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Citizens Watch Newsletter, July 2004

U.S. Bio Defense, Bio Offense?

by Inga Olson
from Tri-Valley CAREs' July 2004 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

The line between "biodefense" and offensive bioweapons development is exceedingly thin. Programs to create new bioweapons often involve experiments to genetically modify and aerosolize pathogens. So, too, do some of new U.S. biodefense programs, such as the one proposed at Livermore Lab.

Offensive programs to create bioweapons are carried out in secret by facilities with ties to a nation's military. The U.S. biodefense facility at Ft. Detrick, from which the anthrax used in the 2001 bio-attack is believed to have come, is owned by the Army. The proposed Livermore Lab facility was given the green light by the Dept. of Energy, the agency that designs U.S. nuclear weapons of mass destruction. Offensive bioweapon programs often use large volumes of pathogens, more than typical, civilian biolabs. Yet, the biodefense program at Livermore Lab will house up to 100 liters of various bio-warfare agents. (See article on page 1, at the right.)

Often, the line that separates an offensive from a defensive bio-program comes down to intent. How does one measure a nation's intent? In light of the inherently dual use nature of biodefense as it is currently being pursued in the U.S., how important is transparency? How open is the Bush administration's bio-program? Where is the line? How will we know if or when or where the U.S. crosses it? How will other nations know? What will they guess? How will they respond?

Recently, three U.S. biodefense experts used these and similar questions as a measuring stick by which to judge a new U.S. initiative, called the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center, or NBACC for short. The main center will be located at Ft. Detrick. The Biodefense Knowledge Center, one of the NBACC's four subordinate centers will be located at Livermore Lab. What the experts found disturbed them. And us.

They published an analysis and commentary in the May 17, 2004 issue of the "Politics and Life Sciences Journal." In it, the three authors expressed alarm at the direction in which the program is heading. The authors are: Ambassador James Leonard, head of the U.S. delegation that negotiated the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, Dr. Richard Spertzel, former Deputy Director of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick and chief U.N. bioweapons inspector in Iraq after the first Gulf War and Milton Leitenberg, an arms control expert with the University of Maryland.

Their commentary focused primarily on the NBACC's Biothreat Characterization Center. This center's proposed research areas include the development of genetically modified bioweapons, aerosol dissemination, attack scenarios, and scale of production studies through modeling and simulation. The authors concluded, "the rapidity of elaboration of American biodefense programs, their ambition and administrative aggressiveness, and the degree to which they push against the prohibitions of the BWC [Biological Weapons Convention] are startling."

The three experts looked at the NBACC and questioned whether the former Soviet offensive bioweapon program's most dangerous and reprehensible work on bioregulators (substances that regulate a physiological process) and immunomodulators (things that influence the functioning of the immune system) was qualitatively different from the work now to be carried out in the U.S., regardless of whether the research is called defensive.

The authors noted that the Bush administration scuttled efforts to finalize BWC verification measures in order to shield the U.S. biodefense program. They fear that scrutiny of the U.S. biodefense program's proposed plans, such as the ones at the NBACC, will not be allowed. And they point out that the U.S. biodefense plans are becoming orders of magnitude larger and much closer to breaching the BWC than U.S. programs of the past.

The authors are concerned too that foreign rivals may steer their currently legitimate biodefense programs down the new American path; a dangerous path that clearly leads to new bio-warfare capabilities if not to the actual weaponry itself.

Tri-Valley CAREs has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain an analysis our government has reportedly performed on the impact of new U.S. biodefense programs on the BWC. So far, we have not heard back from the government. Stay tuned.


Documents Reveal Livermore Plan to Store 100 Liters of Deadly Pathogens

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' July 2004 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

In Dec. 2002, the Dept. of Energy (DOE) gave itself the go-ahead to build and operate a bio-warfare agent facility at Livermore Lab. As our regular readers are aware, the DOE made the decision on the basis of a slim and faulty Environmental Assessment (EA) and a grand total of zero public hearings. Tri-Valley CAREs filed suit against the facility. We currently have a "stay" in place, preventing the importation of dangerous bioagents such as anthrax, botulism, Q fever and plague while our lawsuit proceeds. And, very recently, we won another victory when the judge made a ruling to allow the testimony of our key experts.

The EA had stated that the Livermore Lab biosafety level-3 (BSL-3) would house up to one liter of a single bio-warfare agent in solution, and a total of ten liters of various bio-warfare agents. Ten liters of bioagents is the maximum quantity for a biolab to be considered a "research" rather than a "production" facility. Reference documents recently obtained by Tri-Valley CAREs reveal that the Lab actually plans to house up to 100 liters of bioagents. The Livermore Lab "Data Collection Biology and Biotechnology Research Program..." contains the following entry: "The BSL-3 laboratory will contain organisms of types, forms and quantities that require the precautions described... for BSL-3 activities. This will include up to one liter of any one organism in growth media and a total of 25,000 samples of various pathogens (total of 100 liters in sealed 2 milliliter capsules.)"

Ten liters of potentially deadly pathogens is an enormous amount of material. Ten liters, at the concentration specified in the EA, represents about one trillion (1,000,000,000,000) cells or organisms. One hundred liters is astounding. Tri-Valley CAREs will continue with the lawsuit ? and our campaign to drag the truth of Livermore Lab's plans and their full implications into the light of day. Join us.


Cutting the Nuclear Weapons Budget

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' July 2004 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

This spring, eleven Tri-Valley CAREs members went to Washington, DC to "speak truth to power" about nuclear bombs, pollution and the bloated weapons budget. We, along with scores of colleague groups from around Dept. of Energy nuclear sites across the country, conducted nearly 100 meetings over a three day period.

In these meetings, we used our analysis of Bush's 2005 budget request for nuclear weapons activities, prepared by Dr. Robert Civiak and available on our website at www.trivalleycares.org.

Then, in June, David Hobson (R-OH), chair of the House Energy & Water Appropriations subcommittee, moved courageously to cut the DOE nuclear weapons budget. From there the budget went to the full committee, where it was passed with the nuclear weapons cuts intact. Hooray.

In short, the House substantially adopted 7 of the 9 cuts we outlined in our analysis. The House budget:

1. Provides no funding for the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (as we recommended); 2. Provides no funding for the Modern Pit Facility (as we recommended); 3. Provides no funding for the Advanced Concepts Initiative (as we recommended); 4. Provides no funding to reduce the readiness time to conduct a full-scale nuclear test to less than 24 months (as we recommended); 5. Reduces funding for nuclear survivability by $15 million (we recommended a bigger cut); 6. Reduces funding for nuclear weapons' Life Extension Programs by $40 million and Directed Stockpile Work by another $40 million (we recommended a bigger cut); and, 7. Adds $65 million for nuclear warhead dismantlement (we recommended adding up to $50 million, and we welcome the committee's increase!). The two recommendations we offered that were not included in the House budget cuts are, first, a cut to the National Ignition Facility (NIF), and, second, a cut in the budget request for tritium readiness. The committee report did include some negative language about NIF, which we hope will lead to future budget cuts.

Rep. Hobson and his colleagues have taken a bold, bi-partisan stand against the development of new and modified nuclear weapons. We thank them. And, we thank all our members who wrote or spoke with their elected representatives about nuclear weapons issues. It really has made a difference.

So, what's next? The Senate will take up the DOE weapons budget shortly after the July 4 holiday. If the Senate makes the same cuts as the House, then they will become final. However, if the Senate does not make the same cuts, then the DOE weapons budget will go to a "conference committee," where the money could be restored. Therefore, what happens in the Senate over the next few weeks is critical. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) sits on the Appropriations Committee. She has vowed to seek substantial cuts to the DOE nuclear weapons budget. But, she needs your help -- and the support of her fellow Senators. You may contact the Senate through the Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121.


Be There for August 8 Books Not Bombs

by Tara Dorabji
from Tri-Valley CAREs' July 2004 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

On the 59th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we invite you to a major rally and march to the Livermore nuclear weapons lab. Livermore Lab is one of two facilities that develops all U.S. nuclear weapons, including a new bunker-buster called the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator. We will gather in Livermore to oppose the horror of the atomic bomb and the current war in Iraq, to celebrate nonviolence and the possibilities of the human spirit, to honor the unmet needs of our school-age children and to demand political change and economic justice ? by insisting on "Books Not Bombs."

Rally: On Aug. 8 at 1 PM there will be a rally at Jackson Elementary School, 554 Jackson Ave. in Livermore. (turn off East Ave. at Loyola. Look for the peace signs!). The rally will offer inspiring speakers, fabulous music, an historic art installation, booths galore full of T-shirts, literature, bumper stickers and other offerings from peace groups throughout the region and, last but not least, an actual book drive.

A featured speaker at the rally will be Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of the School of the America's Watch. Father Roy will speak in Livermore to illuminate the connection between the billions spent on nuclear weapons and the lack of resources allocated to human needs. As Father Roy explains: "The billions of dollars that are going into this death facility at Livermore Lab are a theft from sisters and brothers here in California and throughout the world who are struggling for survival." For example, Bush's 2005 budget requests $6.6 billion for new nuclear weapons activities ? more than the annual spending for nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

Gross increases in military spending are drying up funding for education, says rally speaker Cesar Cruz: "It is tragic how America has money for war and prisons, but can't find funds to keep schools open. Our priorities are on profit and slave labor, and not on our children." Cesar is an organizer of the Fast4Education. The rally will also feature the talents of Clan Dyken, who will get us up and moving to the beat of social change. And, songstress Fariba will inspire us with devotional music of the middle east.

There will be an indoor art display of quilted and painted panels, many from an historic event -- the "Ribbon Around the Pentagon" project. If you would like to continue the tradition and make a panel to debut at "Books Not Bombs," contact Nettie at leldredge@ispwest.com. Rally participants are also encouraged to bring a new or used book to give away. All books collected at the rally site will be donated to the Buenas Vidas Youth Ranch, a Safe Home for Boys, located in Livermore.

March: The march will begin at 3 PM. We will form a brilliant, diverse procession and walk about one and one-half miles through the neighborhoods to the gates of Livermore Lab. Those unable to march may choose to drive. The Livermore Lab convergence seeks: the abolition of nuclear weapons, the demilitarization of education and an end to a war economy that funds bombs over school books for our children. Bring water, sunscreen, signs, banners, musical instruments, friends and family. You may also want to bring art work or other expressions of peace and justice to place along the fence line at Livermore Lab.

Peace camp: There will be a peace camp at Lake Del Valle. If you wish to camp, call Will Parrish on Thursdays at (925) 443-7148 or email to illparrish@yahoo.com to secure a reservation. On Aug. 9, there will be a nonviolent direct action at Livermore Lab. The Aug. 9 action is dedicated to the memory of Father Bill O'Donnell, who was raised in Livermore. Father Bill was an outspoken champion of peace and justice and a nuclear abolitionist.

Volunteer! Call Tara or Gayle at (925) 443-7148 or email tara@trivalleycares.org.


Anthrax Accident is a Wake Up Call

by Inga Olson
from Tri-Valley CAREs' July 2004 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

You may have heard about the recent, near-tragic error with anthrax at the Children's Hospital research lab in Oakland, where at least seven employees unknowingly may have been exposed to the live Ames strain of the potentially deadly bioagent. All are being treated with antibiotics and, fortunately, so far none have become ill. Here is the sequence of events that ought to serve as a wake up call.

Southern Research Institute (SRI), a military biodefense contractor thought it was shipping dead, or what's known as inactivated anthrax, via FedEx to Children's Hospital. But, mistakenly, SRI shipped live anthrax. Three months later, researchers at the hospital lab began injecting what they thought was dead anthrax into mice. Over the weekend, ten mice died in separate cages and animal handlers placed the mice in a freezer.

However, the dead mice were not brought to the attention of the lead researchers. A week later, on a Friday, another batch of mice were inoculated. On Monday, those mice, too, were dead. The Children's Hospital lab researchers then began their own investigation. On Wednesday night, California State Health officials confirmed that live anthrax was in the syringes. FBI agents removed the samples from the lab.

SRI is one of 350 facilities licensed with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to handle live anthrax as well as the inactivated variety. So, more than 300 institutions currently handle and ship live anthrax. But, who knows how many places like the Children's Hospital lab work with supposedly dead anthrax. That number may be far greater. Yet, no one is tracking them. There is an obvious potential for this type of accident to reoccur.

Dr. Richard Ebright, a noted researcher with Rutgers University, points out that there is "no paper trail" and "no security" measures for inactivated (dead) select agents. Select agents is a term used to denote bioagents most likely to be weaponized, like anthrax.

Regulation of inactivated select agents was excluded under the interim final rule on select agents. So, there is no notification needed for their transport and no requirement for either sender or recipient registration. Further, there is no requirement for registration, personnel security or physical security for possession or use of inactivated select agents. This is a major problem since "inactivated" agents can contain recoverable or active, viable agent, which could become a starter culture for an individual or organization with harmful intent. And, as the Children's Hospital mishap shows, what's supposed to be dead isn't always.

The anthrax SRI provided Children's Hospital had been supposedly rendered "inactive" following immersion in a hot-water bath. Dr. Ebright questions this as a method for de-activating anthrax, because anthrax is known to form spores resistant to temperatures in excess of the boiling point of water.

Dr. Jonathan Tucker, a senior researcher at the Monterey Institute, told the Alameda Newspaper Group, "This is a cautionary tale. You have a lot of inexperienced researchers working at facilities around the country on these projects."

There were about a dozen researchers in the country working on anthrax ? until 2001. Since five people were killed by the anthrax mailings that followed the 9/11 terror attack, around $14 billion has been spent on biodefense in the U.S. The Baltimore Sun recently estimated that more than 11,000 people are now working in advanced biodefense labs with live anthrax and other select agents. As provocative as that huge number is, it is important to realize also that no estimate has been forthcoming of the number of researchers working with supposedly dead strains.

Tri-Valley CAREs, in association with a national coalition of experts and nonprofit groups, has called for a moratorium on the operation of new biowarfare agent facilities until a comprehensive national assessment is conducted to determine how many, if any, new labs are needed. Furthermore, the rules for tracking, handling and shipping potentially lethal bioagents need to be strengthened. Otherwise, we are likely to harm ourselves in the name of protecting ourselves. That is the lesson to be learned.

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