Comments to Department of Homeland Security on Draft Environmental Impact Statement for more germ war labs

November 1, 2004

Richard J. Ochs
2913 Overland Ave.
Baltimore , MD 21214

(VIA email and fax)
Kevin Anderson
Department of Homeland Security
7435 New Technology Way, Suite A
Frederick, MD 21703

RE: NBACC at Fort Detrick


I am submitting this comment in compliance with the November 1, 2004 deadline for written comments upon the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) facility. These comments are an expansion of the verbal 3-minute comment I made at the public hearing on October 5, 2004, at the Johnson Middle School in Frederick.  Below are 4 pages, signed at the end.

The security of pathogens is an environmental issue. The DEIS reveals several serious weaknesses in the security of pathogens. Insecure biological agents are the main threat to the environment..  I see 4 kinds of security issues:

  1. How does NBACC plan to prevent the kind of mistakes that allowed anthrax to get into non-secure areas at Fort Detrick in April, 2002 and live anthrax to get mailed to California this year from a lab in Frederick?  If the NBACC doesn't know how these things happened, how can the NBACC design countermeasures?
  2. How does NBACC plan to prevent the kind of deliberate theft and felony like the anthrax mailings of 2001?  Again, if the NBACC doesn't know how it happened, how can countermeasures be designed?
  3. How does NBACC plan to prevent the kind of attacks that are commonplace in other places, that is, explosions from mortars, rockets, car bombs or suitcase bombs?  Food and delivery trucks enter the base every day and are not searched. Employees cars and ID's can be highjack and used.
  4. How does NBACC plan to prevent catastrophic accidents and calamities like typhoons, hurricanes, power failures, back-up power failures, natural gas explosions, fires or accidental plane crashes into the lab?

The pathways of agent escape are multiple and risky.  The more labs, the greater the risk.  Since the stated mission of the labs is homeland security, as described in the DEIS introduction, the insecurity presented by the mere existence of these labs may outweigh any presumed security benefits.

On the top of page G-9, the Draft says that "mechanical failures and human errors" resulting in an "accidental release of biological test material… is not a significant risk… because of an excellent safety record."  How can the Draft claim "an excellent security record" in light of the anthrax release at Fort Detrick on April 2002?  The cause has not yet been explained.  Where are the results of the investigation?  This release happened after the procedures were tightened up since the anthrax letters of 2001, which does not elicit confidence in the Draft's claims of "no significant risk."  A prudent procedure would require that the present process of planning be put on hold until past errors are analyzed and methods to prevent repeated errors are developed.

On page 2-45, the Draft says that "a personnel reliability program is required to ensure…the highest standards of reliability."  The Draft continues to say that "personnel will be screened with background investigations."  I have no confidence in such background checks. There are too many loopholes.  For instance:

  1. Will all personnel with access to high security areas, including management, and their relatives be required to divest themselves of all stocks in pharmaceutical companies to avoid conflict of interest? After the anthrax letters of October 2001, millions in profits were garnered from vaccine sales.  The motives of the perpetrator(s) have never been determined, but criminal profiteering is one of the theories.
  2. Will the process of "revolving doors" be abolished?  No less a conflict of interest than stock incentives is the process similar to Dick Chaney going from Holliburton to government and then possibly back to Holliburton again.  When I raised this concern at the open meeting called by Col. John Ball, Commander at Fort Detrick, on October 26, he and other employees dismissed my suggestion, saying "How can you deny peoples' right to change jobs?"  My answer is, yes, for the national interest, no, for human survival, some freedoms must be limited. Doesn't the Patriot Act limit some of our freedoms (with far less of a cause, in my opinion) for presumed security?  The person who released the anthrax letters may well have taken pathogen strains from Fort Detrick to another job at a pharmaceutical company, where it was grown, perfected and released, creating a scare which profited them millions. If the DHS is not willing to abolish "revolving doors," these labs should not be built.  Insecure germ war labs are a threat to homeland security, not to speak of human survival.
  3. Will personnel screening reject those, including management, with duel citizenship, indicating divided loyalties and possibly hidden agendas?  Such individuals should be prohibited access to high security areas, even if they are given clearance from the White House. Political criterion should be prohibited from influencing which country might have access to weapons of mass destruction for temporary political advantage, but which will threaten human security in the long run by allowing pathogens to be sold or given to yet other countries, causing proliferation and instigating a biological arms race.  In a regime change, such weapons may come back to haunt us, if not the whole world.  Don't forget that the chemical weapons Saddam Hussein used on Kurds and Iranians were given to him by the United States when the latter was helping Iraq against Iran.  It must be made illegal and physically impossible for even any U.S. president to "look the other way," while an agent of an ally steals pathogens from a U.S. germ war lab.  Even the president can be prosecuted for law breaking.  If the DHS is not willing to recommend such an ironclad bill to Congress and see it pass, these labs should not be built.
  4. Will personnel screening reject religious zealots?  If not, the level 3 and 4 biolabs should not be built and the existing ones be shut down.  Whether religious fundamentalists are Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu or something else, it is lunacy to allow their access to weapons of mass destruction. While Islamic fanatics are getting the most attention right now, Zionists and Jewish zealots are equally dangerous.  Zionist "sleepers" working in the United States may feel it their duty to give biological weapons to Israel or to Zionist vigilantes, under the belief that God gave Palestinian land to the Jews.  Thousands of US citizens fall in this category.  Defining who is sufficiently Zionist may be an impossible task, indicating once more that the mere existence of these labs is dangerous.

Of all the religious zealots to fear, the Christians are the worst without a doubt.  Why?  Because while the Muslims, Jews and Hindus are fighting merely over territory, the tens of thousands of Christian fundamentalists believe in the biblical prophesy of Revelations.  They believe it is God's prophesy that the Anti-Christ will attack the Jews at Armageddon, bringing "tribulation" and the "end times," when all humanity will be exterminated, except for the born-again Christians, who will ascend into heaven on the day of "rapture" and witness the second coming of Jesus. If you think these are just a few kooks, you have not been paying attention.  President Ronald Reagan was such a believer and ironically we may owe our survival to the a more civilized leader, Mikhail Gorbechev, of the communist Soviet Union.  But it is getting worse: there are a dozen volumes of the "Left Behind" series promoting the "end times," which has sold over 60,000,000 copies around the world.  Can you imagine someone at Fort Detrick who may believe it is his God-given duty to help bring on the second coming of Jesus?

The question arises: will the DHS screen out all religious fundamentalists from every level 3 and 4 biolab under US control? How would we define who is fundamentalist enough?  How could we identify existing personnel who later converted to the Revelations belief?  I submit that not only is it illegal to discriminate by religion, requiring a Constitutional amendment to change, but it is impossible to police.  This is yet another reason not to proliferate level 4 biolabs.

* * *

On pages 2-43 and 2-44, the Draft describes Assess Control, Agent Accountability, Biosurity, and Security.  These procedures are not adequate to guarantee that pathogens cannot be smuggled out of the laboratories.  Even though personnel may be within the view of cameras, and required to leave work clothes and walk through a shower in the nude before changing into street clothes, there is no procedure described in the Draft to prevent the smuggling of agent in containers hidden in body cavities.  This is a no-brainer.  There are thousands of baggies of illegal drugs being transported in this country every day by this method.  A biolab smuggler would only have to take a dose of Cipro to protect himself from infection if a baggie leaked. Unless the DHS is prepared to do daily body cavity searches on every person, management included, leaving a level 3 or 4 biolab, these labs should not be built.

Hopefully the rules will require 2 people to be present at every access to pathogens.  Such a "buddy system," however, cannot be counted on to be operational every minute of the work day.  In spite of the rules, they are sure to be broken when a partner needs to go to the rest room, answer a phone or attend another diversion.  Rush jobs, under staffing from absence, or accidents will occasionally require personnel to be alone with pathogens.  That is when they can be stolen and smuggled out.  Since several persons are to be cleared for access, any missing agent cannot be proven to be the action of a particular person.

The buddy system must absolutely be engaged whenever a freezer or refrigerator is accessed.  However, an "up-to-date" inventory is still not failsafe.  A lone person, while not observed, could switch containers or contents, and put the decoy back in the cooler and smuggle the real stuff out.  Missing agent can be grown and replaced so it may not be noticed. How often would inventories be carried out? Regardless of elaborate procedures, it is impossible to guarantee that a rogue person could not repeat something like the anthrax attacks of October 2001 or much worse.

Whereas, the anthrax letters of 2001 were the only biological attacks against non-native Americans in US history, and

Whereas, there are economic and political incentives for Americans to repeat similar attacks or to sell pathogens, and

Whereas, there are military incentives for zealots and misguided "patriots" to give  pathogens to other partisans, and

Whereas, it is impossible to screen and control biolab personnel adequately, and

Whereas,  these labs will incite proliferation and a biological arms race, and

Whereas, several pathogens have no vaccine or cure, and

Whereas, said pathogens can kill millions of people, and

Whereas, the proposed DHS biolabs are probably in violation of the 1972 Convention on Biological Weapons, The Department of Homeland Security is challenged to prove all the above statements to be absolutely false or be derelict in their duty to protect the homeland, not to speak of promoting human survival.

Accordingly, I recommend that of the alternatives listed in the DEIS, the "Take No Action" be chosen as the most protective of homeland security.

Respectfully submitted,

Richard J. Ochs