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Presentation on rDNA developments and biological weapons design

Presentation on rDNA developments and biological weapons design

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Future Terrorist Weapons Presentation Transcript

  • 1. Future Terrorist Weapons : Advances in Biological Weapons Development and Implications for US National Security Drs. Jill Dekker-Bellamy
  • 2.
    • “ Perhaps the most significant event in the history of biological weapons development has been the advent of biotechnology (including rDNA technology)”
    • ---------Statement from the US Department of Defense
  • 3.
    • The US estimates approximately 21 nations are currently working on offensive biological weapons programmes. In terms of mass casualties, the principal threat of biological weapon development and use comes, not from the terrorist brewing bio-weapons in the bathtub; the real and present danger lies with the proliferation of bio-weapons programmes among states. [1] Moreover, given their relative affordability and effectiveness, small or less developed countries may regard biological weapons as an ‘equalizer’ capable of compensating for inadequacies in their conventional forces and offsetting the otherwise superior military strength of an opponent. [2]
    • [1] Crowley, Michael, “Disease by Design: Demystifying the Biological Weapons Debate”, BASIC Research Report, Number 2001.2, November 2001. URL: http://www.basicint.org/pubs/Research/2001diseasebydesign1.htm#Section%204 [2] Crowley, Michael, “Disease by Design: Demystifying the Biological Weapons Debate”, BASIC Research Report, Number 2001.2, November 2001. URL: http://www.basicint.org/pubs/Research/2001diseasebydesign1.htm#Section%204
  • 4. Ebola
  • 5.
    • There are about 52 pathogenic agents suitable for biological weapons development. Category A are determined by a number of criteria to pose the greatest threat, consequently most state warfare research, centers on these agents. States with offensive programmes continue to base their research and development around these six or so tested agents, but over the last three to four years have learned advanced and rapid techniques to modify these pathogens.
  • 6.
    • Advances in genomics, fusion toxins, [1] proteomics [2] , synthetic biology, molecular biology, combinatorial chemistry and our understanding of microbial structure and replication will affect the type of weapons developments from state laboratories.
    • [1] One are of protein engineering that is of particular concern to security analysts is the generation of hybrid or fusion toxins for use in advanced therapeutics. Many protein toxins consist of two or more functionally distinct components known as ‘domains.’ In such multi-unit toxins, one component (known as the binding domain) attaches specifically to a receptor or antigen or the target cel, while a different part of the complex (known as the catalytic domain) migrates across the cell membrane to disrupt key metabolic processes, such as protein synthesis (van der Spek & Murphy, 2000). Fusion toxins often have characteristics that differ from those of the original toxins. For example, when the catalytic domain of tetanus toxin, which normally targets nerve cells, is coupled with components of anthrax toxin, the resulting hybrid can enter and kill non-neuronal cells, and is therefore more potent than either parent (Arora et al, 1994). In addition, protein engineering can enhance the receptor-binding affinity and efficacy of fusion toxins in killing target cells; in one experiment, the use of these techniques increased the cytotoxicity of a fusion toxin approximately 17 fold (Kiyokawa et al, 1991). Tucker, Jonathan B., and Craig Cooper, “Protein Engineering: security implications: The increasing ability to manipulate protein toxins for hostile purposes has prompted calls for regulation”, European Molecular Biology Organization, V.7(S1); July 2006.
    • [2] The increasingly precise understanding of the physical chemistry of protein folding and of the diversity and mutual interactions of the many thousands of different proteins in the living cell Thus, immensely powerful experimental and modeling techniques have become available in the last few decades that allow an unprecedented capability to modify living organisms and their products in precise and predictable ways, and to design small molecules to interact with proteins in living organisms and alter their functioning in predictable ways. The relevance of these technologies to biological weapons development is obvious. See: Crowley, Michael, “Disease by Design: Demystifying the Biological Weapons Debate”, BASIC Research Report, Number 2001.2, November 2001.Advances in genomics, fusion toxins, [1] proteomics [2] , synthetic biology, molecular biology, combinatorial chemistry and our understanding of microbial structure and replication will affect the type of weapons developments from state laboratories.
    • [1]
  • 7.
    • This may considerably alter these strains and our ability to either prevent or treat weapons grade agents or battle strains might now be severely inhibited. [1] Biological weapons laboratories are able to genetically modify Category A biological warfare and produce biological weapons for which there are no known treatments or prophylaxis in a time frame of about 18 to 24 months—possibly shorter. It takes on average about 8-10 years to produce a vaccine or medical counter-measure and nearly 1 Billion dollars to bring such drugs to market. The gap between states developing offensive biological weapons and our ability to counter this at the therapeutic level is so vast that we will not foreseeable be able to prevent mass casualties incurred by the use of biological weapons through drug development alone. [ 2]
    • [1] Tucker, Jonathan B., and Craig Cooper, “Protein Engineering: security implications: The increasing ability to manipulate protein toxins for hostile purposes has prompted calls for regulation”, European Molecular Biology Organization, V.7(S1); July 2006.
    • [2]Science Business, “Imperial Spin-out in 7.9M US Funded Vaccine Consortium”, 18, July, 2007. URL: http://bulletin.sciencebusiness.net/ebulletins/showissue.php3?page=/548/art/8386
  • 8. Technician Working on Vaccine in a Former Russian BW Facility www.dtra.mil/newsservices/photo_library/oe/ctr/russia/R-1.cfm
  • 9.
    • Recognizing the threat posed by biological weapons and emerging disease, DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) is working to shorten the timeframe of vaccine development to 6- 18 months. The Accelerated Manufacture of Pharmaceuticals intends to radically compress the timeline for manufacture of life-saving vaccines and monoclonal antibodies. Dr Michael Callahan, Program Manager for DARPA commented: “The Accelerated Manufacture of Pharmaceuticals program will twin rapid protein expression platforms with radically-enhanced technologies that enable extraordinarily fast production of peptide drugs at massive quantities and at pennies per dose.”  [1]
    • [1] Science Business, “Imperial Spin-out in 7.9M US Funded Vaccine Consortium”, 18, July, 2007. URL: http://bulletin.sciencebusiness.net/ebulletins/showissue.php3?page=/548/art/8386
  • 10.
    • “ Achievements in biology and related sciences have led to an increase in the effectiveness of biological agents as a means of conducting warfare. Improved methods of obtaining and using them have resulted in a qualitative reexamination of the very concept of biological weapons”
    • Soviet Union’s Military Encyclopedia [1]
    • [1] Schutz, Martin, “Biological Weapons: New Threats (Biological Warfare and rDNA Technology) 10th International Symposium of the European Federation of Defence Technology Associations, 7 May, 1998, Geneva.
  • 11.  
  • 12.
    • With recombinant DNA or rDNA technology [1] and monoclonal antibodies (MCA) [2] it is possible to construct new, genetically engineered biological warfare agents with special properties that make their military use more convenient and efficient. [3] [1] In rDNA, which was first successfully performed in 1973, a gene from one DNA is extracted and inserted into the DNA of another cell.
    • [2] Monoclonal Antibodies (MCA) are manufactured by stimulating cells to produce desired antibody and then fusing these cells with cancerous cells that enabled the antibody-producing cells to generate the desired antibodies in a laboratory, outside the parent organs in which they had previously functioned.
    • [3]Schutz, Martin, “Biological Weapons: New Threats (Biological Warfare and rDNA Technology) 10th International Symposium of the European Federation of Defence Technology Associations, 7 May, 1998, Geneva.
  • 13.
    • It’s been suggested that rDNA technology might facilitate weaponization by rendering microorganisms more stable during dissemination, for example by increasing their
    • resistance to high temperatures and ultraviolet radiation. [1] Biological agents might be genetically modified to make them more difficult to detect by immunological means and insusceptible to standard vaccines or antibiotics. [2]
    • [1] Schutz, Martin, “Biological Weapons: New Threats (Biological Warfare and rDNA Technology) 10th International Symposium of the European Federation of Defence Technology Associations, 7 May, 1998, Geneva.
    • [2] Schutz, Martin, “Biological Weapons: New Threats (Biological Warfare and rDNA Technology) 10th International Symposium of the European Federation of Defence Technology Associations, 7 May, 1998, Geneva.
  • 14.
    • There is considerable concern that new biological weapons could be used in future conflicts. The consequences of a major outbreak of communicable disease and or a weaponized strain could lead to horrific results. There are also other factors that turn biotechnology and specifically the rDNA techniques, into a dangerous tool for the development and production of new potential biological warfare agents. [1]
    • [1] Schutz, Martin, “Biological Weapons: New Threats (Biological Warfare and rDNA Technology) 10th International Symposium of the European Federation of Defence Technology Associations, 7 May, 1998, Geneva.
  • 15. Lieutenant Commander Ronald Ellis USN defines exceptionally precise issues related to advancements in biological weapons research and development. He contends:
    • “ Derivative technologies offer unlimited possibilities for new biological agents and applications. Already the effectiveness of today’s biochemical potential is orders of magnitude beyond that of the ‘classic’ BW technology. This applies not only to quantitative effects, but also to qualitative refinements, particularly the potential to create rather specific physiological or psychological effects in human targets rather than the lethal effects that have dominated BW in the past.
  • 16.
    • In the future, the effects can be designed to be almost instantaneous, delayed, or programmed for triggering by other discrete events. They can also be gradually induced in individuals in order to prevent timely diagnosis. Known diseases can be altered or more “desirable” variants selected through classic microbiological techniques in order to obtain organisms that are survivable, resistant to medical treatment, difficult to diagnose, more or less communicable, and even activated by external factors thus making them safe to handle.
  • 17.
    • New diseases for which there is little experience can be isolated and similarly refined. Advancements in biotechnology also open prospects for the development of organisms which are resistant to existing drugs and vaccines or that produce more lethal toxins possibly by modifying normally harmless or relatively benign microorganisms. All these new options share the alarming attribute of silent use: the target cannot recognize (until too late) the nature of the attack let alone its source.
  • 18.
    • Another advantage of modern biotechnology is that biological agents, old or new, need not be mass-produced far in advance of their use. Once the desired parent cells are produced, cultures can be stored for activation when needed and the activation can be effected remote from the site of initial manufacture. Cell cultures can be overtly carried to target countries and subsequently manufactured there. It’s not difficult to imagine pharmaceutical, chemical and related firms in Libya established as commercial fronts for this purpose. In 1983, several American analysts independently reached the conclusion that the Soviet Union might be applying genetic engineering to their BW program.
  • 19.
    • The last reason for concern is proliferation. In many ways, recent progress in biotechnology increases the ease of concealment of illicit manufacturing plants, particularly for biologically derived chemicals such as toxins.” [1]
    • [1] LCdr. Ellis, Ronald J, USN, “Biological Warfare Research: The Means to Counter the Biological Weapon Threat”, Global Security Organization, 1990. URL http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/report/1990/ERJ.htm
  • 20.
    • In November 2003, the Central Intelligence Agency released an unclassified report, “The Darker Bioweapons Future,” which claimed that synthetic biology could make possible new, highly virulent, drug-resistant, unconventional pathogens “worse than any disease known to man.” [1] [1]The New Atlantis, "Life from Scratch," The New Atlantis, Number 5, Spring 2004, pp. 101-103. URL: http://www.thenewatlantis.com/archive/5/soa/synthbio.htm
  • 21.
    • Moreover, the report asserted, recent advances in biological science and technology were so broad, complex, and widely available to the public” that traditional means of monitoring the development of weapons of mass destruction could “prove inadequate to deal with the threat from these advanced biological weapons .” [1]
    • [1]The New Atlantis, "Life from Scratch," The New Atlantis, Number 5, Spring 2004, pp. 101-103. URL: http://www.thenewatlantis.com/archive/5/soa/synthbio.htm
  • 22. Detection and Prevention Efforts against Offensive BW Programmes
    • Advances in biotechnology have also added new properties which obstruct detection and increase the likelihood of successful deniability particularly on the part of a state sponsor. [1] As advances are made in the field of biotechnology, the potential for using this technology for biological and toxin weapons increases commensurately; not only has the time from basic research to mass production of lethal weapons decreased but the ability to create weapons has increased. [2]
    • [1] LCdr. Ellis, Ronald J, USN, “Biological Warfare Research: The Means to Counter the Biological Weapon Threat”, Global Security Organization, 1990. URL
    • [2] LCdr. Ellis, Ronald J, USN, “Biological Warfare Research: The Means to Counter the Biological Weapon Threat”, Global Security Organization, 1990. URL http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/report/1990/ERJ.htm
  • 23.
    • Moreover the ‘latent’ potential of BW means programmes can be constituted from multiple sectors which on their own pose seemingly no threat. Scientists working on such programmes may or may not be aware that they are working on a BW programme however there are definite and determinable programmes where teams of scientists are enlisted with their full knowledge and consent. While ‘latent’ capability may be more difficult to define and counter, sites where weaponization is occurring, usually were there are a number of other technical specialties such as missile production are definable and teams and personnel can be targeted.
  • 24. Ellis further contends:
    • “ It is known, that terrorists have not only undergone BW training, but have actually been involved in the manufacture of biological weapons. It is logical to project; therefore that BW at some point will mark an escalation of tactics by terrorist organizations. This projection is underscored by scientific advances and technology which bring the most up-to-date capabilities within the reach of any group determined to obtain them. To counter such concern’s current military strategy is to defend against as many perceived threats as possible. This includes developing a quick method for detecting biological toxins as well as testing live organisms. DOD-funded scientists are seeking defenses against several disease-causing viruses, bacteria, toxins, and parasitic organisms. The plans call for the development of drugs and vaccines capable of deterring several related biological weapons rather than only a single agent.”
  • 25.
    • “ These plans are based on the hopes of finding a common means of attack shared by a group of agents and to learn which proteins participate in the attack. Then, theoretically scientists could create a vaccine designed to make the body produce antibodies against those common proteins. One scientist is looking for a single vaccine that will protect against a group of exotic diseases.” (Ellis)
  • 26.
    • “ Another scientist has examined several related bacterial and snake-venom toxins to find a common neutralizing epitope, a section of a toxin protein at which an antibody can block the toxin’s activity. Among 14 or 15 toxins studied so far, one antibody has been identified that neutralizes as many as four different toxins. Parallel efforts in virology seek to create vaccines against several genetic varieties of one virus. If successful, such efforts could be extremely beneficial to civilian health agencies as well as the military.” (Ellis)
  • 27.
    • “ But skeptics contend the military’s research goals are unrealistic. Even if military scientists produce a vaccine against many different viruses, enemy scientists cold mutate an agent’s genes to create an entirely new organism against which the drug or vaccine would not work. However, military scientists maintain their goals are attainable and state that it is possible to make a vaccine against, for example, all the alpha viruses causing human disease.” [1]
    • [1] LCdr. Ellis, Ronald J, USN, “Biological Warfare Research: The Means to Counter the Biological Weapon Threat”, Global Security Organization, 1990. URL http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/report/1990/ERJ.htm
  • 28.
    • While detection and prevention methods offer possible medical counter measures, it comes generally after the fact-after a weapon has been deployed which may be far too late, given the pathogen and dispersal method. In considering the vast array of possible BW agents and the potential catastrophic out come, we must not exclude any means of halting such development at its source.
  • 29. Anthrax
  • 30.
    • “ It is almost certain, as was demonstrated in Iraq’s offensive biological weapons programme, that a proliferator nowadays will attempt initially to weaponize the agents which have been previously used in major offensive research programmes, or other unmodified organisms. Thus the ‘classical’ agents developed in the middle of the 20th Century by the United Kingdom, United States and former Soviet Union – anthrax, botulinum toxin, tularemia, etc. – would likely be the first agents of choice. However, after the development of a functional biological weapons programme along classical lines, it is possible that proliferators may turn to agents developed through genetic engineering techniques.” [1]
    • [1] Crowley, Michael, “Disease by Design: Demystifying the Biological Weapons Debate”, BASIC Research Report, Number 2001.2, November 2001. URL: http://www.basicint.org/pubs/Research/2001diseasebydesign1.htm#Section%204
  • 31. According to Crowley, even within the constraints of existing biotechnology, scientists believe that it is already possible to carry out the following:
    • Adaptation of an existing pathogen to increase its virulence or durability in the environment;
    • Genetic alteration of benign micro-organisms so that they are able to produce a toxin, venom or bio-regulator. If this is coupled with use of large fermenters, production could be on an industrial scale. A number of pharmaceutical products such as growth hormone or insulin are already produced in this way;
    • Alteration of deadly micro-organisms so that they are able to defeat standard identification, detection and diagnostic methods; and
    • Development of micro-organisms which are resistant to antibiotics, standard vaccine and therapies. According to Alistair Hay, a CBW expert from Leeds University in the United Kingdom, manipulations of this type may have already occurred in Russia.
  • 32.
    • Hay helped debrief defectors from Biopreparat that had worked on biological warfare until 1992. The scientists claimed to have developed a form of Yersinia pestis , the causal agent of plague that was resistant to 16 different antibiotics. [1]
    • [1] Crowley, Michael, “Disease by Design: Demystifying the Biological Weapons Debate”, BASIC Research Report, Number 2001.2, November 2001. URL: http://www.basicint.org/pubs/Research/2001diseasebydesign1.htm#Section%204
  • 33.
    • Case in point: The SUNY researchers involved in the creation of the artificial polio virus obtained all of the DNA threads for their project from private companies through the mail, and they used a map of the polio genome available on the Internet. The genetic blueprints of a host of other dangerous pathogens—including Ebola, influenza, smallpox, and anthrax—can also be found online. The SUNY scientists warned that current insecurity regulations, which focus almost exclusively on restricting the proliferation of extant pathogens, are not sufficient to guard our nation against the new generation of biological threats. [1]
    • [1] The New Atlantis, "Life from Scratch," The New Atlantis, Number 5, Spring 2004, pp. 101-103. URL: http://www.thenewatlantis.com/archive/5/soa/synthbio.htm
  • 34. Deniable Operations
  • 35.
    • “ Terrorists today are not only insidious and stealthy but technically sophisticated. It is only a matter of time till they couple their unconventional tactics with unconventional weapons.” [1]
    • [1] Spratt, John M. Jr., Hon., “Defence Against Weapons of Mass Destruction Act of 1996”, Page E1192, Congressional Record, 27 June, 1996. URL: http://www.fas.org/spp/starwars/congress/1996/h9606271.htm
  • 36.
    • The threat today is different than ten or even five years ago due to rapid advances in the life sciences. This must be taken into account when we consider scientific teams who work on offensive biological weapons programmes within states who sponsor terrorism. Bio-weapons are the ultimate deniable operation. Bio-technology has now advanced to the point where it’s highly likely millions of people could die in a covert release by state sponsored terrorists.
  • 37.
    • Biological weapons are the ultimate in deniable operations. States and their security apparatus, which sponsor terrorists, want deniability so they can launch and win proxy wars using civilian targets such as in Lebanon and Sudan. Methods to determine the advancement of a clandestine biological weapons programme are generally limited to human collection methods unless there is major stockpiling indicative of a warfare programme. Today, state’s who work offensively on biological weapons are working on technologies for terrorist use in addition to warfare efforts. Technologies for terrorist use involve dispersal and deployment processes which we don’t associate with warfare.
  • 38.
    • Baring in mind, state supported terrorists would not need to steal, divert or buy Weapons of Mass Destruction, as we had previously considered after the US anthrax attacks when a number of US and international agencies rushed to develop “bio-security” regulations and scientific “codes of conduct.” Nor would they have to over-come technical obstacles related to weaponization and dispersal. Some un-conventional weapons, specifically bio-weapons and radiological weapons are the ultimate deniable operation and there are states who would consider providing such weapons to terrorists-some of whom they have already trained within their formal military establishment.
  • 39. Clostridium Botulinum (C) type
  • 40.
    • One gram of crystalline Botulinum toxin could theoretical kill a million people. It’s the most toxic substance known to man and it’s easy to transport and easy to conceal. Despite skepticism that botulinum poison could be concentrated, stabilized, and aerosolized to make an effective military weapon against a specific enemy target, a botulinum attack against civilian targets may prove disturbingly effective. An aerosol release of botulinum toxins from a single point can kill or incapacitate 10% to 0.5 miles downwind of the release . [1]
    • [1] Global Security Organization, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Botulinium Toxins, URL: http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/intro/bio_botulinum.htm
  • 41.
    • When state seeks to develop such weapons for use against civilians the United States and her allies have a moral and ethical obligation to prevent these activities. Increasingly technology will produce high kill ratios in civilian populations and massive collateral damage whilst ensuring plausible deniability. The use of weapons of mass destruction is so abhorrent that nations who select to develop and use such weapons should be put on notice that their leadership and scientific teams will be targeted.