• The Russia connectionMystery Over Russian’s Suspected Poisoning Deepens with New FBI Records

    By Mike Eckel and Carl Schreck

    RFE/RL Exclusive: In hundreds of FBI documents obtained exclusively by RFE/RL, new clues to the suspected poisoning of Russian opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza — and new details about how serious the U.S. government considered his case.

  • Argument: Chemical weaponsHow Putin Borrowed a Page from Assad’s Chemical Weapon Playbook

    Russia use of Novichock to poison opposition leader Alexei Navalny highlights a problem against which Western countries have not yet been able to devise an effective policy: the use of chemical weapons by authoritarian regimes against domestic regime critics. Preventing Russia, or any other autocratic ruler, from using poisons against domestic opponents is a tall order, Gregory D. Koblentz writes, but “Understanding the motivations of authoritarian leaders, and the intensity of their concerns about regime security, however, is the first step towards devising an effective strategy for deterring their use of chemical, and possibly someday biological, weapons against their own people.”

  • Navalny poisoningNavalny's Team: Water Bottle with Novichok Traces Found in His Hotel Room in Tomsk

    Associates of Aleksei Navalny say traces of the nerve agent used to poison the Russian opposition politician were found on a water bottle in the hotel room he was staying in in the Russian city of Tomsk. When Navalny was flown to Germany for treatment, the bottle was sent along, and German scientists found tracers of Novichock in the bottle. Traces of the toxic Novichock, a favorite poison of the Russian intelligence services against critics of the Putin regime, were also found in samples taken from Navalny’s body.

  • PERSPECTIVE: PoisoningHistory of Nerve Agent Assassinations

    Poisoning political opponents or enemies is not new. Reviews of chemical and biological weapons (CBW) usage through the 20th century similarly list successful and attempted assassinations with mineral poisons or animal and plant toxins in and outside of war. Modern chemical weapons (CW) – typically human-made toxic compounds standardized for use on battlefields – have rarely been selected to target individuals – but a spate of recent political poisonings indicate that this may be changing.

  • PPESecond Skin Protects against Chem, Bio Agents

    Recent events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the use of chemical weapons in the Syria conflict have provided a stark reminder of the plethora of chemical and biological threats that soldiers, medical personnel and first responders face during routine and emergency operations. Researchers have developed a smart, breathable fabric designed to protect the wearer against biological and chemical warfare agents. Material of this type could be used in clinical and medical settings as well.

  • 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.

  • Chemical weaponsPaper-Based Sensor Detects Potent Nerve Toxins

    Chemist developed a new, paper-based sensor that can detect two potent nerve toxins that have reportedly been used in chemical warfare. The toxin, paraoxon, is thought to have been used in chemical warfare during the 1970s in what is now Zimbabwe, and later by the apartheid regime in South Africa as part of its chemical weapons program.

  • PerspectiveBritain’s Secret War with Russia

    A drab office building on the outskirts of the Swiss town of Spiez houses Switzerland’s Federal Office for Civil Protection, renowned for its work on global nuclear, chemical, and biological threats.Over the course of a few months in 2018, this outfit’s gentle existence was upended, as the lab became caught in a cold war between Russia on one side and the United Kingdom and the West on the other.

  • Chemical attacksPreparing for Chemical Attacks

    Is the U.S. ready for a chemical attack on the homeland? With the very real possibility of a chemical attack in public spaces like stadiums, religious buildings, museums and theaters, or even contamination of the food or water supply, the U.S. needs to be prepared to take appropriate action to save lives. This means having security measures in place to prevent or minimize the attack. It also means having effective medical responses that consider the quantity of medical supplies needed, transportation of those supplies to the scene, and medical facilities and personnel to care for the injured.

  • DetectionHelping First Responders Identify Unknown Chemicals

    First responders arrive first on the scene when disaster strikes or terrorists attack. They often encounter dangerous conditions like smoke and chemicals. To best help in situations like these, they need to know the chemical substances present onsite. This is where analytical field instruments such as Gas Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometers (GC/MS) come into play. But to acquire such technology, first responders first need to know which GC/MSs suit both their needs and their budgets.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Infrastructure protectionFinding and fixing natural gas leaks quickly, economically

    From production to consumption, natural gas leaks claim lives, damage the climate and waste money. Researchers are working on better ways to find and fix gas leaks quickly and inexpensively from one end of the system to the other.

  • Chemical detectionDARPA tests advanced chemical sensors

    DARPA’s SIGMA program, which began in 2014, has demonstrated a city-scale capability for detecting radiological and nuclear threats that is now being operationally deployed. DARPA is building off this work with the SIGMA+ initiative that is focused on providing city- to region-scale detection capabilities across the full chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive threat space.