February 27, 2006

About That Anthrax

By David Swanson

So, the word Anthrax is back in the news, but only because a man contracted it through what is reportedly a freak accident, not because Saddam Hussein's vast stockpiles have been found, not because Bush has apologized for inventing those vast stockpiles, not because Forest Whitaker has agreed to play Colin Powell in "The Sting II: Hustling the United Nations," not because impeachment proceedings have begun, and especially not because the U.S. corporate media has revealed any memory of the fact that somebody mailed anthrax to the U.S. Senate less than five years ago.

For a useful jogging of the memory, plus some historical and legal context, I recommend a short new book by Francis Boyle called "Biowarfare and Terrorism." Boyle drafted the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989, which implemented the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, which bans the production of biological weapons except for prophylactic or other peaceful purposes.

Such purposes do not include "defensive" purposes in the sense in which the Department of Defense supposedly serves a defensive purpose by developing new weapons and stockpiling them. Nor do they include offensive purposes, aggressive attacks by the United States' government. Yet planning for such attacks is official policy of the Bush Administration.

For a country that attacked and is still attacking Iraq for possessing nonexistent biological weapons, the United States has a strange history. When Reagan was president, our country manufactured biological agents and shipped them to Iraq for Saddam Hussein to use. When Bush the First was in office, the U.S. military injected 500,000 US soldiers with experimental vaccines, without their consent and in violation of the law, because Reagan's weapons could have been used against Bush's soldiers in Gulf War I.

When Clinton was president all was good in the world and the United States wisely led the international community down the path toward peace. Just kidding! Clinton reactivated massive funding in the Pentagon for dual-use (offensive and "defensive") genetic engineering biowarfare. Of course, Bush Junior is outdoing Clinton.

As Boyle explains, developing biological weapons in order to develop vaccines to counter them is done in exactly the same way, whether it's for defense or offense. In an offensive attack, the vaccines are needed to protect the attacking troops. And the development of these weapons is very difficult and expensive. The most likely source of biological weapons in a terrorist attack is a government lab that developed the stuff for "defense."

Five labs traced the anthrax that was sent to Congress in 2001 to the U.S. government biowarfare lab at Fort Detrick. The Washington Post reported this in December, 2001. The FBI is not investigating, and has destroyed the stock that was crucial evidence in this case. This does not necessarily lead the conclusion that the FBI or the military was behind sending the letters to Senators Daschle and Leahy. It is important to remember that the lab at Fort Detrick is illegal and the work done there illegal, under the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and under the U.S. law that implements it. So, any investigation that led to one or more individuals working on biological weapons for the U.S. government would reveal criminal activity by the government. That's reason enough for the coverup.

The Bush Administration's September 2002 and December 2002 National Strategy Directives establish a framework to initiate and "win" a war of aggression by means of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. In May 2004 the Pentagon published a Chemical and Biological Defense Program which says that the mission of the Department of "Defense" with chemical and biological weapons includes "warfighter missions," meaning offensive attacks.

This is the sort of criminal intent with WMDs that, Boyle points out, the Bush Administration is accusing North Korea and Iran of. And it is not secret, and it will not be ignored by other nations. "Certainly," Boyle writes, "other major biotech states understand full well the military implications of this rapidly expanding U.S. biowarfare industry and will proceed to respond accordingly by deploying their own national biowarfare equivalents. The world will soon witness a de facto biological arms race among the major biotech states of the world under the guise of 'defense', and despite the requirements of the BWC."

What can we do? Boyle's answer is that we can and we must, for this reason as well as many others, impeach George Bush

February 23, 2006

Gulf War Veteran Gets Placebos Instead Of Real Medicine

WSOCTV - Eyewitness News

A Gulf War veteran undergoing medical treatment said he was given placebos -- or sugar pills -- instead of real medicine.

Like thousands of other soldiers, Army veteran Mike Woods said he developed bizarre symptoms after serving in the first Gulf War -- blackouts, chest pain and numbness in the extremities.

Woods looked to the Veterans Administration for help. He said his VA doctor prescribed him a drug called Obecalp.

"She told me there was this new drug out that would really help me with all of my physical conditions, and my pain. She really wanted me to try it," said Woods.

But when the pill provided no relief, Woods did some research and learned that Obecalp isn't a medicine at all, but a sugar pill. He was shocked to learn the word "obecalp" is placebo spelled backward.

The American Medical Association said placebos should only be used as part of a clinical trial and doctors must be extremely thorough in obtaining informed consent from patients that they may not be getting a real drug.

"Nobody ever said, 'You might be part of a study? You might get a placebo?'" asked reporter Alison Burns.

"No. Never. I never signed up for a study in my life, much less with the VA," said Woods.

Woods recently shared his ordeal with members of Congress investigating complaints about how the government is caring for patients with Gulf War Syndrome.

"The first step to fixing any problem is to recognize the problem is real," said Woods.

"It is absolutely ridiculous that they're giving Gulf War veterans a sugar pill to cure pain. It's like giving a cancer patient a sugar pill to cure cancer," said veterans' advocate Steve Robinson.

"To me, it's so wrong. It's immoral," said Dr. Damian Alagia, Medical Society of Washington, D.C.

Algia agrees that prescribing placebo to patients who haven't provided their consent is unethical. Although, he said research shows placebos are often effective in making a patient think he's getting better.

"Thirty-five percent of the time placebo will work," he said.

But it did not work for Woods --who said getting Obecalp is one more way the government is letting him down after he served his country.

"That's how they treat Gulf War illnesses -- give you a placebo and send you down the road and hope that your mind will cure itself," said Woods.

It might not just be a problem for veterans. Eyewitness News found a number of reports about doctors who admitted giving unwitting patients sugar pills to make patients think they're getting real treatment.

No one from the VA could explain why Woods got a placebo prescription. They said, as a rule, VA doctors are not supposed to use placebos as medical treatment.

To find out if your medications are indeed real medicine, go to a federal database of approved drugs by clicking on Food And Drug Administration.gov -- Catalog of FDA Approved Drug Products.

February 22, 2006

Business and Lobbying - Navigators adds partners, clients

The Hill
By Jonathan E. Kaplan

D.C. Navigators will add new partners and clients over the next week to its roster of top-flight GOP talent, said Jim Pitts, the firm's founder.

Chris Cox, a former special assistant to the president in the White House, will become a partner in firm, and Pitts said he plans to hire another name lobbyist, although he declined to identify that person.

The Hill has learned that Dan Senor, the former spokesman for Paul Bremer, the American viceroy in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, is expected to join the firm.

While the firm already has a solid corporate and political client base, Maryland-based Emergent BioSolutions, which manufactures the only anthrax vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration, has hired the firm to represent the company on Capitol Hill.

The firm already lists Advanced Micro Devices, Bell South, Oracle, Tyco International, Visa USA and the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. as its marquee clients.

Scientific Codes of Conduct Inevitable, Experts Say

By Chris Schneidmiller
Global Security Newswire

ST. LOUIS, Mo. - Codes of conduct that scientists would follow to prevent their research from laying the groundwork for acts of bioterrorism are necessary and ultimately inevitable, experts said last week (see GSN, Sept. 5, 2003).

Professional organizations such as the American Society for Microbiology have already developed ethics principles for their members, while entities in the United States and abroad are preparing guidelines that could be disseminated more broadly. The nations of the Biological Weapons Convention are set to consider the matter at their review conference later this year in Geneva.

However, the issue is by no means settled. Scientists continue to debate the value of a code and governments are considering whether they want an international protocol or if it should be handled individually by nations.

Beyond that is making sure the guidelines would be adhered to where they matter - in the laboratory.

"I think there are going to be codes. I'm not sure that the scientists are going to be aware of them," Gigi Kwik Gronvall, an associate with the University of Pittsburgh Center for Biosecurity, said Saturday during the 2006 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Research on dangerous pathogens that once might not have faced significant scrutiny now raises red flags for the scientific community and the media in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and the subsequent anthrax mailings. Much attention has been paid in recent years to several projects, including a 2002 paper on recreating the polio virus and a 2005 article on contaminating milk with botulinum.

The scientific community has responded with several proposals to concerns that its work could assist state or terrorist biological weapons efforts. A U.S. National Academy of Sciences committee in 2003 recommended a nationwide screening system for potentially sensitive biological research (see GSN. Oct. 8, 2003). Editors at major scientific journals that year also called for restraint in publishing articles that might aid would-be bioterrorists (see GSN, Feb. 19, 2003).

Codes of conduct are needed "to prevent the life sciences from becoming the death sciences through bioterrorism or biowarfare," said Ronald Atlas, co-director of the Center for Deterrence of Biowarfare and Bioterrorism at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.

"We need to embrace the development of codes. What we really need to do is create a culture of responsibility," Atlas said Saturday during a panel discussion at the conference.

Atlas and Margaret Somerville, a professor of law and medicine at McGill University in Montreal, developed a prototype code that calls on scientists to "work to ensure that their discoveries and knowledge first do no harm." That means complying with the Biological Weapons Convention and avoiding any research that is clearly intended or is highly likely to facilitate use of biological weapons.

The nine-point plan also calls for safety and ethics reviews of research and encourages scientists to call public attention to research that could be related to biological weapons.

Consideration of codes is occurring within governments and organizations around the world, panel speakers said. The International Red Cross in 2004 issued its own set of principles for the life sciences (see GSN, Nov. 12, 2004). The InterAcademy Panel on International Issues last year issued a statement of principles - endorsed by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and dozens of other state scientific academies - that should be considered when preparing ethics policies.

"I would imagine all of these groups are hoping to influence the broader life sciences community," panel speaker Mark Nance, a member of the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, said in an interview.

The board was established in 2004 to prepare strategies for oversight of federally funded or operated dual-use research that could be used against the country. One of its five working groups is developing a code of conduct that could be taken up by U.S. research institutions, said Nance, a senior counsel at GE Healthcare Biosciences.

The group is seeking input from life science professionals, and next month plans to conduct focus groups to obtain feedback on concepts that could be used in a code.

Group members have not published a schedule for completion of their work - which will rely on the results of another group developing a definition of dual-use research - and Nance said it was premature to discuss how the document might be implemented.

He said the group is monitoring similar international and domestic efforts for ideas that could strengthen its work.

In December, Biological Weapons Convention states approved a report encouraging scientists to develop ethics codes (see GSN, Dec. 12, 2005). An earlier version of the text had called on governments to promote such guidelines.

Atlas said he does not expect the nations at the treaty review conference beginning in November to approve an actual code of conduct that BWC members could use. China and other nations prefer to see the matter handled by each nation. More likely is that the members would approve a statement of support for codes, he said.

Critics say codes would restrict scientists' work while doing little to prevent an actual act of bioterrorism. They argue that their work is inherently neutral, while "bad guys are going to do bad things [and] you can't stop them," Atlas said.

Panel members acknowledged that codes would not prevent terrorists from carrying out biological attacks, but said they could raise awareness on sound practices to keep their research from supporting such an act.

They stressed that codes should allow for the greatest possible freedom for research and publication. Actual restrictions should only come into play if there is a "clear and imminent danger" that a project could promote bioterrorism, Atlas said.

Any code must avoid instituting a "top-down" framework, meaning allowing the government to decide what work can or cannot be done, Gronvall said. It is impossible to clearly define what constitutes dangerous research, and the biosciences are too widespread globally, diverse and fragmented to be controlled.

It is up to the research institutions and the scientists themselves to ensure they followed any codes, panel speakers said. Scientists are best positioned to see and address a potential risk, Gronvall said.

That strategy entails additional responsibility. Gronvall said scientists must be aware that work that does not appear related to weaponizable pathogens - for example, an aerosolized measles vaccine - could aid weapons programs. Professors must ensure their students are familiar with the Biological Weapons Convention and the obligations established by a code.

Failure to recognize the power of their work could have serious repercussions for science, Gronvall said. An act of terrorism that is linked to a study could lead to governmental restrictions on research that could undermine efforts to stem a health crisis such as SARS, she said.

Ethical violations could also hurt the scientists themselves. The American Society for Microbiology code details a review process that could lead to expulsion of members found to have violated the policy. Scientists seen as violating codes could find it difficult to work within the research community, Gronvall said.

She said in an interview that codes should be one part of an awareness campaign that includes discussion and development of more concrete biosafety policies.

Biosecurity can be taught in scientific training alongside biosafety rules such as wearing gloves and goggles, Gretchen Lorenzi, an analyst with the FBI WMD Countermeasures Unit, said during the panel discussion.

When collaborating or sharing research, asking a few questions will help scientists "sleep at night easily," Lorenzi said. Do you know where the information is going? Has the recipient been published in a related field? Was the person referred by someone known to you?

"The most valuable contribution to biosecurity is actually awareness," Lorenzi said.

Democrats Move to Expand Potential Liability of Makers of Bioterrorism Vaccines, Countermeasures

Global Security Newswire

U.S. Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) could block efforts by Senate Democrats to pass legislation that would expand the liability of companies that produce bioterrorism countermeasures and vaccines, the Biodefense Funding Report reported yesterday (see GSN, Feb. 15).

Senators Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) last week introduced a bill to repeal liability protections included in the fiscal 2006 defense spending bill. The Responsible Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act would create a compensation pool for people injured by a vaccine or drug used against an act of bioterrorism or a natural outbreak, as well as allow that person to sue the manufacturer.

A spokesman for Enzi, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said the bill troubles the senator. Enzi's committee has jurisdiction over the bill, according to the Funding Report.

Spokesman Craig Orfield said that while Enzi has not taken a formal position on the legislation, he would be "very cautious in approaching any bill or proposal that might create complications for the bird flu liability that's been put in place at this time." Orfield added that there is a "very careful balance that has been put in place and it would be very difficult to pass anything that might undo that or place any stress on [the agreement] for the time being."

A source from within the pharmaceutical industry said drug companies would not produce countermeasures needed in case of a biological attack if the liability shield was removed.

Kennedy, however, said his bill corrects "a grievous mistake." He argued that liability protections would make people less likely to use the countermeasures and that first responders would be reluctant to take them as they would have no recourse if they experienced an adverse reaction.

Companies under the current law could be sued only if found to have committed willful misconduct (Biodefense Funding Report, Feb. 21).

Terrorism labs pose safety concerns - DANGEROUS WORK UNSETTLES SOME

By Greg Kocher

Proposals to build new high-security "hot labs" -- such as the one sought for Pulaski County that would study highly contagious animal and human diseases -- have unsettled residents around the country.

Residents in Boston filed a still-pending lawsuit alleging that officials underestimated the potential effect of a germ release from a proposed research lab at Boston University.

Citizens groups in Hamilton, Mont., filed a suit -- now settled -- alleging that the government had not answered specific questions during the environmental review process for a new lab.

And concerns about health and safety issues prompted the city council in Davis, Calif., to unanimously oppose a lab at the University of California campus. UC-Davis did not get the project.

It's too early to tell what the reaction of Kentuckians, particularly residents of Pulaski County, might be to building a bioterrorism lab in their midst. The $451 million federal project would have labs with Biosafety Levels of 3 and 4, where the most dangerous diseases are studied and which require the highest level of security. But residents who live near proposed labs elsewhere have had time to question their security, the possible release of pathogens, and whether the labs would become targets for terrorists.

Mary Wulff is not comforted by official assurances that there has never been a release of deadly pathogens into the environment from a Biosafety Level 4 lab.

"The potential still exists, whether it's happened or not," said Wulff, a former police officer who heads a citizens group that opposes a new lab under construction in Hamilton, Mont.

In the post-9/11 days of heightened security concerns, supporters say these new labs are necessary to develop vaccines and treatments for emerging diseases and bioterror threats. There are only a handful of labs in the country equipped with high-tech safety measures allowing them to study the deadliest pathogens. They are in Galveston and San Antonio, Texas, Frederick, Md., and Atlanta.

Kentucky, in partnership with Tennessee, would like to join that list, officials said Monday. The Department of Homeland Security is looking for a site for a new lab because there isn't enough research space to study the introduction of foreign animal diseases -- accidental or intentional -- into the country's food supply. The aging Plum Island, N.Y., facility where this is currently done may be closed or its research reduced, creating a need for a newer lab.

The proposed lab would also likely study zoonotic diseases that can be transferred from animals to humans, such as avian flu.

"If you want to learn how to take these viruses apart and put them back together ... and develop a vaccine against them, it really requires this kind of spacesuit laboratory," said Tom Curtis, director of research communications at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

A list of pathogens

While the research may be necessary, it's often difficult for community groups to get straight answers to their questions about the labs.

"The transparency issue is a big one because we wanted them to be forthcoming and tell us what they were working on," said Wulff, director of Coalition for a Safe Lab in Hamilton.

In the Montana settlement, the government agreed that it would distribute a list of all the pathogens studied there; that the lab would not turn any disease into a weapon; and that the lab will immediately report any incidents to safety officers inside and outside the facility.

Klare X. Allen, who lives in a South End neighborhood of Boston where a new research lab is planned, expresses frustration in getting Boston University and Boston Medical Center to answer questions about the facility that will work with some of the world's deadliest viruses and bacteria, such as Ebola, anthrax and plague.

"When you ask them direct questions, they won't answer them," said Allen, who heads a community group called Safety Net. "They'll say, 'We don't really know that information.' Or, 'We can't really talk about that.'"

But Ellen Berlin, director of corporate communications for Boston Medical Center, said officials have answered questions at more than 200 public meetings and forums about the lab. One question that has repeatedly come up is whether the lab would conduct any classified research, or study how to turn germs into weapons. The answer has repeatedly been no.

"I don't know why the question keeps being asked when the answer has been given," Berlin said. "And I think that sometimes opponents use opportunities to scare people to misrepresent the facts."

Terrorist targets?

Another question that's often asked about such labs is whether any of the material they're studying has ever gotten out. The standard answer is no.

"There's no evidence that there's ever been a release of one of these infectious agents" in any community, said Marshall Bloom, associate director of Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Montana. "However, there have been literally thousands of lives saved as a consequence of the research that's been done."

But lab opponents say that while there is no public record of accidents or security breaches at such facilities, the Council for Responsible Genetics has compiled a list of more than two dozen mistakes -- such as environmental releases, containment and security failures, missing samples, and exposures and infections of personnel -- at labs since 1985.

Bloom, the Montana lab associate director, acknowledges that there are risks to researchers. However, "the amount of scrutiny to which these facilities is subjected is phenomenal," he said. "It is unfair to compare what was done 20 years ago with what's being done in these facilities coming on-line today."

As for the potential for a terrorist incident at a lab, that hasn't been a serious concern for Robert Mihovil, who lives just blocks away from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. One small Level 4 lab is already there, and another larger lab is under construction.

Mihovil, president of a neighborhood association, said the more likely targets are the oil refineries 15 to 35 miles northwest of Galveston.

"I think it would be a whole lot more dangerous to be living next to (refineries in) Texas City or Pasadena than it would be to live next to a BSL-4 facility in the heart of UTMB," Mihovil said.

The microbes studied at UTMB "are fairly wimpy little bugs" that cannot survive in sunlight, said Curtis, the research spokesman there.

"Everybody is horrified at what they can do, but the truth is the research quantities we're studying are quite modest," Curtis said. "And if the building they're in got hit by a bomb or an airplane or a tornado or something like that," they're easily killed.

Frankness and delivery

While openness has been an issue at some lab locations, Mihovil gives UTMB good marks for its forthrightness in dealing with the public.

For one thing, the university told the public about its intentions to seek funding for its two labs years before it applied.

"They answered any questions and all questions we had well before there was a piece of concrete poured," Mihovil said. "They brought in their six top experts, the doctors that were actually going to design and run the labs, and they came to our meetings at our neighborhood association."

Still, there are aspects about the labs that unnerve residents. One is that the vials of microbes are delivered by FedEx and other couriers. Allen said the winning sports teams in Boston had more police escorts than will the germs delivered to the new lab to be built there.

"When the Patriots won, when the Celtics won, when the Red Sox won, they shut down the whole damn highway," Allen said. "They had 20 cops in front of them, 20 cops behind them and they brought them in. The plague and anthrax? They come through FedEx. You know how many overturned FedEx trucks we've had in a year?"

"Where's the evidence that this has ever been an issue?" counters Bloom. "To say that these express companies don't have security systems in place is laughable."

Just Testing - Is the U.S. Government making anthrax bombs in Utah?

Salt Lake City Utah
By: Ted McDonough

In March 1988, Saddam Hussein unloaded some of his Pandora's box of chemical weapons on the Kurdish village of Halabja. As many as 5,000 were killed by nerve agents believed to have included VX, a poison so deadly that a single drop the size of a pinhead can cause death minutes after touching the skin.

By forcing all the body's nerves to fire continuously, causing all of a victim's involuntary muscles to contract, VX leads to racing heart, drooling, vomiting, gut spasms and, finally, death by asphyxiation.

Fifteen years later, in 2003, that attack was still cited as a reason to force Iraq to get rid of its arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, then believed to additionally include giant fermentors used to grow deadly bacteria such as anthrax and botulinum. Civilized countries, including the United States, had sworn off such weapons a generation earlier and were busy dismantling Cold War-era chemical and biological weapons factories.

Much of the job of destroying America's WMD stockpile took place in Utah's west desert at the Deseret Chemical Depot, 12 miles south of Tooele. In March 2005, the depot celebrated its milestone destruction of the millionth VX-filled munition. The date of the announcement coincided nicely with a worldwide celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, when more than 150 countries pledged to never again make weapons of mass destruction.

But something else was going on that March in the west desert that has some questioning the United States' dedication to nonproliferation. Over at the U.S. Army's Dugway Proving Grounds-the chemical depot's Tooele County neighbor-procurement officers quietly placed orders for a system of bacteria-growing fermentors that would have made Saddam salivate.

According to government solicitation, the order called for four fermentors with a total capacity of producing nearly 3,500 liters of bacteria and the possibility of another five fermentors in the future. That is enough bacteria-making equipment to cook up about three-fourths the 8,400 liters of anthrax Iraq admitted to having produced for Saddam's biowar program.

The order didn't detail what Dugway wanted to grow, but at the same time, the secretive Army base put out feelers for a second set of fermentors and contractors willing to make 1,500-liter batches of a benign strain of anthrax called Sterne.

The request sent shockwaves through the community of government watchdogs and scientists dedicated to ensuring the biowar genie stays in its bottle. For, while the fermentors were ostensibly ordered for production of a nonlethal strain of anthrax, they could easily be used to produce vast quantities of the lethal strain as well.

Dugway had long been known to experiment with deadly agents. In spring 2003, for example, the base advertised for help brewing up paralysis-inducing botulinum toxin, as well as Ricin, plague, rabbit fever, food poisoning, the horse disease glanders and all manner of nerve agents including the Nazi-invented tabun and soman.

But as far as anyone knew, Dugway only used small amounts of the agents inside sealed laboratories.

"To anybody's knowledge, there was no fermentation capacity anywhere near that size at Dugway until this decision to build it," said Edward Hammond, who keeps an eye on bioweapons research from his Texas-based Sunshine Project. "A few years ago, if somebody did that it would be viewed as possibly a smoking gun of an offensive program. It would probably get the Iranians bombed if they did that at one of their facilities."

The requests for fermentors were the clearest sign yet that a huge build-up of U.S. biowar research, begun after 9/11, was coming to Utah. Dugway, long home to the nation's biodefense testing, reports a 60 percent increase in its workload since the attacks on the World Trade Center and, late last year, readied plans for construction to double testing again.

All of the testing is done in the name of protecting the country from terrorist attack with biological or chemical weapons. But the direction in which some of the testing is headed-including all but making WMDs ourselves-is troubling an increasingly vocal group of scientists. Even if America's motives are pure, they worry, the work could spark a new WMD arms race.

For Utah watchdogs, the prospect of increased testing at Dugway resurrects memories of a time before 1969, when outdoor testing with biological and chemical weapons was stopped. One chilling, unexplained request from Dugway last year asked for batches of dead, frozen sheep for testing a mobile crematorium, resurrecting the specter of 6,000 sheep found dead in Utah's Skull Valley following the accidental release of VX from Dugway in 1968. Some worry the likelihood of accidents will increase as more tests are performed at a supposedly secure Army base where nine illegal workers from
Mexico were found working for a subcontractor in February, hard at work building a new hotel.

"There is a very blurry line between offense and defense when it comes to germ warfare," said Salt Lake City Dugway watchdog Steve Erickson, director of the Citizens Education Project.

"When they start doing stuff like ordering up fermentors, there is just no knowing what they are going to do," said Erickson. "It's not just unsettling for us locally, it is an international cause for concern. A lot of these other countries that are signatory to the Biological Weapons Convention-what will they think? Perception in this arena is critical."

Dugway isn't saying why it wanted large volumes of the nonlethal Sterne anthrax, except that it was acting on orders from the U.S. Army Developmental Test Command. The particular solicitation that alarmed watchdogs was canceled when no contractor responded, said Dugway spokeswoman Paula Nicholson. Base commanders did not respond to questions about whether the order had been filled in another way. Dugway has been growing small amounts of its own Sterne-strain anthrax since 2002, according to Nicholson. It's used as a substitute for the real thing when testing battlefield
detectors that sniff out biowar agents and other defense equipment.

Hammond thinks the only explanation for the Army's need for thousands of liters of non-lethal anthrax would be outdoor testing. In such a case, faux anthrax would be grown in fermentors, dried out and turned into an aerosol to be released as a cloud above a Dugway training range to test detectors or to train troops.

Critics say the problem is that such experiments look a lot like what a country would do if it wanted to make biological weapons.

Because biological weapons don't keep well, a biological weapons program looks like a bunch of fermentors ready to be turned on in case of war. When the Bush administration went to the United Nations with its case for war with Iraq, it noted reports that Saddam could produce 25,000 liters of anthrax. The administration didn't claim Saddam had that much anthrax, just that it "had biological weapons sufficient to produce" that much. In other words, fermentors and equipment enough to turn the resulting death soup into a powder that will float on the wind.

The best defense is a good offense, goes the old sports analogy. The question many are asking is, when it comes to military research, how do you tell the difference?

Equipment used to grow large amounts of the type of anthrax given to soldiers to vaccinate them against the disease could just as easily grow the disease that causes black, crater-like swelling on the skin and that suffocates a victim in three days, said Hammond. And the real anthrax is also stored at Dugway, inside biological laboratories newly expanded in 2003 as part of the national biodefense build-up.

Anthrax, thought to be either the fifth or sixth plague of Egypt described in the Bible, has been a favorite of WMD research because of its ability to survive as a spore for decades before finding its way into a host. As a skin infection, anthrax forms black, bacteria-oozing patches that can cover an entire limb, but it's most deadly in the lungs. Infections from inhaling spores begin like a mild case of the flu that continues until the sudden onset of troubled breathing, when it's often too late to stop. The skin turns bluish and a victim's chest swells as anthrax spores, activated in the warmth of the lungs, begin to reproduce, widening a gap behind the
breastbone and causing massive bleeding inside the chest cavity. Ultimately, the bacteria spread through the blood to the rest of the body, resulting in shock and death in two to three days.

One of the furthest reaching, if little advertised, effects of the War on Terror has been a dramatic increase in U.S. spending on biological and chemical warfare research.

A cursory review of Bush's 2007 budget request released early February shows $7 billion in dedicated bioterror funding. That compares with about $750 million spent before 9/11. Hammond calculates that if off-the-books "black budget" spending is included, the United States is already spending up to $8 billion per year on biodefense.

The same people who told us Saddam had weapons of mass destruction believe an attack on the United States with chemical or biological weapons is a dire threat. To justify experiments that a few years ago were generally considered off-limits for defensive purposes, the Department of Homeland Security has resorted to reinterpreting the Biological Weapons Convention, said Alan Pearson, director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation's biological and chemical weapons program.

On its face, the treaty bans development of biological weapon agents or methods of delivery, but in writing up plans for new biodefense centers being constructed this year, the Homeland Security department suggested developing defensive biological weapons would be OK. That's a position taken by no other country, Pearson said.

Announced plans for the new National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center include the United States working to "acquire, grow, modify, store, stabilize, package [and] disperse" biological weapons. Other announced biodefense plans include development of genetically-modified versions of deadly bacteria. The justification in both cases is threat assessment. That is determining what terrorists might be capable of in terms of producing vaccine-resistant strains of deadly biological agents or new methods of agent delivery.

Scientific groups coming out against portions of the biodefense effort include Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Council for Responsible Genetics. The former chief American negotiator of the Biological Weapons Convention, James Leonard, has warned the administration's initiative could be interpreted as "development" of biological weapons in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention.

"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 (BWC), are startling," Leonard wrote in a critique authored with a former deputy director of the main U.S. biological-pathogens research center at Fort Deitrick, Md. The new defensive efforts "may constitute development in the guise of threat assessment, and they certainly will be interpreted that way," they wrote.

Even the National Academy of Sciences has chimed in, calling U.S. efforts to make more deadly germs "concerning"-if only because they might give terrorists ideas.

Making his first appearance before Congress as national intelligence director in February, John Negroponte said a terrorist strike with conventional explosives remains the "most probable scenario," but al Qaeda, along with nearly 40 other terrorist organizations, remains interested in acquiring chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

But since it's now evident that Iraq dismantled its facilities producing weapons of mass destruction long before the American invasion of 2003, some scientists wonder if the current U.S. defensive biowar build-up is similarly based on faulty intelligence.

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."

Others criticize the amount of money spent on biodefense.

"We have ongoing problems in coping with infectious disease that are killing tens of thousands of Americans every year and yet we're soaking billions of dollars into the bioterrorist threat that is at the present time entirely hypothetical," said University of California, Davis, microbiologist Mark Wheelis, one of many scientists arguing that if a bioterror attack occurs, spending on basic health infrastructure and emergency services will be far more important that exotic anti-biowar measures.

According to post-9/11 studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, an American's odds of dying from heart disease are one in 322, while the odds of dying in an act of bioterrorism are one in 56 million.

Bush would fund next year's proposed increased in bioterror research at the National Institutes of Health by trimming most other NIH disease programs.

It's a spending pattern consistent with past years' post-9/11 budgets. Since 2001, federal grants to study biowarfare agents have grown more than 2,000 percent while research dollars for some diseases that infect large numbers of Americans-including turberculosis and hepatitis-declined.

The U.S. biodefense build-up began one month after the 9/11 attacks, when envelopes containing anthrax were mailed to Congress and Bush requested $1.5 billion in counter-bioterrorism funding.

Erickson points out one of the great ironies: The anthrax in the letters almost certainly came not from international terrorists, but from a U.S. biodefense laboratory. While the perpetrator was never found, investigators determined the powder was a militarized anthrax strain developed at Fort Deitrick, in Maryland. Another irony is that Hussein got part of his anthrax starter kit from U.S. storehouses, which shipped to Iraq cultures on seven occasions between 1986 and 1988.

Despite increasing voices of caution, the biodefense boom shows no signs of slowing down.

Construction is set to begin on new multimillion-dollar biodefense centers at Fort Deitrick. Douglas Tamilio, commander of Dugway's West Desert Test Center, said in a prepared statement that planned construction in Utah isn't yet underway. While Dugway has added laboratories since 9/11, it has shut older labs so less room is available for testing than was available 10 years ago. While numbers of Dugway's customers and related tests have "significantly increased" since 2001, the amount of biological agents or simulant used at Dugway hasn't grown significantly, Tamilio wrote.

Still, last September, Dugway completed an environmental plan describing potential construction to support a doubling of the testing activities over the next seven years. That includes an annex for Dugway's bio-laboratory and buildings for communications and protective-gear testing. A mock city was proposed for a dramatic expansion of Dugway's soldier training. Last October, Dugway requested permission to take over an undisclosed amount of nearby federal land for training and test ranges.

Dugway's requests for this year include lodging, a year of bus service to transport workers from Tooele, a crew of paramedics, a natural-gas transport pipeline for heating and a real-time continuous air-monitoring system. The base has received $25 million for a rebuilt runway.

It's all for defense and perfectly safe. So says the government. But it makes watchdogs nervous.

"It's not so much that I'm afraid that the U.S. is going to start weaponizing anthrax. We've got enough ways to kill people. The problem is, what if everybody in the world starts doing this?" Hammond asks. "We're creating the threat we are supposed to be defending against, and there isn't a technical solution. There is always going to be one more step, one more vaccine to be defeated. It's like a dog chasing its own tail."

February 17, 2006

Bioterrorism, hyped

LA Times
By Milton Leitenberg

THE UNITED STATES has spent at least $33 billion since 2002 to combat the threat of biological terrorism. The trouble is, the risk that terrorists will use biological agents is being systematically and deliberately exaggerated. And the U.S. government has been using most of its money to prepare for the wrong contingency.

A pandemic flu outbreak of the kind the world witnessed in 1918-19 could kill hundreds of millions of people. The only lethal biological attack in the United States — the anthrax mailings — killed five. But the annual budget for combating bioterror is more than $7 billion, while Congress just passed a $3.8-billion emergency package to prepare for a flu outbreak.

The exaggeration of the bioterror threat began more than a decade ago after the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo group released sarin gas in the Tokyo subways in 1995. The scaremongering has grown more acute since 9/11 and the mailing of anthrax-laced letters to Congress and media outlets in the fall of 2001. Now an edifice of institutes, programs and publicists with a vested interest in hyping the bioterror threat has grown, funded by the government and by foundations.

Last year, for example, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist described bioterrorism as "the greatest existential threat we have in the world today." But how could he justify such a claim? Is bioterrorism a greater existential threat than global climate change, global poverty levels, wars and conflicts, nuclear proliferation, ocean-quality deterioration, deforestation, desertification, depletion of freshwater aquifers or the balancing of population growth and food production? Is it likely to kill more people than the more mundane scourges of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, measles and cholera, which kill more than 11 million people each year?

So what substantiates the alarm and the massive federal spending on bioterrorism? There are two main sources of bioterrorism threats: first, from countries developing bioweapons, and second, from terrorist groups that might buy, steal or manufacture them.

The first threat is declining. U.S. intelligence estimates say the number of countries that conduct offensive bioweapons programs has fallen in the last 15 years from 13 to nine, as South Africa, Libya, Iraq and Cuba were dropped. There is no publicly available evidence that even the most hostile of the nine remaining countries — Syria and Iran — are ramping up their programs.

And, despite the fear that a hostile nation could help terrorists get biological weapons, no country has ever done so — even nations known to have trained terrorists.

It's more difficult to assess the risk of terrorists using bioweapons, especially because the perpetrators of the anthrax mailings have not been identified. If the perpetrators did not have access to assistance, materials or knowledge derived from the U.S. biodefense program, but had developed such sophistication independently, that would change our view of what a terrorist group might be capable of. So far, however, the history of terrorist experimentation with bioweapons has shown that killing large numbers of people isn't as easy as we've been led to believe.

Followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh succeeded in culturing and distributing salmonella in Oregon in 1984, sickening 751 people. Aum Shinrikyo failed in its attempts to obtain, produce and disperse anthrax and botulinum toxin between 1990 and 1994. Al Qaeda tried to develop bioweapons from 1997 until the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, but declassified documents found by U.S. forces outside Kandahar indicate the group never obtained the necessary pathogens.

At a conference in Tokyo this week, bioterrorism experts called for new programs to counter the possibility that terrorists could genetically engineer new pathogens. Yet three of the leading scientists in the field have said there is no likelihood at this time that a terrorist group could perform such a feat.

The real problem is that a decade of widely broadcast discussion of what it takes to produce a bioweapon has provided terrorists with at least a rough roadmap. Until now, no terrorist group has had professionals with the skills to exploit the information — but the publicity may make it easier in the future.

There is no military or strategic justification for imputing to real-world terrorist groups capabilities that they do not possess. Yet no risk analysis was conducted before the $33 billion was spent.

Some scientists and politicians privately acknowledge that the threat of bioterror attacks is exaggerated, but they argue that spending on bioterrorism prevention and response would be inadequate without it. But the persistent hype is not benign. It is almost certainly the single major factor in provoking interest in bioweapons among terrorist groups. Bin Laden's deputy, the Egyptian doctor Ayman Zawahiri, wrote on a captured floppy disk that "we only became aware of (bioweapons) when the enemy drew our attention to them by repeatedly expressing concerns that they can be produced simply with easily available materials." We are creating our worst nightmare.

Ohio forms plan to fight avian flu Health summit to focus on preparedness

Regina McEnery
Plain Dealer Reporter

A flu summit led by state and federal health officials today in Columbus will highlight a plan to protect Ohioans against avian flu.

The 59-page blueprint offers local health departments detailed instructions on what drugs to stockpile and how to track and rapidly identify flu-like illnesses. The plan guides hospitals and public health authorities on how to contain the infection and where to conduct mass vaccinations.

The Ohio plan is a byproduct of a federal effort that began after the Sept. 11 and anthrax attacks exposed gaps in the country's emergency response capabilities.

Court decision on vaccinations is a blow to public health

By Arthur Caplan and David Curry

Many Americans are required to get vaccinations. They have no choice. Most of them are children and, in most states, if their parents want them to be able to attend school, they need to prove that they have been immunized against tetanus, whooping cough, diphtheria, polio and hepatitis B.

But there are many Americans who oppose any mandatory vaccinations. Some claim religious exemptions or offer ``philosophical'' reasons, which are often quite imaginative. Others claim that too many vaccines taken too quickly can cause all sorts of problems for children. Some want to rely on ``natural'' foods to protect them against viruses and microbes. Still others think that the government is conniving with industry so that the latter can make a profit.

But little, if any, open opposition to mandatory vaccination comes from those in the health care field. That's why it was so startling when a group of nurses in Washington state went to federal court to fight a plan by Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle to require every nurse who works there to get a flu shot. What is just as remarkable is that the nurses won.

The Jan. 5 ruling by the U.S. District Court in Seattle in favor of the Washington State Nurses Association drew little attention. But it could have important implications should we be faced with the prospect of a nasty flu outbreak next year -- or worse, a bioterror attack involving smallpox or anthrax. The ruling hinged, in part, on the question of whether the hospital could impose a new job ``duty'' after collective bargaining had ended. But, the bottom line was that a court ruled that a hospital could not make getting a flu shot a condition of employment.

Officials at Virginia Mason had sought to make flu shots mandatory -- describing them as part of its ``fitness for duty requirements'' -- and to be able to dismiss any registered nurse who didn't comply. The medical center argued that a 100 percent staff immunization goal was ``focused on preventing unnecessary death due to influenza transmission during flu season [and] to protect patients and fulfill the medical center's commitment to patient safety.''

The center's chairman and CEO, Gary S. Kaplan, argued that ``when faced with an opportunity to prevent an avoidable death, the path becomes clear.'' The nurses' association countered that it supports the flu vaccine and, in fact, strongly encourages nurses to get it, but that it ``opposes any health care facility threatening to fire people if they do not submit to the mandatory vaccination, especially in the absence of a declared public-health emergency and a recommendation for mandatory vaccination by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.''

The nurses' group proclaimed: ``It's a basic right for people to make decisions regarding their own health care treatment. As health care professionals, nurses know that education, accessibility and incentives -- not brute force -- are the best way to encourage people to comply.''

The case included extensive arguments by the hospital citing numerous agencies recommending such vaccinations as a health precaution. But the nurses chose to fight, and the court found the argument by the nurses' group persuasive. The court wound up promoting the position that choice, not mandates, should be the basis of vaccination policy. Is that sound policy for hospitals where people are sick or frail and highly prone to infection? Is it sound public policy?

Will anti-vaccine activists jump on this court decision to undermine mandatory vaccination for children? And does the Washington State Nurses Association or anyone else really think that health care workers, over 60 percent of whom don't get flu shots each season, are going to respond to ``easy access and education'' and comply with current CDC vaccine recommendations? Even if the CDC or the Department of Health and Human Services or the president declares a national public-health emergency, will health care workers suddenly get vaccinated?

Americans hate mandates. Apparently, so do some nurses in Washington state. As a people who treasure our self-determination, many of us hate having the government tell us what we must do. But, in the war against disease and the threat of pandemics, both natural and human-caused, it may be necessary to give up a tiny bit of freedom or a bargaining chip in labor negotiations in the name of public health.

It is time to engage in more public discussion and debate about the role of mandates and vaccines for health care workers. We should do so now, before the next nasty bug shows up in your neighborhood without your doctor or nurse having been vaccinated against it.

is director of the center's Ethics of Vaccines Project. They wrote this article for the Mercury News.

ARTHUR CAPLAN is director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. DAVID CURRY

Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization was formed to harness the strengths and experience of multiple partners in immunization. It is an historic alliance between the private and public sector committed to the mission of saving children's lives and protecting people's health through the widespread use of vaccines. A new type of public-private partnership, GAVI brings together governments in developing and industrialized countries, established and emerging vaccine manufacturers, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), research institutes, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Bank.

Groups Aims to Delay Opening of Biological Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Lab

Global Security Newswire

Two activist groups have asked a federal appeals court to delay the opening of a facility for testing dangerous biological agents at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, the San Francisco Chronicle reported today (see GSN, Feb. 22, 2005).

Tri-Valley CARES and Nuclear Watch of New Mexico say additional environmental assessment is needed before the opening of the facility, which is to study agents including anthrax, Q fever, botulism and plague.

The “deadly bioagents tested at this facility could escape to the environment through earthquake, fire, terrorist attack, sabotage, operator error or failure of the containment filters through which the air in the facility would be exhausted to the outside,” said lawyer Stephan Volker in papers filed with the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The facility is scheduled to open in April. Lawrence Livermore has previously conducted biodefense research, but the new Biosafety Level 3 laboratory would enable research on more dangerous agents.

The groups are appealing the 2004 ruling of U.S. District Court Judge Saundra Armstrong that the U.S. Energy Department could go forward with the laboratory.

Officials from the laboratory said they would oppose the lawsuit, which could “potentially delay the startup of important homeland security research.”

Laboratory officials said they believed Armstrong ruled correctly. “The same issues that were raised at the trial-court level — and rejected there — are being put forward again,” a laboratory statement said. “We believed then and continue to believe that (the judge's ruling) was a sound decision.”

Laboratory spokesman Steve Wampler said the facility would conduct research on countermeasures against biological weapons, not develop new weapons.

“The U.S. is a signatory to the (international) biowarfare convention and does not conduct bioweapons research,” he said.

Volker, however, maintained that “this kind of research actually has no clear demarcation between offensive and defensive weapons.” He argued that in the course of their research, scientists could unknowingly create new weapons that could be used by terrorists.

Laboratory security is also questionable, he added, citing occasions “where keys were lost (and) facilities were left exposed to potential theft of these kinds of materials.” Volker also said facility filters might not prevent the agents from escaping into the environment (Keay Davidson, San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 17).

More Drug Makers Are Losing Patience Over Bioshield Funds


Richard Hollis is prepared to bite the hand he hopes will feed his company, Hollis-Eden Pharmaceuticals. (HEPH)

The hand belongs to Project Bioshield, a program designed to stockpile drugs and vaccines in the event of a large-scale terrorist attack.

President Bush announced Bioshield in January 2003 and signed it into law in July 2004.

The program is run by the Health and Human Services Department. It allocates $5.6 billion over 10 years to create a market for products to counter the effects of chemical, biological and nuclear terrorism.

But Hollis says Bioshield hasn't kept its promise. He's written, cajoled and lobbied lawmakers in an effort to find out why the money being allocated isn't being spent.

In late January, Hollis put his beefs about the program before millions of viewers on CBS' "60 Minutes."

The "60 Minutes" segment examined U.S. preparedness for nuclear terrorism. It also looked at Hollis-Eden's anti-radiation drug, Neumune. Hollis-Eden has spent $100 million to develop it.

Neumune rebuilds white blood cells and platelets after radiation exposure, which helps victims recover and avoid potentially life-threatening diseases.

The drug has had Pentagon backing for years. Tests at the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute showed 100% of primates given Neumune survived radiation, while 100% of test animals without Neumune died.

Human clinical trials to test radiation or biochemical treatments are impossible. So the Food and Drug Administration can approve countermeasure drugs such as Neumune on the strength of primate tests.

Neumune is even easy to administer. People can inject themselves with a one-time-use syringe.

With all these advantages, Neumune seemed to be Bioshield's best anti-radiation prospect. Investors took notice, pushing Hollis-Eden's shares to an all-time high of 36.25 in September 2003.

But as doubts grew in the biotech community about Project Bioshield's management, Hollis-Eden's stock went into free fall. It bottomed out at 4.44 last month.

Insufficient Funds?

Some biotechs have even walked away from developing products for Project Bioshield, figuring there's no point in making products if the government is not going to buy and stockpile them.

One of the dropouts is Vical, (VICL) which claims to have an advanced anthrax vaccine.

Human Genome Sciences (HGSI) Chief Executive James Davis told Congress in June that his firm's anthrax countermeasure could have been in the national stockpile months earlier "if the full authority of Project Bioshield (had) been used as intended."

In October, Davis' firm got a contract to supply 10 grams of its drug, ABthrax, for testing. Bioshield took a one-year option for 100,000 doses.

So how do government officials respond to suggestions that Project Bioshield is falling short of its intent?

Monique Mansoura, the HHS' senior planning officer for public health emergency preparedness, says Bioshield is strapped by limited funds.

The program is doing the best it can with the money it has available, she says. But it also must spend carefully on what it considers the top priorities.

"With $5.6 billion, we can't address all threats for 300 million citizens," Mansoura said.

The program has spent only around $1 billion so far.

Others say the problem isn't so much money as it is stewardship.

"There's a real gap between the intention to create a new industry for biodefense countermeasures and the outcome. The central point of leadership has to come from the president," said Brad Smith, head of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Biosecurity, which advises the government.

Project Bioshield has purchased four products so far. It has paid VaxGen $900 million for 75 million doses of anthrax vaccine for the national stockpile. BioPort gets $122.7 millon for 5 million doses of its anthrax vaccine.

Fleming & Co. gets $5.7 million for 1.7 million children's doses of potassium iodide, the standard treatment to prevent thyroid cancer after radiation exposure.

Akorn (AKN) gets $22 million for products to treat internal contamination by radioactive substances.

Some experts question these decisions. Brian Jenkins, terrorism analyst at RAND, a nonprofit research organization, says Bioshield's decision makers are missing the mark by focusing on radiation and anthrax.

Nor would Jenkins have stockpiled 300 million doses of smallpox vaccine, which the U.S. government did before Bioshield.

"It's hard to turn anthrax and smallpox into weapons of mass destruction," Jenkins said.

Hollis says he wants the government to focus on the threat of nuclear terror rather than anthrax. Ideally, he says, Bioshield officials would commit to 10 million doses of Neumune, which Hollis-Eden could supply at $50 to $100 per treatment.

While it didn't endorse any specific drug, the 9-11 commission recommended a stockpile of 10 million doses of a radiation countermeasure.

Bioshield plans to buy only 100,000 doses of whichever drug it thinks will best do the job. The deadline for proposals is Feb. 23. Hollis says his firm is working round the clock to win the business.

February 16, 2006

BioPort moves ahead with project

Lansing State Journal

A day after receiving a $6.3 million Single Business Tax credit, anthrax vaccine maker BioPort Corp. held a ceremonial groundbreaking with employees Wednesday for a $75 million expansion to its north Lansing campus.

But the event does not guarantee BioPort will expand in Lansing, spokeswoman Kim Brennen Root said. BioPort is considering a Maryland site and awaits a decision by the city of Lansing on a tax break worth more than $9 million over 15 years. State Rep. Michael Murphy, who attended the event, is confident BioPort will expand in Michigan. "A big bulldozer took a big hunk of dirt out of the ground where the building is going," said Murphy, D-Lansing. Still, Murphy encouraged city officials to act quickly on BioPort's request "to send a message that we want you here; we value you." The Lansing facility employs 322 workers.

Consensus Sought at Biological Weapons Talks

Global Security Newswire

A Japanese official said yesterday that diplomats from countries involved in talks in Tokyo on the Biological Weapons Convention are close to agreeing that inspections are not an efficient way to control materials covered by the treaty, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, Feb. 15).

The inspections issue was the focus of the informal talks that ended yesterday, which were meant to prepare for the next treaty review conference beginning in November in Geneva.

“Although there were some differences in opinions of participants, the overall direction of the talks was that it needs to be recognized that there is a limited efficiency in inspection,” the Japanese official said. “There was a sense of crisis in the Tokyo conference that if people fail to agree on anything, the credibility of the BWC will be lost.”

The Bush administration has maintained that allowing inspections would compromise trade secrets and security (Agence France-Presse, Feb. 15).

February 15, 2006

BioPort gets $6.3M state tax break

By Jeremy W. Steele
Lansing State Journal

BioPort Corp. is a step closer to a $75 million expansion of its north Lansing complex now that state officials have approved a $6.3 million tax break.

But Kim Brennen Root, spokeswoman for the anthrax vaccine maker, said Tuesday the company could not commit to the project until Lansing acts on a proposed tax break valued at more than $9 million.

City officials are negotiating with BioPort about a 50 percent tax break for up to 15 years on its building improvements and new equipment, said Bob Trezise, manager of the Lansing Economic Development Corp.


"It is a highly unique and 21st century-like company, like the type that we'd like to inspire here in the Lansing area," Trezise said. "They can go other places in the country."

The expansion would include building the first vaccine manufacturing facility of its kind in the Midwest. The new operation would allow BioPort to make a variety of vaccines. Currently, only the company's anthrax vaccine is made in Lansing.

Without the tax breaks, the state stands to lose all 322 jobs at BioPort's Lansing facility. The average weekly wage of those workers is $1,058, according to the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

The company also is considering Gaithersburg, Md., the home of parent company Emergent BioSolutions Inc., for an expansion.

Most U.S. vaccine makers are concentrated on the nation's coasts.

"We really think we have a unique vision for this part of the country," Brennen Root said. "We would have the potential to do a number of different products. They could include both biodefense and commercial vaccines."

Although BioPort has an important Defense Department contract for its main product, its anthrax vaccine could soon become obsolete.

A competitor's product, now in clinical trials, is the main choice of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for its national stockpile to protect against a terrorist attack.

"It's incredibly important to us competitively," Brennen Root said of the new facility. "It's an investment that we need to make from a competitive standpoint."

If it chooses Lansing, BioPort would build new manufacturing facilities on its 13-acre compound on North Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

That would give the company space for pilot plant capability for vaccines in development and large-scale manufacturing. Its equipment now allows for only small-scale manufacturing.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed legislation Tuesday allowing a Single Business Tax credit to be offered to the vaccine maker. The Michigan Economic Growth Authority board approved the 10-year tax credit Tuesday, as well.

Contact Jeremy W. Steele at 377-1015 or jwsteele@lsj.com.

Norwegian Woman Treated for Anthrax Exposure

Global Security Newswire

An employee at a Norwegian military base that is home to a NATO training center and the country’s Defense Joint Operative Headquarters was treated for anthrax exposure after she opened an envelop that contained white powder, the newspaper Aftenposten reported today (see GSN, Jan. 26).

The letter was sent from the United States and addressed to U.S. officials.

“The police have been called in and they took the powder, which is now sent for analysis,” said DJOH spokesman Erling Kristiansen.

The woman, a civilian employee at the base, was examined by health officials and prescribed antibiotics (Aftenposten, Feb. 15).

Legislation to Improve Biological Attack Readiness Tops U.S. Senate Committee’s Agenda

Global Security Newswire

U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) said his panel this year would press efforts this year to strengthen U.S. biological defense efforts, according to the Biodefense Funding Report (see GSN, Oct. 19, 2005).

The senator said the drug industry must work to create new countermeasures to safeguard U.S. citizens.

“Though we've made remarkable strides to identify our nation's weaknesses, the fact remains that there are still holes in our biological defense that must be filled to ensure the safety of public health as well as national security,” Enzi said.

Filling these gaps will be the “No. 1 priority” for the panel’s Bioterrorism and Public Health Preparedness Subcommittee, chaired by Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.).

The committee hopes to pass Project Bioshield II, which would provide tax incentives for companies to research and develop countermeasures; intellectual property and patent protections; and liability shields to companies that manufacture vaccines. The last committee action on the legislation was a round-table discussion in July 2005 (Biodefense Funding Report, Feb, 14).

February 14, 2006

States of Michigan and Maryland Support Company's Expansion

GAITHERSBURG, Md., Feb. 14 /PRNewswire/ -- Emergent BioSolutions today announced that the Michigan Economic Development Corporation has granted BioPort Corporation's application for financial incentives associated with a planned investment of $75 million in a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility on its Lansing, Michigan campus. BioPort Corporation is a subsidiary of Emergent BioSolutions. This incentive package comes on the heels of a similar investment incentive program provided to the company in late 2004 by the State of Maryland for expansion of product development and manufacturing capacity in a 150,000 sq. ft. facility in Frederick, Maryland.

"Over the past three years, we have executed a number of strategic acquisitions that have contributed significantly to our product pipeline," Fuad El-Hibri, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, said. "As our company continues to grow, and our products advance, we will make the essential investments in our manufacturing capability for both our commercial and biodefense product pipelines. We are pleased and grateful for the support we have received in Maryland and Michigan and we are building our business so that we have a long and prosperous future in both states."

The Lansing expansion project, once completed, is designed to allow the company to produce up to 80 million doses per year of BioThrax(R), the only FDA approved vaccine for the prevention of anthrax. The company presently produces BioThrax at its facilities in Lansing and in doing so employs more than 300 staff and professional personnel.

The company's Frederick, Maryland facility is to be used for future vaccine manufacturing capacity. Emergent has designed that facility to be a state-of-the-art production plant that will provide significant manufacturing capacity for multiple vaccine products and to employ between 300 and 400 people when operating at full capacity. Emergent holds rights to acquire an additional facility of equal size at the same site to further support its growth plans. The company currently maintains its corporate headquarters and product development operations in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

February 13, 2006

Bird flu vaccine impossible until after pandemic appears: UN official


KIEV (AFP) - A bird flu vaccine cannot be produced until the virus mutates to pass from human to human and then would take months to manufacture in sufficient quantities, the United Nations' top influenza official said.

"We cannot have a vaccine against a pandemic virus until the pandemic virus appears," David Nabarro, the UN senior coordinator for avian and human influenza told reporters in Kiev on Wednesday, where he is on a two-day visit.

"And then there will be an interval of perhaps six months until we have a reasonable quantity of vaccine," Nabarro said.

The H5N1 avian flu strain -- which has recently spread to several European Union countries and Africa -- has killed at least 90 people, about half of those who have contracted it. Most of the deaths have occurred in eastern Asia, but also in Turkey and northern Iraq.

So far, victims have caught the virus from close contact with infected poultry.

But experts are worried that if the H5N1 strain acquires genetic material from a human influenza virus and becomes easily transmittable between humans, it could kill millions of people in a worldwide pandemic.

Health officials do not know when, or even if, such a mutation will take place.

"Unfortunately I can't give you any precise information as to when the mutation of H5N1 to a form that can be transmitted between humans will actually take place," Nabarro said.

"Indeed it's something that is still an issue for which we have to be prepared, but we cannot be at all certain when, or even if, the mutation will occur," he said.

Ukraine first registered an outbreak of the H5N1 virus last December, among domestic poultry in Crimea. It has not recorded any cases of humans catching the strain.

Hidden history of US germ testing

BBC News

Fifty years ago, American scientists were in a frantic race to counter what they saw as the Soviet threat from germ warfare. Biological pathogens they developed were tested on volunteers from a pacifist church and were also released in public places. The remarkable story is told in a BBC Radio 4 documentary, Hotel Anthrax.

In the 1950s, the Seventh-day Adventist Church struck an extraordinary deal with the US Army. It would provide test subjects for experiments on biological weapons at the Fort Detrick research centre near Washington DC. The volunteers were conscientious objectors who agreed to be infected with debilitating pathogens. In return, they were exempted from frontline warfare. Fort Detrick was working on weapons it could use in an offensive capacity as well as ways of defending its troops and citizens. Hotel Anthrax uses declassified documents, evidence from Senate investigations and personal testimony to trace the American bio-weapon programme during this period.

The research involved anthrax, other lethal bacteria and biological poisons. The scientists also conducted tests on an unsuspecting American public. Rabbit fever More than 2,000 volunteers, nicknamed the "white coats", passed through Fort Detrick between 1954 and 1973, where they worked as lab technicians, as well as offering up their bodies for science. One white coat, George Shores, tells of how he was infected with tularaemia or rabbit fever.

Even my gums hurt. I don't think I have ever been so sick in all my life George Shores

A giant metal sphere, known as the Eight Ball because of its resemblance to a snooker ball, was used in the experiment. Technicians exploded prototype bio-weapons inside the structure. "They had like telephone booths all the way around the outside of the Eight Ball and you went into the telephone booth and shut the door and put on a mask like a gas mask. "It was hooked up to the material that was inside the Eight Ball and you breathed it in," explained Mr Shores. He began to feel ill before too long. "Even my gums hurt. I don't think I have ever been so sick in all my life. First it started as a headache and achy feelings and it just kept progressing. "I just wanted to breathe enough to keep alive. I would just take little gasps of breath and I would hold it for as long as I could because it hurt so bad. "I can imagine if someone was using that agent in the battlefield the soldier would just have to lie down - he would not be able to function." Their role was to test the effectiveness of new vaccines and antibiotics and as soon as they became ill, they were given medical treatment. Within a few days, George Shores began to recover. But America's Institute of Medicine is conducting a study of more than 6,000 veterans who say their health has been compromised by secret tests in the Cold War years. Some of these were veteran sailors who were involved in tests known as SHAD - Shipborne Hazard and Defense - which involved spraying lethal chemicals such as sarin and nerve gases in the open sea. The BBC programme makers also obtained declassified documents prepared by the US Department of Veterans Affairs which refer to a study of nearly 100 SHAD veterans who have since died. It found the veterans were three times more likely to have developed one of a group of killer diseases as a sample group in the general population. It concludes: "This study does suggest that veterans who participated in Project SHAD may be at increased risk for cerebrovascular and respiratory diseases." Subway experiment But it wasn't just the white coat volunteers and sailors who were subject to experiments. Scientists used what they thought was a harmless simulant in major bio-weapon tests across US cities and on public transport. It was a bacteria which they believed was harmless but which would mimic the dispersal of deadly biological agents such as anthrax. But later research showed that the strain of Bacillus globigii , or BG, did pose a risk to people who were ill or whose immune system was failing. The programme hears from a retired scientist whose job in 1966 was to drop light bulbs carrying BG on the New York subway. He would then measure how the simulant might spread in the event of a real attack, using a motorised vacuum devise concealed inside a suitcase. Wally Pannier, 82, recalls: "We'd just drop light bulbs with the powdered stimulant inside. "I think it spread pretty good because you had a natural aerosol developed every few minutes from every train that went past."

It's very hard to try and put today's ethics on standards 20, 30, 40 years ago, Dr Michael Kilpatrick

In 1994, the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs conducted what it described as a comprehensive analysis stretching back 50 years of the extent to which veterans were exposed to potentially dangerous substances without knowledge or consent. It was chaired by John D Rockefeller. In a damning report, it concluded that the Department of Defense (DoD) repeatedly failed to comply with required ethical standards when using human subjects in military research - and that the DoD demonstrated a pattern of misrepresenting the danger of various exposures and continued to do so. Dr Michael Kilpatrick, a medical adviser to the DoD, claims the concerns which SHAD veterans have been raising may, finally, be changing that behaviour. "It's very hard to try and put today's ethics on standards 20, 30, 40 years ago. That's not to excuse it. I think they were trying to protect people using the medical science that was available at that time. "We're taking a look at any current tests that require consent of our military personnel. "We're making sure that there is an archive, a registry, a way to get back to all of the information." Hear part 1 of Hotel Anthrax at Radio 4's Listen again page.

February 12, 2006

Researchers Race to Boost Supply of Bird Flu Vaccine

Additives Studied as Way to Help Fight Potential Pandemic

By David Brown, Washington Post Staff Writer

Medical researchers bracing for a global influenza epidemic are in frantic search of a way to perform a loaves-and-fishes miracle with the world's skimpy annual roduction of flu vaccine.

That production -- about 300 million flu shots a year -- cannot be increased quickly or easily, no matter how dire the circumstances. If the supply is going to protect more than a tiny fraction of the world's 6.5 billion people, some way has to be found to stretch it.

Nearly all the experts believe that a vaccine is the only tool capable of stopping a flu pandemic. They also agree the world is closer today to that potentially calamitous event than it has been in decades.

In the last six months, the H5N1 strain of "bird flu" that first caused human deaths in Hong Kong in 1997 has moved across Central Asia into Eastern Europe and Africa. Just in the last month, it has appeared in three new places: Iraq, Cyprus and Nigeria. Of the 150 confirmed human victims worldwide, 85 have died. All the virus needs to trigger a pandemic is the capacity to spread easily among humans.

To prepare for that -- to try to work the miracle -- biologists have turned to "adjuvants," substances added to conventional vaccines to increase their potency.

Adjuvants make small doses of vaccine act big. They focus the immune system's attention on the "antigen" -- the substance that stimulates the protective effect. Some adjuvants even broaden immunity and make it longer-lasting. Scientists do not know exactly how adjuvants do all this. But they do know they make it possible to dilute a vaccine with no loss of effect.

"The global demand for pandemic vaccines will be immense," said David S. Fedson, a physician, epidemiologist and former consultant to the World Health Organization. The only way to meet the demand, he believes, "is to use an adjuvant."

To pharmaceutical companies, these peculiar substances are hot properties.

"We are in possession of one of the key ingredients of a potential solution to the pandemic threat," said Howard Pien, president of Chiron Corp. The California biotech firm has an adjuvant, an emulsion called MF59 whose main constituent is shark-liver oil. It is already in use in a flu vaccine in Europe.

"We believe that the adjuvant may become the holy grail of vaccines," Chrystyna Bedrij, an analyst with Griffin Securities, wrote in November in a review of avian flu-related business.

Since their discovery in 1925, adjuvants have been mostly curiosities -- occasionally useful, occasionally dangerous. It now appears they will make or break a pandemic flu vaccine. Nineteen clinical trials of pandemic flu shots -- against H5N1 and three other types of avian influenza -- are scheduled to be run this year. Seventeen of the vaccines will contain an adjuvant.

But it probably will be an uphill battle. The only study completed of an H5N1 vaccine made in the manner of a traditional flu shot found that adding an adjuvant did not help much. The reason might lie as much with the virus as with the adjuvant. There is growing evidence that H5N1 is inherently less stimulating to the immune system than other influenza strains -- yet another dangerous trait it possesses.

Many adjuvants mimic parts of viruses or bacteria known to trigger important steps in the complicated process by which the immune system rebuffs a microbial invader and then stores the information to allow a more rapid defense if the same invader returns.

The best-known adjuvant, however, is low-tech and does not look like anything made by microbes. It is a group of stable, easily dissolved aluminum salts known collectively as "alum." The vaccine antigen apparently sticks to the salt.

"Just by keeping the antigen from floating away, [the adjuvant] improves the immune response," said John Treanor, a researcher at the University of Rochester.

At the fancy end of the spectrum are "archaeosomes" -- microscopic envelopes packed with antigen that essentially function as artificial viruses. Devised by two researchers at the Canadian government's Institute for Biological Sciences, archaeosome technology has been licensed to a drug company in India.

Adjuvants that mimic biological structures stimulate broader immunity than alum. But the fear is they might work too well, triggering an out-of-control response.

A nasal-spray flu vaccine introduced in Switzerland in 2000 using a toxin from the bacterium E. coli as an adjuvant was pulled from the market when users developed a rare form of facial paralysis called Bell's palsy at a rate 20 times higher than non-users. The cause is not certain, but the adjuvant is the leading suspect.

Nevertheless, the need to put an adjuvant in a pandemic flu shot is clear from the harsh arithmetic of global vaccine supply.

Seasonal flu shots contain three different strains of virus. In the face of a pandemic, companies would devote all their efforts to growing only the pandemic strain. That means existing production could turn out about 900 million pandemic flu shots.

However, a study last year of an H5N1 vaccine -- without adjuvant -- showed that a person needs two doses of a shot with six times the amount of virus in the standard flu shot in order to be protected. That means the world could make pandemic flu shots for only about 75 million of the world's 6.5 billion people -- a meaninglessly small amount.

In December, the French vaccine maker Sanofi Pasteur announced that its experimental H5N1 vaccine containing an alum adjuvant did a little better. Two shots containing 30 micrograms of virus -- twice the amount used for each virus strain in the seasonal flu shot -- were protective. But even that would be of little use in a pandemic whose toll in an unprepared world has been estimated as likely to be as low as 2 million and as high as 100 million dead.

In 1999, Chiron found that an experimental avian flu vaccine given with the company's shark-oil adjuvant MF59 provided protection at a dose as low as 7.5 micrograms in two shots. The vaccine also seemed to provide some protection against descendants of the original virus whose genetic identity has "drifted" through mutation.

That unexpected finding has led some experts to argue that an H5N1 strain should be added to the annual flu shot now in the hope it might provide at least partial protection against a future pandemic.

The problem with that strategy is that vaccines with MF59 are not yet approved for use in the United States. Even if they get approved, the Chiron adjuvant is patented and would undoubtedly raise the price of shots considerably.

But alum adjuvants -- which are cheap, unpatented and FDA-approved -- might yet prove useful.

A team of German researchers two years ago tested a vaccine containing alum and a flu strain in which the virus was "whole killed" -- chemically inactivated but not broken into pieces. With as little as 1.9 micrograms, that vaccine provided protection in 80 percent of people.

The problem with that solution is that the dozen companies making 90 percent of the world's flu shots all use virus that has been broken up by chemical detergents -- a treatment that makes the injection less painful than a whole-killed vaccine but also less stimulating to the immune system.

To capture the advantage of a whole-killed vaccine, the vaccine makers would have to change their manufacturing methods, and whether they are willing to do that is a big unanswered question.

February 11, 2006

The Ultimate Chicken Joke

By Lucinda Marshall

Late last year, Senator Bill Frist told the National Press Club that, according to a study by the Congressional Budget Office, bird flu could cost the United States $675 billion in economic damage. This count and amount assumes that 30% of the nation will be stricken by a disease that has thus far proved lethal to less than 100 people worldwide. In such a scenario, 90 million Americans could be sickened and two million would die. The report states however that the chances of a flu pandemic occurring are less than one third of one percent.

Armed with this alarming scenario, President Bush recently signed a bill allocating $3.8 billion in funds to prepare for bird flu while also giving pharmaceutical companies broad liability protection for drugs produced to combat a pandemic. While a compensation plan for patients injured by pandemic vaccines was created, no money allotted for the program.

A significant portion of the preparation funds will be spent stockpiling Tamiflu, a drug developed by Gilead Sciences, a company in which Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has a significant financial stake. Curiously, the World Health Organization has stated that Tamiflu has not been particularly successful in treating humans who have contracted bird flu but nonetheless continues to recommend its use despite the drug's unproven efficacy. The value of Tamiflu in treating bird flu is indeed dubious, except of course to its investors. The British medical journal Lancet recently published a report of a study that found no "credible evidence" that the drug is effective against the virus.

And in Vietnam, a country hard hit by bird flu, a doctor treating patients with bird flu has also reported that Tamiflu had no effect on patients she was treating. The doctor, Dr. Nguyen Tuong Van of the Centre for Tropical Diseases in Hanoi, does not see Tamiflu (which was developed to fight Type A flu, not the H5N1 virus) as a useful tool for fighting avian flu.

Even though Tamiflu may not be useful in treating bird flu, both the World Health Organization and the drug's primary manufacturer, Roche Holding AG, continue to advise stockpiling the drug, which only has a shelf life of only 5 years. As of last October, there were enough doses of Tamiflu (which retails for $91.99 for ten pills at my local pharmacy) available in the U.S.to treat 4.3 million people.

A draft of a plan by the Bush administration notes that tens of millions of doses would be needed, far more than can be currently manufactured. More disturbingly, many private corporations, particularly those who do business in Southeast Asia are considering stockpiling the drug for use by employees, leading to serious questions regarding the vested interests of these companies versus the public good should a pandemic actually occur.

The United States has also asked two pharmaceutical companies to start producing and stockpiling bird flu vaccines. The vaccine is now being tested on humans to find out at what dosage if any it is actually effective; the expectation is that it will require six times the dosage of normal flu shots.

The vaccine is based on a virus sample from one of the few people to have died from the bird flu in its present form. Unfortunately, there is no way to know whether a vaccine based on the current makeup of the virus will be effective against other permutations of bird flu.

Even if the vaccine does turn out to be effective, it would take years for to manufacture adequate amounts of the vaccine, given the current manufacturing capacities. And no one knows for just how long such a vaccine would remain potent, so there is the very real possibility that the stockpiled vaccine would have to be discarded before an actual pandemic occurred.

Despite all of the media attention and money being spent, there is significant disagreement within the scientific and medical community as to the likelihood of a bird flu pandemic. According to Ian Lipkin of Columbia University's School of Public Health, it would take numerous mutations for the genome of this virus to become likely to transmit from human to human. And as one public health doctor pointed out, many common flu precautions such as washing hands and not going to work when you are sick could blunt the impact of any kind of flu epidemic.

It is truly disturbing that there is so much hype over an uncertain pandemic versus our systemic ignoring of existing pandemics that we actually have the ways and means to treat and in many cases, eradicate. According to The Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, approximately half of all deaths caused by infectious diseases each year can be attributed to AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis which together cause 300 million illnesses and more than five million deaths. Significantly, the comprehensive list of such diseases does not include West Nile Virus or Ebola, both of which have gotten much press coverage, but which, like avian flu, have actually killed a very small number of people.

It is of course possible for there to be a bird flu pandemic with very serious consequences. But spending billions of dollars on unproven vaccines and treatments seems of little value, particularly when many more lives would be saved by spending the same money on available, effective treatments for the ongoing existing pandemics that already plague our planet. But in the spirit of SARS and Anthrax, a little panic goes a long way in instilling fear and feeding the corporate coffers.

Feeling sick yet?

This article was originally publishe in Zmag

Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org. Her work has been published in numerous publications in the U.S. and abroad including, Awakened Woman, Alternet, Dissident Voice, Off Our Backs, The Progressive, Rain and Thunder, Z , Common Dreams and Information Clearinghouse.

February 10, 2006

Weapons Experts Replaced at U.S. State Department

Global Security Newswire

Career weapons experts at the U.S. State Department have been replaced by officials with less experience who are more in line with the administration’s views on diplomacy and treaties, Knight Ridder reported today (see GSN, Sept. 30, 2005).

While a reorganization of the department’s international security and arms control bureaus was meant to prepare the department to deal with modern day threats, it has led to trouble and high turnover of WMD experts, according to documents and current and former officials.

Four political appointees secretly conducted the reorganization. Only after personnel decisions had been made was a career agency expert permitted to join the panel.

Frederick Fleitz, a CIA official who came to the State Department as a senior adviser to then-Undersecretary John Bolton, oversaw the group’s work.

The changes were needed, according to Robert Joseph, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

“Reorganizations are never easy. They inevitably mean change,” Joseph said. “The reorganization ... was essential to better position us to further the president's strategy against WMD proliferation and (Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s) emphasis on transformational diplomacy.”

Other officials blasted the changes, saying they were made in violation of long-time management and personnel guidelines. They worry that Rice has been deprived of WMD expertise. For example, the agency’s leading expert on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty has left the department.

“We had a great group of people. They are highly knowledgeable experts,” said former Assistant Secretary of State John Wolf. “To the extent they now are leaving State Department employ, or U.S. government employ, it’s a real loss to [the] State Department. It’s a real loss to the government.”

Global Security Institute Director Jonathan Granoff said the departure of so many weapons experts is especially troubling considering that the U.S.-Russian 1991 START I pact is due to expire in less than three years.

“Rather than nurture our experts, the administration seems to have brought in neophytes without a passion for progress in this field and, worse, undermined the international institutions that are most effective in stopping proliferation,” he said.

Specialists within the agency have split into two camps. One advocates negotiating arms reduction, while the other believes the threat of force, sanctions and unilateral steps are the best way to discourage proliferation.

Rice, when she announced the changes at the agency, said more was needed to combat proliferation.

“We must … go on the offensive against outlaw scientists, black-market arms dealers and rogue state proliferators,” she said.

Officials, while acknowledging the need to reorganize WMD policy offices, said they worry that the agency’s current lack of expertise would hurt future administrations.

Knight Ridder reported instances in which appointments made during the reorganization were highly politicized and hurt morale.

For example, Thomas Lehrman, a White House appointee in charge of the new office of Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism, said in an e-mail message advertising a job opening that qualifications included loyalty to Bush administration policy. He recalled the message after being told that this was an improper qualification.

Also, experts in the former Nonproliferation Bureau, a regular opponent of Bolton policy moves, were refused jobs when that office merged with the Arms Control Bureau.

“Bolton had blood in his eyes for the Nonproliferation Bureau,” said a State Department official.

Finally, an expert on the International Atomic Energy Agency was refused a position promised to him after returning from 2 1/2 years in Vienna. Instead, the position was offered to a more junior officer with views similar to Bolton’s, according to Knight Ridder.

Five other more senior officials were passed over, according to a complaint document, for no reason “aside from intimations that they were not as ‘trusted’ politically by the political management level.”

Mark Fitzpatrick, a nonproliferation expert who recently left the agency, said he is concerned about the “exodus” of specialists.

“It seems about a dozen or so have left since the merger [of the Nonproliferation and Arms Control bureaus] came about, many out of frustration,” said Fitzpatrick, now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “I'm concerned that the ability of the merged bureaus to provide to Condoleezza Rice the same kind of high-quality advice they provided Colin Powell on the very dire proliferation issues facing the world will be diminished by the exodus” (Warren Strobel, Knight Ridder, Feb. 8).