Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, September 30, 2005

US anthrax buy

The US government is making a big anthrax buy. Not an anthrax vaccine buy. An anthrax buy. They want to buy large quantities of anthrax for the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, one of the government's germ warfare testing grounds.

The ever-valuable Sunshine Project has discovered contracts for the production of bulk quantities of non-virulent anthrax and associated equipment that can be used to produce large quantities of biological agents.

According to New Scientist,
One "biological services" contract specifies: "The company must have the ability and be willing to grow Bacillus anthracis Sterne strain at 1500-litre quantities." Other contracts are for fermentation equipment for producing 3000-litre batches of an unspecified biological agent, and sheep carcasses to test the efficiency of an incinerator for the disposal of infected livestock.

Although the Sterne strain is not thought to be harmful to humans and is used for vaccination, the contracts have caused major concern.

"It raises a serious question over how the US is going to demonstrate its compliance with obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention if it brings these tanks online," says Alan Pearson, programme director for biological and chemical weapons at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington DC. "If one can grow the Sterne strain in these units, one could also grow the Ames strain, which is quite lethal."

The US renounced biological weapons in 1969, but small quantities of lethal anthrax were still being produced at Dugway as recently as 1998.
Neither The Sunshine Project nor New Scientist had any idea what the purpose of these contracts was. The Sunshine Project's Ed Hammond speculated they might be part of a testing process to see how easily the spores dispersed from various weapon delivery systems.

Dugway has said these contracts are still in the "pre-solicitation phase" and no delivery of material has been made as yet. If we believe them. Even if we do, the action is certainly provocative:
Whatever use it is put to, however, the move could be seen as highly provocative by other nations, he says. "What would happen to the Biological Weapons Convention if other countries followed suit and built large biological production facilities at secretive military bases known for weapons testing?"
Once again, Bush's "Biodefense Strategy" makes us less safe rather than more safe. In a special irony, it was alleged evidence that Iraq had these kinds of facilities that Bush used as evidence Saddam had Weapons of Mass Destruction. Presumably this would be grounds for some other country launching a pre-emptive strike on the US.

Or have I got my logic wrong.

[cross-posted at Effect Measure]