Expansion at Fort Detrick

For the past five years, local activists have been organizing in opposition to the massive expansion of bio-weapons facilities that is now underway at Detrick. The plan is for Detrick to be the site of a 200-acre National Interagency Biodefense Campus (NIBC). The NIH and the Homeland Security (DHS) facilities each measuring approximately 160,000 square feet are already almost completed. The next phase of this expansion involves a new facility for the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), scheduled to measure 1.1 million square feet ! The plan is thereafter to build on this Campus at least two more facilities, one to be operated by the Dept. of Agriculture, the other by the Center for Disease Control. All of this is explicitly referred to as one program whose “cornerstone” would be the new USAMRIID facility.    The plan is for all of these facilities to house thousands upon thousands of square feet of high-containment bio-labs. The highest containment labs are referred to as BSL-4 labs. BSL-4 labs are designed to accommodate operations with pathogens such as the Ebola and Marburg viruses, for which there is neither vaccine nor cure. These operations will include the development of new (potential) bio-weapons, including by genetic engineering. The explicit rationale is that it is only by anticipating future bio-weapons that we can develop defenses in advance.This expansion is not only taking place at Fort Detrick. The plan already underway is for the construction of hundreds of more such labs, to be staffed by thousands of workers. And the money is flowing, not only to Federal agencies, but also to universities and private bio-tech firms all across the country. Assessing the Biological Weapons and Bioterrorism Threat, published in 2005 by the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College, explains that billions of dollars have been appropriated in the absence of virtually any threat analysis, and that the risk and imminence of the use of biological agents by non-state actors/terrorist organizations has been “systematically and deliberately exaggerated” by the Bush administration. The General Accounting Office (GAO) has reported to Congress to the same effect.Of course, the anthrax letters of October, 2001, are often invoked as evidence of the need for this massive expansion. The problem is that the anthrax letters, practically without any doubt, came from our own bio-defense establishment. The “Ames strain” of anthrax found in the anthrax letters was originally developed as a potential bio-weapon by USAMRIID at Fort Detrick. The spores in certain of the anthrax letters were of an extremely high concentration (one trillion spores per gram), and the additive silica was present. Weaponized anthrax manufactured with this kind of advanced technology is known to have been stored at only a very small number of facilities, all connected to the American military. During the course of its investigation, the FBI, in July, 2004, shut off access to bacteriology labs in the main USAMRIID building at Detrick for approximately one week. And the FBI has repeatedly refused requests from Congress for a report on the status of its investigation.The claim is made repeatedly that in all of the new program’s operations there will be compliance with the international arms control treaty known as the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). But in 2001 (before the anthrax letters), the Bush administration scuttled attempts to finalize an International Protocol on Inspection and Verification, which Protocol was supported by practically all of the other 160 nations that are party to the BWC. International Law Professor Francis Boyle, who drafted the “Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989,” which Act criminalized violations of the BWC, has stated: “[T]he program that is referred to as ‘Biodefense for the 21st Century’ in Homeland Security Presidential Directive HSPD-10, released on April 28, 2004 . . . constitutes clear violations of the [BWC].” Ambassador James Leonard, head of the U.S. Delegation to the BWC negotiations in 1972, and Dr. Richard Spertzel, former Deputy Director of USAMRIID, jointly stated: “The rapidity of elaboration of American biodefense programs, their ambition and administrative aggressiveness, and the degree to which they push against the prohibitions of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), are startling.”Truly what we have in the Bush administration’s massive expansion of bio-weapons facilities is part of a pattern of rejecting arms control in favor of arms race.In early October of 2007, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations conducted hearings on the subject of “Germs, Viruses, and Secrets: The Silent Proliferation of Bio- Laboratories in the United States.” American laboratories handling the world’s deadliest germs and toxins have reported more than 100 accidents and missing shipments since 2003. There is also much evidence of failure to report accidents. In answer to the question, “has the research [these laboratories have] conducted made us any safer today than we were six years ago, just after 9/11,” Keith Rhodes, chief technologist with the GAO, testified:“[Given] that there is so much that is unknown at the moment, I would have to say we are at greater risk, because as the number [of bio-labs in this country] increases, the risk increases.” Mr. Rhodes further testified: “High-risk labs have health risks for individual lab workers as well as the surrounding community . . . Even labs within sophisticated biological research programs, including those most extensively regulated, have had and will continue to have safety failures.” Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., chairman of the subcommittee that conducted these hearings, stated: “It may be only a matter of time before our nation has a public health incident with potentially catastrophic results.”

In Frederick, activists have experienced a breakthrough. After years of frustrating participation

in public hearings about the expansion at Fort Detrick conducted pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), activists persuaded a Frederick County Commissioner to issue a statement calling for Court review of the Army’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) regarding the above-mentioned new USAMRIID facility. On November 19, 2007, more than 150 members of the community attended a forum about the Detrick expansion convened by the Frederick County Board of County Commissioners. Of the 54 individuals who spoke at the forum, 50 expressed opposition to the expansion. A video recording of this forum can be accessed at http://frederick.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=315&publish_id=&event_id=Further, in a striking departure from its traditionally blanket support of Fort Detrick, the only local daily newspaper has published two lead editorials urging the County to obtain Court review.

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