• BioweaponsMaking Bioweapons Obsolete

    The Council on Strategic Risks (CSR) and Sandia National Laboratories convened experts and thought leaders in government, academia, and the private sector to discuss the ways to make a future in which the threat of biological weapons is greatly reduced.

  • BioweaponsThe Future Bioweapons Threat: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic

    By Yong-Bee Lim

    Experts discussing the lessons of the coronavirus epidemic for preparations for a bioweapon attack, are worried that the failures to detect, mitigate, and respond to COVID-19 may make a future biological weapon attack more likely. These experts agree that the U.S. has a long way to go in addressing biological threats from natural and man-made sources. Further, the U.S. needs to adapt to new realities – a time where citizens’ trust of government is significantly lower, where citizens actively protest experts and their recommendations, and where misinformation is one tap on a smartphone away.

  • BioterrorismTerrorists could use coronavirus as example for future biological attack

    Terrorism experts are warning that the coronavirus pandemic could be used as a template for future biological attacks by either state or non-state actors. Security experts with the Council of Europe say that terrorists, assessing the impact of the coronavirus, would now recognize the fact that they can use biological weapons to inflict a major blow on Western countries (or, for that matter, on any country). According to these experts, the virus has exposed how vulnerable modern societies are.

  • PerspectiveSome Synthetic Biology May Not be Covered by the Biological Weapons Convention

    The study of viruses once challenged the world’s notion of what is “biological,” and for a time it was not clear whether viruses were regulated by the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). Durward Johnson and James Kraska write that “SynBio and its convergence with emerging technologies may create weapons not currently banned by universal disarmament obligations or customary international law, and this legal gap raises the prospect of weaponization of nonbiological threat agents tailor-made to create targeted effects. These tactical biotechnological capabilities could have potentially strategic consequences and yet may fall outside the existing regime.”

  • CoronavirusCoronavirus “Not Man-Made”: U.S. Intelligence Community

    The U.S. intelligence community, in a rare public statement on Thursday, said that evidence shows that the virus was not engineered in a Chinese laboratory. The U.S. intelligence community “concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said. Talk that the COVID-19 virus was created in a Chinese lab, or escaped from a lab, has persisted for weeks, as have other theories, many of which have been discredited as conspiracy theories or as part of disinformation campaigns.

  • ArgumentThe Next Pandemic Might Not Be Natural

    Germs have killed more people than all the wars in history, and people have been trying to make use of them throughout all those wars. In the U.S., we have seen small-scale bioterrorist attacks – the Rajneeshee poisoning of restaurants in 1986 and the Amerithrax letters that were mailed in 2001. Still, the years running up to this current coronavirus pandemic not only saw the gutting of U.S. national health institutions but also a cultural groundswell of science denial in the anti-vaccination movement. Today the United States in particular is paying for that denial in livelihoods and lives. The warnings were clear. If 9/11 was a “failure of imagination,” then history will no doubt judge the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19 as a failure of courage, compassion, and, most of all, competence.

  • BiosecurityRethinking Biosecurity Governance

    Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from the current coronavirus pandemic is how to learn future lessons without having to experience a pandemic, whether natural in origin or made by humans. We must rethink and test assumptions about relationships between biological research, security, and society to plan for biosecurity threats.

  • TerrorismDOJ: Deliberately Spreading COVID-19 to Be Prosecuted as Domestic Terrorism

    As panic and fear spread with the COVID-19 pandemic, stupid, or malicious, acts may soon be considered criminal offenses and subject to terrorism laws. DOJ has circulated a memo to law enforcement and federal prosecutors saying that deliberate acts to spread the coronavirus could be prosecuted under federal terrorism laws given that the virus is a biological agent.

  • BioweaponsMaking Bioweapons Obsolete

    As the threats posed by bioterrorism and naturally occurring infectious disease grow and evolve in the modern era, there is a rising potential for broad negative impacts on human health, economic stability and global security. To protect the United States from these dangers, researchers are taking on the ambitious goal of making bioweapons obsolete.

  • BioweaponsBioterrorists, Using Genetic Editing, Could Kill More than 30 Million People: Bill Gates

    A bioterrorist attack could kill thirty million people — and such an attack is becoming more likely because it has become much easier to create – or “design” — deadly pathogens and spread them. Two years ago Bill Gates, Microsoft founder, spoke in London, saying that an outbreak of a lethal respiratory virus like smallpox would be more dangerous than even a nuclear attack. Anyone can now purchase chemistry kits which allow genetic editing, and do so online for under $150.

  • ArgumentThe Next Deadly Pathogen Could Come from a Rogue Scientist. Here’s How We Can Prevent That.

    In the past few years, something new has become possible in biology: cheaply “printing” DNA for insertion into a cell. Kelsey Piper writes in Vox that this means a scientist who needs a particular DNA sequence to, say, create new bacteria for research can now order that DNA sequence from a lab. “But what if I asked them to print for me the genetic code of the influenza that caused the 1918 flu that killed millions of people? What if I sent them the instructions for a new disease that I have reason to believe is dangerous? What if I was doing legitimate research, but my lab didn’t adhere to modern safety standards?”

  • 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.

  • BioterrorismSalad Bars and Water Systems Are Easy Targets for Bioterrorists – and America’s Monitoring System Is Woefully Inadequate

    By Ana Santos Rutschman

    I teach food and drug law at Saint Louis University’s Center for Health Law Studies. While monitoring pathogens likely to pose severe threats to public health, my colleagues and I spend a lot of time studying viruses and bacteria that are very hard to obtain, like anthrax or the plague. One less-known facet of bioterrorism, however, is that simpler pathogens like salmonella, a bacterium found in many types of food, can also be used to deliberately harm people. In fact, the largest bioterrorism attack in American history started at the salad bars of a handful of restaurants in the Pacific Northwest.

  • BioterrorismWhat Can We Glean from a Bean: Ricin’s Appeal to Domestic Terrorists

    By Stevie Kiesel

    Just as policymakers have been slow to acknowledge and act upon the threat of domestic CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear) terrorism, timely research on the issue is scarce as well. Ricin is one of the more dangerous agents of domestic terror. As government agencies acknowledge the threat domestic terrorism poses, policymakers and law enforcement should take ricin seriously as a potential weapon.

  • PerspectiveBioweapon Threat Didn’t End in Cold War, Experts Warn House

    Picking apart flaws in the government’s system of monitoring for bioweapons, a panel of scientists warned House lawmakers Thursday that America is grossly unprepared for a bioterrorist attack. Asha George, executive director of the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense, noted that U.S. funding for bioweapons protection has been on the decline since the end of the Cold War — this in spite of the relative ease by which terrorist groups can weaponize biological agents or, even more easily, get their hands on materials that have already been weaponized by the former Soviet Union.