Below the headlines: CBW matters (22)

(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 10 – 16 July 2017.)

CBW disarmament

  • Scientists Review Innovative Technologies for Chemical Security (OPCW, 7 July 2017): The Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) discussed the potential uses innovative scientific and technological tools in the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) at a workshop “Innovative Technologies for Chemical Security”, held from 3 to 5 July in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
  • Triggering Article VII of the BTWC (Jean Pascal Zanders, 10 July 2017):Last November, during the 8th Review Conference of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique (FRS) in cooperation with the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) organised a tabletop exercise on the implementation of the BTWC’s Article VII, which provides for emergency assistance in case a State Party Party has been exposed to danger as a result of a treaty violation. (Full report)
  • Choosing a new OPCW head (by Andreas Persbo, 11 July 2017): On Thursday this week, seven candidates hoping to replace Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü will present their candidacies to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). They have been asked by Ambassador Sheikh Mohammed Belal, the chair of the Executive Council, to focus on two pertinent questions: the priorities and future challenges of the OPCW and the management of the Secretariat itself.
  • OPCW endorses plan for the destruction of chemical weapons on San José Island, Panama (Panama, 14 July 2017): Members of the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) endorsed the plan submitted by the Republic of Panama for the destruction of eight (8) abandoned chemical munitions located on San José Island. The operation will take place in the last quarter of 2017.
  • US to destroy chemical weapons from World War Two it left behind in Panama (Agence France-Presse, 15 July 2017): The United States will destroy eight World War II-era chemical bombs it left in Panama decades ago, the government in the Central American country said on Friday. The project is supported by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The Americans will destroy the eight bombs in late 2017 under an agreement with Panama, the foreign ministry said.

Syria

CW disarmament

  • Syria Should Clarify Actual Scope of Chemical Weapons Program – German FM (Sputnik, 12 July 2017): Damascus has to clarify the true scale of its chemical weapons program and cooperate with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in connection with the April incident in Syria’s Khan Sheikhoun, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Wednesday.

CW use

  • Syrians in sarin-struck town mark 100 days since attack (AFP, 13 Jul 2017): One hundred days after deadly sarin hit their Syrian hometown, residents of Khan Sheikhoun shuttered their shops and solemnly payed their respects to the victims at their modest cemetery. The April 4 attack on the opposition-held northwestern town killed at least 88 people, including children, and prompted the first US strike on Syrian government troops. On Wednesday, relatives of the victims gathered in a semi-circle at the reported site of the attack, holding up pictures of their loved ones — many of them toddlers.

OPCW investigation

OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM)

  • UN chief urges accountability for use of chemical weapons in Syria (Xinhua, 13 July 2017): UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres Wednesday urged accountability for the use of chemical weapons in Syria when meeting with Edmond Mulet, the head of a panel to lead such investigations. Guterres met the three-member panel leading the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) in New York. “They (the panel members) emphasized their resolve to pursue the investigations of the Um Housh and Khan Shaykhun incidents in a thorough, independent, impartial and professional manner,” said the Office of the Spokesperson for UN in a readout.

Political debates

  • False claims and false flag stories (Gregory Clark, 9 July 2017): I was brought up in a world where the “other side” — the Soviet Union mainly — lied through its teeth. When it said “liberation” it meant “oppression.” That its national newspaper was called Pravda (Truth) was seen as a sick joke. But now it seems all this has been turned into reverse. Over Syria, Russia, the Balkans or any other global hot spot, Western governments and mainstream media seem free to say whatever they like, no matter how phony or false. Increasingly we are having to rely on the “other side” to tell us the truth. But on June 25 the German daily Die Welt published an article by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh which claimed there was no deliberate Syrian gas attack on civilians and that this was known to U.S. military and intelligence organs before the missile strike was ordered.
  • Syria and the case for editorial accountability (Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, 12 July 2017): By publishing Seymour Hersh’s latest ‘fiction’ on Syria, German daily Die Welt served as a conduit for disinformation.
  • Iran warns about political abusing of OPCW (Mehrnews, 14 July 2017): Alireza Jahangiri, Iran’s permanent representative to the OPCW condemned the double standard policy of the organization in treating the case of chemical weapons attack in Syria.
  • Delhi skirts Assad criticism (Special Correspondent, 14 July 2017): India steered clear of criticism of the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad at a key international meet on chemical warfare yesterday, while articulating concerns over the reported acquisition of chemical weapons by the Islamic State terror group.
  • Russia Envoy Points to Absence of ‘White Helmets’ Video in OPCW Report on Sarin (Sputnik, 14 July 2017): The fact that the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission did not include a “White Helmets” video into the report on April’s chemical incident in Idlib suggests that the US decision to carry out a missile strike on a Syrian airbase was based on “insignificant information,” Russia’s Permanent Representative to the OPCW Alexander Shulgin said on Thursday.

Allegations of CBW use

  • Revealed: Pak Arming Hizbul Mujahideen With Chemical Weapons (Manoj Gupta, 12 JUly 2017): Pakistan is arming the terror group Hizbul Mujahideen with chemical weapons to carry out terror strikes in Kashmir, audio excerpts intercepted by security agencies have revealed. These transcripts are undeniable and damning proof of how Pakistan is aiding and abetting terror activities in Pakistan. Terror outfits have lost 90 members to military offensives during the past few months, and hitting back with chemical weapons may be a desperate way for Hizbul to get back at the Indian security establishment.
  • Chemical weapons in Kashmir? India and Pakistan trade charges through media (Vasudevan Sridharan, 13 July 2017): Even as the Kashmir valley in India is on the boil due to insurgency and cross-border skirmishes between Indian and Pakistani troops, accusations of use of chemical weapons in the decades-long conflict have surfaced. First, Pakistan accused Indian security forces of using chemical weapons in Indian-administered parts of Kashmir. Then a report emerged in India that Islamabad had supplied chemical weapons to militants. There is so far no evidence of use of these weapons in the Kashmir conflict.
  • MEA rubbishes usage of chemical weapon in J-K (Agencies,13 July 2017): The Ministry of External affairs on Thursday rubbished claims of Pakistan media hinting use of chemical weapons in Kashmir.

CBW threats

  • The Pentagon Ponders the Threat of Synthetic Bioweapons (Eric Niiler, 10 July 2017): When it comes to detecting new organisms that emerge from exotic places and cause global havoc, the US military is ready. The Pentagon operates infectious disease labs and surveillance networks in places like Kenya, Georgia, and Thailand, as well as a giant research center and vaccine-making unit just outside Washington, DC. All that effort makes sense, with 200,000 US troops deployed at bases in 171 countries that can encounter a wide range of emerging biological threats. But Pentagon planners are starting to wonder what happens if the next deadly flu bug or hemorrhagic fever doesn’t come from a mosquito-infested jungle or bat-crowded cave. With new gene editing tools like Crispr-Cas9, state enemies could, theoretically, create unique organisms by mixing-and-matching bits of genetic information.

Other CBW-related incidents

  • Attacks in Syria and Yemen are turning disease into a weapon of war (Homer Venters, 7 July 2017): Barely two decades ago, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia first treated rape and sexual assault as distinct war crimes. That decision revolutionized our understanding of rape as a weapon of war, leading in 1997 to the first-ever prosecution of rape as a war crime in Rwanda. Today we are seeing another cruel method of warfare emerge on the battlefield: the weaponization of disease, particularly in Syria and Yemen. Targeting health care facilities during conflict has occurred before. But unlike the attacks on hospital ships during World War I, or even sporadic attacks in more recent conflicts, the pace of attacks on health facilities, workers, and resources in Syria and Yemen is massive and unrelenting.
  • Beckton acid attack suspect in custody after handing himself in (Patrick Greenfield, 10 July 2017): The chief suspect in an alleged acid attack on two cousins in east London has handed himself in to police. John Tomlin, 24, has been arrested on suspicion of grievous bodily harm with intent after Jameel Mukhtar and Resham Khan were attacked while waiting at traffic lights in Beckton on 21 June.
  • The London acid attack is part of a depressing, ‘barbaric’ trend (Amanda Erickson, 14 July 2017): In London on Thursday, the “barbaric” happened: Over about 90 minutes, a pair of teenagers stole a moped, drove around the city and threw acid on strangers. At least five men were injured; one has suffered “life-changing” injuries.
  • NH tallies four more deaths involving carfentanil (Sentinel Staff, 14 July 2017): State officials have tied four additional deaths to carfentanil, bringing the number of overdose deaths in New Hampshire that involved the potent drug to 10. The N.H. Attorney General’s Office, which announced the deaths this week, hasn’t released additional details about them, citing pending investigations. A synthetic opioid, carfentanil is about 10,000 times stronger than morphine. It’s also 100 times more powerful than fentanyl, a lethal drug in its own right that was at play in at least 352 deaths in the state last year.
  • Acid attacks: teenager charged with 15 offences (Press Association, 16 July 2017): A 16-year-old boy has been charged by police investigating five linked acid attacks in London. The teenager is charged with 15 offences including grievous bodily harm and possession of an item to discharge a noxious substance, the Metropolitan police said. He has been remanded in custody to appear before Stratford youth court on Monday. Five acid attacks took place in north and east London in less than 90 minutes on Thursday night.

History

Human experiments

  • Bipartisan work for Missouri’s veterans (Sen. Claire McCaskill, 12 July 2017): Recently, the news that’s worth paying attention to is something that may not have splashed across the front pages, but is really important to a Missouri family, and others across the country. It’s the story about Democrats and Republicans coming together—of a Democrat’s bill earning the support of a Republican committee chairman, and of Congress working with President Trump’s VA—all to right a wrong that has plagued a Missouri veteran for more than 70 years. Because the experiments were highly classified, he was forced to take an oath of secrecy that prevented him from discussing his experience with his family, or even his doctor, for decades. Even after the oath of secrecy was lifted in the early 1990s, the Department of Veterans Affairs has denied more than 90 percent of mustard gas claims from these veterans, and only 40 veterans are currently receiving any benefit due to their exposure.
  • Pentagon secretly tested chemical weapons on US troops. Vets demand to know the cost (Anshu Siripurapu, 12 July 2017): The Pentagon conducted a series of secret chemical and biological weapons tests involving military personnel in the 1960s and 1970s. Veterans groups and members of Congress are demanding to know exactly what happened – and who has suffered. The tests, known as Project 112 and SHAD (Shipboard Hazard and Defense) involved some 6,000 military personnel between 1962 and 1974, the Vietnam War era. Most served in the Navy and Army. The purpose was to identify any weaknesses to U.S. ships and troops and develop a response plan for a chemical attack. The tests involved nerve agents like Sarin and Vx, and bacteria such as E. Coli. Sarin and Vx are both lethal. According to DOD documents, death can occur within 10 to 15 minutes of exposure to a fatal dose of Vx.
  • Thompson opposes decision to exclude amendment to declassify Vietnam era biological and chemical test project from NDAA (Elizabeth Larson, 14 July 2017): On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-5) spoke against a decision to exclude a bipartisan amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2018 to declassify a Vietnam Era project that intentionally exposed servicemembers and civilians to deadly chemical weapons.
  • Families of Tuskegee Syphilis Study Victims Seek Leftover Settlement Fund (Associated Press, 15 July 2017): Descendants of hundreds of black men who were left untreated for syphilis during an infamous government study want a judge to award them any money remaining from a $9 million legal settlement over the program.

Dual-use technologies

  • How Canadian researchers reconstituted an extinct poxvirus for $100,000 using mail-order DNA (Kai Kupferschmidt, 6 July 2017): Eradicating smallpox, one of the deadliest diseases in history, took humanity decades and cost billions of dollars. Bringing the scourge back would probably take a small scientific team with little specialized knowledge half a year and cost about $100,000. That’s one conclusion from an unusual and as-yet unpublished experiment performed last year by Canadian researchers. A group led by virologist David Evans of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, says it has synthesized the horsepox virus, a relative of smallpox, from genetic pieces ordered in the mail. Horsepox is not known to harm humans—and like smallpox, researchers believe it no longer exists in nature; nor is it seen as a major agricultural threat. But the technique Evans used could be used to recreate smallpox, a horrific disease that was declared eradicated in 1980. “No question. If it’s possible with horsepox, it’s possible with smallpox,” says virologist Gerd Sutter of Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany.
  • Mail-Ordering Your Way to Horsepox (Saskia V. Popescu, 10 July 2017): The online shopping industry is booming and it looks like mail-order pathogens for scientific experiments may be following suit. In fact, Canadian researchers, led by virologist David Evans, PhD, recently announced that they had synthesized horsepox virus through mail-order DNA. Although the team is small and has little specialized knowledge, half a year and $100,000 allowed them to build a cousin of smallpox.
  • Scientists bring back extinct horsepox virus in lab, raising important biosecurity questions (Hub staff report, 11 July 2017): Tom Inglesby, director of JHU’s Center for Health Security, discusses the implications of this ominous research breakthrough.

CBW security and safety

  • Report Of The Blue Ribbon Panel To Review The 2014 Smallpox (Variola) Virus Incident On The NIH Campus (May 2017)
  • Panel’s smallpox sample probe yields policy recommendations, lingering questions (Lisa Schnirring, 10 July 2017): How smallpox samples ended up in a cold-storage room on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus where they were overlooked for more than four decades and who brought them there are still a mystery, according to findings released today from an independent blue ribbon committee tasked by the NIH with reviewing the incident and related oversight policies.
  • Smallpox Kerfuffle Reveals Biosecurity Problems (Kerry Grens, 12 July 2017): In 2014, during a clean-up of a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) storage unit on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus, an FDA researcher uncovered several decades-old vials of smallpox that had sat, untouched for years. The troubling situation sparked investigations by numerous authorities, including Congress, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Most recently, a panel established by the NIH released its review in May, identifying how the deadly virus went overlooked for so long.

CBW defence, protection and preparedness

  • Medical Professionals Acquire Skills in Assistance for Victims of Chemical Emergencies (OPCW, 7 July 2017): Medical first responders from around the world are better equipped to successfully handle emergency medical assistance for victims of chemical incidents and attacks after a training held in Madrid, Spain, from 20 to 23 June.
  • First Responders from Asia Acquire Keystone Skills in Assistance and Protection against Chemical Weapons (OPCW, 10 July 2017): First responders from Asian countries acquired fundamental knowledge on emergency assistance and protection against chemical weapons at an Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) course held in Tehran, Iran from 28 June to 2 July. The course, organised by the OPCW and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, assisted in building the capacities of 15 OPCW Member States for national and regional chemical emergency response within the framework of Article X of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
  • Study Describes Method to Save Lives in Chemical Attacks (University of Texas at San Antonio, 11 July 2017): A new study by Kiran Bhaganagar, associate professor of mechanical engineering at The University of Texas at San Antonio, and her research group, Laboratory of Turbulence Sensing & Intelligence Systems, is taking a closer look at the damage caused by chemical attacks in Syria. The Syrian Civil War, ongoing since 2011, has seen hundreds of people killed through the use of chemical weapons.
  • Suiting Up for a Chemical Attack (ThomasNet, 12 July 2017): Clothing designed to protect human beings from the effects of nerve agents or poisonous gases have always proposed a number of challenges. They’re usually very heavy, very warm, hinder movement and are nearly impossible to decontaminate. For these and more obvious reasons, researchers from North Caroline State University began investigating the use of lightweight, chemical-resistant coatings that could be integrated into clothing or uniforms. Their findings were recently published in the journal Chemistry of Materials.
  • Biosecurity stakeholders offer recommendations for National Biodefense Strategy (Nick Alexopulos, 12 July 2017): More than 50 public and private sector biosecurity stakeholders gathered at a meeting convened by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security on June 22 in Washington, DC, to engage in a discussion about US biodefense capabilities and offer recommendations for the forthcoming National Biodefense Strategy and Implementation Plan. When it is delivered to Congress this fall, the strategy and implementation plan will review, assess, and identify opportunities to strengthen biodefense policies, practices, programs, and initiatives across the federal government. (Report)
  • America’s Medical School Alumnus Nominated as New HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (Sharon Holland, 13 July 2017): President Donald Trump recently announced his nominees for a number of key administration positions and a graduate of the Uniformed Services University’s (USU) F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine is among the candidates. Dr. Robert P. Kadlec, who graduated in 1983 with a Doctor of Medicine degree and in 1989 with a Master of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene degree from USU, was nominated to be Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Preparedness and Response.
  • Maryland lawmakers to Trump: Don’t shutter biodefense labs (Danielle E. Gaines, 13 July 2017): Maryland lawmakers have taken their concerns about the pending closure of a high-security Fort Detrick laboratory straight to the president’s desk. Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, along with Congressmen John Delaney (D-6th) and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2nd), have sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to suspend any action that would lead to closing the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) at Fort Detrick and the Chemical Security Analysis Center on Aberdeen Proving Ground.
  • Md. Dems resist Trump administration plan to close chemical, biological labs (John Fritze,13 July 2015):Four Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation called Thursday for the Trump administration to reverse its plan to shutter two Maryland facilities that test and analyze biological and chemical threats, arguing their closure would put Americans at a greater risk of attack. In its proposed budget released in May, the administration recommended closing the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center at Fort Detrick in Frederick County and the Chemical Security Analysis Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County to save $38 million next year.
  • Laboratories in Latin America and Spain Increase Analytical Capacity of Substances Relevant to Chemical Weapons Convention (OPCW, 13 July 2017): Analytical chemists from Latin America, the Caribbean and Spain advanced their skills in the analysis of chemicals controlled under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), at a course coordinated by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and Laboratory for the Verification of Chemical Weapons (LAVEMA), held in Madrid, Spain from 5 to 16 June.
  • House approves Delaney amendment that could put brakes on NBACC closing (Danielle E. Gaines, 14 July 2017): The U.S. House of Representatives approved a national defense bill on Friday that includes a massive military spending increase — and a little nugget for Frederick. While controversial amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have addressed transgender troops and climate policy failed, an amendment from Rep. John Delaney, D-6th, was added to the bill Friday to maintain funding for a Fort Detrick laboratory.
  • Nerve agents detected when fluoridation selected (Ryan De Vooght-Johnson, 14 July 2017): The use of the conversion tube extends the efficacy of the Hapsite ER GC-MS system to the relatively non-volatile nerve agents VX and RVX. This extends the range of the apparatus, which now can detect a very wide range of chemical warfare agents. Further work is needed to reduce interference from other volatile substances, such as petrol vapour.

Industry matters

  • PyroGenesis Announces Receipt of $230,168 Contract for Support During Testing of its Chemical Warfare Agent Destruction System Using Real Chemical Warfare Agents (Marketwired, 11 July 2017) – PyroGenesis Canada Inc., a high tech company that designs, develops, manufactures and commercializes plasma based systems and plasma torch products, is pleased to announce today that, further to its press release of April 19, 2017, it has received a CAN$230,168 contract to provide technical support during the next and final testing phase of its tactical Plasma Arc Chemical Warfare Agents Destruction System which will now be tested using real chemical warfare agents.
  • TSI Awarded Multi-Million Dollar Contract from the U.S. Military for Respiratory Protection (TSI Incorporated, 13 July 2017): TSI Incorporated, a global leader in respirator fit testing instrumentation, is pleased to announce that it will support U.S. Army Soldiers with the testing of their respiratory protective devices under a new $13 million contract.
  • Emergent acquires Sanofi smallpox vaccine in deal worth up to $125 million (Tina Reed, 14 July 2017): Gaithersburg biotech Emergent BioSolutions is acquiring French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi’s smallpox vaccine business in an all-cash deal worth up to $125 million.The company will pay $97.5 million up front to Sanofi and an additional $27.5 million in near-term regulatory and manufacturing milestone payments. Emergent will add the only smallpox vaccine licensed by the Food and Drug Administration to its existing portfolio of medical countermeasures to bioterrorism threats.
  • Emergent Buys Sanofi Pasteur’s Smallpox Vaccine for Up-to-$125M (Alex Philippidis, 14 July 2017): ACAM2000 is the only FDA-licensed smallpox vaccine for active immunization against smallpox disease for patients deemed at high risk for smallpox infection. As part of the deal, Emergent is also acquitting an existing 10-year contract with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for deliveries of ACAM2000 to the SNS. The CDC contract was originally valued at up to $425 million, but now has a remaining value of up to approximately $160 million, the company added.
This entry was posted in Biological, Chemical, Press on by .

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.