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Citizens Watch Newsletter September 2003

Groups Sue to Stop Biowarfare Agent Facilities at Nuclear Labs

by Bob Schaeffer, Marylia Kelley and Jay Coghlan
from Tri-Valley CAREs' September 2003 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

A lawsuit filed by Tri-Valley CAREs and Nuclear Watch of New Mexico in Federal District Court seeks to suspend Dept. of Energy (DOE) work on new buildings designed to conduct biowarfare agent experiments using lethal pathogens, such as anthrax, plague and botulism, at the Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories, pending a comprehensive review of the projects' environmental impacts.

Plaintiffs representing individuals and community groups located near the two nuclear weapons labs charged that DOE failed to produce legally required Environmental Impact Statements for either facility and a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for its nationwide Chemical and Biological National Security Program, which includes the contested facilities. The suit seeks an injunction barring DOE from breaking ground for biowarfare agent research labs at Livermore and from introducing pathogens into a partially constructed facility at Los Alamos.

"DOE granted itself the go-ahead to construct and operate hazardous biowarfare agent facilities without conducting thorough analyses of the risks to lab workers and neighbors," explained Marylia Kelley, the Executive Director of Tri-Valley CAREs who lives across the street from the Livermore Lab. "A comprehensive environmental review, public hearings and serious consideration of safer alternatives are all legally required. Instead, DOE hastily and capriciously gave a 'green-light' to novel and dangerous operations in two states."

"The cursory Environmental Assessments DOE conducted for the two new facilities dismissed as insignificant key threats such as sabotage, transportation accidents, escaping research animals, and natural disasters," added Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, a group which monitors the Los Alamos Lab. "We are not against enhanced defenses to stop bioterrorism. But we oppose allowing DOE to rush forward in a manner that may cause more problems than it solves. For the public good, proposals to locate biowarfare agent research programs at secretive nuclear weapons labs need the transparency our lawsuit seeks."

Both Livermore and Los Alamos have poor safety, security and environmental records, according to the lawsuit. Livermore is on the federal "Superfund" list of the nation's most contaminated sites, and the state of New Mexico recently issued a sweeping "Corrective Action Order" to mandate cleanup at Los Alamos. Federal investigators have repeatedly criticized the University of California, which administers both labs, for security problems and lax management.

Livermore Lab is located about fifty miles from San Francisco in an active earthquake fault zone. Using a Defense Dept. computer model, Dr. Matthew McKinzie calculated that an anthrax release resulting from "light damage" to the proposed biowarfare agent facility could blow across the East Bay into San Francisco, causing 9,000 deaths.

Los Alamos faced imminent evacuation during the huge Cerro Grande fire in 2000. The Lab's security and management scandals have repeatedly been the subject of federal investigations. The proposed new research facility would generate an estimated 2,600 pounds of "special" infectious wastes annually.

"The National Environmental Policy Act requires an Environmental Impact Statement for each of these new facilities and a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on the overall DOE program," concluded Stephan Volker, the plaintiffs' lead attorney. "That is precisely what we are seeking in this lawsuit."

The lawsuit complaint is available here on our website; "Mixing Bugs and Bombs," an article by Kelley and Coghlan detailing the dangers of conducting biowarfare agent research at DOE nuclear weapons labs, is in the Sept.-Oct. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Mixing Bugs and Bombs

by Marylia Kelley and Jay Coghlan
from Tri-Valley CAREs' September 2003 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

The excerpted article, below, is taken from "Mixing Bugs and Bombs", the cover story in the September-October Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, by Marylia Kelley and Jay Coghlan.

For months, U.S. and coalition forces have scoured Iraq searching for biological weapons and the labs that might have made them; the possibility of these labs' existence led broadcasts around the world. Meanwhile, in the United States, with very little media attention or public discussion, the Bush administration is quietly pursuing plans to build biowarfare agent facilities of its own. The new labs will handle, modify, and experiment with some of the most harmful agents known to humanity, including live anthrax, plague, Q fever, and botulism.

But what should be even more controversial is where some of these biofacilities are being built: at nuclear weapons design sites --Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico...

Energy's biowar bid: global consequences

The Energy Department has had a Chemical and Biological National Security Program (CBNP) since fiscal 1997. Until the September 11 attacks, its funding was modest. In fiscal 2002, the CBNP's funding grew by 115 percent, to $87 million. Its still-growing budget has now been transferred to the newly created Department of Homeland Security, where operations are so opaque that a Freedom of Information Act request filed months ago has so far yielded no response.

The Energy Department is quick to fend off criticism of its growing bio "footprint" by saying that it and its predecessor agencies have done biological research since the early days of the Cold War. It is true that the Energy Department's weapons labs at Los Alamos and Livermore have long had BSL-1 and BSL-2 facilities. But this low-risk research is a far cry from the advanced capabilities Energy is now pursuing.

If Energy's work on nuclear weapons is any indication of how it will approach its new biodefense work, there is ample reason for concern that it will use the facilities to secretly develop and improve capabilities for offensive chemical and biological weapons, according to Robert Civiak, a physicist and policy analyst who served as White House Budget Examiner for Energy's weapons program. The Energy labs spend eight times as much money on developing new and improved nuclear weapons as they do on controlling nuclear weapons proliferation and reducing nuclear arsenals, Civiak said.

The research to be conducted at the Energy labs is inherently dual purpose. A fine line separates "defensive" (for example, detecting bioweapons agents) from "offensive" research (weaponizing an agent). Sergei Popov, a former Soviet bioweaponeer, stated the problem plainly for the television program NOVA. In the initial stages of defensive and offensive research, it's the "same process." In short, it is essentially the intent of a bioprogram, not a technical or material difference, that separates defensive from offensive capability.

So how will other nations gauge U.S. intent if it conducts research at highly classified centers for the development of nuclear weapons? Energy's entry into biowarfare research could spark deep suspicion and cripple international efforts to build an effective nonproliferation regime for bioweapons.

As Livermore and Los Alamos forge ahead with the designs for new and modified nuclear weapons (like "mini-nukes" or the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator), concepts that fly in the face of U.S. disarmament obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, there is growing alarm that the labs' planned foray into bioresearch could drive a coffin nail into the already fragile Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC).

The Bush administration single-handedly quashed negotiations on strengthening the BWC through verification and enforcement. The U.S. position focused on protecting bio-secrecy and rejected all effective disclosure requirements. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, chair of the Federation of American Scientists' working group on the BWC, calls the commingling of nuclear weapons and biodefense "a very serious mistake."

"This makes it possible for the government to say we can't allow any kind of inspections or visits from outside the government because nuclear security depends on it," Rosenberg told the Livermore-area Alameda Newspapers Group.

Disturbingly, it seems the United States is moving toward the position that its BWC obligations are limited solely to the activities of the Defense Department biodefense program, and that bioresearch conducted by Defense subagencies or other agencies like Energy need not be evaluated for treaty compliance. The February/ March 2003 issue of Disarmament Diplomacy cites a U.S. government report on the BWC that recommends, "if there are promising technologies that [Defense] is prohibited from pursuing, set up MOA" (memorandums of agreement) with the Energy Department.

At the Energy Department weapons labs

The BSL-3 facility under construction at Los Alamos will be 3,000 square feet and will include two individual BSL-3 labs, two BSL-3 mechanical rooms, and one BSL-2 lab. It is expected to cost around $5 million... The proposed date for introducing pathogens is spring 2004. The facility is slated to operate for at least 30 years.

At Livermore, the BSL-3 will be 1,500 square feet. An existing, adjacent BSL-2 facility will be used to store materials needed to operate the BSL-3, but that do not themselves require a higher level of containment (like disinfectants). The Livermore biofacility will include three individual BSL-3 labs. One of them will be devoted to aerosolizing bioagents and to conducting what Energy calls "challenges" on up to 100 small animals at a time, mainly rats, mice, and guinea pigs. At the end of each study, the animals will go into a tissue digester, a sort of high-temperature blender that yields an aqueous solution and some ash. Making deadly pathogens airborne and conducting animal challenges with them is particularly provocative because these are key steps to weaponization. Further, aerosolizing bioagents could lead to their accidental release into the environment... The introduction of pathogens may be on the same schedule as Los Alamos. The Livermore BSL-3 is also expected to operate for 30 years...

Weapons of Mass Destruction in Our Midst

by Scott Ritter
from Tri-Valley CAREs' September 2003 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

"Weapons of Mass Destruction in our Midst: When America is its Own Worst Enemy," by Scott Ritter, on the Department of Energy's planned construction of a biowarfare agent facility at Livermore Lab, was published in the Sept. 8, 2003 San Francisco Chronicle.

In February, Secretary of State Colin Powell displayed for the U.N. Security Council detailed drawings of truck- and train-mounted mobile biological weapons laboratories alleged to be in the possession of Iraq. The basis for this analysis was an Iraqi defector whose credibility was certified not by the quality or accuracy of the provided data, but rather the political environment of post-Sept. 11, which automatically upgraded the status of any intelligence information, no matter how sketchy, that sustained the charges that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

The discovery by U.S. forces in Iraq of two mobile "biological weapons laboratories" was touted by President Bush as clear evidence that Iraq possessed illegal weapons capabilities. However, it now is clear that these so- called labs were nothing more than hydrogen generation units based upon British technology acquired by Iraq in the 1980s, used to fill weather balloons in support of conventional artillery operations, and have absolutely no application for the production of biological agents.

While Iraq has not been shown to possess the alleged mobile biological labs (or any other weapon of mass destruction, for that matter), fear within the U. S. national security community over the potential existence of such labs in Iraq led the United States to order mobile biological laboratories to be constructed in America, ostensibly for training elite U.S. special operations forces on how to disable the Iraqi labs once discovered.

It now appears that the only place in the world where labs similar to those described by Powell actually exist is here, in the United States. Worse, according to the New York Times, the scientist responsible for the design and construction of the U.S. mobile biological lab is under suspicion by the FBI of using this technology to produce the dry powder anthrax used in the Oct. 2001 letter attack that killed seven Americans. This same scientist was allegedly behind similar "defensive" research that identified anthrax- impregnated letters as an ideal platform for delivering the deadly biological agent.

So, when it comes to the only major biological attack conducted against the United States, the available information points to the likelihood that the attack originated in the United States, using technology and techniques developed as part of a defensive biological weapons program that was a product of bad intelligence about Iraq's biological weapons program.

The Bush administration is getting ready to compound this problem by expanding similar "defensive" biological weapons research programs. For example, the Department of Energy is fast-tracking the construction at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory of a Biosafety Level-3 facility to conduct defensive biological research that would entail, according to the draft environmental assessment submitted in support of the project, the production of ". . . small amounts of biological material (enzymes, DNA, ribonucleic acid [RNA], etc.) using infectious agents and genetically modified agents . . . which may cause serious or potentially lethal or debilitating effects on humans, plants and animal hosts."

The Lawrence Livermore Lab is but one of several bio-defense projects that have sprung up in response to the requirements of both the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense to protect Americans from biological threats, real or imagined, that have emerged in the national psyche since Sept. 11.

Why do we need these labs? Is there a threat to American security requiring the development of facilities that, given the high possibility of accident or compromise, actually put the United States at greater risk from the work being carried out inside than the threats they are designed to protect us from? The hyped-up threat assessments used by the Bush administration in the build-up to the war in Iraq, combined with similar statements made about the biological weapons capabilities of other nations (witness Undersecretary of State John Bolton's now discredited remarks concerning Cuba's alleged bioweapons program), show there is a great deal to be concerned about when it comes to trusting the intelligence that serves as the basis of our legitimate national defense.

Congress needs to carry out assiduously its oversight responsibilities to ensure that legitimate national security, and not partisan politics, drives the intelligence our nation depends on for its defense. While the United States must reserve the right to do that which is necessary to defend itself from all threats, the fact is that a sound nonproliferation policy that embraces true multilateral disarmament agreements uniformly implemented and enforced (including the United States) would far better serve the national interest than the current Bush post-Sept. 11 policy of knee-jerk response to unsustained or nonexistent threats (which actually accelerates the proliferation of the very threats we are trying to shield ourselves from). Such policies, if left unchecked, make the United States, in regards to the possibility of attack from WMD, its own worst enemy.

Scott Ritter is a former U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq and author of "Frontier Justice: WMD and the Bushwhacking of America" (Context Books, 2003). This editorial has been reprinted in its entirety.

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