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Mainstream, VOL 60 No 46 November 5, 2022

Bio-Weapons Can Further Increase the Risks of On-Going World Crisis | Bharat Dogra

Friday 4 November 2022, by Bharat Dogra

The possibility of the use of nuclear weapons, intentional or on the basis of misunderstandings which can result in a situation of high-tensions and escalating tensions continuing for a long time, has been repeatedly and increasingly held out in recent times. In this context various scenarios have been presented by several eminent experts almost all of which reveal a very alarming situation of enormous destruction arising from it. Now in addition to this, the possibility of the use of bio-weapons has also been raised recently which has further increased the complexity of the many-dimensional risks that face the world as a result of the prolonging of the entirely avoidable Ukraine war.

Two aspects of bio-weapons may be mentioned here to be of particular relevance in this context. Firstly, while biological weapons can also be used in relatively mild ways, it is equally true that in the case of their most destructive use these too are capable of killing millions of people, although over a longer period of time. The second aspect is that these can be developed and used in much more secretive ways compared to nuclear weapons. In fact even when these inflict enormous damage, it may at times be difficult to get conclusive proof of the use of bio-weapons, let alone the identity of the user/perpetrator, although of course there will be strong suspicions backed by circumstantial evidence.

Russia has circulated a 310 page document which alleges that bio-weapons use preparations are being made in Ukraine with USA help. An AP report from the United Nations headquarters published in The Tribune, India, dated October 29 2022 tells us—“Russia’s US Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya, said Moscow will pursue a UN investigation of its allegations that both countries ( US and Ukraine) are violating the convention prohibiting the use of biological weapons. The dispute came in the third UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine-related issues that Russia has called since Tuesday.

“Nebenzya said the Russian military had recovered drones capable of spraying bio-agents as well as documents that he said related to research on the possibility of spreading pathogens through bats and migrating birds. The 310 page document that Russia circulated to council members this week alleged there is “military biological” activity in Ukraine with support of the US Defense Department. This document includes an official complaint to the council, allowed under Article VI of the 1972 biological weapons convention.”

As may be expected, these allegation have been dismissed by the USA as its allies as disinformation and fabrication. However there is enough evidence from the past that biological warfare research has continued in several countries, particularly the biggest military powers led by the USA (and including Russia, China and some western countries, perhaps some others too). It is also possible that some countries have kept a stock of such weapons and experimented with actual use of such weapons.

One indication of this possibility is that from time to time some civilian research programs, including those involving international cooperation, have been exposed for their implications of chemical and biological research. Research on genetic modification has special implication for this. Some experiments have been such as to raise suspicions of developing biological weapons against people of certain specific racial identification.

Biological warfare is known to be one of the most destructive yet secretive forms of warfare. In fact its strength derives to a large extent from the fact that it can unleash so much damage without the identity of a specific attack, not to mention the attacker, becoming clear at all. Biological warfare (also called germ-warfare) can be used to spread disease among human beings or destroy crops on a large scale. Protection against such an attack is extremely difficult, especially in the case of a surprise attack.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, “The insidious effects of many chemical and biological warfare agents make them suited to sabotage, for not only do they cause widespread damage, but their delayed effects may also enable the saboteur to escape detection.”

U.S. expert Kathleen C. Bailey has stated, “Although biological warfare and toxin warfare were historically viewed as less practical weapons because of technical problems in production and effective delivery, tremendous technology advances such as genetic engineering and development of stabilizers have made these weapons relatively easy to manufacture and deliver effectively. Because these weapons are inexpensive and comparatively easy to produce, an increasing number of nations may pursue them.”

Speaking further about the threats posed by biological weapons, she says “a bacteria or virus used as a weapon could spread well beyond its intended victims, causing an epidemic worldwide. The pathogen could mutate, becoming even more deadly and resistant to treatment or prevention.”

The use of biological and toxin weapons was outlawed by the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. Nevertheless biological warfare research continued in several countries, especially the two super powers i.e. the USA and the USSR. Russian President Boris Yeltsin admitted that that an epidemic of anthrax in Ural mountains in 1979 was caused by an accident at a biological warfare production plant.

As for biological warfare research in the USA, the Third World Guide has reported, “Early in the Reagan administration a systematic campaign was initiated to develop military capacity based on advances in the biomedical and biotechnology, such as genetic engineering. These efforts included attempts to undermine the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972, sharply increasing expenditures for biological weapons research and development, active recruitment of University scientists into Department of Defense, and formal testimony before the US Congress in 1986 urging the development of military capacity in biotechnology.”

Senior American journalist William Blum has reported, “In 1956 and 1958, declassified documents have revealed that the US army loosed swarms of specially bred mosquitoes in Georgia and Florida to see whether disease carrying insects could be weapons in a biological war. The mosquitoes bred for the tests were of Aedes Aegypti type, the precise carrier of dengue fever as well as other diseases. In 1967, it was reported by Science magazine that at the US government centre in Fort Detrick, Maryland, dengue fever was amongst those diseases that are at least the object of considerable research and that appear to be among those regarded as potential biological warfare agents.”

Cuba protested time and again against the possible involvement of chemical and biological warfare agents in the destruction of its crops, outbreak of African swine and dengue fever but such is the nature of biological warfare that conclusive evidence is difficult to get.

As biological warfare research was continued by the big powers, one of the main problems they faced was in conducting field tests and other experiments which could prove dangerous for their own people. This problem was solved to some extent by shifting these experiments to developing countries in the garb of development and health research.

Disturbing evidence of several such research projects in India was made available in 1975 in the 167th report of Public Accounts Committee of the Indian Parliament titled ‘Foreign Participation or collaboration in research products in India,’ and in its follow up report in 1976. These reports indicted several such projects such as a genetic control of mosquitoes unit (GCMU) project, a microbial pesticide project and some other projects.

An article published in New Scientist said, “If one were intending a yellow fever attack on India, this information collected by the GCMU would be very useful.”

A widely circulated magazine in India ‘The Week’ alleged in two cover stories (October 9, 1994 and July 23, 1995) that the outbreak of pneumonic plague in Surat was the result of biological warfare experiments conducted by the USA. The Week said that several suspicious circumstances led it to suspect from the outset that the microbe was not a natural plague bacterium but one mutated in some germ-warfare lab. The magazine said in its July 23 issue, the laboratories which examined the microbe strains collected from Surat have reported that they are different from all known natural strains of the plague germ, Yersinia pestis. The Week said that USA Scientists have been developing a germ detector device known as BIDS (Biological Integrated Detection System). This required field tests some of which, the Week said, may have been conducted in Surat.

Summarizing the reason why suspicions persist, a news report released by the Press Trust of India said, “While the final report of the Ramalingaswami Committee on Surat plague is yet to be released, there is increasing suspicion among scientists that the strain of Yersinia pestis, which caused the outbreak, was genetically engineered. Basis for this suspicion is a test report from the US Centre for Disease Control at Fort Collins in Colarado that the Surat strain is unique and not related to any known stain of the plague bacillus.”

Attention has also been drawn to the biological warfare implications of what has been called the ’terminator technology’. In a widely discussed paper (published in the Ecologist, Sept/Oct 1998) Ricarda A Steinbrecker and Pat Roy Mooney (widely acclaimed winner of the Right to Livelihood Award) summarize the implications of this most controversial use of generic engineering,

"On March 3rd 1998 the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and a little-known cotton-seed enterprise called Delta and Pine Land Company, acquired US patent 5,723,765 - or the Technology Protection System (TPS). Within days, the rest of the world knew TPS as Terminator Technology. Its declared goal is to promulgate plants that will produce self terminating offspring - suicide seeds. Terminator Technology epitomises what the genetic engineering of food crops is all about and gives an insight into the driving forces behind the corporate campaign to control and own life.—

"The Terminator also portends a hidden dark side. As a Trojan Horse for other transgenic traits, the technology might also be used to switch any trait off or on. At least in theory, the technology points to the possibility that crop diseases could be triggered by seed exports that would not have to "kick in" immediately - or not until activated by specific chemicals or conditions. This form of biological warfare on people’s food and economics is becoming a hot topic in military and security circles."

Several eminent scientists comprising the Independent Science Panel have also clearly indicated the biological warfare potential of genetic engineering. The ISP writes, "By far the most insidious dangers of genetic engineering are inherent to the process itself, which greatly enhances the scope and probability of horizontal gene transfer and recombination, the main route to creating viruses and bacteria that cause disease epidemics. This was highlighted, in 2001, by the ’accidental’ creation of a killer mouse virus in the course of an apparently innocent genetic engineering experiment. Newer techniques, such as DNA shuffling, are allowing geneticists to create in a matter of minutes in the laboratory millions of recombinant viruses that have never existed in billions of years of evolution. Disease-causing viruses and bacteria and their genetic material are the predominant materials and tools for genetic engineering, as much as for the intentional creation of bio-weapons."

More recently there have been several allegations that research which can be of great use for biological warfare research has been carried out under the garb of some (not all or most) ‘gains of function’ research projects.

What appears to be most likely is that some of the biggest military powers of the world have kept open the option of biological warfare and bio-weapons, despite the ban on these, and the technology for these is available. It is in this context that recent allegations of Russia should not be dismissed entirely, but should instead be examined in an unbiased way for their implications. At least this much is clear that if bio-weapons are used in the present crisis situation, then apart from the direct harm caused by them, this will lead to further fast escalation of an already extremely dangerous situation. This can even lead to increased possibility of use of nuclear weapons. In suspicion-charged conditions, it is important to avoid bio-weapons and also to dispel suspicions regarding this.

(Author: Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children and A Day in 2071.)

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