solvent. Smaller fermenters at Livermore have been used to produce hydrocarbon-degrading enzymes and genetically engineered bacteria for biomedical experiments.
The US Department of Energy’s Microbial Genome Program focuses on genomics of classical bioweapons and material degrading organisms. One of the program’s goals is to create “super bugs” to “uncover applications relevant to DOE missions.” DOE’s missions include bioremediation and industrial processing, as well as weapons design. The Program has sequenced more than 20 microbes that degrade metals, hydrocarbons, cellulose, and industrial chemicals. (18)
The US military is also researching anti-material microbes, and it is this work that is of the highest concern. The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, DC, has a program “focused on identifying and characterizing the degradative potential of products from naturally-occurring microoganisms”. NRL then takes natural microbes and creates genetically engineered organisms with ” focused degradative capabilities”. These include microbes designed to destroy plastics, particularly polyurethane, which is used in many products, including coatings used on aircraft. Such genetically engineered microorganisms might be applied themselves, or enzymes they produce can be formulated to be applied on a target. One NRL microbe can “cause hundreds of blisters on mil[itary] spec[ification] polyurethane paints in 72 hours.” (20) The NRL principal investigator has described military applications for such weapons: “It is quite possible that microbial derived or based esterases might be used to strip signature control coatings from aircraft, thus facilitating detection and destruction of the aircraft.” (21)
At the same time, a separate NRL group (working on bioremediation) is developing delivery techniques that could be used with such agents, including microencapsulation of bacteria. (22) Also according to NRL, “The potential for clandestine employment of these non-lethal weapon systems, particularly since their effects in many cases may closely mimic natural processes, gives an adversary an added advantage of deniability.” (23)
NRL has pushed the anti-material microbial weapon envelope far beyond any other known research; but it claims that its activities are defensive. Without articulating any specific threat, the Navy says that because others might attempt to create these weapons, it must do so, to provide “novel defense measures” for US troops. Equally disturbing is the interpretation of the BTWC that the Laboratory has invented to justify the research. According to the Lab, “The genetic engineering techniques employed are standard laboratory practices… and this materials science research is not restricted in any way by the [BTWC]”. Defining away genetic engineering research that creates new weapons agents in such a way does not stand up to reason. Nor could it be expected that the US would sit idle if another country used similar reasoning, for example, by defining military work genetically enhancing diseases of grains as “food science”.
The Navy is not just interested in laboratory experiments. Military researchers are incorporating suicide genes (popularly known as “terminator technology”) into the microorganisms in order to facilitate their release. According to the Navy, terminator technology would “prevent their persistence in the environment beyond pre-determined limits of space and time”, (25) although biosafety experts debate such reasoning. Such technology would be very useful for offensive GAMAs, because it would prevent organism spread to unintended targets, impede use by an enemy, facilitate cleanup, and help prevent a ‘boomerang effect’ of the organism inadvertently impacting friendly forces by surviving beyond its intended mission. It would also provide a questionable, but arguable pretext to defend against allegations that such weapons are indiscriminate and illegal under international law. (26)
It comes as little surprise then, that US Army researchers are working on suicide gene systems specifically tailored for use in biodegradative microbes, including anti-material Pseudomonas species engineered by the Navy. The Army’s suicide systems have been developed by Boston University scientists working with a biotechnology research unit at Natick Laboratories (near Boston, Massachusetts), a division of the US Army Soldier & Biological Chemical Command (SBCCOM).
Natick’s terminator system uses a lethal gene from the bacteria Streptomyces avidinii transferred into other organisms. A September 11, 2001 patent owned by the US Army claims, “new killing genes and improved strategies to control their expression” for the purpose of “controlling genetically engineered organisms in the open environment, and in particular, the containment of microorganisms that degrade…” The system is adaptable and, according to the Army “a variety of bacterial and non-bacterial recombinant organisms can be controlled in this manner.” Through a series of genetic manipulations, the Army terminator is designed to commit suicide when its target substance – which could be practically anything – is no longer in the organism’s immediate environment. (27)
Secret US Research
A major unknown in US military research on GAMA are the activities of the US Marine Corps-directed Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program (JNLWP). JNLWP develops weapons for military use overseas and cites US missions such as those in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia as justifying its work. JNLWP has, at least once, sought the approval of the Navy Judge Advocate General for research on offensive uses of anti-material biological weapons. While this request was denied because the Judge Advocate General believed such weapons would violate the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, subsequent statements by JNLWP and its affiliates continue to endorse the idea of weakening treaties to permit US development of GAMAs.
JNLWP is assessing and developing a wide range of ‘non-lethal’ weapons, including electromagnetic and acoustic weapons, foams, and other anti-material and anti-personnel technologies. JNLWP attempts to shield most of its activities from public view, particularly those pertaining to biological or chemical weapons. In March 2001, the Sunshine Project (in collaboration with the ETC Group, a US-Canadian non-profit) filed US Freedom of Information Act requests for information on JNLWP biological and chemical activity. The Marine Corps replied with a list of hundreds of research titles, including several that suggest consideration of GAMA. (28)
The Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program
Although US law theoretically mandates a response within 20 days, after one year, JNLWP has failed to release a single research document. Results of these requests will be reported in future publications.
Policy Considerations I: Anti-Material Biological Weapons and the BTWC
The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) is a landmark in international law in large part because of its Article I, which bans an entire class of arms by prohibiting the development, acquisition, and stockpiling of all biological weapons. The BTWC was intended and designed to prohibit all biological weaponry, contains no exemptions for any class of biological warfare, and has been broadly understood as such since its beginning.
Recent years have seen a disturbing trend, particularly in the United States, towards narrower interpretations of Article I. This includes an ever-more permissive US definition of acceptable biodefense activities, including the well-publicized production of anthrax spores, genetic engineering of anthrax, and testing of biological bombs. Another well-known case are US claims that forcible eradication of narcotic crops – a form of agricultural biological warfare – would not violate the BTWC.
The US generation of ambiguity surrounding the BTWC extends to the poorly defined area of so-called ‘non-lethal’ biological weapons. These potentially include a number of weapons, such as anti-material agents, riot control agents, and even human disease. A high level US endorsement of this view was made at United Nations in October 2001, where US Assistant Secretary of State Avis Bohlen articulated a new interpretation of Article I by suggesting biological weapons are “biological agents used with lethal intent”. Avis’ distinction implies that so-called ‘non-lethal’ biological weapons, including anti-material agents, may be acceptable to the US. (29)
If such an interpretation of BTWC Article I were to be widely accepted, it would amount to a major reduction of the scope of the BTWC, potentially relaxing controls on all biological weapons except those used with the specific goal of killing humans (as opposed to sickening them, or harming animals, plants, or materials). Some US supporters of anti-material biological weapons have called on the US to simply ignore a “doomed” BTWC. (30)
The BTWC needs to address a lack of foresight in language used in its Final Declaration at the BTWC Third and Fourth Review Conferences. At those meeting, in decisions on Article I, the Conference stated: “The Conference reaffirms that the Convention prohibits the development, production, stockpiling, other acquisition or retention of microbial or other biological agents or toxins harmful to plants and animals, as well as humans…” (31) Without a specific reference to use against materials, a specious argument can be made that GAMAs are not prohibited.
BTWC Parties should reject such an argument. Article I bans all agents for non-peaceful purposes and has zero exemptions, much less a huge gap for anti-material agents that would subject the entire human-built environment to legal biological attack. In this sense, the Review Conferences adopted text that poorly re-articulates the treaty’s prohibition with respect to materials. By the same token, BTWC States Parties cannot reasonably be asked to predict the future, and the decisions of Review Conferences predate any serious technological possibility of effective GAMAs, which have only recently become feasible due to genetic engineering. Nevertheless, the potential ambiguity in the Review Conference decisions should be cleared up without delay.
Policy Considerations II: The US Split on Anti-Material Weapons
The US leads the world in research on genetically modified microorganisms. Its law to implement the BTWC prohibits biological weapons that deteriorate “equipment, supplies, or material of any kind”. (32) The law is very clear, yet it is under assault by both military research programs and policy advisors. Political maneuvers go on to change arms control agreements to legitimize GAMA and other illegal ‘non-lethal’ weapons.
An early high-level suggestion that the BTWC’s total prohibition on biological warfare might be changed to permit biotechnological arms came in 1995, when a blue ribbon panel of the Council on Foreign Relations (an influential US think tank) reviewed US military options for non-lethal weapons. Among the panel’s conclusions was a suggestion that the BTWC requires “periodic updating” to accommodate biotechnological developments. (33) The influential panel’s membership included Richard Perle (now Chair of the US Defense Policy Board and a leader of the war on terrorism), Kenneth Adelman, (former head of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency), a former military advisor to Vice President Richard Cheney, and the ex-Chiefs of Staff of the Army and Air Force.
In the specific area of GAMAs, however, the reasoning suggested by the Council on Foreign Relations panel was not supported – in at least one instance – by the legal division of the US Navy. Judicial review is required of all new weapons systems developed by the US and, in 1997, the US Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) was prompted to consider GAMA by research proposals from the Pentagon’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program. The Navy JAG disallowed work on GAMAs, determining that development of such weapons would violate the BTWC. (34)
But instead of acquiescing to binding treaty commitments, some US military officers and advisors are engaged in a campaign to convince the US government as a whole to seek changes to the BTWC that would permit GAMA and other biological ‘non-lethal’ weapons. In addition, the Marines Corps, Army, and Navy are conducting research on anti-materiel GMO microbes, classifying the activities as biodefense or bioremediation. The leader of one US Navy project is avoiding treaty concerns by claiming his biotechnology laboratory’s genetic engineering of anti-material microorganisms is “materials science”, as if his laboratory’s stable of material munching microbes are magically transformed into something else by playing with words. (35)
A 1998 lead article in the (US) Naval Law Review briefed commanders on the deployment of non-lethal weapons. It cited the possibility of using genetically engineered anti-material weapons, and did not mention the JAG ruling against them. (36) Since the mid-1990s, US military schools such as the US Army War College and Naval War College have focused dozens of officers on non-lethal weapons. Many of these officer’s thesis papers mention the offensive use of biological anti-material weapons. Less often do they seriously discuss these weapons vis-a-vis US law and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and, if they do, they sometimes suggest changing the convention to allow certain biological weapons. (37) Such studies suggest that many US officers are not taught that the BTWC prohibits all biological weapons, and that a disturbing culture of acceptance of certain forms of biological warfare may be developing in advanced training programs.
The Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program (JNLWP) has spoken out in favor of GAMAs. In late 2000, the JNLWP’s top officer, Marine Corps Colonel George Fenton, told New Scientist that he was interested in researching weapons that would require review and modification of the Biological and Chemical Weapons Conventions. (38) JNLWP’s position is unusually aggressive – and inappropriate – because the Navy own legal unit has already denied one request to pursue such weapons. (39) Yet JNLWP marches on. To promote its viewpoint, JNLWP has assembled a group of public relations and lobbying experts. The JNLWP “Public Acceptability Advisory Team” includes the Director of the US Air Force’s Public Affairs Office, a least four other military publicity specialists, a Marine Corps lobbyist, military lawyers, and sympathetic scientists who work in weapons development. (40)
In addition, JNLWP works with the Rand Corporation, the preeminent member of a group of policy advisors outside the US military who advocate weakening arms control agreements in order to develop certain chemical or biological weapons. Russell Glenn, head of the Rand Corporation’s Urban Operations Team, recently called for an “updating” of chemical and biological weapons controls. (41) In the midst of severe unrest, in February 2002, JNLWP sponsored the Rand group’s annual conference in Haifa, Israel. (42)
Among the most vocal US proponents of GAMAs is retired US Army Colonel John Alexander, who has declared chemical and biological weapons controls “doomed”. Instead of making him persona non grata, Alexander’s advocacy for GAMAs and other biological and chemical weapons has won him influence in US military and policy circles, including kudos from Gen. Anthony Zinni, commander of the 1995 US mission in Somalia, and now US Special Envoy to the Middle East. Alexander has organized US National Defense Industrial Association Conferences on non-lethal weapons and represented the US government at NATO conferences. In the wake of September 11th, Alexander appeared on CNN to promote use of non-lethal weapons in the war on terrorism. (43)
In the absence of a clear implementation of its law against anti-material biological weapons, their promotion by influential US military thinkers is cause for very serious concern, especially in light of the State Department’s disturbing suggestion of “lethal intent” as a new qualification to BTWC Article I. The only strong US military voice against GAMAs, the Navy Judge Advocate General, is fading into irrelevance. Should acceptance of GAMAs become dogma of the Pentagon itself, the BTWC will be presented with an even more severe challenge than is presently posed by US development of this technology.
Genetically engineered anti-material weapons raise serious concerns for the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and, because of the biosafety dangers such organisms pose, for the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol. GAMAs are one of the first of a “second tier” of biological weapons enabled by genetic engineering. These are not genetic derivatives of classical BW agents; but are entirely new weapons made possible by biotechnological advances. A danger exists that these new technologies will raise new interest in certain biological weapons and thereby undermine governments’ conviction to uphold and strengthen the BTWC.
Continued BTWC inaction on anti-material weapons will encourage more GAMA research. If governments fail to act, an enormous exemption could be carved in the global prohibition on biological weapons. BTWC Parties need to restate that Article I contains no exemptions and that anti-material weapons are prohibited.
The 144 States Parties to the BTWC should quickly move to prevent any misinterpretation of the Convention by clarifying, at the reconvened 5th Review Conference in November 2002, that biological weapons that destroy materials are equally prohibited as those that attack humans, animals, and plants. This should be done in the Review Conference’s Final Declaration statement on Article I.
It is only through genetic engineering that biodegradative microbes become viable weapons. Thus, the development of GAMAs underscores the critical relationship between the prohibition of biological weapons and the precautionary approach to regulation of biotechnology. It is time for diplomats both in the BTWC and the Convention on Biological Diversity to stop talking and start building concrete links between the processes, for example, in capacity-building and in monitoring transboundary movement of GAMAs.
As a first, minimal, step toward strong cooperation, the Intergovernmental Committee for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety should request observer status for the Protocol at meetings of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. This decision can be taken at the Biosafety meeting in The Hague in April 2002. The BTWC can accept the request at its November meeting, thereby beginning the process of information exchange and seeking synergies between these instruments. Any future organization to support the BTWC should apply for observer status with the Biosafety Protocol. This concrete link will create opportunities for biosafety law to contribute to biological weapons control, an idea endorsed at the BTWC by nearly every country, including the United States.
In addition, governments may also take the approach of the African Union in implementation of the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol. The African Union’s Model Law on Safety in Biotechnology criminalizes hostile use of genetically engineered organisms, including those that degrade materials.
Finally, the US bears particular responsibility for the unchecked military development GAMAs and for attempts to muddy the waters of BTWC Article I. In particular, the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program must halt political and scientific adventurism in offensive GAMAs, accept that all biological weapons are illegal, and obey the law instead of undermining it. The Pentagon must also ensure that officers introduced to non-lethal weapons issues are fully aware that any development, acquisition, or stockpiling of biological weapons, including those that target materials, is a violation of US and international law.
(1) See, for example, Videla H et al, Biodeterioration of Mayan archaeological sites in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, International Biodeterioration and Biodegradation (Intl. B&B) 46 (2000), 335-341.
(2) Campbell J, Defense Against Biodegradation of Military Materiel, Non-Lethal Defense III Conference, Feb. 1998, p. 1. (Available in PDF on the Sunshine Project website here.)
(3) Juhaz A & Naidu R, Bioremediation of high molecular weight polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons: a review of the microbial degradation of benzo[a]pyrene, Intl. B&B 45 (2000) p. 57-88.
(4) Nica D et al, Isolation and characterization of microorganisms involved in the biodeterioration of concrete in sewers, Intl. B&B 46 (2000) p. 61-68
(5) Lavoie D & Little B, Fungal Contamination of H-53 Aircraft, Report for the Naval Research Laboratory, 1996, p. 5-6.
(6) See, for example, http://www.mines.edu/fs_home/jhoran/ch126/microbia.htm.
(7) Thomas A & Hill E, Aspergillus fumigatus and Supersonic Aviation, 4 Biocidal Control, Intl. B&B 48 (2001) p. 245-251.
(8) Mitchell R, A Study of Microbial Deterioration of Fiber Reinforced Composites and Protective Coatings, Final Report to the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, October 1998.
(9) Little B et al, Fungal influenced corrosion of post-tensioned cables, Intl. B&B 47 (2001) p. 71-77.
(10) See, for example, http://umbbd.ahc.umn.edu/tnt/tnt_map.html
(11) Alexander J, Future War: Non-Lethal Weapons in Twenty-First-Century Warfare, St. Martin’s Press, 1999, p. 121.
(12) Sayler G, Field applications of genetically engineered microorganisms for bioremediation processes, Current Opinion in Biotechnology 11:286–289, 2000.
(13) See Zwillich T, A tentative comeback for bioremediation, Science 289:2266, 2000.
(14) As used by the US armed forces, the term ‘non-lethal’ is misleading. The US definition of ‘non-lethal’ permits weapons that cause death and serious injury, just at a lower rate than arms specifically designed to kill or maim.
(15) Alexander J, p. 119.
(16) Campbell J, p.1.
(17) For an online description of the facility, URL: http://www.esd.ornl.gov/nabirfrc/lysimeters.html.
(18) US Department of Energy Website. URL: http://www.ornl.gov/microbialgenomes/
(19) Campbell J, p. 1.
(20) Dr. Joanne Jones-Meehan, an NRL microbiologist. URL: http://pony.nrl.navy.mil/meehan.html.
(21) Campbell J, p. 2.
(22) Spargo B, Encapsulated Bacteria for in situ PAH bioremediation, SERDP Project Cleanup CU 23. This idea also interests JNLWP, which is funding microcapsule technology that “will release and spread a variety of chemical payloads upon pressure, contact with water, or at a specific temperature.” URL: http://www.jnlwd.usmc.mil/programs/tech_invest.htm
(23) Campbell J, p. 3.
(24) ibid, p. 2.
(25) ibid, p. 1.
(26) That is, in addition to being biological weapons, use of uncontrollable microbial weapons might also be considered indiscriminate and, hence, illegal.
(27) US Patent 6,287,844, 11 September 2001.
(28) Partial response to the Sunshine Project by the Marine Corps Systems Command, FOIA Case #084F-01.
(29) Statement by Avis Bohlen, US Asst. Secretary for Arms Control, in the First Committee, General Assembly, 10 Oct 2001. (Available in PDF on the Sunshine Project website here.)
(30) Edwards R, War without tears, New Scientist, 16 December 2000. p. 4.
(31) Final Declaration of the BTWC 4th Review Conference, December 1996.
(32) US Code, Title 18, Part I, Ch. 10, Sec. 178, Para 1(b).
(33) Council on Foreign Relations, 1995. Non Lethal Technologies, Military Options and Implications. URL: http://www.hackvan.com/pub/stig/news/BAD–non-lethal-weapons-tech.htm
(34) US Navy, Deputy Assistant Judge Advocate General, Legal Review of Proposed Chemical Based Nonlethal Weapons, 1997. Cited in Coppernoll M, The Non-Lethal Weapons Debate, 1998, URL: http://www.aquafoam.com/papers/Coppernoll.html.
(35) Campbell J, p. 2.
(36) Duncan J, A Primer on the Employment of Non-Lethal Weapons, 45 Naval Law Rev., 1998, pp. 1-56.
(37) See, for example, Garland K (Maj), Non-Lethal Weapons: Impact and Utility Concerns for Operational Commanders in Future Conflicts, thesis, Navy War College, 1998, Lamb J (LtC), Emerging Nonlethal Weapons Technology and Strategic Policy Implications for 21st Century Warfare, thesis, Army War College, 1998, or Rice C (LtC), An Analysis of the Strategic Application of Non-Lethal Weapons to Provide Force Protection, thesis, Army War College, 2001.
(38) Edwards R, p. 4.
(39) Administratively, the US Marine Corps is part of the US Navy. The Navy JAG has also made controversial rulings in JNLWP’s favor, for example, approving research on calmative agents for crowd control.
(40) A list indicating membership of the JNLWP “NLW Public Acceptability Advisory Team” was released to the Sunshine Project by the Marine Corps System Command, FOIA Case #064F-01.
(41) Edwards R, p. 4.
(42) JNLWP’s sponsorship of the event in the midst of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict speaks volumes about JNLWP’s vision of its “future war”. JNLWP and Rand took a bus tour of Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) operations in Palestinian areas and met with commanders who explained IDF tactics. See: http://www.rand.org/natsec_area/products/urbanops.israel.html.
(43) See CNN’s website. URL: http://www.cnn.com/2001/COMMUNITY/10/03/alexander.cnna/
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