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Planned U.S. Biological Work Illegal, Expert Says


Operations planned for a new laboratory at Fort Detrick in Maryland would violate a federal law against the development of biological weapons, the author of the legislation charged last week (see GSN, Jan. 23).

The U.S. Army is replacing its Military Institute of Infectious Diseases with a new laboratory that would be a component of a biodefense campus operated by several agencies, the Associated Press reported. The laboratory is intended to continue research that is only meant for defense against biological threats, according to the Army.

However, University of Illinois international law professor Francis Boyle said the Fort Detrick work “will include acquiring, growing, modifying, storing, packaging and dispersing classical, emerging and genetically engineered pathogens.” Those activities, as well as planned study of the properties of pathogens when weaponized, “are unmistakable hallmarks of an offensive weapons program,” Boyle wrote in comments submitted to Fort Detrick as part of its environmental impact assessment of the new facility.

Boyle authored the Biological Weapons Antiterrorism Act of 1989, which President George H.W. Bush signed in 1990. The professor is a longtime opponent of U.S. biodefense and nuclear weapons programs, AP reported.

In 2004, USAMRIID Commander Col. George Korch Jr. acknowledged that research at Fort Detrick might include genetic engineering of organisms in order to make them more lethal. The intent would be only to ensure that U.S. biodefenses would provide protection against even the deadliest diseases, he said. Korch cited as examples of possible work the aerosolization of germs and developing new methods of pathogen delivery.

The laboratory’s work would follow federal law and the international Biological Weapons Convention, according to Army officials. Development, production and stockpiling of pathogen samples is allowed under the national and international rules for defense and protection purposes, they said (David Dishneau, Associated Press/WTOP, Jan. 30).