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Bioterrorism Aftermath Could Top Nuclear Devastation

Global Security Newswire

The damage caused by biological weapons could top the devastation left by a nuclear weapon, a U.S. expert said yesterday at a bioterrorism conference in Scotland (see GSN, Nov. 10).

Terrorists are also more likely to obtain a biological weapon than a nuclear bomb, said Ronald Atlas, co-director of the Center for Deterrence of Biowarfare and Bioterrorism at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.

“When it comes to weapons of mass destruction, studies have shown that some biological weapons could equal or even exceed the damage caused by a nuclear weapon,” Atlas said.

“Anthrax is the proven agent, but focusing on anthrax may be short sighted. As biology advances, we are putting on the table much more problematic and sophisticated weapons. The fear is that the same technologies we are developing for human good may be used for fearful purposes,” he said (James Morgan, The Herald, Nov. 14).

From an earlier article from May '02, Village Voice,

Here are some excerpts from an article in New York paper the Village Voice, 10 May 2002 http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0220/kick.php

U.S. Military Proposes Illegal Bioweapons Research
by Russ Kick

According to documents unearthed by a nonprofit government watchdog, the United States military has proposed the development of biological weapons that would violate international treaties and federal law. In fact, they may have already developed some of these illegal, treaty-busting bioweapons.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, the Sunshine Project has recently pried loose some damning documents from the Marine Corps, which seems to be overseeing this area of research.

Exhibit A is a 1997 proposal from the Naval Research Laboratory to create genetically engineered bacteria and fungi that will corrode and degrade enemy matériel, such as roads, runways, vehicles, weapons, and fuel. The military scientists take great care to point out that the germs they want to create would be "nonlethal." But this doesn't matter. The international Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention treaty absolutely bans member nations from possessing or developing microbes, toxins, or any other biological agents for use in battle or other hostile situations. Yet the navy lab is advocating these super-bugs for blatantly offensive purposes, saying they will "degrade opposing forces' mobility, logistical support and equipment maintenance programs prior to or during military engagements." Likewise, the air force proposal is for bioweapons that would be used to attack enemy forces: "Catalysts can be developed to destroy whatever war matériel is desired. All [military] Services would have an interest."

Both proposals claim that the destructive germs wouldn't violate the biological weapons treaty. "That's completely false," says Edward Hammond, a co-founder of the Sunshine Project. He notes that the convention makes no distinction between bioweapons that target humans and those that take out equipment or other targets. "If the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention was limited to humans, it would be disastrous. Weapons that target animals, like livestock, would be legal. Destroying crops would be legal." The military's proposed germ research would violate more than just international treaties.

"U.S. federal law explicitly states that biological weapons that attack matériel are illegal," Hammond says. "The penalty is life in federal prison. If they lifted a finger to do this research, they have violated the [Biological and Toxin Weapons] Convention and federal law."