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Biological Arms Control Experts Question U.S. Laboratory

Global Security Newswire

A Homeland Security Department biological defense lab at Fort Detrick in Maryland could undermine an international ban on biological weapons by pushing other nations toward developing such weaponry, three biological arms control experts said this week (see GSN, April 29).

James Leonard, who led the U.S. delegation that negotiated the Biological Weapons Convention in 1972, Richard Spertzel, a former official of the Army’s biological defense center at Fort Detrick and chief U.N. biological weapons inspector in Iraq, and Milton Leitenberg, an expert on arms control at the University of Maryland, collaborated on the statement posted on the Web site of the journal Politics and the Life Sciences.

The work of Homeland Security’s National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center could include devising more dangerous viruses and bacteria in efforts to develop stronger vaccines and drugs, the Baltimore Sun reported. The center is operating out of temporary offices at Fort Detrick until its $200 million high-security laboratory can be built.

“The rapidity of elaboration of American biodefense programs, their ambition and administrative aggressiveness, and the degree to which they push against the prohibitions of the Biological Weapons Convention, are startling,” the critics said (Leonard/Spertzel/Leitenberg, Politics and the Life Sciences, May 17).

Leonard said he is concerned that other countries would view U.S. biological weapons research as a challenge.

“In French labs, German labs, Russian labs, Egyptian labs, scientists will say, ‘Look at what the United States is doing; we have to at least keep up,’” he said (Scott Shane, Baltimore Sun, May 21).