The History and New Directions of Biodefense

Dr. Matthew Meselson, a Harvard biologist and longtime advocate for biological disarmament, (and a  member of FAS’s Board of Sponsors) spoke Tuesday, June 26th  at a briefing hosted by FAS in Washington, D.C. on the recent history of biodefense and the need for oversight on biodefense efforts.

“Infective agents don’t stop at frontiers. They don’t have passports,” Meselson said. A biological attack against any nation, or a virulent disease outbreak can threaten the entire world.

Though President Richard Nixon renounced biological weapons on November 25, 1969, the decision had begun several years earlier, notably in 1963 when Secretary of State Dean Rusk began asking about  the potential for banning biological weapons.

In 1968, the Department of Defense looked deeper into the nation’s biodefense and BW programs and at first proposed a stronger BW and chemical weapon programs. At the time, the U.S.’s BCW programs were too small to be viable.

“Why would you want something that was small and not very good? The likely thing is that you would want something that is good,” Meselson said.

At about the same time, DoD officials in the Office of Systems Analysis investigated the strategic use of biological weapons and the threat of proliferation. They found there were no potential applications of lethal biological weapons that were preferred to the use of nuclear weapons. And the scenario for non-lethal biological weapons was so unlikely that non-lethal biological weapons were not worth it.

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First International VBC Conference: Video Available

Please click on the image above to view the VBC conference video

The First Virtual Biosecurity Center international conference, 1 September 2011, can be accessed here. This conference explored the role of web-based networks in promoting global biosecurity, and provided an opportunity for experts from around the world to identify best practices and partnerships, and determine the feasibility of linking existing networks for global communication. For more information please visit the Virtual Biosecurity Center home page and the Video.

Norway’s Anders Breivik: Biological Weapons

Oslo, Norway
Oslo, Norway
Please visit the full report for further analysis of the treatise and the CBRN weapons discussed within.


Along with other CBRN, Breivik calls for the use of biological weapons (BW) and toxins against the “cultural Marxist/multiculturalist elites,” stressing that “Efforts must be made to obtain [them].”36
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BIO 2011 Biosecurity Conference

Coverage of some of the key sessions from the Biosecurity Conference at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) 2011, which occurred in Washington DC on June 29-30, can be found in the FAS Biosecurity Blog.

A View from the Hill: A Conversation on Global Biodefense and Biosecurity

Jim Greenwood, the President of BIO, opened the first biosecurity discussion, which focused on congressional views on domestic biodefense initiatives, international efforts to improve biosecurity, and the implementation of policies to respond to these challenges.

Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), emphasized the need for better cooperation between the private sector and the U.S. Government in view of the recent threat from H1N1 avian influenza. He called for better knowledge and definition of the threat and stated that the challenge is to nurture better cooperation between both sides. Continue reading

The Monthly Roundup: June 2011

Popular headlines in biosecurity news

The Monthly Roundup is a new article featuring the top news stories from the Virtual Biosecurity Center (VBC). The VBC is a global resource for daily biosecurity news and current topics. Every month, a collection of the VBC’s most popular headlines will be summarized with a brief analysis to keep you updated on the latest in biosecurity.

1. Smallpox Destruction Gets Deferred

On May 24th, 2011, after much anticipation and debate, the World Health Assembly agreed to postpone the destruction of the last known stockpiles of the smallpox virus until 2014. The consensus was reached after two days of deliberation at the 64th World Health Assembly (WHA), the 193 state-comprised forum of the World Health Organization (WHO), which took place from May 16-24, 2011 in Geneva.

Smallpox, a deadly infectious disease caused by the Variola major and Variola minor viruses, was declared globally eradicated over 30 years ago. Live samples of the virus have since been securely held at two WHO repositories in the U.S. and Russia for research purposes. The decision to destroy the remaining stocks was first put forth in 1996 and has since been repeatedly postponed. Continue reading

Globalizing Biosecurity: The Virtual Biosecurity Center

Nishal Mohan
Please click on the image above to view Dr. Mohan's presentation.

Dr. Nishal Mohan, Biosecurity Program Manager at the Federation of American Scientists and the Executive Director of the Virtual Biosecurity Center (VBC), spoke on the subject of ‘Globalizing Biosecurity: The Virtual Biosecurity Center’ at Princeton University on April 8, 2011. This talk is part of the Princeton Biosecurity Seminar Series, sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation.

For more information on Dr. Nishal Mohan please visit the VBC staff page. You can find more biosecurity related videos on the VBC video page.

Position Filled – Biosecurity Education Project Manager

The Biosecurity Program at the Federation of American Scientists is expanding!

Job Title: Biosecurity Education Project Manager

Location: Washington, D.C.

Job Type: Temporary position ending September 16, 2011 but with a possibility of becoming a permanent position thereafter.
Description: The Federation of American Scientists’ Biosecurity Program is seeking a smart, energetic individual to manage the Biosecurity Education Project and further develop existing research projects on the responsible use of science and technology, and biological weapons control.
Candidates should have taken graduate-level courses in biology and have knowledge of educational methods, html, CSS, WordPress, web design, social media, and image/video editing. Strong writing skills are required and the candidate should have previous scientific publications. Continue reading

The Virtual Biosecurity Center

Please do not forget to check out one of our exciting new additions to the Biosecurity Program: The Virtual Biosecurity Center.
The Virtual Biosecurity Center (VBC) is the ‘one stop shop’ for biosecurity information, education, best practices, and collaboration.

To find out more about the VBC and how you may play a role in coordinating this global approach to biosecurity, please visit the VBC.

Biological Weapons Convention: More Communication & Collaboration Needed

Credit:The GSTAAD Project

On 6th of December 2010, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, delivered a message to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) Meeting of the State Parties on the need for structured and regular means of monitoring developments in science and technology to reduce risks to international security and achieving global biological disarmament. “While much is being done to promote assistance and cooperation for the peaceful uses of biological science and technology, more could still be done to improve coordination and communication, ” he said.  The five-day meeting in Geneva is part of a four-year programme mandated by the 2006 Sixth Review Conference of the BWC aimed at strengthening the implementation of the Convention and improving its effectiveness as a practical barrier against the development or use of biological weapons. Continue reading

Biosecurity Bills Before Congress

Several biosecurity related bills are being considered by Congress. Photo credit Harry Keely.
With the lame-duck congressional session drawing to a close there is not much time for action on the biosecurity related bills before Congress.  So what does this mean for biosecurity and biosecurity related legislation?  Congress is considering several bills related to biosecurity, but little progress is expected during the remainder of the lame-duck session.

First, S.510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, passed the Senate last week on a bipartisan basis with a vote of 73-25.  A similar version of the bill, which aims to update the Food and Drug Administration’s food safety policies for the first time in over sixty years, passed the House last year.

At a news conference in 2004, outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson famously said, “I, for the life of me, cannot understand why the terrorists have not, you know, attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do. And we are importing a lot of food from the Middle East, and it would be easy to tamper with that.”  This bill would increase food safety and strengthen biosecurity by increasing the FDA’s power to enforce mandatory recalls of contaminated food and the number of inspections of food processors. Continue reading