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General News    H2'ed 2/17/09

Inside America's Biological Warfare Center

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One legacy of the Bush-Cheney administration is the grandiose expansion of our germ warfare research program. This was declared to be necessary because of the September-October 2001 anthrax letters’ attacks on Congress and the media---attacks the public is now being told came not from the Middle East but from within our own government’s facilities. As a result, developmental work is going forward with deadly and loathsome pathogens capable of triggering plagues and epidemics.

Legislation to finance this expansion rolled through Congress after the anthrax attacks killed five persons, sickened 17 others, caused more than 10 million Americans to go on very strong antibiotics, and cost hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up. Laboratories at hundreds of universities and corporations have expanded into biological warfare research centers. More than $50 billion has been lavished on this effort—an effort critics charge is in violation of the existing treaty against bioweapons development ratified by the United States in 1975. So much of the nation’s resources have been shifted into germ warfare research that 750 of our most celebrated scientists signed a petition protesting the adverse effect this is having on research into combating naturally occurring diseases.

The Government’s admission the anthrax attacks came not from the Middle East but from its own biowarfare research facilities signifies the anthrax letters constituted a “false flag” operation designed to whip up public sentiment for the “War On Terror.” One man who saw the expansion of the Government’s biological warfare research hub at Ft. Detrick under President Bush as a danger to his community and to the nation was Barry Kissin, a 57-year-old Brooklyn-born attorney who moved to Frederick , Md. in 1981. Kissin and his wife, Dr. Malgorzata Schmidt, make their home just a few miles from the main gate of Ft. Detrick . Kissin has found himself devoting ever more of his time to challenging the expansion of “biodefense” as well as the underlying rationale contained in our government’s mutating story about the anthrax letters.

Over the past six years, Kissin has become a leading citizen activist in the struggle to halt the expansion of our “biodefense” program. His work evidently came to the attention of the Homeland Security division of the Maryland State Police. The Washington Post of October 12, 2008, reported that this Homeland Security division had listed Kissin and 52 others as “terrorists,” and furthermore that authorities had acknowledged their wrongdoing and had agreed to purge the files. Kissin, an unsuccessful candidate for Congress in 2006, was in good company. The activists labeled as terrorists included two nuns, a man who challenges military recruiting in high schools, and critics of the Iraq war. Following is my Q. and A. with this passionate opponent of a new biological arms race---a race once shut down by President Richard Nixon only to be stoked anew by the Bush regime.     

Q: How did you happen to get interested in Ft. Detrick ?  

A: I became a resident of Frederick , MD , home of Ft. Detrick , in 1981. I was aware Ft. Detrick was headquarters for our bio-warfare related programs ever since the first such program commenced in 1943. Before my move to Frederick , I was also conscious of the Silent Vigil that was maintained from July, 1959, until March, 1961, outside Detrick’s main gate that stood for the cessation of our bio-warfare program and the conversion of Detrick’s scientific facilities into a health research center. This Vigil, conceived by a Quaker named Lawrence Scott, is credited with laying the foundation for the decision by President Nixon in 1969 to terminate our offensive bio-warfare program. Two years later, Nixon came to Detrick and announced he was creating the National Cancer Institute (NCI) there which would utilize (and continues to utilize) former Army bio-warfare buildings, thus “sending a clear message that America could beat its swords into plowshares.” I might add that it has since become apparent that the CIA and its “Special Operations Division” at  Detrick did not abide by the decision to terminate bio-weapons research. Various bio-warfare related programs continued to function in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

During my formative years, I was very active in the movement against the Viet Nam War. Since then I have been very conscious of the terrible workings of our military-industrial-intelligence complex. Upon moving to Frederick , I quickly became aware of how the Army at Detrick manipulated the local community and local media. Ft. Detrick is the largest employer in Frederick County . Its unassailable position in the community is based on a mixture of messages about its contributions to the local economy and its patriotic role in defending against the enemy, once Communist, now terrorist.

Q: What steps did the Bush administration take to launch its biological warfare program?

A: Upon coming into power, the Bush Administration immediately exercised its strong preference for arms race over international arms control. In the realm of bio-warfare, it promptly withdrew from negotiations to strengthen the 1975 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), the international treaty that bans the development of biological weapons. This made the United States practically the only country among 150 signatories to the Treaty opposed to a protocol for international inspections and verification. Thereafter, using the anthrax letters attacks of the fall of 2001 as a central pretext, the Bush Administration launched a massive expansion of our so-called “bio-defense” program, much of it at Ft. Detrick .


Q: Could you briefly describe the nature of the work going forward at Ft. Detrick and the names of agencies involved?

A: One of the programs at Ft. Detrick is under the auspices of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). My focus of course has been upon bio-warfare related activities, which, since termination of the overtly offensive program, have been conducted by the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID). USAMRIID is a part of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command (USAMRMC) at Ft. Detrick, which also manages activities unrelated to bio-warfare, such as supplying medical materials for use by the Army.

The expansion underway at Ft. Detrick contemplates a “ National Inter-agency Bio-defense Campus” (NIBC) which upon completion would occupy 200 acres there. The plan is for the NIBC to be the site of a new facility for USAMRIID, designed to measure more than one million square feet (approx. 25 acres of facility space), at a cost of $1 Billion (2005 cost estimate). Construction of two of the new NIBC facilities has already been completed (in 2008) – namely the “National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center” (NBACC) to be operated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which measures 160,000 square feet, and the “Integrated Research Facility” (IRF) to be operated by the National Institute of Health (NIH), which also measures about 160,000 square feet. After the new USAMRIID facility is completed, the plan is to erect another new facility on the NIBC, to be operated by the Department of Agriculture (USDA). And the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has announced that it also wants to join this campus “confederation.”

Q: Please explain what BSL laboratories are and how they are graded. Also, could you describe some of the pathogens government scientists are working on in these labs?

A: BSL labs are biocontainment facilities designed for research, development, testing and evaluation (RDT&E) activities involving specific pathogens (germs), exposure to which would be hazardous to lab workers as well as the “outside environment.” BSL stands for Bio-Safety Level --- the higher the level, the more elaborate the safety and security measures, the more dangerous the germs. BSL-4 is for maximum containment. There are dozens of diseases viewed as potential agents for biological weapons. RDT&E upon diseases such as hepatitis A, B and C, influenza A, Lyme disease, dengue fever and salmonella takes place in BSL-2 labs. Anthrax, West Nile virus, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, Eastern equine encephalitis, SARS, tuberculosis, typhus, Coxiella burnetii, Rift Valley fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and yellow fever are dealt with in BSL-3 labs. And Bolivian and Argentine hemorrhagic fevers, Marburg virus, Ebola virus, Lassa fever, and Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever are dealt with in BSL-4 labs.

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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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