BIOWARFARE RESEARCH CONDUCTED AT U.S. UNIVERSITIES Overshadowed by Star Wars, the push tow
BIOWARFARE RESEARCH CONDUCTED AT U.S. UNIVERSITIES
Overshadowed by Star Wars, the push toward developing ghastly
instruments of biological warfare has been one of the Reagan
administration's best-kept secrets. The research budget for
infectious diseases and toxins has increased tenfold since fiscal
1981, and most of the 1986 budget of $42 million went to 24 U.S.
universities where the world's most deadly organisms are being
cultivated in campus labs.
The large sums of military money available for biotechnology
research is a powerful attraction for scientists whose civilian
funding resources have dried up. Scientists who formerly
researched diseases like cancer now use their talents to develop
strains of such rare pathogens as anthrax, Rift Valley fever,
Japanese encephalitis, tularemia, shigella, botulin, and Q fever.
Many members of the academic community find the trend
alarming. However, when MIT's biology department voted to refuse
Pentagon funds for biotech research, the administration forced it
to reverse its decision by threatening to cut off other funds. In
1987, when the University of Wisconsin hired retired Army Col.
Philip Sobocinski to help professors attract Pentagon-funded
biowarfare research, a UW science writer was fired after
disclosing the details in the student newspaper.
Since the U.S. signed the 1972 Biological and Toxic Weapons
Convention, which bans "development, production, stockpiling, and
use of microbes or their poisonous byproducts except in amounts
necessary for protective and peaceful research," the university-
based projects are called defensive efforts aimed at developing
vaccines and protective gear. Scientists who oppose the program
insist that a germ-warfare defense is clearly impractical; the
entire population would have to be vaccinated for every known
harmful biological agent. The only feasible application of a
"defensive" development is in conjunction with offensive use:
Troops could be effectively vaccinated for a singe agent prior to
launching an attack with it.
Another issue receiving even less attention is the safety or
the security of the labs involved. Release of pathogens, either by
accident or design, would prove tragic. Twenty-three U.S. schools,
including the Universities of California, Connecticut, Georgia,
Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Utah, are currently engaged in
Sources: ISTHMUS, October 8, 1987, "Biowarfare and the UW," by
Richard Jannaccio; THE PROGRESSIVE, Nov. 16, 1987, "Poisons from
the Pentagon," by Seth Shulman; WALL STREET JOURNAL, Sept. 17,
1986, "Military Science," by Bill Richards and Tim Carrington.
From: UTNE READER, September/October 1988, p. 87.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank