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News Review Special Edition

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International Developments, November 15, 2002 - February 1, 2003

President Bush Announces Project Bioshield

Addressing the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, on February 3, President Bush outlined his plans - first unveiled in the State of the Union address on January 28 - for a 10-year, $6 billion programme called Project Bioshield, designed to enhance US capabilities to guard against, and limit any damage from, biological warfare (BW) attacks on US targets. According to the President, Bioshield will take steps to "quickly make available safer and more effective vaccines and treatments against agents like smallpox, anthrax, botulinum toxin, ebola and plague. ... [T]he world changed on September 11, 2001, and we've got to respond to that change."

On December 13, the President announced steps to vaccinate key personnel against a possible smallpox attack. While stressing that there was no indication any such attack was imminent or likely against a general civilian population, Bush argued that limited, prudent precautions were nonetheless required: "I'm ordering that the military and other personnel who serve America in high-risk parts of the world receive the smallpox vaccine. Men and women on the front lines of a biological attack must be protected. ... Americans and anyone who would think of harming Americans can be certain that this nation is ready to respond quickly and effectively to a smallpox emergency or an increase in the level of threat".

Note: writing in the January/February edition of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, two BW experts - Professor Mark Wheelis, of the University of California at Davis, and Professor Malcolm Dando, of the Department of Peace Studies at Bradford University, UK - explored the hypothesis that the "United States may have rejected the bioweapons protocol because it is committed to continuing and expanding its secret programs" to develop new BW-capability under the guise of 'biodefence' research. According to the authors: "In the summer of 2001, the United States shocked its peers when it rejected the protocol to the bioweapons treaty. Intended to strengthen compliance with the vital but weak Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), the protocol was dead in the water without US support, and the world was left wondering what prompted the surprise move. ... Some suggest the rejection was due to changing US perceptions of sovereignty and self-reliance. Others thought that perhaps its own recently revealed covert biological programs were too sensitive for the United States to willingly reveal more. ... A more ominous explanation us that perhaps the United states rejected the protocol not just because it is conducting secret, offensively oriented 'biodefense' programs, but because it is committed to continuing and expanding them." On January 13, Alan Zelicoff, a senior scientist at Sandia National Laboratories' Center for National Security and Arms Control, reacted to the article by observing: "Perhaps they are correct, but I doubt it. ... The current administration rejected the protocol because its studies - funded by the previous administration - showed that the risk of loss of proprietary national security and business-related information far outweighed the benefits of the protocol - and, indeed, few benefits at all could be demonstrated in those studies..." Zelicoff added that, if he knew of any clandestine BW-development work, "I suspect I would have to be in line behind anyone else making phone calls to the New York Times..."

For more on the biodefence issue, see the article in this issue - 'Defending Against Biodefense: The Need for Limits' - by Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Director of the Chemical & Biological Arms Control Program at the Federation of American Scientists.

Reports: Transcript - Bush announces preventive smallpox vaccination program, Washington File, December 13; Scientists clash over alleged illegal US research, Global Security Newswire, January 13; Transcript - Bush outlines 10-year plan to counter biological weapons, Washington File, February 3; Back to bioweapons?, by Mark Wheelis & Malcolm Dando, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January/February 2003.

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© 2002 The Acronym Institute.