War on Terrorism

Friday, August 13, 2010

CBR Weapons and WMD Terrorism News, August 13, 2010

Report warns of potential state bioweapons programs
"The U.S. State Department last month warned of potential biological weapons programs in Iran, North Korea and Syria while asserting that major powers China and Russia have not provided full disclosures on their previous efforts on such armaments. Information in the public version of the State Department's 2010 compliance report on arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament treaties indicates that state-sponsored germ warfare is still considered a threat. The Biological Weapons Convention is intended to deter such dangers but has no verification or enforcement mechanism. However, there have been positive developments in this sphere, including Libya's 2003 renunciation of its biological weapons program and other WMD production efforts, Foreign Policy magazine reported In this year's report, Foggy Bottom took a stronger stance on Syria's potential biological weapons efforts than in reports issued during the Bush administration, noting that President Bashar Assad 'stated that Syria was entitled to defend itself by acquiring, inter alia, its own biological deterrent. [...] On Iran, which is a BWC member state, the State Department said: 'Available information indicates Iran has remained engaged in dual-use BW-related activities. The United States notes that Iran may not have ended activities prohibited by the BWC, although available information does not conclusively indicate that Iran is currently conducting activities prohibited by the convention.' [...] This year's report stated that North Korea could continue to judge 'the use of biological weapons as a military option.' Pyongyang, which acceded to the convention in 1987, has maintained its focus on obtaining technology, know-how and materials that might be used for germ warfare production activities, the report said. 'North Korea has yet to declare any of its biological research and development activities as part of the BWC confidence-building measures.'" (Global Security Newswire; 10Aug10) http://www.globalsecuritynewswire.org/gsn/nw_20100810_4143.php

Academy to provide training in combating trans-border crime planned
"The Home Ministry plans to set up an integrated academy here soon to train the ministry and its agencies' officers in fighting trans-border crime. Its minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said the establishment of the academy was to create understanding between the Home Ministry and security agencies on the domestic, regional and global security situation. He said the academy would be located on a 200ha site at the Langkawi International Shooting Range (Lisram), here. 'Trans-border crime includes smuggling of migrants, human trafficking, terrorism, money laundering and terrorism financing, smuggling of drugs, biological weapons and explosives, and cyber crime. [...] Hishammuddin said that based on the initial plan, the academy or training centre would organise training programmes and help build capacities through discussions, and conducting case studies and research. 'This academy also needs to build strategic ties with regional and international security experts and agencies including intelligence agencies.' He said the ultimate aim would be to make the academy a domestic and international research hub on issues related to trans-border crime." (Bernama; 10Aug10)

Texas A&M researchers seek rabies cure
"Rabies is one of the main targets of new research funded by the Department of Defense at Texas A&M University. What interests the Department of Defense, is not so much what A&M is going to test but how the test plays out on cell samples exposed to a virus, a toxin and a bacteria. Because if attacks on our troops or the public changes from conventional warfare to bioterrorism the government wants to treat Americans quickly. What makes A&M uniquely poised for this research is what's stored in its unusually cold library: thousands of stem cells from mice. 'If we screen thousands and thousands of cell lines each missing a gene, we could determine which genes, which part of your genes that the virus hijacks to hurt you, and once we know that then that gene becomes a target for new drugs that we can develop very rapidly to keep the virus from hurting you,' said Brett Giroir, Texas A&M Vice Chancellor for Research. Texas A&M Contract Project Manager Deeann Wallis agreed. 'We're going after what's in your body that makes you more sensitive or resistant to that bacterial infection,' she said. Their findings could help fight bioterrorism and much more. 'Now we'll be immediately ready should any new emerging infectious disease come on board be of interest like SARS or H1N1 that nobody knows anything about,' she said. One of the most immediate outcomes of A&M's research could be a cure for rabies." (KENS: San Antonio, TX; 12Aug10) http://www.kens5.com/news/-Texas-AM-researchers-seek-rabies-cure--100548474.html

UTSA [University Texas San Antonio] biologists win patent in their quest to fight tularemia
"Two University of Texas at San Antonio biology researchers have been awarded a patent for their work to create a vaccine against tularemia. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded Karl Klose, director of the UTSA South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, and Bernard Arulanandam, associate dean of research for scientific innovation at the UTSA College of Sciences, a patent for developing a process to create a vaccine for the tularemia infection. Tularemia is a deadly disease caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. F. tularensis is carried primarily by animals such as rabbits. However, when inhaled into the lungs, the disease can be fatal. For this reason, scientists say F. tularensis could be used a potential weapon to conduct bioterrorism. The two researchers have developed what they are calling a live attenuated vaccine. It works by removing a crucial gene in the bacteria that prevents the germ from surviving and growing inside infected cells. Klose says the crippled bacterium has proven to act as an effective vaccine. In this attenuated state, the bacterium induced an immune response without causing tularemia, he adds." (San Antonio Business Journal; 12Aug10) http://www.bizjournals.com/sanantonio/stories/2010/08/09/daily35.html

DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] turns to Canadian tobacco to fight viral terror[ism]
The Pentagon's after a faster, more reliable way to fight pandemics and viral terror[ism] threats by mass producing vaccines. So far, plant-based approaches seem to be their top pick to replace old-school methods. Now, in a bid to hasten the development of vaccines that are ready for human use before the next H1N1 emerges, the military's looking for a little help from our northern neighbors. Darpa, the Pentagon's blue-sky research arm, handed out $21 million to Canadian biotech firm Medicago Inc. The company, based in Quebec City, will use the money to build a 90,000-square-foot facility that'll use tobacco plants to produce 10 million monthly doses of influenza vaccine. The funding is a smaller part of Darpa's burgeoning Accelerated Manufacture of Pharmaceuticals, or AMP, program, which aims to revolutionize current, egg-based vaccine production models, and yield vaccines within three months of 'emerging and novel biological threats.' In February, the agency gave $21 million to Texas A&M for the construction of a 145,000 square-foot 'biotherapeutic production facility' that uses mobile 'pods' to grow vaccine-infused tobacco plants. Already, the method has yielded promising results. IBio Inc, another biotech firm that's working on plant-based vaccines, plan to conduct human trials of an H5N1 vaccine this year. Medicago has similar plans, and also announced the successful development of a candidate H1N1 vaccine less than a month after the strain was identified last spring. Compare that to the six months it took for the egg-based, 'fast tracked' H1N1 vaccine to be available for public use. 'In general terms, we've probably got several years ahead of most of the people that might be doing similar things,' company CEO Andy Sheldon told Reuters. And before you give the Pentagon too much heat for outsourcing their vaccine greenhouses: Medicago is based in Canada, but the new facility will be built in Durham, North Carolina." (Wired; 11Aug10; Katie Drummond) http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/08/darpa-turns-to-canadian-tobacco-to-fight-viral-terror/

Firefighters detonate dangerous chemicals [San Diego, CA]
"San Diego Fire Rescue were called in to detonate abandoned hazardous materials on Saturday at a facility in Sorrento Valley, City Beat reported. The local alternative weekly also reported that the chemicals were abandoned by the Aries Associates company, a local weapons defense subcontractor, in April, after it filed for bankruptcy. Aries filed for bankruptcy in the wake of a an intellectual-property rights lawsuit between Aries and L-3 Communications, which leased space from Aries. The chemicals could have been dangerous to people in the area, but that risk has now been minimized, according to crews cleaning up the site. 'Right now, there is minimal risk,' said Robert Wise, who is the federal on-scene coordinator for the Environmental Protection Association. 'If the facility was to sit there abandoned, there could be a risk of fire or other type of spill, if someone was to get in there who didn't know what they were doing.' Prior to being abandoned, the facility was used to develop methods to decontaminate areas damaged by a biological-weapons attack. Crews expect the clean-up, which Wise told City Beat could cost more than $150,000, to be completed by Friday." (National Broadcasting Corporation: San Diego; 11Aug10; Eric S. Page) http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local-beat/Firefighters-Detonate-Dangerous-Chemicals-100477669.html

Gains in bioscience cause terror[ism] fears
"Rapid advances in bioscience are raising alarms among terrorism experts that amateur scientists will soon be able to gin up deadly pathogens for nefarious uses. Fears of bioterror[ism] have been on the rise since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, stoking tens of billions of dollars of government spending on defenses, and the White House and Congress continue to push for new measures. But the fear of a mass-casualty terrorist attack using bioweapons has always been tempered by a single fact: Of the scores of plots uncovered during the past decade, none have featured biological weapons. Indeed, many experts doubt terrorists even have the technical capability to acquire and weaponize deadly bugs. The new fear, though, is that scientific advances that enable amateur scientists to carry out once-exotic experiments, such as DNA cloning, could be put to criminal use. Many well-known figures are sounding the alarm over the revolution in biological science, which amounts to a proliferation of know-how--if not the actual pathogens. 'Certain areas of biotechnology are getting more accessible to people with malign intent,' said Jonathan Tucker, an expert on biological and chemical weapons at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Geneticist Craig Venter said last month at the first meeting of a presidential commission on bioethics, 'If students can order any [genetic sequences] online, somebody could try to make the Ebola virus.'" (Wall Street Journal; 11Aug10; Keith Johnson) http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703722804575369394068436132.html

County readies new health department [Pascagoula, MS]
"To cope with the changing health scene, local physicians are rallying together to establish a culture of health, wellness and emergency services the public can afford. The completion of the new $4.5 million Jackson County Health Department will give physicians the ability to better serve the uninsured and underinsured. The public is invited to tour the 24,000-square-foot facility at 4600 Vega Street in Pascagoula, Aug. 26 at 10 a.m. The building is just northeast of Singing River Hospital. Dr. Robert Tranvicek from the Mississippi State Department of Health said the new building is desperately needed because the role of the public health department is changing. 'We worked out of a tent for six months after Katrina,' he said. 'During that time we found out that local physicians and their staff at the health departments serve as the front lines after a disaster. 'We are always needed by the public to meet their medical needs.' Tranvicek said public health departments used to be full of new mothers and people needing shots. 'Now we deal with anthrax, diseases and a host of other medical conditions,' he said. The new health department will be 10,000 square feet larger than the building Katrina destroyed. The design features 23 medical exam rooms, a spacious waiting room and convenient parking. A 2,500-square-foot section of the new building can also be used as an emergency shelter. 'From marriage licenses to receiving flu shots, this new building will touch every resident in Jackson County,' said District 2 Supervisor Melton Harris." (Sun Herald: Gulfport, MS; 11Aug10; Leigh Coleman) http://www.sunherald.com/2010/08/11/2399961/county-readies-new-health-department.html

Plague vaccine study seeks East Tennessee participants [Knoxville, TN]
"The plague isn't something people in East Tennessee worry about contracting, though several thousand people worldwide get it each year. Still, some local researchers are taking on this ancient disease in the name of national defense. [...] The modern picture is less grim with antibiotic treatment available. But the plague now presents a different possibility. 'Plague is possible as a bioterrorism agent,' Dr. Smith said. That's why the Volunteer Research Group based at UT [University of Tennessee, Knoxville] Medical Center is studying a possible plague vaccine. It does not contain any actual plague bacteria. 'We'll be doing a number of blood tests with people in the study and we'll measure their antibody levels to the plague organism. So that if they have the appropriate antibody response then the vaccine works,' Dr. Smith explained. Sherry Bushong filled out paperwork Tuesday and will undergo a physical to see if she's eligible for the 18-month study. The study will determine the most effective intervals to administer the vaccine." (National Broadcasting Corporation: Knoxville, TN; 10Aug10; Emily Stroud)

Shocking images of dead Kurdish fighters: Turkey accused of using chemical weapons against PKK [Kurdistan Workers' Party ]
"German experts have confirmed the authenticity of photographs that purport to show PKK fighters killed by chemical weapons. The evidence puts increasing pressure on the Turkish government, which has long been suspected of using such weapons against Kurdish rebels. German politicians are demanding an investigation. It would be difficult to exceed the horror shown in the photos, which feature burned, maimed and scorched body parts. The victims are scarcely even recognizable as human beings. Turkish-Kurdish human rights activists believe the people in the photos are eight members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) underground movement, who are thought to have been killed in September 2009. In March, the activists gave the photos to a German human rights delegation comprised of Turkey experts, journalists and politicians from the far-left Left Party, as SPIEGEL reported at the end of July. Now Hans Baumann, a German expert on photo forgeries has confirmed the authenticity of the photos, and a forensics report released by the Hamburg University Hospital has backed the initial suspicion, saying that it is highly probable that the eight Kurds died 'due to the use of chemical substances.' Did the Turkish army in fact use chemical weapons and, by doing so, violate the Chemical Weapons Convention it had ratified? German politicians and human rights experts are now demanding an investigation into the incident. 'The latest findings are so spectacular that the Turkish side urgently needs to explain things,' said Claudia Roth, the co-chair of Germany's Green Party. 'It is impossible to understand why an autopsy of the PKK fighters was ordered [with] the results kept under seal.'" (Der Spiegel; 12Aug10; Daniel Steinvorth and Yassin Musharbash) http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,711536,00.html

Chemist’s trial moved out of state [Independence, MO]
"The trial of a Missouri chemist accused of stockpiling a poison was transferred yesterday to Kansas, after federal judges in western Missouri disqualified themselves because prosecutors planned to offer evidence that the defendant once spoke of pumping deadly fumes into the courthouse. Hessam S. Ghane, 60, of Independence has been in custody since 2003, when federal prosecutors charged him with illegally stockpiling potassium cyanide, a poison prohibited under the International Chemical Weapons Convention. Ghane had been scheduled to go on trial Aug. 16 in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, after several delays because of concerns about his mental competency. But Chief U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan transferred the case yesterday to Judge Kathryn Vratil, chief U.S. District judge in Kansas, according to The Kansas City Star. A new trial date will be set. The transfer came one day after Judge Ortrie Smith disqualified himself from presiding over the trial and canceled it, saying his impartiality could be questioned." (Columbia Daily Tribune; 11Aug10) http://www.columbiatribune.com/news/2010/aug/11/chemists-trial-moved-out-of-state/

Leaking sarin rocket discovered at Kentucky depot [Lexington, KY]
"The U.S. Army said Tuesday a leaking sarin nerve agent-filled rocket had been discovered during inspections of chemical weapons storage structures at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky. 'The low-level agent vapor was confined to the interior of the [shipping and firing] tube and no agent vapor was detected within the igloo atmosphere,' according to a press release. 'The rocket, enclosed in the shipping and firing tube, will be overpacked in a leakproof container. It will then be moved to another igloo containing overpacked [sarin] munitions as soon as possible.' The depot stores 523 tons of mustard blister agent and sarin and VX nerve agents. Chemical disarmament work at the site is projected to end in 2021 (U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency release, Aug. 10)." (Global Security Newswire; 12Aug10) http://www.globalsecuritynewswire.org/gsn/nw_20100812_6237.php

Chemical depot installs filters on storage sites [Pueblo, CO]
"The Army has awarded a $1.3 million contract to have filters installed in the buildings containing the chemical weapons at the Pueblo Chemical Depot. Depot spokesman Charles Sprague says installation of the filters is part of an agreement with the state of Colorado on monitoring the stockpile of weapons more closely. Sprague says the filters will capture any leaking vapors inside the storage buildings. The Army awarded the contract to Science Applications International Corp. of McLean, Va., which contracted with MASS Services and Supply of Pueblo to install the filters. In June, Army officials resealed three shells that were leaking mustard agent vapor at the depot. A plant is being built at the depot to destroy 2,600 tons of mustard agent under international treaty." (Washington Examiner; 09Aug10; Source: AP) http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/local/ap/chemical-depot-installs-filters-on-storage-sites-100304184.html

Better oversight of chemical industry sites needed, experts say
"As the world's declared state stockpiles of chemical warfare materials dwindle, the nonproliferation community is turning its focus to another concern -- a multitude of commercial plants that could be converted to produce weapon agents. These industry sites are formally known as Other Chemical Production Facilities and they are spread in the thousands around the world. While they are under the watch of an international arms control organization, some issue experts fear that the existing monitoring regime -- premised largely on industry self-reporting -- is not sufficiently stringent to guard against the possibility, however remote, of facilities clandestinely being turned toward illicit activities. 'The big issue under nonproliferation is that many of these chemicals are dual-use and many commercial facilities around the globe potentially could have some deadly breakout potential,' said Paul Walker, security and sustainability chief for the environmental organization Global Green USA. Other Chemical Production Facilities produce materials that are not listed under any of three Chemical Weapons Convention schedules of toxic materials and precursor substances. Between 10 and 15 percent of these plants could be quickly converted to illicit operations, according to France-based issue expert Ralf Trapp. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which monitors member nations' compliance with the convention, to date has not uncovered production of warfare materials at any of these 'other' facilities. However, there are more than 4,470 known OCPF sites worldwide and only 579 have been inspected." (Global Security Newswire; 13Aug10; Rachel Oswald) http://www.globalsecuritynewswire.org/gsn/nw_20100813_4521.php

Darpa’s [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] butterfly-inspired sensors light up at chem threats
"The Pentagon's got a new game plan to detect deadly chemical threats: tiny, iridescent sensors that are designed to mimic one of nature's most colorful creatures. It's the latest in a series of Darpa-funded efforts to use insects to spot weapons. Last year, the agency tapped researchers at Agiltron Corporation to implant larvae with micromechanical chemical sensors. In 2005, Darpa-backed scientists started training honey bees to become bomb sniffers. This time, Darpa's interested in the chemical-sensing talents of butterflies. The agency's awarded $6.3 million to a consortium, led by GE [General Electric] Global Research, that'll develop synthetic versions of the nanostructures found on the scales of butterfly wings. The project's lead researcher, Dr. Radislav Potyrailo, likens the nanostructures on the butterfly wing scales, which each measure around 50 by 100 microns, to 'tiles on a roof.' The science of chemical response behind the structures is based on photonics. The wings of Morpho butterflies change spectral reflectivity depending on the exposure of the scales to different vapors. As Potyrailo and his team write in a 2007 paper, published in Nature Photonics, 'this optical response dramatically outperforms that of existing nano-engineered photonic sensors.' 'This is a fundamentally different approach,' he tells Danger Room. 'Existing sensors can measure individual gases in the environment, but they suffer, big time, from interferences. This approach overcomes that hurdle.' A single sensor would be tailored to detect certain types of chemical agents or explosives, and do so without hindrance from other chemicals, airborne molecules or even humidity. Water molecules, Potyrailo points out, can overload a dangerous gas that's sparsely distributed but 'is still able to have actionable effects in a military setting.' And, much like their biological inspiration, the sensors would do the job with remarkable specificity." (Wired; 12Aug10; Katie Drummond) http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/08/pentagons-butterfly-inspired-sensors-light-up-at-chemical-threats/

URMC [University of Rochester Medical Center] receives $15 million bioterrorism [sic] grant
"The University of Rochester Medical Center has received $15 million in federal bioterrorism funding that allows investigators to build on several discoveries made during the past five years to improve the ability to treat radiation injuries, especially from an act of terrorism. URMC was awarded an initial grant of $21 million in 2005 to become part of a national research network, Centers for Medical Countermeasures Against Radiation. The centers were charged with researching how best to respond to a dirty bomb or other radiological or nuclear attack. A second, $15 million, five-year award, received this month from the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, will allow URMC researchers to focus on testing known drugs and experimental agents and their ability to ward off systemic radiation injury that affects the lungs, brain, skin and bone marrow." (Rochester Business Journal; 12Aug10; Nate Dougherty)

Idaho considered for radiation response training site
"The U.S. Energy Department is weighing using a small section of the Idaho National Laboratory as a test site where U.S. first responders could practice responding to possible nuclear or radiological 'dirty bomb' strikes, the Idaho Falls Post Register reported today. The department has issued a report on the test site's possible effect on the environment. Three sectors within the 890-square-mile Idaho National Laboratory are being considered to host the site. Two candidates are not far from Test Area North and the third is close to the Radioactive Waste Management Complex. Energy Department spokesman Tim Jackson said none of the considered areas is untouched. One site has been cleared, one houses a parking lot and another holds a gravel pit. Emergency response drills would involve some radioactive substances to allow personnel to train in use of radiation sensors and to test the technology, Jackson said. The department believes exposure to radiation by laboratory personnel and responders participating in the drills would fall well short of normal allowed radiation limits (Sven Berg, Idaho Falls Post Register, Aug. 11)." (Global Security Newswire; 11Aug10) http://www.globalsecuritynewswire.org/gsn/nw_20100811_6862.php

Disaster preparedness plans turn to citizens for help [Exeter, NH]
"Over the past few years the severity and frequency of natural and public health emergency events have shown a need for area residents to aid their communities in times of need. Beginning in early fall citizens within the greater Exeter region will now have an avenue through which to assist first responders, from helping clear roads of downed trees or directing traffic to helping staff vaccination clinics or disbursing medication during public health emergencies for those with a medical license. Susan Geier, Greater Exeter Public Health Preparedness coordinator and Citizen Corps director, said her office is developing a citizens group comprised of medical and non-medical volunteers whose goal is to aid and assist local first responders during emergencies and local events. [...] The training curriculum was developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Emergency Management Institute. Instructors are certified through the New Hampshire Fire Academy. Brann said she will often bring in guest instructors such as local police officers and firefighters to do specialty sections such as fire safety and safety strategies involved in a terrorist incident." (Seacoast Online; 08Aug10; Joshua Clark) http://www.seacoastonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100808/NEWS/8080317/-1/NEWSMAP

CNS ChemBio-WMD Terrorism News is prepared by the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Program of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in order to bring timely and focused information to researchers and policymakers interested in the fields of chemical, biological, and radiological weapons nonproliferation and WMD terrorism.

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