Wednesday, January 12, 2005

US Biodefense Crossing the Line?

A recent report published on TheScientist.com pertains to developments in the biodefense program in the United States of America.  Apparently, we are planning to spend about $1.7 billion dollars to expand the amount of Biosafety Level Four labs in the country.  They add:
[...] Critics immediately condemned the plans, charging they would violate international bioweapons treaties and may set off a global biological arms race. For example, the new lab will genetically alter bioweapon diseases and package them so they can be dispersed as weapons.

While a DHS spokeswoman later characterized this research as necessary to learn how to counter such weapons, three veteran US biological arms control experts strongly disagreed. The DHS plans "may constitute [prohibited weapon] development in the guise of threat assessment, and they certainly will be interpreted that way" by other countries, wrote James Leonard, Milton Leitenberg, and Richard Spertzel in the journal Politics and the Life Sciences in May. [...]

It was not obvious, immediately, what the criticism was about.  Turning to the article cited, Biodefense Crossing the Line, we get some more specific information.  We learn that the US is planning research on genetically-modified pathogens.  Some of the criticism implies that it is not always possible to distinguish between research that is purely defensive, and that which could lead to offensive capability.  Read the rest at The Rest of the Story