The Times (London)
Wednesday, September 05, 2001

Secret US germ tests threat to treaty
From Roland Watson in Washington

The Pentagon has secretly built a germ factory capable of

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.