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Monday, August 14, 2006

Future Terrorist Weapons


In 1992, when Ken Alibek, who headed up the Soviet Biopreparat programme, defected to the West and detailed the massive biological weapons programme the Soviets had silently built across their civilian pharmaceutical industry, many influential American biological weapons experts insisted the Soviets didn't have an offensive biological weapons programme. The Soviet programmes were significantly underestimated by western intelligence for many years and remained hidden behind legal biotech research. Just to refresh everyone's memory. Biopreparat employed between 30 to 50,000 scientists and technicians and was sheltered through a massive pharmaceutical and bio-tech infrastructure across the former Soviet Union.

The programmes to develop smallpox and other bio-warfare agents were extensive. At no time did civilian bio-tech work ever comprise more than 15% of the activity at any of the 52 sites under the aegis of Biopreparat. This is something to carefully consider and keep in mind when we discuss the Syrian pharmaceutical industry today. It's interesting to look at the Biopreparat formula because it is one that's been replicated by Iran, Iraq, Syria and the DPRK among other nations in possession of offence bio-weapons programmes and who now shelter these programmes in legitimate bio-tech research institutes, veterinary vaccine research facilities and across the life-sciences community.

Latent BW programmes are not dormant or virtual, they are existing, active programmes imbedded in research, industry and defence sectors. Many nations throughout the world possess a ‘latent' capability through the framework of legitimate advanced life-sciences, pharmaceutical industries and research laboratories. However a latent capability is of no use without the doctrine, technology base, expertise and equipment with which it would be deployed. In a military context, defence forces would need to be trained in its use and protected against its effects; these types of activities are easier for intelligence agencies to identify and detect.

In contrast to this, state sponsored terrorists use of a latent BW programme may be far more agile, deeply embedded in legitimate industry and far more difficult to detect. [The critical issue we face as a community is if a programme has considerably advanced, possibly been underestimated and has a strong interface with other listed nations, will a nation with regime strategic intent breakout and supply such weapons to the terrorists they currently support with conventional arms and training? ].

Latent biological weapons capability is largely a construct between bio-pharma industries and defence laboratories and the interfacing of such institutions with government oversight; as occurred with the Soviet programme. If we look at nations like Iran and Syria today there is latent potential, the potential is clearly at very different stages with Iran possessing by far a more advanced and embedded capability. By this I mean how sophisticated their programme is and how extensive the interfacing between pharma and military instillations, not necessarily how many weapons they can produce in a given time frame as this would be a measurement one would look at for determining strategic and operational capability for warfare.

If however a state with a more limited bio-pharma infrastructure were to acquire advanced technologies or pathogens, this could over a relatively short period of time add considerably to their scientific and technical capacity; shedding years off research and development and possibly ushering the transition from latent into breakout specifically through tipping and regime intent to provide terrorists with these weapons.

With biological weapons particularly, if you provide them to terrorists, the quantity is not necessarily as important as it would be with conventional weapons or chemical munitions and RDD's primarily because

* Biological pathogens replicate,
* Some are highly infectious at extremely low doses
* Some are also of course communicable which is quantitatively and qualitatively different that nuclear or chemical weapons.

You don't need an arsenal of biological MIRVed ICMB's to wipe out the entire global population what you do need is advanced scientific research programmes to create high kill ratios with small amounts of viral, bacteriological or toxic agents.

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