Free From Terror

Opposition to New Biolabs at Fort Detrick, Md.

Here follows the comment I just submitted regarding proposed expansion at Fort Detrick. Yesterday, I sent a copy of the comment to Mayor Dougherty who promptly e-mailed me back to say that people are picketing in Bethesda, taking the position that the proposed new "research facilities" should not be located in a metropolitan area like Bethesda, but instead in Frederick!

Attorney at Law
148 West Patrick Street
Frederick, Maryland 21701
(301) 694-8922 fax (301)694-8771

November 3, 2003
National Institutes of Health
Attn. Ron Wilson
Division of Facilities Planning
31 Center Drive, Rm 3B44
MSC 2162
Bethesda, MD 20892-2162


I am writing to comment upon plans to expand research facilities related to biological warfare at Fort Detrick.

I have been a resident of Frederick County, Maryland for the past thirty years. I currently reside approximately one mile from Fort Detrick.

On October 23, 2003, The Gazette published an article entitled "Public comment still being accepted for Detrick expansion plans," which article contains the following sentence: "Potential risks to the public and to the scientists are being weighed against the benefits that would result from increased knowledge of dangerous biological agents." I expect that most of the comments in opposition to the expansion plans address the "potential risks." I will leave it to others to discuss in more detail about matters such as the following:

· The very high incidence of cancer among neighbors of Fort Detrick, which officials on behalf of Fort Detrick blithely expect people to believe is a mere coincidence (See the front page article in the Frederick News Post of July 1, 2003 entitled "Cancer questions")

· The sloppiness on the part of various Fort Detrick personnel in the handling of terribly deadly biological agents, as exposed in the best selling book, "The Hot Zone"

· The fact that in April 2002, anthrax spores were twice found outside secure areas at Fort Detrick. The Army has yet to disclose the cause of the accident.

· The fact that the proposed expansion includes the construction of additional biosafety Level 4 facilities, designed to grow liters of concentrated organisms like Ebola, 20 liters of which would be enough to infect every person on the planet.

I propose to focus, instead, upon the supposed "benefits." In anticipation of the reaction that public comment is supposed to relate to environmental impact and not to issues that might bear upon military policy, I submit that these two matters cannot and will not be separated " clearly, the risks will be measured against the interest in "national security" " an interest that is mindlessly treated as holy and beyond debate.

My premise is that the only real defense against biological warfare is the enforcement of the international treaty that bans such weapons, and a real commitment to forge peace in the world. As the richest and most powerful country in the world, we should be devoting our resources to these objectives, rather than to expanding "research facilities" whose ultimate effect will only be to further incite a biological weapons arms race.

The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) bans the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition and retention of microbial or other biological agents or toxins, in types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes. It also bans weapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict. The actual use of biological weapons is prohibited by the 1925 Geneva Protocol. 162 countries have signed the BTWC, among which 144 countries have ratified it, including the U.S.A. However, in 2001, the Bush administration rejected an effort by other signatories to conclude a protocol that would provide verification measures. At the time, the U.S.A. was the only country to favor terminating efforts to create a legally binding verification mechanism to strengthen the BTWC.

The United States rejects a mandatory declaration regime to further the transparency of countries' biological programs. The basis for this is said to be the U.S. commitment to "biodefense" work, and the belief that the declaratory regime risks American security information and biotechnology firms' intellectual property. But as reports have surfaced of U.S. biodefense programs carried out in secret to replicate offensive biological measures, arms control experts have begun to question whether these biodefense measures are in compliance with the fundamental obligations of the BTWC. In the late 1990s, the United States undertook secret programs to construct a model biobomb, build a bioweapons lab, and replicate a super-strain of anthrax. In 2001, a variety of anthrax was discovered in envelopes addressed to members of Congress. Associated with this was the deaths of a number of postal workers. There are strong indications that this variety of anthrax originated at Fort Detrick. This brought to light the secret U.S. program to produce weapons-grade anthrax. When in December of 2001, the U.S. Army admitted that it had manufactured "weapons-grade" anthrax, this was the first acknowledgement that the government had weaponized anthrax since the United States committed to banning biological weapons in 1969.

Secrecy appears to shield the fact that American research has reached the outer limits of compliance with the BTWC. This situation puts the prohibition of biological weapons in a precarious state: apart from assurances that the projects are for defensive purposes, they are not easily distinguishable from offensive measures that a country might take to develop bioweapons. If another country were to commit to similar endeavors, would the United States rely on assurances that they are for defensive purposes without any evidence?

In May of 2003, it was reported that the United States Army has developed and patented a new grenade that it says can be used to wage biowarfare. This is in explicit violation of the BTWC, which explicitly prohibits all development of bioweapons delivery devices. US Patent #6,523,478, granted on February 25th 2003, covers a "rifle launched non lethal cargo dispenser" that is designed to deliver aerosols, including, according to the patent"s claims, "crowd control agents, biological agents, [and] chemical agents..."

These revelations about the U.S. development of biological weapons capability, including highly dispersible anthrax, explain the Bush administration's rejection of the BTWC Protocol on verification. This rejection of verification of compliance comes from a desire to prevent inspections of American facilities.

The proposed expansion of "research facilities" at Fort Detrick is part of a strategy that rejects arms control, in favor of arms race. This strategy not only subjects the now densely populated community of Frederick to unacceptable risk, it subjects the entire country, for that matter the entire world, to the unacceptable risks inherent in the proliferation of biological warfare.

Respectfully submitted,
Barry J.C. Kissin

cc: Mayor Jennifer Dougherty

Senator Paul Sarbanes

Senator Barbara Mikulski

Representative Roscoe Bartlett

Editor, Frederick News Post

Editor, The Gazette