• 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.

  • PerspectiveAnthrax Redux: Did the Feds Nab the Wrong Guy?

    On 18 August 2008—after almost seven years, nearly 10,000 interviews, and millions of dollars spent developing a whole new form of microbial forensics—some of the FBI announced that it had concluded that Army biodefense researcher Bruce Ivins was the person responsible for the fall 2001 anthrax letter attacks. “It’s been 10 years since the deadliest biological terror attack in U.S. history launched a manhunt that ruined one scientist’s reputation and saw a second driven to suicide, yet nagging problems remain,” Noah Shachtman writes. “Problems that add up to an unsettling reality: Despite the FBI’s assurances, it’s not at all certain that the government could have ever convicted Ivins of a crime.”

  • Perspective: Designer pathogensIs There a Role for the Biological Weapons Convention in Oversight of Lab-Created Potential Pandemic Pathogens?

    Fourteen labs in the United States are working on creating mammalian-airborne-transmissible, highly-pathogenic, avian-influenza live viruses. These viruses are examples of lab-created potentially pandemic pathogens that bring up questions reflecting real concerns: Should details of this dual-use research be published? Could lab-created potentially pandemic pathogens be accidentally released from a laboratory into the community and seed a human pandemic? Could they be employed as biological weapons? The probability of accidental release into the community from one of the laboratories in this research enterprise is uncomfortably high. For these and other lab-created potentially pandemic pathogens, just one laboratory-infected researcher could seed a pandemic. Furthermore, a laboratory worker with hostile intent could introduce a potentially pandemic pathogen into the community.

  • 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.

  • Perspective: BiotdefenseHow Does USAMRIID Shut Down Impact Nation’s Bioterrorism Laboratory Response Network?

    The Laboratory Response Network (LRN) is a collaborative federal effort run by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in cooperation with other federal agency and public health partners. The U.S. Army Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) Special Pathogens Laboratory at Fort Detrick is one of only three National Laboratories at the top of the protective umbrella of the LRN structure, along with those operated by the CDC and the Naval Medical Research Center (NMRC), responsible for specialized characterization of organisms, bioforensics, select agent activity, and handling highly infectious biological agents. It begs the question then, what happens when an important component of the nation’s biopreparedness infrastructure fails to meet CDC biosafety requirements and has its Federal Select Agent certification pulled?

  • Perspective: Biological warfareBashar al-Assad’s Updated, Sinister Version of Biological Warfare

    Biological warfare is generally understood as the deliberate wartime introduction of a lethal pathogen with the intent to kill or maim. Syria under President Bashar al-Assad is pursuing a sinister variation—one with long and dangerous historical precedents. Assad’s government has allowed pathogens normally controlled by public health measures—such as clean water, sanitation, waste disposal, vaccination, and infection control—to emerge as biological weapons through the deliberate destruction and withholding of those measures. The conflict has in effect reversed public health advances to achieve levels of disease not seen since the Napoleonic era.

  • AnthraxFighting anthrax by removing the bacterium’s armor

    Anthrax is a deadly and highly resilient disease, caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Historically, it was a major cause of death in humans and cattle. has shown that removing the armor of the bacterium that causes anthrax slows its growth and negatively affects its ability to cause disease.