FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Biotech’s Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

by Edward Hammond

Presently, the US Congress’ biodefense pocketbook is wide open. There’s no shortage of outstretched hands. Much of it is pursued by an industry whose public image is staked on the false hope of creating meaningful protection from biological attack. In the past week, almost every major US daily has run articles praising the experimental biodefense “miracle” or “magic” brewing just around the corner at a local university or biotech startup. Did the United States have such a huge and promising biotech defense industry before September 11th and nobody noticed? No. By global standards, our program is big; but it isn’t promising and the professor or Chief Technology Officer around the corner is no more likely to save you from a biological attack than a tidal wave.

Through America’s preoccupation with homeland biodefense, the biotech industry believes it has been granted a license to proceed into a profitable war with no possibility of producing peace and no durable long-term product but profit. Congress didn’t exactly give biotech a Gulf of Tonkin Resolution; but sloppy media coverage and shameless opportunism are creating one.

DynCorp, a spooky US defense contractor best known for blasting Colombia with wide spectrum herbicides in the Drug War, is setting up a bioweapons vaccine business. It’s partner is Porton International, a company which sprang forth from Porton Down, the UK’s equivalent of Ft. Detrick, MD. Before 1969 Ft. Detrick was the US headquarters of biological weapons research. Now it houses important elements of our biodefense apparatus. DynCorp has its fingers in many pies and also advises the US Army and industry on compliance with biological and chemical weapons agreements.

Another major military contractor, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) already has assets at Ft. Detrick through contracts with the military and the National Cancer Institute.

In Texas, Lynntech Inc. proffers organophosphorus hydrolase as part of its quest to, in the soothing words of a local newspaper, discover “a single enzyme that will neutralize all toxic agents.” A pipe dream if one ever existed; but on September 11th the Texans got a call from a general at Ft. Detrick.

In Seattle, Corixa Corp. publicly complains that $3.5 million isn’t enough for its experimental anthrax vaccine and wants more help from the government. Corixa’s stock is up more than 50%. There are legions more.

The Vaccine Push

During the Gulf War, the US realized that it did not have the ability to vaccinate its troops (much less those of allies) against anthrax and other biological weapons possessed by Iraq. Entreaties to the pharmaceutical industry prompted a flood of antibiotics but little vaccine. Treating disease has always been more profitable than preventing it.

After further haggling, industry made clear it wasn’t interested in manufacturing bioweapons vaccines without massive subsidies and relief from liability. The military effectively agreed, and SAIC drew up a plan for the government to invest about $3 billion in research and to build vaccine facility costing $370 million. At this government facility, companies will produce eight (8) vaccines against anthrax, smallpox, plague, tularemia, botulinum, “next generation” (read: genetically engineered) anthrax, ricin, and equine encephalitis. This $3 billion plus buys only eight, only to protect the US military and, by agreement, some soldiers from Canada and the UK. US civilians are out of luck, according to SAIC “Beyond the baseline operating scope of the [government-owned, contractor-operated] facility design.” Foreign citizens aren’t even an afterthought.

Avoiding the Spiral and Invoking Diplomacy

On September 4th, the New York Times revealed that US Central Intelligence Agency biodefense researchers had tested mock biological bombs and built a real bioweapons production facility in Nevada, activities completely indistinguishable from offensive biological warfare research. The US kept these activities secret, and did not divulge them in annual confidence building reports to the Bioweapons Convention.

The US is now pouring billions more into biodefense. In the current climate, it is difficult to believe that potential adversaries will not respond with their own investments. After all, the US itself has failed to comply with its arms control commitments. The situation could very easily spiral out of control.

The sooner the US understands the impossibility of effective biodefense, the sooner pressure will build for the Bush administration to come to its senses and advocate fast conclusion of the Verification Protocol to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.

Edward Hammond is a Director of the Sunshine Project USA, a non-profit organization working to prevent development and use of biological weapons.

Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
Ulrich Heyden
Crimea as a Paradise for High-Class Tourism?
Ramzy Baroud
Did the Arabs Betray Palestine? – A Schism between the Ruling Classes and the Wider Society
Halyna Mokrushyna
The War on Ukrainian Scientists
Joseph Natoli
Who’s the Better Neoliberal?
Ron Jacobs
The Battle at Big Brown: Joe Allen’s The Package King
Wahid Azal
Class Struggle and Westoxication in Pahlavi Iran: a Review of the Iranian Series ‘Shahrzad’
David Crisp
After All These Years, Newspapers Still Needed
Graham Peebles
Hungry and Frightened: Famine in Ethiopia 2016
Robert Koehler
Opening the Closed Political Culture
Missy Comley Beattie
Waves of Nostalgia
Thomas Knapp
The Problem with Donald Trump’s Version of “America First”
Georgina Downs
Hillsborough and Beyond: Establishment Cover Ups, Lies & Corruption
Jeffrey St. Clair
Groove on the Tracks: the Magic Left Hand of Red Garland
Ben Debney
Kush Zombies: QELD’s Hat Tip to Old School Hip Hop
Charles R. Larson
Moby Dick on Steroids?
David Yearsley
Miles Davis: Ace of Baseness
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail