CROSS-BORDER THREATSStriving for a More Secure World

By Allan Brettman

Published 15 November 2023

PNNL experts work with international partners to tackle cross-border biological and chemical threats. PNNL’s border security focus can be traced to the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. U.S. policy makers became concerned about the security of nuclear material in the newly independent states of the former U.S.S.R.

Rachel Bartholomew, who was once on a medicine-focused career track, knows well that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Bartholomew is a technology and policy advisor and team lead in the Chemical and Biological Signatures group at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). She has more than 20 years of experience using molecular biology to address challenges related to national security, policy, and nonproliferation.

Lately, that has meant Bartholomew is often working internationally, strengthening national security by partnering with foreign governments. Together, they work to detect and block materials associated with weapons of mass destruction and other weapons. She and PNNL colleagues regularly represent the Laboratory as subject matter experts and trainers for the U.S. State Department’s Export Control and Border Security Program (EXBS).

In this role, Bartholomew and PNNL colleagues recently traveled to Cyprus, the island country in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. There, with delegations from Yemen and Lebanon, they led “Cross Border Infectious Disease and Biothreat Preparedness” learning sessions for EXBS.

In Cyprus, Bartholomew shared best practices to thwart the transmission of infectious diseases across borders, including nefarious uses of pathogens. The workshops focused on threats and provided suggestions as well as hands-on exercises on how to deal with them.

“The workshops highlight changes that partners can make at border crossings to increase awareness and detection of biological threats,” said Bartholomew. “Ultimately, the goal is to stop those threats at the borders. Participants plan to make changes, such as modifying their standard operating procedures, launching new mitigation practices, or creating working groups for better communication and coordination.”

PNNL-influenced Center
Cyprus serves as an ideal location in part because it is home of the Cyprus Center for Land Open Seas and Port Security (CYCLOPS).

The State Department’s EXBS program provided funding for the center, located in the port city of Larnaca, which opened in early 2022. PNNL chemists, biologists, and other technical experts served as design consultants, and PNNL managed its construction. The center is owned by the Republic of Cyprus and used by PNNL and other U.S. government training organizations for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosives, border security, and other trainings with international partners.

“The facility certainly contributes to the security of Cyprus,” said James Spracklen, principal advisor for the National Security Directorate (NSD) within PNNL. “But perhaps more importantly, it serves the security needs for other countries as well—for the European Union, the wider Eastern Mediterranean region, and beyond.”