• PerspectiveDARPA Wants Smart Suits to Protect Against Biological Attacks

    DARPA, the Pentagon’s research arm, wants to accelerate the development of innovative textiles and smart materials to better and more comfortably protect humans from chemical and biological threats.

  • Perspective: China syndromeCan American Values Survive in a Chinese World?

    The People’s Republic of China bounds from strength to strength. Every year sees increases in its wealth and power relative to the world. But what do its leaders hope to achieve with their newfound clout? Jonathan D. T. Ward’s book China’s Vision of Victory traces the Chinese desire to shape the future of all mankind (not just the East Asian part of it) to a national myth taught to schoolchildren across China. According to this narrative, China was once the center of the world; China was the mother of invention, the seat of global wealth, and the beacon of civilization. This is China’s natural role in the world order—a role disrupted by the “century of humiliation” between the Opium Wars and World War II, when China suffered at the hands of foreign powers. But now that age of suffering is over. China’s destiny, according to its leaders, is to reclaim its natural perch as the leading force of human civilization. Tanner Greer writes that these global ambitions raises serious questions for the United States – questions which go beyond whether Americans will be willing to live in a world where China is the supreme economic and military power. The “hardest question may be whether we are willing to live in a world where dominant economic and military power is wielded by an insecure regime whose leaders believe that the same authoritarian techniques used to control enemies within their society must be used to surveil, coerce, and corrupt those enemies outside it.”

  • Perspective: BiothreatsHackers Could Have Breached U.S. Bioterrorism Defenses for Years, Records Show. We’ll Never Know Whether They Did

    The Department of Homeland Security stored sensitive data from the nation’s bioterrorism defense program on an insecure website where it was vulnerable to attacks by hackers for over a decade, according to government documents reviewed by the Los Angeles Times. The data included the locations of at least some BioWatch air samplers, which are installed at subway stations and other public locations in more than 30 U.S. cities and are designed to detect anthrax or other airborne biological weapons, Homeland Security officials confirmed. It also included the results of tests for possible pathogens, a list of biological agents that could be detected and response plans that would be put in place in the event of an attack.

  • Perspective: BiodefenseLawmakers Seek Probe of Controversial Bioweapons Defense System

    The Trump administration’s attempt to deploy a scientifically disputed system for detecting airborne anthrax or other infectious agents in terrorist attacks is facing increased scrutiny from a bipartisan group of House members. in a three-page letter, four Democrats and Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked the Government Accountability Office to conduct an in-depth scientific evaluation of the new system, called BioDetection 21. Officials from the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, signaled that they plan to open the inquiry.

  • WMD detectionEpigenetic Tool for Detecting Exposure to WMD

    With a $38.8 million award from DARPA, researchers are working on developing a field-deployable, point-of-care device that will determine in 30 minutes or less whether a person has been exposed to weapons of mass destruction or their precursors. The device will be capable of detecting the health effects of a number of substances associated with weapons of mass destruction, including biological agents, radiation, chemicals and explosives. The detection devices will scan potential exposure victims for epigenetic changes, that is, chemical modifications that affect genes, altering their expression while leaving the genetic code intact.

  • Perspective: WMD detectionTrump Administration Has Gutted Programs Aimed at Detecting Weapons of Mass Destruction

    The Trump administration has quietly dismantled or cut back multiple programs that were created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to help detect and prevent terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction, a Times investigation has found. The retreat has taken place over the last two years at the Department of Homeland Security, which has primary domestic responsibility for helping authorities identify and block potential chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats. A Los Angeles Times investigation found that the changes, not previously reported, were made without rigorous review of potential security vulnerabilities, the Times found, undermining government-wide efforts aimed at countering terrorist attacks involving unconventional weapons, known as weapons of mass destruction.

  • BiothreatsU.S. faces long-standing biological threats challenges

    GAO officials testified before a House committee on their efforts to identify and strengthen U.S. biodefense. GAO has also released a report highlighting the agency’s findings. Despite President Trump signing off on the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovations Act (PAHPA) on Monday, GAO says that there is still a lot of work to be done.

  • WMD exposureNew technology to measures WMD threat exposures

    Researchers are looking to find molecular signatures in blood that identify previous exposures and time of exposure to materials that could be associated with weapons of mass destruction (including infectious agents, chemicals, and radiation). The epigenome is biology’s record keeper, and Epigenetic technology will provide a new tool in the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

  • BiothreatsExperts question BioWatch’s replacement

    BioWatch, the program launched more than fifteen years ago to detect bioterrorism attacks in major American cities, has been routinely criticized for not living up to its early promise. Many have suggested doing away with the system all together. Trouble is, experts say that BioDetection 21 – DHS’s proposed replacement for BioWatch – is even less effective.

  • 2001 anthrax attacksDeath in the air: Revisiting the 2001 anthrax mailings and the Amerithrax investigation

    By Glenn Cross

    Time may have dimmed the memory of the 2001 anthrax attacks and the sense of urgency surrounding the efforts to identify the attacker. The attacks, which involved mailings of five anthrax-laced letters to prominent senators and media outlets, killed five individuals and made seventeen others ill. The anthrax mailings played a crucial role in raising concerns over possible terrorist use of biological agents in attacks against the homeland. As a result of the anthrax scare, Americans’ perceptions of terrorism came to include an existential fear of biological terrorism.

  • EscapesDeveloping concepts for escape respirator

    DHS S&T announced the Escape Respirator Challenge, a $250,000 prize competition that seeks new concepts for an escape respirator solution. This challenge invites the innovation community to submit relevant, useable, effective, and feasible concepts that protects the user against aerosolized chemical, biological, and radiological (CBR) hazards and provides oxygen.

  • Insect AlliesInsect Allies: Friend or foe?

    In 2016 DARPA launched the Insect Allies project, budgeting $45 million over four years to transform agricultural pests into vectors that can transfer protective genes into plants within one growing season. Scientists are concerned that such technology might be used for nefarious purposes. In a recent Science article, the scientists note the profound implications of releasing a horizontal environmental genetic alteration agent – implications that touch on regulatory, economic, biological, security, and societal issues.

  • Search & rescueArtificial “nose” helps find people buried by earthquakes, avalanches

    Trained rescue dogs are still the best disaster workers – their sensitive noses help them to track down people buried by earthquakes or avalanches. Like all living creatures, however, dogs need to take breaks every now and again. They are also often not immediately available in disaster areas, and dog teams have to travel from further afield.. Scientists have developed the smallest and cheapest ever equipment for detecting people by smell. It could be used in the search for people buried by an earthquake or avalanche.

  • BiothreatsFunding restored to National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures lab

    The Fort Detrick, Maryland-based National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) is no longer facing an immediate jeopardy. The federal omnibus spending bill,  released last Wednesday evening, provided full funding for the biohazard laboratory – funding which the original administration’s budget proposal eliminated.

  • DetectionExpanding real-time radiological threat detection to include other dangers

    Advanced commercially available technologies—such as additive manufacturing (3-D printing), small-scale chemical reactors for pharmaceuticals, and CRISPR gene-manipulation tools—have opened wide access to scientific exploration and discovery. In the hands of terrorists and rogue nation states, however, these capabilities could be misused to concoct chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive (CBRNE) weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in small quantities and in form factors that are hard to detect. DARPA’s SIGMA+ program aims to create additional sensors and networks to detect biological, chemical, and explosives threats.