Frank_Black Report This Comment
Date: March 27, 2006 10:54AM
Courting Armageddon: How the Bush Administration's
Biological Weapons Buildup Affects You
News that a U.S. company recently sent vials of a 1957 pandemic flu strain to
laboratories across the world by accident is only the latest outrage from the
billion-dollar boondoggle called the federal biological weapons program.
As you might recall, the Bush administration started its "biodefense"
spending spree following the September 2001 deadly anthrax attacks, and one of
its first projects was to genetically engineer a super-resistant, even more
deadly version of the anthrax virus.
Our leaders are nuts.
Unfortunately, Project "Anthrax" Jefferson has good company. A US Army
scientist in Maryland is currently trying to bring back elements of the 1918
Spanish flu, a virus which killed 40 million people. And a virologist in St.
Louis has been working on a more lethal form of mousepox (related to smallpox) -
just to try stopping the virus once it's been created.
Lack of oversight and runaway spending are exacerbated by the Bush
administration's disrespect for the internationally-recognized Biological
Weapons Convention. In short, reduced pressure on weapons labs to issue
declarations and allow inspections means less accountability - and more
opportunities for secrecy and abuse.
Put bluntly, the increasing number of stateside bioweapons blunders should come
as no surprise. In February 2003, for example, the University of California at
Davis (UCD) took a full ten days to inform nearby communities that a rhesus
monkey had escaped from its primate-breeding facility. Coincidentally, UCD had
been vying for government funds to set up its own "hot zone"
biodefense lab which could use primates for biological weapons testing. If that
monkey had been infected with ebola, or some other virus, it's unclear when or
if the public would have been informed.
At roughly the same time that the monkey ditched UCD, the Pentagon unearthed
over 2,000 tons of hazardous biological waste in Maryland, much of it
undocumented leftovers of an abandoned germ warfare program. Nearby, the FBI was
draining a pond for clues into 2001's anthrax attacks.
Doesn't inspire much trust in the transparency of US biological weapons
And things appear only to be getting worse.
In 2004, a whopping $6 billion went up for grabs for federal biodefense
programs, and laboratories across the country went ballistic trying to get their
hands on some of that cash. Predictably, cases of fraud and abuse quickly
In June 2004, for example, the Army was caught shirking inspections at a major
biodefense lab under its domain. The scandal went back to 1999, when the Army
commissioned a biological and chemical weapons-agent lab at Tennessee's Oak
Ridge National Laboratory. Oversight regulations obligated the Army to inspect
the lab each year thereafter, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) were
supposed to have inspected the lab on a regular basis too.
Everything seemed to be running smoothly; in December 2003, the committee in
charge of safety at the Oak Ridge lab announced that it "remains
comfortable of the review and inspections of the Chem/Bio Facility conducted by
the CDC and the Army."
Small problem. In 2004, the Department of Energy's Inspector General discovered
that the Army actually hadn't inspected the Oak Ridge biodefense lab for the
previous three years, and that the CDC hadn't been there for four years. Yet the
lab's safety committee said it was "comfortable" with the imaginary
Also in 2004, a military biodefense contractor called Southern Research landed
in hot water by accidentally sending live anthrax across the country from
Frederick, Maryland to the Children's Hospital of Oakland (California). To make
matters worse, it turns out that Southern Research's lab in Frederick, Maryland
didn't even maintain the institutional biosafety committee required by federal
research rules. The punishment for these acts of gross incompetence and
irresponsibility? The Bush administration gave Southern Research the task of
safeguarding a new $30 million biological weapons facility being built near
In September of the same year, three lab workers at the Boston University
Medical Center were accidentally exposed to a potentially lethal biowarfare
agent called tularaemia bacterium. The lab didn't report the tularemia
infections until two months later though - after it had won a contract to build
a new, $178 million biodefense laboratory.
Concerns about lack of transparency and monetary waste aside, the
administration's bioweapons buildup raises obvious ethical problems. Why should
the U.S. create newer, even deadlier viruses? Who are these catastrophic weapons
going to be tested on? What populations will they ultimately be used
These questions take on urgent meaning given the Bush administration's military
adventurism coupled with the US media's poor coverage regarding war victims. For
example, eyewitnesses to the late-2004 attack on Fallujah claimed that US forces
used poisonous gases, and "weird" bombs that exploded into fires that
burned the skin despite water being thrown on the burns - a telltale sign of
napalm or phosphorus bombs.
UK reaction to the revelation was swift and strong, with demands that Prime
Minister Blair remove British troops from Iraq until the US ceased from using
such savage weaponry. Labor MP Alice Mahon demanded that Blair make "an
emergency statement to the Commons to explain why this is happening. It begs the
question: 'Did we know about this hideous weapon's use in Iraq?'"
No similar outrage in Congress. In fact, no comment at all. The US mainstream
media didn't cover the "weird bomb" allegations.
But it doesn't take a genius to put two-and-two together: if we permit our
government to ignore international weapons-control conventions and then say
nothing while fresh billions are invested in barbaric new weaponry, we lose the
right to act surprised when our own military uses that weaponry on innocent
Or even on us.
You may be surprised to learn that in 2003, the Pentagon quietly admitted to
having used biological/chemical agents on 5,842 service members in secret tests
conducted over a ten-year period (1962-73).
In operations called Project 112 and Project SHAD, the Defense Department tested
its own weapons on service members aboard Navy ships, and in all sorts of other
nasty ways - such as spraying a Hawaiian rainforest and parts of Oahu. All in
all, tests were conducted in six states (Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii,
Maryland, Utah) as well as in Canada and Britain.
Many military personnel were not informed when the toxic agents were being
tested on them. Only decades later, as crucial documents slowly become
declassified, have the veterans' health complaints been acknowledged.
You might think such barbarism could never happen again: too many legal
protections for citizens in place. Think again.
There's a tricky clause in Chapter 32/Title 50 of the United States Code (the
aggregation of US general and permanent laws) which states that the Secretary of
Defense can conduct a chemical or biological agent test or experiment on humans
in certain cases "if informed consent has been obtained."
So far so good. But check out a different part of Chapter 32, Section 1515,
entitled "Suspension; Presidential authorization":
"After November 19, 1969, the operation of this chapter, or any portion
thereof, may be suspended by the President during the period of any war declared
by Congress and during the period of any national emergency declared by Congress
or by the President."
You got it. If the President or Congress decides we're at war then the Secretary
of Defense doesn't need anybody's consent to test chemical or biological agents
on human beings. Gives one pause during these days of a perpetual "War on
In January 2005, US Senate majority leader Bill Frist called for a new Manhattan
Project (referring to the WWII-era nuclear weapons bonanza) for biological
weapons. Frist told an audience at the World Economic Forum, "The greatest
existential threat we have in the world today is biological," and he went
on to predict a biowarfare attack "at some time in the next 10
How ironic that while Frist cited the 2001 US anthrax attacks as proof more
biological weapons research was necessary, he failed to mention that those
incidents involved anthrax produced right in the good 'ole USA - or that the
primary suspect in the attacks was a US Army scientist. Frist also didn't
clarify how developing even more biological warfare agents would make the world
The original Manhattan Project ultimately led to US forces dropping atom bombs
on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with the resulting slaughter of hundreds of thousands
of people. It's terrifying to consider the potential repercussions, both
domestic and abroad, of the Bush administration's coveted new biological-weapons