The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) has taken upon themselves to censor studies showing that H5N1 could become a pandemic strain with a high case fatality rate. Almost all of their rhetoric has focused on the danger of terrorists reading Science and Nature and then cooking up a lethal virus. This is pretty ridiculous. Although a small number of terrorists have an engineering background, there is no evidence that any of them have sufficient training to develop lethal viruses from sequence information. If they did, we’d already be dealing with smallpox outbreaks because the sequence for this virus was published years ago.
At this point in time, the real danger is from state-sponsored biological weapons programs. Nations with sophisticated laboratories could then hand off the viral weapons to terrorists.
As technology spreads, the growing challenge of attribution may also make us even more vulnerable than in the past.
Until now, the combination of the Biological Weapons Convention and traditional deterrence has prevented nationstate use of bioweapons. But, deterrence is largely ineffective against non-state actors because they are hard to find and hold accountable. Should rogue nationstates provide sophisticated bioweapons to non-state actors, while remaining “a silent partner” to bioterrorism, the problem would be compounded.
Researchers from many countries already have a pretty good idea what Dr. Fouchier did and could likely duplicate it. However, many nationstates could produce a highly lethal, highly infectious influenza virus without any help from Dr. Fouchier.
Although the NASB suggests in passing that “governments” might misuse this technology, they don’t mention which ones.
Iran and North Korea both have active biological weapons programs. These are not as well known as their nuclear programs but potentially just as dangerous. But neither Iran nor North Korea are capable of doing all of this work themselves. They need a help from a country with much greater resources.
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright expressed her concerns over possible Chinese biological weapon transfers to Iran and other nations in a letter to Senator Robert E. Bennett (R-Utah) in January 1997.
From: Popular Mechanics:
“Information from U.S. government sources indicates that North Korea is capable of growing several biological agents,” says Michael Stebbins, head of Biology Policy at the Federation of American Scientists. And, he says, the country “has the infrastructure to weaponize them.”
“It is possible that China has maintained the offensive biological warfare program it is believed to have had before acceding to the BWC.” Carl W. Ford, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, “Hearing on Reducing the Threat of Chemical and Biological Weapons Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations,” (Washington, DC), March 19, 2002.
In testimony before the U.S. Congress in 2006, US officials expressed concern over China’s commitment to the nonproliferation of biological weapons. Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance, and Implementation Paula DeSutter stated, “We maintain reservations about China’s current research activities and dual-use capabilities, which raise the possibility that sophisticated BW and CW work could be underway. […] We also continue to believe that China maintains some elements of an offensive BW capability in violation of its BWC obligations.” US Congress, U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, “China’s Proliferation to North Korea and Iran, and Its Role in Addressing the Nuclear and Missile Situation in Both Nations,” 109th Cong., 2nd sess., September 14, 2006, p. 10.
Given the essential role NASBB has assumed as protector against biological weapons, one would think that they would be aware of China’s biological weapons programs and its proliferation of such agents to Iran and North Korea. Given their stated concern about terrorists obtaining such weapons, one would think that the NASBB would naturally mention the most likely source of weaponised flu: China, via North Korea or Iran.
Why is there no discussion of this? Censorship, again? If so, how can such censorship possibly be in the interest of the United States or its people?