Below the headlines: CBW matters (18)

(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 12 – 18 June 2017.)

CBW disarmament

  • “Sarin chemical agent stockpiles completely eradicated in Russia”: official (Ivan Castro, 12 June 2017): All the stockpiles of sarin chemical agent in Russia have been liquidated, Russian Interfax agency reported citing Colonel General Valery Kapashin, head of the Federal Agency on safe keeping and liquidation of chemical weapons.
  • China, OPCW pledge further cooperation (Xinhua, 12 June 2017): Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi on Monday met with visiting Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Ahmeet Uzumcu, and the two pledged to enhance cooperation.
  • Morocco Elected African Coordinator for Chemical Weapons Prohibition Organization (Ezzoubeir Jabrane, 13 June 2017): The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has elected Morocco to be the coordinator for its African state members, the Moroccan Embassy in the Netherlands announced Monday. Morocco succeeded Kenya in this annual function.
  • Washington: Russian chemical weapons will never threaten U.S. again (Nikolai Litovkin, 15 June 2017): On the night of June 12, the Russian military destroyed the last warheads containing sarin, mustard, and soman gas. Experts say that only one percent of the stockpiles of chemical weapons inherited from Soviet times remains to be dealt with.
  • OPCW delegation visits Chinese military organizations (China Military Online, 16 June 2017): At the invitation of the Chinese and Japanese foreign ministries, Ahmet Üzümcü, Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and Sheikh Mohammed Belal, Chairperson of the OPCW Executive Council, headed a 23-member delegation comprising ambassadors from 18 countries to the organization to visit China from June 11 to 16.
  • Bangladesh leads towards freeing world from scourge of chemical weapons
    (Staff Correspondent, 17 June 2017): As the chairperson of the executive council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Bangladesh ambassador to the Netherlands Sheikh Mohammed Belal led the delegation, said a press release of Bangladesh embassy in The Hague on Saturday.  During the visit, Bangladesh ambassador led a 33-member OPCW delegation comprising of, among others, director-general of OPCW, ambassadors of Spain, Iran, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka, Russian Federation, Indonesia, Japan, China, Pakistan, Senegal, and Republic of Korea, and principal director of the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Threat Reduction and Arms Control of USA. During the visit, the OPCW delegation held meetings with vice minister for foreign affairs ministry of China Li Baodong and major general Wu Xiaoyi of the defence ministry of China.

CBW Armament

  • Yersinia pestis, Biological Warfare, and Bioterrorism (Raymond A. Zilinskas, January-June 2017): I teach a graduate seminar course at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey titled “Chemical and Biological Weapons and Arms Control.” Last semester a student asked me, “Since the Japanese and Soviet biological warfare programs weaponized Yersinia pestis, is it possible that a terrorist group would follow their example and attempt to develop a biological weapon whose payload was Y. pestis bacteria”? I did not have an answer to the question, so I decided to conduct research whose objective was to prove or disprove the hypothesis: “It is likely that in the not too distant future, a terrorist group will utilize Y. pestis in an attack against a human population.”
  • Report: ISIS chemical weapons capability degraded (Associated Press, 12 June 2017): The siege of Mosul and targeted killings of chemical weapons experts in U.S.-led coalition airstrikes have significantly degraded the Islamic State’s production capability, although the group likely retains expertise to produce small batches of sulfur mustard and chlorine agents, a London-based analysis group said Tuesday.
  • US sanctions ISIS chemical weapons experts for first time (Ryan Browne, 12 June 2017): The US announced sanctions Monday on two ISIS chemical weapons experts, the first such effort aimed specifically at the terrorist group’s chemical weapons leadership. ISIS has repeatedly used low-grade chemical weapons, primarily sulfur mustard, in Syria and Iraq. The new sanctions, which would bar access to any property or interests under US jurisdiction, target Attallah Salman ‘Abd Kafi al-Jaburi and Marwan Ibrahim Hussayn Tah al-Azawi, two ISIS leaders involved in the development of chemical weapons, according to the State and Treasury departments.
  • US designates 2 Islamic State leaders tied to chemical weapons (Thomas Joscelyn, 12 June 2017): The US government has designated two Islamic State figures involved in the group’s chemical weapons program. Both of the men have helped produce chemical-laced explosives, likely using sulfur mustard, in Iraq.
  • Trump Administration Targets ISIS Leaders With New U.S. Sanctions Over Chemical Weapons Used In Iraq (Tom O’Connor, 12 June 2017): New U.S. sanctions were rolled out Monday against two individuals suspected of overseeing the financing, manufacturing and distribution of chemical weapons for the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). The Treasury Department announced that the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is aiming to block all of Attallah Salman ‘Abd Kafi al-Jaburi’s financial assets and property under Executive Order 13224, which was issued after the 9/11 attacks. The U.S. has accused Jaburi of being a “senior ISIS leader” involved with developing explosives and chemical weapons. The statement also said the State Department has identified Marwan Ibrahim Hussayn Tah al-Azawi as “an Iraqi ISIS leader connected to ISIS’ development of chemical weapons,” which the hard-line Sunni Muslim militants have used against the Iraqi military and its allies, including U.S. soldiers.
  • ISIS’ Chemical Weapons Capability Collapses In Syria After Battlefield Losses (Jack Moore, 13 June 2017): As the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) continues to lose territory in Iraq and Syria, its chemical weapons capabilities this year have been severely reduced, according to new analysis. Since July 2014, ISIS has been accused of using chemical weapons at least 71 times—30 in Syria and 41 in Iraq, mostly chlorine and mustard gas. But this year, there has only been one reported ISIS chemical attack in Syria, in January near Aleppo, compared with 13 attacks in the same area six months prior, according to London-based defense consultancy IHS Markit.
  • Money stolen by Russian mob linked to man sanctioned for supporting Syria’s chemical weapons program (Michael Weiss, 16 June 2017): An investment group that U.S. authorities say is run by Russian mobsters and linked to the Russian government sent at least $900,000 to a company owned by a businessman tied to Syria’s chemical weapons program, according to financial documents obtained by CNN.

CW use

  • Kremlin says information on chemical provocations in Syria helped avoid some incidents (Tass, 5 June 2017): Preventive information published on intended provocations with chemical weapons in Syria helped avoid some incidents, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday. “Information on possible provocations with the use of chemical agents (in Syria) was on numerous occasions [published at Russia’s suggestion] and, no doubt, its publication most likely helped avoid such provocations,” Peskov told journalists.
  • IS Again Uses Chemical Weapons on Civilians in Mosul (Mira Rojkan, 8 June 2017): The so-called Islamic State (IS) used chemical weapons in the Iraqi city of Mosul for a ninth time on Thursday, a local source said.
    Chlorine-filled bombs were fired at civilians who tried leaving the areas controlled by the extremist group.
  • Islamic State’s Chemical Weapons Capability Degraded, IHS Markit Says (Business Wire, 13 June 2017): There has been a major reduction in the use of chemical weapons (CW) by the Islamic State in Syria in 2017, and a concentration of CW attacks in Iraq inside the besieged city of Mosul, according to new analysis from Conflict Monitor by IHS Markit (Nasdaq: INFO), a world leader in critical information, analytics and solutions.
  • Tillerson: US State Department Unaware of Recent Use of Chemical Weapon in Syria (Cholo Brooks, 13 June 2017): Replying to a question on whether there have been further chemical attacks in Syria after the incident in Idlib Province, Tillerson stated: “None that we are aware of.”

CW disarmament in Syria

  • Syria: UN disarmament chief reports progress in destroying chemical weapons facilities (UN, 15 June 2017): The United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, reported to the Security Council that “some progress” has been made over the past month in the implementation of its 2013 resolution on the elimination of chemical weapons in Syria. However, recalling a statement by the Secretary-General, she warned that continued use of chemical weapons in Syria is not only horrific in its own right, but also profoundly damaging to the international community’s confidence in its non-proliferation architecture.

Human experiments

  • New VA leader supports efforts to help WWII vets exposed to mustard gas, McCaskill says (Chuck Raasch, 15 June 2017): Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said Thursday that new Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. David Shulkin told her he personally supports her legislation to make it easier for World War II veterans to prove they were exposed to mustard gas experiments during the war. But so far, the Veterans Administration he runs has not.
  • McCaskill promotes bill to help WWII vets exposed to mustard gas (Edited news release, 16 June 2017): A bill sponsored by Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill to help some World War III veterans is moving forward in the U.S. Senate. McCaskill testified Thursday before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to promote the Arla Harrell Act. The bill aims to help servicemen who were intentionally exposed to chemical weapons during World War II. The bill is named for a Missouri veteran named Arla Harrell, who McCaskill said is 90 years old and in poor health.

Other CBW-related incidents

  • He sent a hoax toxin to Louisiana’s governor; now he’s going to prison (Associated Press, 10 June 2017): Authorities say a Louisiana man has been sent to prison for almost three years after mailing threatening letters — with a white powder that turned out to be a hoax biological agent — to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office and other government agencies. A statement released Friday (June 9) by acting U.S. Attorney Alexander Van Hook says Kyle Dore, 33, of New Iberia was sentenced to 33 months by a federal judge in Lafayette.
  • Syria: Expert analysis shows US-led coalition use of white phosphorus may amount to war crime (Amnesty International, 16 June 2017): The US-led coalition’s use of white phosphorus munitions on the outskirts of al-Raqqa, Syria is unlawful and may amount to a war crime, Amnesty International can confirm after verifying five videos of the incident. The videos, published online on 8 and 9 June, showed the coalition’s artillery strike using the munitions over the civilian neighborhoods of Jezra and el-Sebahiya. International humanitarian law prohibits the use of white phosphorus near civilians.

History

  • The first human virus discovered (Virology blog, 14 June 2017): On the wall of a Columbia University Medical Center building just across the street from my laboratory is a plaque commemorating two participants in the discovery of a mosquito vector for yellow fever virus.
  • ‘New’ way to look at smallpox (Dr Mumtaz Alam, 15 June 2017): In the past two decades there has been a growing interest among historians, students and masses at large, to explore medical history and the impact of medicine and diseases on society. Pacific medical history is one of the most ignored fields among historians. All preceding history has remained Eurocentric. Moreover, medical history is an esoteric field as one needs rigorous training as a medical historian to write clinician history. The vaccine, vaccination and means of production are historically contested fields.

CB security and safety

  • After 15 years, Deadly Disease Research Lab nears Approval in Boston (Boston 25 News, 30 May 2017): A lab to study deadly diseases like Ebola and bubonic plague is just one vote away from approval in the heart of Boston. Supporters say it will speed the development of new vaccines and cures.  But after 15 year of fighting, the neighborhood that’s home to the lab is making a final push to keep the diseases away from the busy urban hub.

CBW defence, protection and preparedness

  • Center for bioterrorism and disaster response opens in Valhalla (Mark Lungariello, 5 June 2017): The new center, located at New York Medical College, was unveiled June 5, 2017. These aren’t mannequins you’d see in a department store. The mannequins in a new facility at New York Medical College are used to train for responses to bioterrorism and disasters. They breathe and they cry and they moan while injuries are simulated and their vital signs are monitored. They also ‘die.’
  • Mass Dispensing Exercise Held in Old Lyme to Prepare for Bioterrorism Attack (Jacob Ballachino, 11 June 2017): On Tuesday, June 6, Old Lyme’s Memorial Town Hall was the site of the first full-scale, mass dispensing exercise in the state. The goal of the exercise was to simulate a realistic outbreak of anthrax, one of the more likely agents to be used in the event of bioterrorism, or any other agent that might be used in such an attack. Old Lyme’s emergency preparedness made great strides through the completion of this exercise, and the Ledge Light Health District (LLHD) along with the Visiting Nurse Association were both vital contributors in the process.
  • Democrats urge against cuts to biological threat preparedness programs (HPN News Desk, 14 June 2017): In a public letter to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), a group of Democratic House members requested that the committee hold a hearing regarding the country’s ability to be prepared for and respond to various biological threats.
  • Scientists invent fabric coating to fight chemical weapons and save lives (India Today, 15 June 2017): MOFs are tiny microscopic, porous structures that have large surface areas. This allows them to absorb vast amounts of gases and other substances. Scientists have started researching on the use of zirconium-based metal-organic framework (MOF) powders. The zirconium in MOFs helps neutralize toxic materials.
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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.