Below the headlines: CBW matters (14)

(A weekly digest from the internet on chemical and biological warfare issues. Emphasis is on incidents and perspectives, but inclusion of an item does not equal endorsement or agreement with the contents. This issue covers items collected between 15 – 21 May 2017.)

CBW disarmament

  • Letter dated 5 May 2017 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council: Status of the implementation of the plan for the destruction of Libya’s remaining category 2 chemical weapons outside the territory of Libya (S/2017/401).
  • OPCW’s 15th regional meeting of national authorities kicks off in Dubai (Press release, 16 May 2017): Dr. Anwar bin Mohammed Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and President of the Committee for Goods and Materials Subject to Import and Export Control, on Tuesday launched the 15th Regional Meeting of National Authorities of States Parties in Asia, in Dubai The meeting has been organised by the Executive Office of the Committee for Goods and Materials Subject to Import and Export Control, in partnership with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, OPCW, and will run until 18th May with 35 participants from 30 countries.
  • Avignon Capital acquires OPCW headquarters in The Hague for €38m (Property Magazine, 17 May 2017): Avignon Capital has acquired a purpose-built property in The Hague, let to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), for €38m. The property is located in the International Peace and Justice District of The Hague, home to numerous UN or UN-related organisations. It comprises 16,734 sqm of leasable floor area divided over basement, ground floor and seven upper floors, having been built-to-suit in 1998.
  • Deputy Minister Liu, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of China visits the OPCW (OPCW, 18 May 2017): The Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, and the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of China, Mr Liu Lihua, agreed to further avenues of cooperation between the OPCW and China in The Hague today.
  • As WWI munitions cleanup nears end, mysterious find pauses project (Neal Augenstein, 19 May 2017): The recent discovery of an unknown substance containing low levels of mustard gas has temporarily halted the cleanup of a World War I chemical weapons testing site found under a house near American University.
  • Iran’s envoy elected as head of OPCW Confidentiality Commission (MehrNews, 20 May 2017): Iran’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, Alireza Jahangiri, was elected as the head of Confidentiality Commission.
  • Mysterious substance containing mustard gas halts cleanup at Spring Valley (Richard Reeve, 20 May 2017): A mysterious substance, containing mustard gas, is causing a temporary halt to the chemical weapons cleanup at Spring Valley.

Status of CW disarmament in Syria

  • A Conversation with President Obama on Political Courage (Jack Schlossberg, 15 May 2017): I actually think that the issue that required the most political courage was the decision not to bomb Syria after the chemical weapons use had been publicized and rather to negotiate them removing chemical weapons from Syria. Now, we know subsequently that some remained, so it was an imperfect solution. But what we also know is that 99 percent of huge chemical weapons stockpiled were removed without us having to fire a shot.
  • Hakim Warns of International Inaction towards Assad’s Use of Chemical Weapons (ETILAF, 17 May 2017): Secretary-General of the Syrian Coalition Nazir Hakim warned that international inaction towards the Assad regime’s use of chemical and non-conventional weapons against the Syrian people risks creating security threats affecting the whole world. Hakim pointed to the failure of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in its mission to fully destroy Assad’s stockpile of chemical weapons. He cited the regime’s use of sarin in the April 4 attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun as evidence of the UN’s failure to force Assad to give up his entire cache of chemical weapons.

CBW use

Other CBW-related incidents

  • Fentanyl Is So Deadly That It’s Changing How First Responders Do Their Jobs (Sarah Zhang, 15 May 2017): The unprecedented rise of fentanyl has forced police and crime labs to change how they work. Police departments are using protective gear like Tyvek suits and respirators. Crime labs are looking for new ways to detect fentanyl without opening the bag. And both have stocked up on naloxone, the drug that reverses overdoses, for their employees.
  • Russian SpecOps Used To Gas People With The Same Drug Americans Can’t Stop Shooting Into Their Veins (Steve Birr, 16 May 2017): The powerful ingredient driving heroin deaths in the U.S. was once used as a chemical weapon by Russian special forces in an operation that killed more than 120 civilians in 2002.
  • Comey, Mueller bungled big anthrax case together (Carl M. Cannon, 19 May 2017): The third and most important factor tempering my enthusiasm for the new special prosecutor is that Comey and Mueller badly bungled the biggest case they ever handled. They botched the investigation of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks that took five lives and infected 17 other people, shut down the U.S. Capitol and Washington’s mail system, solidified the Bush administration’s antipathy for Iraq, and eventually, when the facts finally came out, made the FBI look feckless, incompetent, and easily manipulated by outside political pressure.

CBW threats

  • UN agency helps North Korea with patent application for banned nerve gas chemical (George Russell, 15 May 2017): Fox News EXCLUSIVE: For more than a year, a United Nations agency in Geneva has been helping North Korea prepare an international patent application for production of sodium cyanide — a chemical used to make the nerve gas Tabun — which has been on a list of materials banned from shipment to that country by the U.N. Security Council since 2006. The World Intellectual Property Organization, or WIPO, has made no mention of the application to the Security Council committee monitoring North Korea sanctions, nor to the U.N. Panel of Experts that reports sanctions violations to the committee, even while concerns about North Korean weapons of mass destruction, and the willingness to use them,  have been on a steep upward spiral.
  • Russians Think US, Al-Qaeda Most Likely to Use Weapons of Mass Destruction (Sputnik, 16 May 2017): Russians believe that the threat of the likely use of a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) primarily emanates from the United States and al-Qaeda terror group, which is outlawed in Russia, a poll conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) showed on Tuesday. The survey was conducted on May 10-11 among 1,200 people by a telephone interview with a margin of error less 3.5 percent.
  • North Korea: Not Nerve Gas Again! (Clyde Ward, 16 May 2017): I’m no fan of North Korea, but the news media in America need to do better if they’re to avoid becoming just as discreditable. The May 15, 2017 Fox News article “UN Agency Helps North Korea with Patent Application for Banned Nerve Gas Chemical” is a case in point. The World Intellectual Property Organization probably has been assisting a North Korean patent application for sodium cyanide, as the article states.  And cyanide is a precursor used to manufacture the nerve agent Tabun. After that, however, it’s just down the rabbit hole.
  • Bioengineering: The Next Terror Threat (Peter Skurkiss, 17 May 2017): A bioengineered viral pandemic (BVP) would be what Nassim Taleb described as a “black swan event” in his book of the same title. Taleb defined a black swan as an event that seemingly comes out of the blue and has an extraordinarily high impact on the way things are, but in retrospect could have been predicted. It sounds like a BVP would fit that description. The tools and information required for genetic modification of microorganism are readily available worldwide. This is why experts in the field feel that a BVP attack is inevitable. As for motive, there are many envy-driven entities and individuals in the world today who would love nothing better than to see America brought low. Think of Iran, North Korea, and the bevy of Islamic terrorist groups from the Middle East. Bioengineering a lethal and a contagious virus or bacteria could be an inexpensive way to hurt the U.S. with a good chance of avoiding detection. That’s not a pleasant thought, but is one should be on the table for discussion nonetheless.
  • ISIS creating chemical weapons cell in new de facto capital, US official says (Ryan Browne and Barbara Starr, 17 May 2017): US intelligence believes ISIS is bringing together all of its experts on chemical weapons from Iraq and Syria into a new “chemical weapons cell,” according to a US official.

CBW non-proliferation policies

  • Proliferation Security Initiative Workshop in Amman, Jordan (Press release, 15 May 2017): Fancy bikes. Professional golf clubs. Fertilizer. On the surface, these items seem relatively harmless. However, they all contain “dual-use material” such as carbon fiber or explosive chemicals that can be used to build weapons of mass destruction (WMD.) While the manufacturers of these items have no intention of building WMD or missiles, it is incumbent upon all nations to have processes and procedures in place that allow them to ensure that nefarious actors cannot acquire or use dual use materials for dangerous purposes. This is where the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) comes in.
  • India’s export control in line with Wassenaar Arrangement: Government (PTI, 19 May 2017): India’s export controls are in line with the Wassenaar Arrangement, one of the four non- proliferation regimes that prohibit the export of items of dual- use technology, a senior external ministry official said. With an aim to gain entry into four non-proliferation regimes, India has been aligning its export controls as per these groups. These groups are the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement. In 2016, India officially applied for membership of the NSG and gained entry to the MTCR.

CB security and safety

  • Safety Standards Improved in Latin American Research Labs (OPCW, 15 May 2017): Laboratory personnel gained in-depth knowledge needed to nurture a culture of safety, security and responsibility in research and academia, during a course on chemical safety and security management in laboratories for member states in the Latin America and Caribbean region, held from 24 to 28 April in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The course was sponsored by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Industrial (INTI), and the Argentinian Government, and aimed at enhancing the capacity of laboratories in the region to promote a culture of safety and security.
  • Netherlands: Bilthoven Biologicals employee infected with polio after accident (Robert Herriman, 19 May 2017): The Dutch vaccine manufacturer, Bilthoven Biologicals, announced that in early April (computer translated), two employees were accidentally exposed to the poliovirus after a spill at the vaccine production plant. According to The Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu)  or RIVM (computer translated),  one of the employees were actually infected with the poliovirus.

CBW defence, protection and preparedness

  • Government of India – CBRN Support Equipment (Defense Security Cooperation Agency, 11 May 2017): The State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of India for CBRN support equipment. The estimated cost is $75 million. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale on May 10, 2017.
  • Russian chemists develop fabric resistant to chemical and biological weapons (Tass, 12 May 2012): Chemists from Saratov State University have come up with what they say is a membrane solution capable of protecting military personnel from chemical and biological weapons while remaining air and vapor permeable, the university’s president, Leonid Kossovich, told TASS in an interview, adding that the project was ordered by the Fund for Perspective Research. The testing of special suits made of a special membrane fabric is to be completed by the end of this year.
  • Chemical protective clothing sale to India by US evidence of growing ties: Official (PTI, 15 May2017): The sale of high-tech chemical protective clothing worth $75 million by the US to India which will protect Indian soldiers against biological and chemical warfare reflects growing bilateral defence relationship, an official here said.
  • Key congressional panel shows little support for proposed Trump cut in medical research funds (HPN News Desk, 17 May 2017): In a rare show of bipartisanship, members of a key House appropriations panel expressed opposition to the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts for the National Institutes of Health, the main funding source for medical research in the United States.
  • Biodefense: Coordinating Our Response to Deadly Disease (Alice C. Hill, 18  May 201): Ninety-nine years ago, on March 11, 1918, the Spanish flu began its spread in the United States. Today we need to plan for the spread of deadly disease. With over 7.3 billion people in the world, a majority of them living in urban areas, it’s not hard to imagine how a virus could kill many millions. We are a connected world—shipping containers carry goods around the globe and daily flights jet people from continent to continent within hours.  In addition, more and more of us live in crowded conditions without adequate infrastructure or sanitation in megacities, urban areas with populations of over 10 million.
  • UNC Chemists Develop Nerve Gas Protection Through International Partnership (Bruce Rosenbloom, 19 May 2017): Organic protection against exposure to pesticides and nerve gas has been developed through a partnership between chemists at Moscow State University and UNC-Chapel Hill. The partnership was formed by Dr. Alexander “Sasha” Kabanov, whose groundbreaking research on enzymes started in Russia with the founding of a nanomedicine laboratory.

Industry matters

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About JP Zanders

Jean Pascal Zanders (Belgium) has worked on questions of chemical and biological weapon (CBW) armament and disarmament since 1986. He was CBW Project Leader at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Director of the BioWeapons Prevention Project and Senior Research Fellow responsible for disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation questions at the European Union Institute for Security Studies. He now owns and runs The Trench.