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Uncontrolled work of biological centers is source of threat of bioterrorism

12:31 | 26.06.2012 | Analytic

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26 June 2012. PenzaNews. Some media report about growing threat of biological terrorism emanating from laboratories which work should be aimed at countering these kinds of attacks. Some experts argue that we can not exclude the possibility that the activities prohibited by the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) can be held on the basis of these centers due to inadequate control. Moreover, theft of dangerous pathogens and their subsequent misuse against people can not be excluded either.

Uncontrolled work of biological centers is source of threat of bioterrorism

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Thus, in the article published on the website World and We, former head of Russian Biological Shielding Administration Valentin Evstigneev writes about increasing internal threat in the US, which proceeds from activity of its scientific institutions that have acquired the right to work with “list” biological agents.

“According to the published data, the USA had officially more than 400 such establishments as of 2006. Special concern is caused with that the process of expansion of bio-dangerous laboratory base left from under control of the authorities. Thus even FBI cannot precisely define the number of laboratories of high level of biohazard operating in the country,” the article says.

According to international observers, the main problem is nontransparency of the activity of such institutions in the United States and other countries where the US sponsored the construction of these centers. The Central Public Health Reference Laboratory (CPHRL) in Georgia opened a year ago and working as part of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) of US Defense Department is still of particular concern.

Analyzing the occurrence of African swine fever (ASF) outbreaks in Russia in 2012, Gennady Onishchenko, head of Russia’s Federal Service on Surveillance for Consumer Rights Protection and Human Well-Being (Rospotrebnadzor), the country’s chief public health official, suggested that the disease was caused by a virus which got into the country from outside.

“ASF came to us from Georgia – first to the Republic of Ossetia and then to the Krasnodar and Stavropol regions. There are signs that this has been artificially injected. It is economic sabotage. The Krasnodar region has already been battling this problem for three years,” said Gennady Onishchenko at a press conference in Moscow.

Furthermore, there are other scientific institutions which cause anxiety apart from the laboratory in Georgia, where, according to some experts, applied research on the use of biological weapons may be conducted. Similar diagnostic laboratory was built in Azerbaijan and two biological centers were created in Uzbekistan in 2011, again with financial support from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. According to official information, the US government has allocated approximately 2.3 million dollars for implementation of these projects.

Commenting on the reports of possible biological threat which received wide publicity, Ilgar Velizade, political analyst, deputy chief of the filial branch of RIA “Novosti” in Azerbaijan Republic, chief of the International Press-Centre “Novosti” in Baku said that to date no one had sufficient evidence to suggest presence or absence of such laboratories in the former Soviet Union.

“With more or less certainty, I can say that Baku is unlikely to cooperate with the United States on this issue, taking into account all the risks associated with such activity,” said the analyst in an interview with news agency “PenzaNews.”

According to the expert, the only serious incentive which can involve the country in such projects can be a significant financial reward. However, Azerbaijan, according to him, “does not need risky money, as well as high-risky projects.”

“Moreover, laboratories producing biological weapons pose a significant risk of a political nature. I do not think that Azerbaijan’s neighbors, Russia and Iran, would take it easy if Azerbaijan created a testing ground for biological weapons which could potentially be used against them,” Ilgar Velizade stated.

Meanwhile, the analyst suggested that there should be as little obscurity as possible in the issue of biological centers created in Central Asia and the Caucasus with the support of the United States.

“If they are indeed diagnostic laboratories, which should facilitate implementation of tasks to improve the level of protection against biological threats, it is important that their activities are consistent with the objectives of regional security,” the expert said.

In the mean time, construction of any military or paramilitary facilities in the areas of permanent tension, in his opinion, further enhances the instability in the region.

“If any country is interested in establishing these biological centers, there are grounds to say that this country can indirectly be interested in maintaining instability,” said Ilgar Velizade.

Talking about ways to counter potential risks, the analyst noted that disconnected actions of the states can not lead to expected results.

“The threat of biological terrorism exists, until the work of these laboratories is nontransparent. We need coordinated activity of as many countries as possible to ensure strict control over this process,” the analyst concluded.

Dr. Kazuaki Miyagishima, Deputy Director General of World Organization for Animal Health OIE and Head of the Scientific and Technical Department, noted that the activities of the OIE and some other international organizations unite the states and combine their forces focused, inter alia, on reducing the threat of bioterrorism.

“There are such major players on international level as World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Health Organisation (WHO) working altogether to reduce or minimize those risks,” Dr. Kazuaki Miyagishima said.

According to him, some pathogens like Anthrax affect not only animals but also humans. Therefore, several viruses are being worked on by all three organizations.

However, according to Deputy Director General of OIE, the potential risk of pathogenic strains leakage always exists. In addition, the expert did not rule out potential possibility that prohibited work in violation of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention can be conducted in some biological laboratories.

“The international organizations are not police organizations. We cannot just go and check everything because it is up to the country. The government should put in place some mechanism to control the biological security of the laboratories located on their grounds,” the expert stated.

Dr. Kazuaki Miyagishima reminded that the US has invested a lot in the laboratories in Central Asian countries that have held some biological samples from before the end of the Cold war. The stated objective is that to make sure that those viruses or pathogens are stored or kept in a safe way and minimize possible risks.

“In my understanding, America and other countries have been working with Central Asian countries not to develop biological weapon but rather to contain potentially dangerous material there in a high security conditions and also to try to use their knowledge to increase the prevention of spread of those viruses,” Deputy Director General of OIE stated.

Meanwhile, Evgeniya Vojko, foreign policy expert of the Russian Center of Political Conjuncture, suggested that such a partnership could be part of a package of measures used by the US to strengthen its position in the Central Asian region.

“There are fears that the activity of the laboratories may be illegal and aimed at dissemination of biological threats in the region and such fears have a right to exist,” the analyst said.

In the mean time, according to Evgeniya Vojko, the US is attempting to use “various tools to realize its energy and geopolitical interests in Central Asia and the Caucasus.”

Kazakhstani political scientist, expert in Arab studies and career diplomat, editor of “Exclusive” Rasul Jumaly believes that governments should pay more attention to the issues raised.

“Even if this is fake news, these messages need to be checked – the subject is very sharp and dangerous. As soon as this information is received, it should be analyzed and verified by intelligence services,” the analyst said.

According to the expert, one can not exclude that similar biological laboratories may operate in some post-Soviet countries.

“Some time ago corresponding development took place in different republics, including Kazakhstan. In particular, there was a large (even by Soviet standards) laboratory for creation of biological and chemical weapons in the town of Stepnogorsk. So, there are certain developments, technology, infrastructure, human and scientific resources that could support the work of such institutions,” Rasul Jumaly stated.

According to the expert, specialized international organizations’ control over such centers should be a guarantee that these deadly technologies do not fall into the hands of terrorist groups.

“I am not an expert in this field, and it is hard for me to judge what kind of work these laboratories are involved in. If you believe the name, their work is aimed at the prevention of biological attacks and reducing risks associated with the use of biological weapons. But if they produce deadly viruses under the guise of “struggle against bioterrorism” – representatives of the American side, their embassies and companies, should answer the questions” the analyst said.

In his opinion, there should be more transparency both in work of these laboratories and in politics of the major international donors willing to have control over the weapons of mass destruction.

“Development of biological weapons, as far as I know, is prohibited by many international regimes. To get hold of these types of weapons is the dream of many terrorist organizations. But it is very difficult to estimate the level of control provided in these hypothetical laboratories because we know very little about them so far,” Rasul Jumaly concluded.

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