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How Fort Detrick Expansion Threatens Town of Frederick, Md.—and Humanity

by Barry Kissin and Richard Ochs

President Bush's $7 billion annual budget for bioweapons research will incite a brand-new bioweapons arms race, besides being a colossal waste of taxpayers' money.
In our view, the huge expansion of bioweapons facilities on the emerging National Interagency Biodefense Campus (NIBC) at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, should be opposed. President Bush's $7 billion annual budget for bioweapons research will incite a brand-new bioweapons arms race, besides being a colossal waste of taxpayers' money. Please consider: .


University of Michigan science historian Susan Wright calls the extent of fear of terrorism with biological weapons “completely unrealistic.” “Heaven only knows how they think a terrorist is going to put up a lab and do this stuff without being caught,” she said. “Labs with ventilation and good scientists leave huge footprints.” Milton Leitenberg of the University of Maryland demonstrates in his recently published Assessing the Biological Weapons and Bioterrorism Threat that billions of federal expenditures have been appropriated in the absence of virtually any threat analysis, and that the risk and imminence of the use of biological agents by non-state actors/terrorist organizations has been systematically and deliberately exaggerated. It is critical to recognize that the only bioattack in American history, namely the anthrax letters of October 2001, almost certainly was generated by a person or persons unknown in our own bioweapons establishment.


Real medical threats are going unfunded, such as staphylococcus, which is now largely unaffected by penicillin and other vaccines (“Superbugs,” USAToday 5/11/06). The NIH budget for medical research priorities has been cut 11% to help pay for bioweapons research. Any bioterror threat pales in significance as compared with diseases which kill thousands and which urgently need funding: (“Rising Diabetes Threat Meets a Falling Budget,” NYT 5/16/06). Dr. Muin Khoury, Director of the Office of Genomics and Disease Prevention at the CDC stated in February 2003: ”Public health is in disarray, and this emphasis on terrorism is eroding the public health infrastructure even more.” In March, 2005, 750 US biologists signed a letter protesting at what they see as the excessive use of bacteriology funds for the study of bioterror threats. "The diversion of research funds from projects of high public-health importance to projects of high biodefense relevance represents a misdirection of NIH priorities and a crisis for NIH-supported microbiological research," the letter states. Signers include two Nobel laureates and seven past presidents of the American Society for Microbiology.


Federal deficit spending is pushing the national debt to beyond bankrupting levels.


The City of Frederick has just contracted to help pay for an expensive pipeline 30 miles to the Potomac River (which is contaminated with dioxin, PCBs, mercury and the waste of 900,000 chickens in the Shenandoah Valley). Already during droughts, DC cannot rely only on the Potomac. The proposed new bioweapons facilities at Ft. Detrick will need lots of water, not to speak of the burden of watering the homes of the families of 2000 new employees at the Fort and others to be employed by the contracting firms. Water bills are coming. Already many workers making less than professional salaries cannot afford to live in Frederick.


The former chief American negotiator of the Biological Weapons Convention, James Leonard, has warned that the administration’s initiative could be interpreted as “development” of biological weapons in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC).

The former chief American negotiator of the Biological Weapons Convention, James Leonard, has warned that the administration’s initiative could be interpreted as “development” of biological weapons in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). This explains the Bush administration’s rejection of the International Protocol on Inspection and Verification of biological weapons activity, supported by practically all of the other 130 nations that are party to the BWC. The administration’s decision to greatly expand our bioweapons facilities amounts to the doomed choice of arms race over arms control.


Dangerous pathogens, some with no cure, will escape in the event of accident, terror attack or an inside job like the October 9, 2001 anthrax attack on Democratic Senators. The latter intimidation helped stampede the Patriot Act passage and arguably terrorized Congress into authorizing a senseless war. See “Scientist faults lab’s security; ‘You could walk out with anything,’ researcher says” (front page, Frederick Post, 1/21/02): “Interviews with more than a dozen current and former Fort Detrick scientists provided a rare account of what they described as a lax security system, that could have done little to prevent an employee from smuggling the ingredients for biological terrorism out of the country’s premier biodefense lab [at USAMRIID]...” Also, see “Detrick lost pathogens: Army audit,” (front page, Frederick Post, 1/21/02): “Lab specimens of anthrax spores, Ebola virus and other pathogens disappeared from [USAMRIID] during a turbulent period of labor complaints and recriminations among rival scientists...” Also, see “Beyond the breach,” (front page, Frederick Post, 5/13/06): “During a two-week period in April four years ago, officials at the Army’s lead biodefense laboratory at Fort Detrick discovered anthrax spores had escaped carefully guarded suites into the building’s unprotected areas.” Also see “Risky Business” (Frederick Post, front page, 5/14/06): “Employees at USAMRIID, the Army’s leading biodefense laboratory, filed 161 biological defense mishap reports between April 1, 2002 and Dec. 1, 2005.”


According to Dr. Milton Leitenberg, a veteran arms control advocate and senior scholar at the University of Maryland's Center for International and Security Studies, germ warfare agents can be genetically modified and each modification may require a different vaccine or countermeasure. Since Fort Detrick's mission is to anticipate biological threats, USAMRIID and Homeland Security plan to genetically modify diseases on which to test vaccines. This is a slippery slope to a bottomless pit of unlimited new diseases with no known cures, which could plague the earth till the end of time, if they escaped containment by accident, smuggling or terror attack.


The situation is ripe for biotech corporate profiteering, and political arm-twisting, to further warp the democratic process with pork and even germ scares for profit. The rampant corruption associated with the failures of reconstruction in Iraq and post-Katrina portends the development of a disease protection racket by contractors of Ft. Detrick.


CIA access to Ft. Detrick classified scientific information will continue the illegal use of pathogens for covert action and proliferation. The CIA was never punished for disobeying President Nixon’s 1969 order to destroy all U.S. biological weapons stocks. The CIA shared these weapons with Saddam Hussein on seven occasions between 1986 and 1988. The CIA has cultures of the Ames strain, the type used in the letters in October 2001 (Reuters News Service, Dec.16, 2001, JoAnne Allen.). The Agency has been conducting secret experiments with powdered germs since 1997 at Battelle Memorial Institute in Ohio (NYT, Dec.13, 2001). Battelle received the Ames strain from Fort Detrick in May of 2001 (The Plain Dealer, Nov.30, 2001; Washington Post, Steve Fainaru). The CIA said it was trying to develop defenses against anthrax, but did not explain why it was doing what other defense labs were set up to do. As of December 16, 2001, one FBI investigator said that the CIA’s anthrax project was the “best lead they have at this point” into the anthrax letter case (Washington Post, Rick Weiss, Dec.16, 2001). Does that explain why we have heard nothing more on the case?