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Pentagon Appears Poised To Resume Open-Air Testing of Biological Weapons

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  The Pentagon has denied President Bush issued a directive for it to resume open-air testing of chemical and biological warfare(CBW) agents that were halted by President Richard Nixon in 1969.

 Yet, the Pentagon’s stated preparations make it appear it is poised to do just that.

 Spokesperson Chris Isleib did not respond to a request for comment on a passage from the Defense Department’s annual report sent to Congress last April that suggests the Pentagon is gearing up to resume the tests. Resumption of open-air testing would reverse a long-standing moratorium adopted after a public outcry against them following accidents in the  Sixties. 

 The Pentagon’s annual report apparently calls for both the developmental and operational “field testing of (CBW) full systems,” not just simulations. 

 The Pentagon’s report to Congress contains the following passage: “More than thirty years have passed since outdoor live-agent chemical tests were banned in the United States, and the last outdoor test with live chemical agent was performed, so much of the infrastructure for the field testing of chemical detectors no longer exists or is seriously outdated. The currently budgeted improvements in the T&E infrastructure will greatly enhance both the developmental and operational field testing of full systems, with better simulated representation of threats and characterization of system response.” “T&E” is an acronym for testing and evaluation.

 “Either the military has resumed open-air testing already or they are preparing to do so,” said Francis Boyle, a University of Illinois Professor of International Law who authored the implementing legislation for the U.S. Biological Weapons Convention signed into law by President George Bush Sr. and who has tracked subsequent developments closely.

 “I am stunned by the nature of this development,” Boyle said. “This is a major reversal of policy.” The 1972 treaty against germ warfare, which the U.S. signed, forbids developing weapons that spread disease, such as anthrax, a pathogen that is regarded by the military as “ideal” for conducting germ warfare.

“The Pentagon is fully prepared to launch biological warfare by means of anthrax,” Boyle charged. “All the equipment has been acquired and all the training conducted and most combat-ready members of U.S. armed forces have been given protective equipment and vaccines that allegedly would protect them from that agent.”   

 Open-air testing takes research into deadly agents out of the laboratories in order to study their effectiveness, including their aerial dispersion patterns, and whether they actually infect and kill in field trials.

 Since the anthrax attacks on Congress in October, 2001, the Bush administration has funded a vast biological research expansion at hundreds of private and university laboratories in the U.S. and abroad involving anthrax and other deadly pathogens.  The anthrax attacks killed five people, including two postal workers, injured 17 others and temporarily shut down the operations of the U.S. Congress, Supreme Court, and other Federal entities. 

 Although a Federal statute permits the president to authorize open-air testing of CBW agents, Boyle said this “does not solve the compliance problem that it might violate the international Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention as well as their related domestic implementing legislation making such violations crimes.”

Boyle charged the U.S. is already “in breach” of both conventions and also of U.S. domestic criminal law implementing them. In February, 2003, for example, the U.S. granted itself a patent on an illegal, long-range biological-weapons grenade, evidently for offensive purposes.

Boyle said the development of anthrax for possible offensive purposes is underscored by the government’s efforts “to try to stockpile anthrax vaccines and antibiotics for 25-million plus Americans to protect the civilian population in the event there is any ‘blowback’ from the use of anthrax in biowarfare abroad by the Pentagon.”

“In theory,” Boyle added, “you cannot wage biowarfare abroad unless you can protect your civilian population from either retaliation in kind, or blowback, or both.” Under Project BioShield, Homeland Security is spending $5.6 billion to stockpile vaccines and drugs to fight anthrax, smallpox, and other bioterror agents. The project had been marked by delays and operational problems and on December 12th last year Congress passed legislation to pump another $1 billion into BioShield to fund three years of additional research by the private sector.

Boyle said evidence the U.S. has super-weapons-grade anthrax was demonstrated in the October, 2001, anthrax mail attacks on Senators Thomas Daschle(D-S.D.) and Patrick Leahy(D-Vt.) The strain of highly sophisticated anthrax employed has allegedly been traced back to the primary U.S. Army biological warfare campus at Ft. Detrick, Md.

The attacks killed five persons and sickened 17 others.

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Sherwood Ross worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and contributed a regular "Workplace" column for Reuters. He has contributed to national magazines and hosted a talk show on WOL, Washington, D.C. In the Sixties he was active as public (more...)
 
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