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Context of 'Late 1999-2000: US Military Secretly Makes Weaponized Anthrax in Possible Violation of International Treaty'

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The US Energy Department, Defense Department, and the CIA begin conducting classified biodefense programs. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1/2003]

Timeline Tags: US Military

Beginning in late 1999, the US military begins a secret program to weaponize anthrax. The program, called Biotechnology Activity Characterization by Unconventional Signatures, or Project BACUS, is run by the Defense Department. Scientists build a laboratory in a remote part of the Nevada desert where nuclear bombs used to be tested underground. The scientists in the program have skills typical of those commonly found in the pharmaceutical or pesticide industries and use equipment that can be easily bought at stores or through catalogs, in order to find out if weaponized anthrax can be created without special skills or equipment. Within weeks, they are able to produce large amounts of two germs closely related to anthrax. More batches are produced in 2000 to test for changes in the seasons. The scientists supposedly do not mill or coat the germs in order not to break an international biological weapons treaty. But in fact, some experts and journalists will later say the germs were milled. [Scripps Howard News Service, 10/30/2001]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

A New York Times article reveals that the US has been secretly conducting research on biological weapons that likely violates an international treaty banning the use of biological weaponry. The article, by Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg, and William Broad, is titled, “US Germ Warfare Research Pushes Treaty Limits.” The US signed an international treaty in 1972 that forbids countries from developing or acquiring weapons that could spread disease, but it allows work on vaccines and other protective measures.
Creating Deadlier Anthrax - Beginning during the Clinton administration, the US began genetically engineering a more potent variant of the anthrax bacterium. Supposedly, this was done to help the US come up with defenses against such a bacterium being used against the US by terrorists or another country. The research is being done in at the West Jefferson, Ohio, laboratory of the Battelle Memorial Institute, a military contractor. It is said to be in response to advances in anthrax research conducted by the Russians in the 1990s. The program is still in an experimental phase, but the National Security Council is expected to give the final approval later in September.
Other Secret Programs - The CIA has also built and tested a germ bomb, but removed several parts to keep it from being functional. And the Defense Department has built a mock germ factory in the Nevada desert to demonstrate how easily terrorists could build such a factory. Both these projects are said to use inert substances instead of real deadly germs.
Dubious Legality - An unnamed senior Bush administration official says all these projects are “fully consistent” with the biological weapons treaty. However, some Clinton administration officials say these projects violate the treaty. They point out that such experiments would draw loud protests from the US if a country deemed hostile to the US were performing them. The US recently rejected efforts to strengthen the biological weapons treaty an allow international inspections of biodefense laboratories in order to keep details of these recent projects secret. [New York Times, 9/4/2001]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Department of Defense, Central Intelligence Agency, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks


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