The Times (London)
Wednesday, September 05, 2001
Secret US germ tests threat to treaty
From Roland Watson in Washington
producing enough deadly bacteria to kill millions of people,
it was revealed yesterday.
The project is one of a number of covert biological
initiatives pursued by the United States over recent years.
One proposal awaiting final approval is to manufacture a
more potent version of anthrax using genetically engineered
biological agents. Last night, Donald Rumsfeld, the US
Defence Secretary, confirmed that the Administration planned
to proceed with these tests.
The disclosure suggests that the US has been severely
testing the spirit, and possibly the letter, of the 1972
convention on biological weapons. The treaty forbids nations
from developing or acquiring weapons that spread disease,
but allows work on vaccines and other protective measures.
The White House insisted yesterday that all research
conducted by military and CIA scientists in the field of
biological warfare was “purely defensive”. The projects,
which were started under the Clinton Administration and are
set to be expanded under President Bush, are designed to
allow the US to defend itself in the face of germ warfare,
according to government officials.
Ari Fleischer, Mr Bush’s spokesman, said: “The United States
has operated for a period of time a programme that was
designed to protect our servicemen and women particularly
from the hazards of chemical and biological warfare.”
However, the disclosure, in The New York Times yesterday, is
likely to deepen the diplomatic rifts between Mr Bush and
other Western governments already smarting from what they
regard as his high-handed approach to international
protocols. Mr Bush has angered significant sections of
international opinion by threatening to dismantle the 1972
Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in favour of his vision of a
missile defence shield. He has also refused to sign the
Kyoto treaty on climate change.
Yesterday’s disclosure was seen as one reason why Mr Bush
had also refused to sign up to a draft agreement
strengthening the 29-year-old convention on biological
weapons, even though it had been ratified by 140 other
countries. By signing, the US would have had to reveal if,
and where, it was conducting defensive germ research.
The first in a series of projects was begun in 1997,
according to The New York Times, whose report was timed to
coincide with the imminent publication of a book entitled
Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War. The
impetus for the research was to mimic the steps that a state
or terrorist would take to amass a biological arsenal,
allowing the US military to better understand the threat,
according to Administration officials who spoke to the
authors. It led the Defence Threat Reduction Agency, an arm
of the Pentagon, to build its own germ factory in the middle
of the Nevada desert.
At Camp 12 of the Nellis Air Force Range, scientists
constructed a 50-litre cylinder capable of cultivating germs
out of materials bought commercially from hardware stores.
The aim was to assess how easy it was for a rogue state or
terrorist group to construct one of its own without being
detected. In a separate CIA programme, codenamed Clear
Vision, agents built and tested a model of a Soviet-designed
bomb that they feared could make its way on to the black
In a third programme the Pentagon has drawn up plans to
engineer genetically a more potent version of the bacterium
that causes anthrax. The project would be designed to assess
whether the anthrax vaccine given to US servicemen and women
was effective against such a superbug. The projects led to
rows among officials about whether they violated the 1972
treaty. Legal advice taken by the CIA suggested the research
was within its bounds, but others disagreed.
An official from the Clinton White House complained that
they had not been kept fully informed of developments.
However, after they became aware of the extent of the
projects, the White House took its own legal advice and
concluded that the treaty was not being violated.
Copyright 2001 Times Newspapers Ltd.