War on Terrorism

Friday, March 19, 2010

New defences deployed against plant diseases

New defences deployed against plant diseases
An international team led by scientists at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, UK, have transferred broad spectrum resistance against some important plant diseases across different plant families. This breakthrough provides a new way to produce crops with sustainable resistance to economically important diseases. [...] Under controlled laboratory conditions, they tested these transformed plants against a variety of different plant pathogens, and found drastically enhanced resistance against many different bacteria, including some of great importance to modern agriculture such as Rastonia solanaceraum, the causal agent of bacterial wilt and a select agent in the United States under the Agricultural Bioterrorism Protection Act of 2002." (Scientist Live; 19Mar10) http://www.scientistlive.com/European-Food-Scientist/Technology/New_defences_deployed_against_plant_diseases/24223/

Anthrax or plague warning over London Crossrail site
"The government has warned that traces of bubonic plague [bacteria] or anthrax [spores] could be found at a site on the route of £16bn cross-London Crossrail scheme. Lord James of Blackheath warned that an area in the City of London to be used for tunneling may be a missing 16th Century anthrax burial ground. Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said that a compulsory purchase of the area, a car park, was expected to go ahead. [...] The threat of diseases being released was raised by Lord James at the passing of the Crossrail Bill in 2009. Human remains were found in May 2009 in a deep exploratory bore hole in Farringdon, central London, but they showed no traces of plague or anthrax [bacteria]." (British Broadcasting Company; 18Mar10) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london/8574619.stm

Responsibility unclear on mail security
"The U.S. Postal Service, which is charged with screening mail for safety, failed to detect bullets that were sent with threatening letters to at least two Baltimore judges in the past week. And it's unclear if it could. There appears to be no technology in place to identify the ammunition sent in the mail. The oversight raises questions about mail security and who is responsible for ensuring recipients' safety in the wake of five suspicious mailings, some with a powdery substance inside, that were delivered to City Hall and Baltimore Circuit Court on Friday and Monday. The courts say it's not their job to screen packages, and the postal system says it can do only so much. [... Under the current system USPS personnel] report suspicious packages for inspection or run them through a biohazard detection system. [...] The system was set up in more than 270 processing and distribution centers, including Baltimore's, after the 2001 anthrax [spore] attacks, in which letters containing the deadly spores killed five people and sickened 17 others. But so far, the system - used more than 8 million times nationwide since 2003 - has never alerted authorities to a single piece of suspect mail, [U.S. Postal Inspector JerVay] Rodgers said." (Baltimore Sun; 19Mar10; Tricia Bishop) http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bal-md.letters17mar17,0,6471202.story

Laramie [WY] hosts anthrax [spore] attack exercise
"While an anthrax [spore] attack in Wyoming may not seem likely, this state and other parts of rural America must prepare in the event the unlikely were to ever happen, which is why Albany County Public Health (ACPH) and numerous other governmental agencies from the federal state and local level -- 150 individuals from a number of agencies -- recently conducted an Anthrax Response Exercise Series (ARES) test in Laramie. [...] The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) conducted an ARES test in each of the 10 regions the United States is divided into -- Young said that Laramie was chosen after ACPH and many other agencies had considerable success with last year's emergency response test, Operation Golden Eagle." (Laramie Boomerang; 17Mar10; Peter Baumann) http://www.laramieboomerang.com/articles/2010/03/15/news/doc4b9c618042f28464006264.txt

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency awards $4.395 million to Fraunhofer CMB [Center for Molecular Biotechnology] for H1N1 vaccine development
"Fraunhofer USA Center for Molecular Biotechnology (CMB) announced today that it has received a $4.395 million award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a vaccine against H1N1 influenza virus using its plant-based production platform. This will be the third round of funding from DARPA and follows on CMB's successful optimization and feasibility studies completed in 2008 and a new, state-of-the-art cGMP pilot manufacturing facility completed at the end of 2009. This current funding will allow CMB's H1N1 vaccine candidate to progress to Phase 1 clinical trials, therefore validating the utility of the technology for manufacturing products for use in humans." (Pharmalive; 17Mar10)

Rocky Hill [CT] public health laboratory blocked by bond commission
"In a political battle with a lame-duck governor, the State Bond Commission made the highly unusual move of blocking Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell's plans Tuesday for a new, $70 million public health laboratory in Rocky Hill. Democrats said they had not had enough time to analyze the state-of-the-art facility, which would allow testing for anthrax [bacteria] and other biohazardous materials. [...] The issue over the Rocky Hill location flared up when a group known as Construction Workers For A Safe Environment started distributing fliers to Rocky Hill residents with the statement that the materials at the new lab 'may cause serious or potentially lethal disease as a result of exposure by the inhalation route.' Stanley Einhorn, a Rocky Hill resident who found a flier on his doorstep last week, said everyone on his street got the flier, which says the Rocky Hill laboratory would be at the same level as the notorious laboratory at Plum Island, N.Y., in Long Island Sound. But Rocky Hill's, like the lab it would replace, would be a Level 3 laboratory, while Plum Island is a Level 4 facility." (Hartford Courant; 17Mar10; Christopher Keating) http://www.courant.com/news/politics/hc-laboratory-blocked-0317.artmar17,0,3297766.story

Anthrax threat to British troops
"British troops in Afghanistan may be facing a new threat after claims by Taliban commanders that home-made bombs are being loaded with anthrax [spores]. So far there is no evidence of biological weapons being used by insurgents. But one of Britain's leading terrorism experts warned last night that Taliban extremists linked with Al Qaeda would have the technology to produce the deadly disease. An ITV camera crew filmed a bomb-making factory last week in caves at Tora Bora on the Afghan-Pakistan border. One bomb maker, identified as regional commander Mullah Doud, said: 'We use anthrax so when a bomb explodes it produces a toxic cloud.'" (Daily Express; 19Mar10; Marco Giannangeli) http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/162872/Anthrax-threat-to-British-troops

Terrorist attack in T&T [Trinidad and Tobago] 'a real possibility'
"There is a real threat of this country being attacked by terrorists intent on doing harm with the use of deadly toxins, the National Security Ministry's permanent secretary, Jennifer Boucaud-Blake, said on Thursday. Boucaud-Blake made the statement during a crisis management simulation exercise on bioterrorism held at the Hilton Trinidad in St Ann's. The seminar was organised by the Organisation of American States and the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism. 'There is much evidence to suggest that terrorists have a strong interest in the use of biological weapons,' Boucaud-Blake said. 'Many still question whether the threat exists or can occur, especially in our part of the world. Ladies and gentlemen, there is no question in my mind that the threat is real,' she said." (Trinidad Express; 13Mar10; Joel Julien)

Talks stall on monitoring chemical arms in Colo.
"State and Army officials say they've reached an impasse in negotiations on monitoring chemical weapons stored outside Pueblo, Colo. The Colorado health department sued the Army in August, seeking stepped-up monitoring of the 2,600 tons of mustard agent at the Pueblo Chemical Depot. A settlement was announced in January, and the two sides were discussing how to implement it. Earlier this month, they told a federal magistrate they had agreed on most issues but were at an impasse on two. The state says the sticking points are whether the munitions should be classified as waste and the level of protection workers get against chemicals other than mustard. The Army is building a plant to destroy the mustard." (Associated Press; 17Mar10)

No mustard gas; it was benzene
"Lithgow Council has been told that a substance leaking from a World War II shell casing at a Lithgow recycling facility was not mustard gas but a mixture of benzene -- found in petroleum products -- and water. The substance was found to be leaking when the shells, which had originally been part of chemical warfare ordnance stored at Marrangaroo Army Base during the wartime, were taken to the premises of Cooke's Scrap Metals to be cut up. The concern that the substance could be deadly mustard gas residue led to a full scale emergency operation and the biggest evacuation of a residential area in Lithgow in memory." (Lithgow Mercury; 13Mar10) http://www.lithgowmercury.com.au/news/local/news/general/no-mustard-gas-it-was-benzene/1775458.aspx

Some in EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] fear nuclear emergency guide risks public safety
"Some officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have expressed concern that a Bush administration radiological incident response guide could jeopardize public health as it would permit the drinking of water with high contamination levels, Inside EPA reported Tuesday. The Obama administration put off issuing the protective action guide for radiological incidents not long before it was supposed to be published in January 2009. The document is meant to provide advice on dealing with the release of radiation from a terrorist attack or mishap at a nuclear power facility or industrial site. A draft of the document indicates that the public could drink water that has radiation levels thousands and even hundreds of thousands times greater than what the Environmental Protection Agency typically would permit in crisis situations, Inside EPA found." (Global Security Newswire; 19Mar10) http://gsn.nti.org/gsn/nw_20100318_4393.php

Preparing for the worst [discusses a response exercise]
"It's a worst case scenario for local emergency responders: a dirty bomb explodes on the streets of Downtown Santa Monica during a crowded event, causing hundreds of casualties, severely injuring many more and releasing dangerous chemicals into the environment. That was the challenge at hand Wednesday afternoon for the UCLA Health System's emergency response team and emergency workers from the Santa Monica Fire and Police departments in a disaster simulation drill at the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopedic Hospital. With the L.A. Marathon expected to bring tens of thousands of visitors to town this Sunday, organizers said it was a timely exercise that will help emergency professionals hone their skills in case of the real thing." (Santa Monica Daily Press; 18Mar10; Nick Taborek) http://www.smdp.com/Articles-c-2010-03-17-69262.113116_Preparing_for_the_worst.html

Peddling Peril by David Albright [book review]
"An exclusive excerpt from David Albright's new book, Peddling Peril: How the Secret Nuclear Trade Arms America's Enemies. Chapter Eight - Al Qaeda's Bomb The image of Osama bin Laden discussing nuclear weapons around a campfire with two former senior Pakistani nuclear engineers is the stuff of movies. Yet it actually happened in August 2001, when A.Q. Khan's deal with Libya was in full swing. Access to these Pakistani engineers was a major shortcut to possessing nuclear weapons. No one could dismiss the likelihood of nuclear terrorism again. Bin Laden had thought seriously about acquiring nuclear weapons for many years. In the early 1990s, an al Qaeda agent unsuccessfully sought uranium in Sudan. In 1998, the year Pakistan tested its nuclear weapons, bin Laden declared that acquiring unconventional weapons was a religious duty." (Foreign Policy; 17Mar10; David Albright) http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/03/17/peddling_peril

Alleged Al-Qaeda man worked at U.S. nuclear power plant [NJ]
"An alleged al-Qaeda agent and US citizen involved in a bloody shooting in Yemen five days ago worked for a US nuclear power plant company between 2002 and 2008. Sharif Mobley, said by a source close to the police in Yemen to hold both US and Yemeni citizenship, was employed by PSEG [Public Service Enterprise Group] Nuclear in New Jersey as a labourer, company spokesman Joseph Delmar said. [...] 'While working here, he did routine labour work carrying supplies and assisting maintenance activities. He also worked at other nuclear plants in the region.' The revelation highlighted US security officials' greatest challenges - keeping tabs on militants holding American passports and the ultimate fear of an attack involving a dirty bomb or inside a nuclear power station. Delmar said the man, who grew up in New Jersey, had not been considered a risk." (Sydney Morning Herald; 13Mar10) http://www.smh.com.au/world/alleged-alqaeda-man-worked-at-us-nuclear-power-plant-20100313-q4rd.html

Medical dividend from biosecurity network
"THIS week's launch of the Australian Biosecurity Intelligence Network promises spin-offs for public health as well as improved preparedness for biological threats to plants and animals. Based in Canberra and headed by geneticist, immunologist and counter-terrorism expert Joanne Banyer, the network will provide secured communications and information technology infrastructure to enable experts and officials to tackle emerging biosecurity threats. 'We think of it as providing the collaboration infrastructure,' explains Stephen Prowse, an expert in immunology, infectious diseases and diagnostics with the University of Queensland and an ABIN board member. The network involves more than 60 agencies and and institutions in the biosecurity sector, from the CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong, Victoria, to the federal Department of Health and Ageing." (Australian; 20Mar10; Leigh Dayton)

Multifunctional polymer neutralizes both biological and chemical weapons
"In an ongoing effort to mirror the ability of biological tissues to respond rapidly and appropriately to changing environments, scientists from the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine have synthesized a single, multifunctional polymer material that can decontaminate both biological and chemical toxins. They described the findings recently in Biomaterials. 'Our lab applies biological principles to create materials that can do many things, just like our skin protects us from both rain and sun,' said senior investigator Alan Russell, Ph.D., University Professor of Surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and director, McGowan Institute, a joint effort of the university and UPMC. 'Typically, labs engineer products that are designed to serve only one narrow function.' Those conventional approaches might not provide the best responses for weapons of mass destruction, which could be biological, such as smallpox virus, or chemical, such as the nerve agent sarin, he noted. Terrorists aren't going to announce what kind of threat they unleash in an attack." (Med Citizen; 19Mar10) http://www.medcitizen.com/research/3906.html

Midwest Research Institute wins Department of Defense research contract [MD]
"Midwest Research Institute has received a U.S. Department of Defense contract to provide support services for national defense research against chemical and biological warfare and terrorism. The Kansas City-based organization said in a release Friday that it has provided the federal government with chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive, or CBRNE, expertise since the institute was founded in 1944. Through the institute's five-year contract, part of an aggregate of $485 million in federal spending, the organization will support the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center and other defense customers at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland." (Kansas City Business Journal; 19Mar10) http://kansascity.bizjournals.com/kansascity/stories/2010/03/15/daily50.html

FCC [Federal Communications Commission] details broadband plan for public safety
"The Federal Communications Commission is promoting how its National Broadband Plan could enhance public-safety activities with a new Web page on the agency's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau site. The Web page is meant to be a comprehensive source of information for the FCC's plan to provide broadband to everyone in the U.S. and what new capabilities that will bring to the public-safety sector. [...] A national broadband service is particularly important to public safety, as it can 'provide enhanced situational awareness from first responders in emergency situations,' according to the FCC. By using broadband, public safety agencies could having difficulty getting agencies to comply with its recommendations, mainly because they have no authority to force them to do so. Events like the attacks of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina -- in which emergency responders were not able to adequately communicate and delegate tasks, hampering rescue efforts -- particularly brought to light the need for better public-safety communication networks." (Information Week; 19Mar10; Elizabeth Montalbano) http://www.informationweek.com/news/government/security/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=224000170

Hong Kong delegation trains with Hanover Park firefighters [IL] "
With his American counterparts eyeing his every move, a confident Hong Kong Fire Station Officer Wong King-man - or Raymond, as he's called here - properly secured a sample of a potential nerve agent. His technique won an approving nod from instructors and further prepared him for the big certification exam on Friday. He and his four fellow firefighters will then leave Hanover Park and return to Hong Kong with plans to develop programs focused on managing hazardous materials incidents. It's been a tough, but rewarding three weeks of intensive training. 'This was an opportunity to learn more about American operations,' said Assistant Divisional Officer Tung Kok Keung, or 'Victor.'" (Daily Herald; 18Mar10; Kimberly Pohl)

WMD commission: 'we're not going away'
"Congress authorized a commission in 2008 to assess how the nation was doing in its efforts to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction. The Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, chaired by former Sens. Bob Graham, D-Fla., and Jim Talent, R-Mo., delivered its report in late 2008, and then received a year-long extension to produce a report card on how the government was doing. That report card was delivered in January. The extension is about to run out, and won't be renewed. However, Talent, Graham and other members of the staff have formed a nonprofit, the Bipartisan WMD Research Center. [...] The nonprofit's focus will be on bioterrorism, rather than nuclear weapons, he said. The nation collectively received an 'F' for its efforts to enhance the capabilities for rapid response to prevent biological attacks from inflicting mass casualties. Some media erroneously reported that the Obama administration received a failing grade, but that's not the case, Larsen said. Congress, as well as the executive branch and state and local agencies, all have failed to prepare the nation for a catastrophic bio-attack, he said." (National Defense Magazine; 17Mar10; Stew Magnuson) http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2010/April/Pages/WMDCommissionNotGoingAway.aspx

NIH [National Institutes of Health] releases 2011 budget
"The National Institutes of Health spent more than half of the $8.2 billion it received for science under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 last year, or $4.6 billion, and expects to spend another $3.6 billion this year. According to the Department of Health and Human Services budget for 2011, HHS expects that approximately $5.2 billion in stimulus funds, left over from the ARRA's first year, will be spent in 2010. [...] The 2011 budget proposal also includes $476 ear marked for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. That money would be used in funding the development of next-generation countermeasures, including those that would fight anthrax and acute radiation syndrome. Pandemic influenza preparedness activities are also set to receive $302 million from the budget." (Bio Prep Watch; 17Mar10; Nick Rees) http://www.bioprepwatch.com/news/212420

Nuclear handling errors examined
"Whiteman Air Force Base was among five U.S. air bases where errors were uncovered last summer in storing or tracking components for nuclear weapons. At the Knob Noster, Mo., home of the B-2 stealth bomber, the problem was lax control over who could get inside a locked vault, according to a recently released report of the Air Force Audit Agency. An Air Force spokesman said all problems found at the bases have been fixed. But auditors' findings suggest better care of nuclear weapons-related material is still needed. [...] At least for Whiteman's 509th Bomb Wing, the lesson was simple: When people switch to new assignments, make sure they no longer have access to vaults holding parts used in arming and releasing nuclear weapons. The audit agency's inspections in July found that two airmen who knew the combination to the vault's lock had left Whiteman, while four others who were assigned to other units on base still possessed swipe cards used to enter the heavily restricted storage area." (Kansas City Star; 16Mar10; Rick Montgomery) http://www.kansascity.com/2010/03/15/1815240/air-force-examines-errors-in-handling.html

FBI Director Mueller: Al-Qaida still wants nuclear bomb
FBI Director Robert Mueller warned Congress on Wednesday of ongoing al-Qaida efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction to attack the United States. 'Al-Qaida remains committed to its goal of conducting attacks inside the United States,' Mueller told a House appropriations subcommittee. 'Further, al-Qaida's continued efforts to access chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear material pose a serious threat to the United States.' To accomplish its goals of new attacks on the American homeland, al-Qaida 'seeks to infiltrate overseas operatives who have no known nexus to terrorism into the United States using both legal and illegal methods of entry,' Mueller said. In February, Sheikh Abdullah al-Nasifi, a known al-Qaida recruiter in Kuwait, boasted on al Jazeera television that Mexico's border with the United States was the ideal infiltration point for terrorists seeking to attack America. 'Four pounds of anthrax [spores]-- in a suitcase this big -- carried by a fighter through tunnels from Mexico into the U.S., are guaranteed to kill 330,000 Americans within a single hour if it is properly spread in population centers there,' al-Nasifi said." (Newsmax; 18Mar10; Ken Timmerman)

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