Thursday, June 9, 2011

US keeping secret stash of smallpox viruses

US keeping secret stash of smallpox viruses at lab in Georgia to use for future bioweapons

Wednesday, June 08, 2011 by: J. D. Heyes

You may have heard that smallpox has long been eradicated but what you may not know is that the United States and Russia still maintain stocks of the disease, and the U.S. is still in the business of researching and developing it. The question is, why?

According to the U.S. government, Washington and Moscow recentlysupporteda decision to keep the two stocks intact, arguing that moreresearchneeded to be conducted on one of the world's deadliest diseases. Specifically, researchers say more work is needed in order to come up with a safer version of thevaccineand better treatments for those who are already infected withsmallpox.

"In other words," wrote Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in explaining the Obama administration's decision, "we've beaten smallpox once, but we must be ready and prepared to beat it again, if necessary."

While that may sound like a reasonable explanation on the surface, there could be more to it than that. After all, if adiseasehas been eradicated since 1977, it doesn't sound like there needs to be much more "research" done to combat it - does it?

Consider this: The U.S. military maintains a biohazard research facility at Ft. Detrick, Md., and, according tothis reportposted on the Centers for Disease Control website, clearlythe Pentagonis concerned that weaponized smallpox and other highly contagious and deadly agents could be unleashed on the American people, if not by a nationalgovernmentthen by terrorists.

According to the report, the U.S. discontinued its offensivebiological weaponsresearch program in 1969, though the former U.S.S.R. continued theirs and eventually produced smallpoxvirusby the ton, according to the book,"Biohazard,"by Ken Alibek. But there appears to be enough evidence to suggest that the U.S. is keeping its samples of smallpox around for the purpose of conducting further research - research that is banned under various treaties and executive orders.

"During the first two decades after theUnited Statesratified the BWC (Biological Weapons Convention), the U.S. Biological Defense Research Program was conducted in a reasonably open manner," saysthis reportby Jonathan B. Tucker, a senior researcher at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

He adds, "Threat-assessmentstudiesand development projects were unclassified and described in detailed annual reports toCongress. During the late 1990s, however, heightened concern over chemical and biological terrorism apparently caused some elements of the U.S. biodefensecommunityto alter this policy. The Pentagon and theintelligencecommunity began to conduct secret threat-assessment studies that clearly exceeded the limits for defensive research specified in the Scowcroft memorandum, but Congress was not informed of the change. Indeed, during the Clinton administration, some classified biodefense work took place even without the full knowledge of the National Security Council staff."

Further, in 2001 - just a week before the 9/11 attacks,The New York Timesreported that three secret threat-assessment projects were being conducted by the Defense Department, in conjunction with the U.S. intelligence community. They were calledProject Bacchus,Project Jefferson, andProject Clear Vision, each designed to reconstruct a banned bioweapon or mass production facility, and each violated the provisions ofbioweaponstreaties and agreements to which the U.S. was a party.

And the research is ongoing.

"Today, despite U.S. participation in the BWC, Americanscientistscontinue to conduct ongoing research on biological agents," saidthis PBS report. "Since 2001 the U.S. government has spent or allocated more than $50 billion to address the threat of biologicalweapons, including an effort to develop an even deadlier strain of the anthrax virus to test against currentvaccines. Scientists are also working on vaccines against the smallpox virus, which has been eradicated worldwide since 1980."

Shahzad Afzal

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